Proposed $261 Fine on Certain Rail Cars May End Up Costing Spokane Much More

This fall, voters in Spokane will be asked to decide on a proposal to fine oil-carrying rail cars $261 apiece if they pass through the city.

That’s the question on the ballot at least. But voters will be deciding on so much more, including potential legal bills and a lengthy court fight. 

Spokane Mayor, David Condon, said it best:

 “I am deeply concerned about what this could do to our city and our economy, with no evidence that it would help our environment or safety. This measure goes against independent legal review and sets the city up for significant, costly legal challenges that would divert already limited resources from programs and initiatives focused on areas that this attempts to address.”

Voters considering support for the initiative may not actually be voting for a new fine, but rather, voting in favor of a protracted legal battle that could empty the city’s coffers and potentially cost taxpayers in the long run.

That’s because, according to both the city’s hearing examiner and the city council’s policy adviser, there is scant legal basis for the initiative. Those opposing the initiative, including local employers, labor and business coalitions, and elected officials echo the mayor: there’s no evidence that such a fine will improve safety.

Today, Washington state voters not only favor shipping oil by rail, but understand that shipping these products by rail is safe. The fact is, trains have safely rolled through Spokane for more than 150 years and rail and train equipment has been regularly updated or replaced altogether. Trains observe a 35 mph speed limit and tracks are inspected at least four times each week. These measures are taken with just one priority in mind: keeping local communities safe.

The railroad and businesses that operate on it have been doing their part to keep communities safe and the land healthy, while keeping energy costs reasonable. The city can better serve its residents by working collaboratively and supporting additional efforts to make rail even safer.