More than 20 protesters left a rail track with their hands in zip ties Saturday as they were arrested for blocking BNSF railcars for more than three hours during a protest of oil trains.
The protest was organized by the Fossil Fuel Resistance Network in response to the Union Pacific Railroad train derailment that spilled oil and caused fiery explosions earlier this month in the small town of Mosier. About 100 protesters gathered in the area of West 11th Street and Lincoln Street, chanting and holding signs. A smaller group sat on the railway blocking trains.
“Sometimes it takes getting arrested to make a point,” protester Daphne Wysham said as she sat in the middle of the tracks with about 15 other people. “We’re getting mile-long bomb trains coming through our cities everyday and this is the last straw. We’re concerned about climate change. We’re also concerned about the health and safety of our communities.”
After dozens of warnings from Vancouver police to disperse off the tracks, officers moved in on the group around noon as one of the trains slowly made its way toward the protesters with its horn blaring. The train came to a halt a few hundred feet away and officers began arresting the protesters one, sometimes two at a time. As one person was arrested, sometimes another person from the larger protest would take that place among the group on the tracks. The men and women were peaceful and complied with officers during the arrests. A swath of officers in riot gear stood back across the tracks out of precaution.
Wysham and 20 others were arrested and charged with criminal trespassing before they were transported to the Clark County Jail. It’s unclear if they were booked and released, or detained in jail. A spokeswoman for Vancouver Police said she did not know what what happened to the protesters and a spokesperson for the jail did not return calls for comment.
Vancouver is a place where the protesters want to be heard: the city could become home to a massive oil railway terminal which is being proposed by oil giant Tesoro and partner distributer Savage.
"It will increase these exploding oil trains to four, to five a day -- mile-long trains coming through our communities and it’s just not safe,” Vancouver protester Sharon Rickman said. “We don’t want it, and they’re not listening. We feel like we have no resort other than to do something like this to get our voices heard.”
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said protesters held up a total of five trains headed for the Port of Vancouver. The trains were carrying wood and grain products, not oil.
“We can only tolerate this for so much, and this is the main line,” Melonas said of the protests. “We’re here to conduct a business. We’re here to run trains -- we run 30 to 35 trains (a day) on the main line through this corridor.”
“(This is) local, national and international freight everyday,” Melonas added. “Everything imaginable moves through this line, and we all depend on the timely movement of these trains and we can’t interfere with this.”
The protesters continued to stay on the tracks as the train police approached.
According to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, 21 people were arrested.
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