Judge orders BNSF Railway to pay $395 million for trespassing on tribal lands

A federal judge in Washington state on Monday ordered Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway to pay $395 million for trespassing on tribal lands north of Seattle.

According to the Seattle Times, the Swinomish tribe sued BNSF alleging that the company violated an easement agreement from 1991 that limits oil trains to 25 cars per day. The suit alleged that the oil trains often had 100 cars, and accused BNSF of intentionally trespassing on tribal land.

BNSF said in an email to the Star-Telegram that the company had no comment.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled BNSF deliberately trespassed on the Swinomish land, and on Monday he determined that BNSF made $362 million in net profits and $32 million in post-tax profits from the trespass.

BNSF was transporting bakken oil across the reservation so that it could ship the crude to a nearby refinery. The route crosses sensitive coastal ecosystems where the tribe has treaty rights to fish.

Last year, two BNSF engines derailed on Swinomish land, leaking an estimated 3,100 gallons.

The Swinomish issued a statement which said in part: “We know that this is a large amount of money. But that just reflects the enormous wrongful profits that BNSF gained by using the Tribe’s land day after day, week after week, year after year over our objections.”