By Railfan & Railroad Staff
SEATTLE — Two Washington women have been convicted of crimes related to a “shunt attack” on BNSF Railway lines near Bellingham, Washington, last year.
On Thursday, 28-year-old Ellen Brennan Reiche was convicted at trial of violence against a railroad carrier for her role in the November 2020 incident. Her co-defendant, 24-year-old Samantha Frances Brooks, pleaded guilty to interference with a railroad signaling system back in July. Both women will be sentenced next month and could spend up to 20 years in prison.
According to court documents, the two women used a “shunt” to disrupt the low-level electrical current in the rails to interrupt signals and other safety features. The incidents occurred in Whatcom and Skagit counties and were apparently done in solidarity with Native American tribes in Canada who were blockading rail lines last year to protest the construction of a pipeline across British Columbia.
According to law enforcement, there were more than 40 incidents of shunts being placed on BNSF tracks in western Washington in 2020.
On Nov. 28, 2020, BNSF Police observed video surveillance of two people kneeling on the tracks near a crossing in Bellingham. Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and the defendants were detained for trespassing. A shunt was also found on the tracks near where the two women had been observed. The defendants had a paper bag containing wire, a drill with a brush head, and rubber gloves. The wire was similar to the wire used in the shunting incidents.