It’s a normal, unremarkable scene: A freight train runs along the edge of a parking lot next to a hillside. The sort of thing you see all the time.
Until the hillside gives way.
This happened yesterday in Everett, Wash., just north of Seattle. The Seattle Times describes how it happened:
The surface slide came off an oversaturated 100-foot cliff that geotechnical engineers had been scheduled to check right after the 66-car train passed, according to [Burlington Northern Santa Fe] spokesman Gus Melonas.
A BNSF-led crew of at least 50 people are cleaning up some of the general grocery store merchandise that spilled — products including soap, lemon juice, solvents and disinfectants. The Seattle-bound train came from Chicago carrying a wide variety of general merchandise including meat, ovens and other things.
Here’s what the rainfall totals in Everett have looked like over the past 10 days, in inches per hour. Sunday and Monday were deluged. And Tuesday, the hillside slipped.
It wasn’t the only mudslide in the area. In addition to providing bus service around this slide, Amtrak is re-routing passengers around another stretch of track between Olympia and Tacoma.
Luckily, the contents of the train were fairly inert; initial reports that it was a chemical train seem a bit overblown. But it’s nonetheless disconcerting, as more and more oil and other toxics are shipped by train and as we learn that one of the ways in which the climate has been destabilized by warming is a huge increase in storm size and precipitation.
Could have been much worse, like a tar-sands-oil train knocked off the rails by a climate superstorm. It wasn’t that. Yet.