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2 women face federal terror charge over rail interference

Authorities in Seattle have charged two women in connection with alleged terrorist attack

Samantha Brooks and Ellen Reiche were charged with plotting a terrorist attack after they allegedly interfered with safety protocols on BNSF tracks. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Two women were arrested Saturday and charged with a terrorist attack and violence against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co., according to federal authorities in Seattle.

Samantha Frances Brooks, 27, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 23, both of Bellingham, Washington, are accused of placing shunts on BNSF tracks in Bellingham on Saturday night.

Shunts are devices that can cause trains to automatically brake and can disable railroad crossing guards, investigators said in a complaint filed Monday. Since January, there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on the BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties [in Washington], said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.

“The shunts placed on the BNSF tracks [in Whatcom and Skagit counties] have been causing crossing guards to malfunction, interfering with automatic braking systems, and, in one case, causing the near-derailment of tanks of hazardous chemicals,” Moran said in a release. “These crimes endanger our community.”

Many of the cases involving shunts were carried out by individuals “in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada seeking to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia, and with the express goal of disrupting BNSF operations and supplies for the pipeline,” according to court documents filed against Brooks and Reiche.

Brooks and Reiche are charged only in Saturday night’s incident. BNSF police viewed video surveillance of two people kneeling on tracks near a Bellingham railroad crossing late Saturday night, according to filings.

Police responded to the scene and said two suspects attempted to flee on foot but were stopped. The suspects were initially detained for trespassing and identified as Brooks and Reiche. 

The two women “had a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head and rubber gloves,” according to the release.

Authorities also said they found an alleged shunt on tracks in the area where Brooks and Reiche were alleged to have been trespassing on the surveillance video. 

If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to authorities.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]