Federal judge allows Swinomish tribal lawsuit over oil trains to proceed against BNSF

A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to proceed against BNSF Railway over oil train shipments.

The tribe sued BNSF in April, alleging the company is violating an agreement that restricts the number of trains that can cross its reservation on Fidalgo Island.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik on Friday denied BNSF's request to have the case dismissed or stayed. The railway argued the matter should go before the federal Surface Transportation Board. The judge wrote that referring the case is "neither efficient nor necessary."

The tribe's lawsuit argues that a 1991 easement signed by the BNSF's predecessor only allows two 25-car trains each day. It says several 100-car trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken region cross the reservation each week. The tracks serve two oil refineries in Anacortes.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the railroad is disappointed by the ruling and weighing its options to ensure the railway is not in violation of obligations to move regulated commodities.

"Nothing is more important to all of us at BNSF than safely operating through the communities that we serve, including along the easement on the Swinomish Indian Reservation," he said.

Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby says the matter should be decided in federal court.