Terrorism? FBI investigating train derailment in Washington – here’s why it’s so suspicious

CUSTER, WA – A BNSF train recently derailed and caught fire north of Bellingham, Washington on December 22nd. This incident comes at a time when the railways in the state have been targeted – with two recent arrests for terrorism-related charges earlier in the year. 

Officials say that the incident occurred at approximately 11:45 a.m. on December 22nd in the Custer area near the 7500 block of Portal Way. Following the disastrous derailment and fire, authorities had closed off Grandview Road at Portal Way and Main Street.

Residents within half a mile of the radius were ordered to evacuate from their homes due to concerns of the fire potentially spreading into the residential areas nearby. 

A total of seven tank cars had derailed, which five of them had caught fire. BNSF noted that the train was carrying crude oil when it derailed. 

The evacuation order was eventually lifted in the area, and there were no reports of anyone being injured from the derailment or fire. According to a BNSF spokesperson, Courtney Wallace, the company is working with authorities to determine how this happened: 

“The cause of this incident is under investigation. BNSF will work closely with authorities as the investigation proceeds.”

There’s speculation that this recent derailment isn’t an isolated accident, but rather linked to the several targeted attacks against railways in the area since the onset of 2020. 

When Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo was asked if there’s a determined connection between the recent attempts to sabotage the railways and this derailment, he stated it’s too early to make concrete declarations: 

“We’ve not been able to get close enough to the site to make an evaluation.”

However, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board along with the FBI were spotted alongside other federal, state and local agencies on the scene of the derailment area. 

David Byers, who oversees disaster response for the Washington Department of Ecology, noted that despite the disastrous incident itself, the fire couldn’t have broken out “in a better location” with all things considered: 

“As far as crude oil derailments and fires, this could not have occurred in a better location with regard to minimizing environmental impact.”

Back in November, two individuals were federally charged with a terrorist attack on a railroad facility for trying to compromise the BNSF railway tracks with “shunts” – which have the capacity to derail a train. 

Hence, the speculation that this incident is related to the numerous targeted attacks against the railway. 

We at Law Enforcement Today recently reported on the two indicted in said case. Here’s that previous report. 


SEATTLE, WA – Federal charges have been brought against two individuals for allegedly trying to compromise train tracks near Bellingham in Whatcom County by placing “shunts” onto the tracks. 

These “shunts” are said to have the capacity to disrupt “the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features,” which can result in a domino effect up to even derailments. 

And according to a report from the Post Millennial, one of the accused is even  a former Washington State Democrats deputy field organizer. 

The Department of Justice announced the charges against 27-year-old Samantha Frances Brooks and 23-year-old Ellen Brennan Reiche on November 30th, with both being charged with terrorist attack on a railroad facility. 

U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran had been the one to announce the charges against the two, making mention on how railroads have become a target as of late with regard to terrorist attacks: 

“Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties—causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals.”

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been taking a closer look into instances where “shunts” have been placed on train tracks ever since they began cropping up in January. 

According to the DOJ, a “shunt” is composed of and accomplishes the following: 

“The shunt is comprised of wire and magnets that are stretched between the tracks, disrupting the systems that indicate a train is on the tracks.”

Ten out of the 41 incidents recorded so far saw these “shunts” strategically placed “in areas that disrupt the crossing guards where the tracks cross streets,” which the DOJ noted could result in unsuspecting vehicle operators being struck by trains when crossing over tracks. 

One of the most near-catastrophic incident was said to have occurred on October 11th, when numerous “shunts” were placed in three different locations in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. 

What said “shunts” triggered was the automatic braking system on the train that was transporting hazardous and combustible material. A portion of the train wound up decoupling, which when that transpires, can result in a derailment. 

While luckily a derailment did not happen that evening in October, it could have resulted in “tanker cars of flammable gas,” toppling through a residential area. 

The DOJ report noted that an “anarchist website” had even published “a claim of responsibility” following the January 19th incident. Turns out that website is none other than “It’s Going Down” – a popular website used to spread the ideology of Antifa enthusiasts. 

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According to the post shared online by the website on January 22nd, the website noted that “The Following Communique Was Sent To It’s Going Down Anonymously, Which We Reprint Below,” in an effort to absolve them from sharing literal instructions on committing acts of terrorism against the BNSF railroad tracks. 

The post shared by ITG, from the perspective of the anonymous author, explained in great detail how they were able to “interrupt” the supply chain from Washington to Canada by describing a method employed that only “shunts” could pull off: 

“[W]e disrupted the high volume railway that moves resources from the active ports of Everett, Edmonds, Seattle, and further south to the Blaine border crossing into Canada. We were able to interrupt the track circuit used to detect the presence or absence of a train on the tracks.”

“With high resolution maps, Google Street view, good scouting, and a little flexibility, this tactic is fast and discreet. On a single rail track with a Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system, this simple action can generate enough confusion in the system to cause big slow downs and bureaucratic delays.”

“You should do this too.”

Well, according to the DOJ, it seems Brooks and Reiche took a page right out of that call to action on November 28th. 

BNSF Police were said to have observed via video surveillance two people kneeling on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham. When Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies caught up with the suspects at the scene, they’d happened upon Brooks and Reiche. 

A “shunt” was reportedly found applied to the tracks where the suspects were observed on camera and the two suspects were in possession of a bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head attached and some rubber gloves. 

The DOJ report noted that the wire seized from the suspects happened to be of the same ilk sued in other incidents involving “shunts”. 

In a reportedly now-deleted LinkedIn profile, Reiche happened to be the deputy field organizer for Washington State Democrats. 

Both of the accused were said to have made their first appearance in federal on November 30th and the next court appearance is slated for December 14th. The duo could face up to 20 years in federal prison, but have surprisingly been afforded pre-trial release. 


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Author: Gregory Hoyt

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