While the risk of acts of terrors by external elements is very real, so are the ones posed by internal parties. Two such individuals from Bellingham, Washington were arrested on Saturday while they were allegedly trying to place a shunt on the BNSF railway tracks near Bellingham, Whatcom County.
Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, were arrested for trying to place a shunt—a device that can disrupt the electrical current on the tracks and lead to the disabling of several safety features — that could have potentially resulted in the derailment of a train. The duo is also suspected to have undertaken 41 such acts since January 2020. They could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Attempts To Cause Damage and Destruction
A shunt consists of a wire and magnet that are extended between two tracks. This disrupts that helps in indicating that the train is situated on the tracks. The criminal complaint stated that an investigation into the placement of shunts on the BNSF tracks since 19 January 2020 was being conducted by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. Shunts were found placed on 10 occasions in areas that could disrupt the crossing guards where the tracks intersect streets. Therefore, vehicles could have been in danger of being run over by an oncoming train had they try to cross the tracks.
Multiple shunts were found placed on the night of 11 October 2020 in three different locations across Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Due to one of the devices, the automatic breaking system of a train that was carrying combustible and hazardous materials was triggered. The sudden breaking led to the uncoupling of a section of the train from the engine. Such an instant decoupling can cause the derailment of a train.
Suspected of Numerous Shunting Incidents
Following the discovery of the first shunt in January, a claim of responsibility was made on an anarchist website. However, the perpetrators were about to run out of luck soon. On the night of 28 November 2020, two people were spotted kneeling on the tracks by a crossing in Bellingham by BNSF Police in video surveillance. Deputies from the Whatcom County Sheriff's office arrived at the scene and detain the two persons for trespassing.
On the area of the tracks that was seen in the surveillance footage, a shut was found. Brooks and Reiche were found in possession of a paper bag that contained rubber gloves, wire, and a drill with a brush head. The wire recovered was found to be similar to the ones used in other shunting attempts.
"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 breaking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals," said US Attorney Moran, in a statement.