217.370.8505 cory@bletislb.org

BNSF intentionally violated the terms of an easement agreement with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community when the railway company ran 100-car trains carrying crude oil over the reservation, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The ruling in the civil case comes after two BNSF engines derailed March 16 on Swinomish land, leaking an estimated 3,100 gallons of diesel near Padilla Bay.

BNSF has operated a rail line over the Swinomish Reservation under a 1991 easement agreement that permits trains traveling in each direction to carry no more than 25 cars per day. It also required BNSF to tell the tribe about the “nature and identity of all cargo” transported across the reservation.

In a written order Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik said the railway made a unilateral decision in increasing the number of trains and cars crossing the reservation without the tribe’s consent. Lasnik ruled that BNSF “willfully, consciously and knowingly exceeded the limitations on its right of access” from September 2012 to May 2021 “in pursuit of profits.”

A BNSF spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling.