Mosier OR after the crash: Sheared screws blamed in train derailment

Repost from Hood River News
[Editor:  A well-written account, lots of detail not found elsewhere.  – RS]

Sheared screws blamed in train derailment

By Neita Cecil, The Dalles Chronicle, June 14, 2016

CHIEF ENGINEER Jason Rea of Union Pacific Railroad’s western region, holds a lag screw like one of several that were sheared off on the track through Mosier, causing the June 3 train derailment.

The Mosier train derailment was caused when an unknown number of large screws, used to provide extra stabilization to rail ties on curves, sheared off — something a railroad official said he’d never seen before in a derailment.

Jason Rea, chief engineer for the western region of Union Pacific Railroad, described at a community meeting Friday in Mosier what had caused the June 3 derailment of 16 oil cars.

The so-called lag screws, which are threaded, are used on curves instead of a straight track spike. And while the lag screws had been severed about two and a half inches below the head of the screw, the top of the screw did not dislodge, which would have been detected by visible inspection, Rea said.

Rather, the sheared screw or screws remained in place.

“I don’t know of any that it has ever happened to,” Rea told the Chronicle after the meeting. “I’ve never experienced this kind of derailment.” He said he’s seen dozens of derailments in his many years with the railroad.

The lag screws were implemented in 1999, he said.

Each rail tie has eight spikes or screws in it. The spikes or screws – four on each end — hold in plates that secure the rail to the tie.

The railroad doesn’t know how many were sheared before the derailment, but some were sheared after a wheel was derailed.

The wheel derailed about 3/10 of a mile east of where the crash actually occurred. Technically, the derailment is where the wheel leaves the rail, and the crash site is called the point of rest.

When the derailment site was inspected, Rea said some of the lags didn’t pop off, but some did.

Rea said the chance that the derailment was the result of sabotage was “very, very, very unlikely.” He said he was confident of that “just because of the way the lag broke. There’s no way somebody could do that, only the train is heavy enough to” do that.

Railroad officials told the audience Friday that the Mosier Community School, which became the command center for the response, would get new carpeting and flooring, and a new floor in the gym. Students were evacuated from the school after the noontime derailment, and the decision was later made to end the school year a week early, so students did not have their final week of school.

In the wake of the derailment, which caused an evacuation of 100 residents and took the city’s sewer treatment plant offline, the railroad is sharply increasing its inspection schedule of the rails through the gorge.

A panel of UP officials who spoke at the community meeting each apologized for the derailment.

Robert Ellis, superintendent of the Portland service unit of the railroad, said it took until about 2 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, to safely put out the fire that erupted from four of the derailed cars. The cars were carrying Bakken crude oil, an unusually volatile oil.
Most of Saturday was spent getting the oil out of the derailed cars and loaded onto trucks. Each car took three to five truckloads of oil. They were able to remove the train that was not derailed, and rerail cars that were not in the immediate point of rest, Ellis said.

It was late Saturday evening by the time they were able to clear cars “from the pile” and move them off the right of way. Early Sunday crews began remediating the soil at the crash site and by mid-morning Sunday they had backfilled the soil and relaid new track.

By late Sunday, they reopened the line.

The community has expressed outrage that the railroad restarted the trains two days before the oil cars were removed from the right of way. Officials with the railroad and other officials who were part of the emergency response have said they made a joint decision to resume traffic because it was safe to do so.

On Monday through Wednesday, crews continued to “transload” oil from the rail cars to tanker trucks. The oil was taken to rail cars in The Dalles, where it will at some point resume its trip to its destination of Tacoma, Wash.

By Wednesday night, all the tank cars were gone, and Thursday and Friday workers continued with remediation and replanting of the Rock Creek Sail Park.

Tim O’Brien, director of hazardous materials for UP, said the backfill work will continue until mid-week this week.

All the parts and pieces needed to rebuild damaged parts of the sewer treatment plant – and 600 feet of pipe leading to and from the sewage plant — have been ordered, O’Brien said, and the rebuilding will begin Tuesday or Wednesday.

The crash happened right on top of a manhole leading to the treatment plant, and oil seeped in through the manhole and “killed” the treatment plant, a city official said earlier. The oil killed the bacteria that fueled the biological process used to treat sewage.

Oil also got to the Columbia River through the treatment plant’s pipes, which dump treated waste water into the river.

Officials are still maintaining booms in the water to capture any oil, although a small oil sheen was only visible for a few days on the river. The railroad continues water and air testing.

O’Brien said that, after enough water was put on the fire to cool it down, it took only 10 gallons of foam to douse the fire. He said six foam trailers will be deployed in July throughout Oregon.

He said the fire had to be cooled down first, because if the tank cars weren’t cool enough, the fire would simply reignite if it was still too hot.

O’Brien said this derailment was the first time that an offensive action was taken to put out an oil car fire.

As for increased inspections, Rea said the new track used the newest, third-generation, lag screws. Crews walked every “lag curve” on the rail line from Hinkle to Portland. There are 71 such curves, which are any bend in the railroad that is a three-degree curve and above.

The railroad has a number of safety devices to test the railroad. A geometry car can test to ensure the rails are their exact 56.5 inches apart, and are at the same level, without any dips on either side.

Visual rail inspections that were previously done two times a week will be done three times a week.

Enhanced rail inspections, which were not done at all before the derailment, will be done three times a week, on “hyrail” vehicles – which can operate either on tracks or on roads or earthen surfaces.

Another vehicle does an ultrasonic test, which sends sonar into the elements of the railroad track and can detect defects.

The Gauge Restraint Measurement System (GRMS) car tests railroad track strength and finds weaknesses. Where that was previously used every 18 months, it will now be used four times a year.

Another device mimics the pressure that a railcar puts on the rail tracks to see how they fare.

Walking inspections of the lag curves in the gorge will be done monthly, where they were not done at all previously.

Chuck Salber, director of risk management for the railroad, is overseeing claims filed by those affected by the derailment. He said residents should see checks from their filed claims in about two weeks. Businesses are more complex, and they can expect a response in two to four weeks, he said.

One woman asked the railroad to consider the needs of residents who do not have the means to pay for a motel room. The woman said she slept in her car for two nights, and was finally put in a motel room that the railroad paid for up front.

She also asked that Red Cross centers be established in the nearest town to an emergency. She said the Red Cross shelter was in The Dalles, when Hood River would have been more convenient.

He said the claim office that was located in Mosier has closed, and now claims can be made at 877-877-2567, option 6.

While rail traffic is only moving at 10 miles per hour through Mosier, it will eventually resume to normal rail speeds through town of about 30 mph. Typical rail speed on a straight-of-way is 55-60 mph.

Wes Lujan, western region vice president of public affairs for UP, said it wasn’t safe to keep rail speeds low, because people get impatient at crossings and try to beat the train, or people try to jump onto slow trains. He said all the people on the panel had seen the bad outcomes of such incidents.

Lujan also spoke to the decision to resume rail traffic even when derailed cars were still lining the tracks.

He said the whole Northwest economy relied on rail traffic, and without it moving, commodities couldn’t get to market, and governments couldn’t operate.

He said the railroad could not refuse to haul oil. He said the railroad was like a parcel service: customers prepare their goods in rail cars that are owned by the customer, and the railroad is obligated to transport the rail cars to the customer’s desired destination.

He said the railroad owns the locomotives, the tracks and the land beneath them.

Rodger Nichols, a reporter for Haystack Broadcasting, asked several questions about whether there was a financial aspect to the decision to resume rail traffic, but Lujan told him repeatedly he could not comment or speculate on it.

He said the railroad will be back in a week for another meeting if need be, or they may just keep office hours at city hall for people to come in with their concerns.

Another man asked if the proposed project to add four miles of double line through Mosier to reduce wait times on the rail line was still going forward. “I think there’s a lot of undercurrent and tension” because of it, he said. “You guys did a great job all around, but the risk is still inherent” with hauling oil trains, and there’s still lots of anxiety.

He said trust was important, and UP “lost it when trains started rolling through immediately.”

Lujan said that was still a matter for internal discussion and it hadn’t been determined if the project would go forward. He said there would be a clear answer a week from Monday.

Latest on Mosier derailment – Feds blame Union Pacific, State calls for moratorium

By Roger Straw, research by Amir Firouz of Benicia, June 24, 2016

Feds blame railroad for fiery Mosier oil train derailment

Senators, gov renew call for halt to oil-train shipments; UP defends rail fastening system
From AP and KTVZ.COM news sources, June 23, 2016 9:45 PM PDT
Gorge oil train fire Coast Guard
Oil tanker cars burn in the Columbia River Gorge after part of a 96-car Union Pacific train derails near Mosier on June 3. | U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Federal investigators are blaming a fiery oil train derailment along the Oregon-Washington border on Union Pacific Railroad, saying the company failed to properly maintain its track.

The Associated Press obtained preliminary findings on the June 3 derailment in the Columbia River Gorge in advance of their Thursday release.

The wreck spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil and sparked a massive fire that burned for 14 hours.

The government’s findings raise questions about why Union Pacific didn’t detect the broken bolts that triggered the accident when they inspected the tracks just before the derailment.

Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg says more advanced brakes could have reduced the number of tank cars that derailed, preventing the one that first burst into flames from being punctured.

Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns says the report on the June 3 wreck in Mosier raises questions about why Union Pacific didn’t find the problem when it inspected the tracks three days before the derailment.

Officials say Union Pacific faces potential penalties for safety violations.

A spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad says the company’s rail fastening system has an outstanding safety history.

Spokesman Justin Jacobs’ responded to the Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary report thatt blamed Union Pacific for not properly maintaining its tracks and missing problems with bolts that fasten the rail ties to the rails.

Jacobs says the company will replace all the lag bolts with rail spikes, which will make problems easier to detect on inspections.

He also says an upgraded braking system called for by the Federal Railroad Administration wouldn’t have made a difference in the severity of the derailment.

Here’s a link to the federal report.  (Also downloadable from Benicia Independent here).

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., issued the following joint statement after the Federal Railroad Administration released its preliminary report on the June 3 oil train derailment near Mosier:

“The preliminary findings released today by the Federal Railroad Administration confirm the deep concerns we have regarding track safety in the Columbia River Gorge. Union Pacific has not done enough to regain the confidence of Oregonians shaken by the Mosier derailment to restart oil shipments through this area,” the senators said in a joint statement.

“We reiterate our call for federal rail regulators to put in place an emergency order, and to continue examining issues related to lag bolts and track fastening systems that appear to have caused this accident.”

In a letter sent Wednesday, the senators asked the FRA to halt crude oil traffic on this rail segment until the causes of the accident have been fully analyzed and necessary steps to prevent a similar derailment have been taken.

Governor Kate Brown released the following statement regarding the Federal Railroad Administration’s Preliminary Factual Findings Report on the derailment of Union Pacific’s unit crude oil train:

“The Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary Mosier derailment report calls attention to serious safety concerns and the need for improved track inspections. I expect the final investigation report to be completed quickly and again call on rail operators to halt oil trains in Oregon until the strongest safety measures are put in place by federal authorities to protect Oregonians.”

Here’s a statement from Friends of the Columbia Gorge:

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Federal Railroad Administration released its preliminary factual findings report on the June 3 derailment of a Union Pacific unit oil train at Mosier, OR. The FRA’s investigation determined the derailment was caused by broken lag bolts leading to wide track gauge.

According to FRA’s findings, “multiple lag bolts in this section of Union Pacific track were broken and sheared, leading to tie plates loosening from ties. The loosened tie plates allowed for the rails to be pushed outwards as trains moved across them, eventually resulting in an area of wide gauge, leading to the derailment.”

Further, FRA’s preliminary determination is that Union Pacific’s “failure to maintain its track and track equipment resulted in the derailment.”

This report comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement by Union Pacific that it would resume transporting volatile Bakken crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge this week, contrary to requests for a moratorium on oil trains by members of the Oregon congressional delegation, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Elected officials have called on FRA to halt the transport of oil by rail through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area until safety issues are properly identified and addressed.

“This is a stinging indictment from a government agency that doesn’t typically call out the railroad companies. Union Pacific’s assurances of safety have just been derailed,” said Kevin Gorman, Executive Director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “We knew that Bakken oil is unsafe at any speed and now we discover the tracks are, too. We need to end the shipment of Bakken oil through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.”

Union Pacific also announced yesterday that it is postponing a public hearing on its proposed rail expansion around the town of Mosier from July 5 to Sept. 6. The proposed four miles of new double track would allow more oil trains to move at higher speeds through the Columbia River Gorge and the town of Mosier. The National Scenic Area permit application is under review by Wasco County. Friends provided detailed comments on the application, cited numerous violations of the National Scenic Area Act, and called for the project to be denied.

And to round out a trying week for Union Pacific, on Tuesday night the railroad spilled up to 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel near Bridal Veil in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. According to Union Pacific, the spill was caused by a faulty fuel filter ring

Roundup of links – Mosier derailment

ThinkProgress: Just Weeks After A Major Derailment, Oregon Oil Train Traffic Is Starting Back Up

Wall Street Journal: Union Pacific Faulted in Crude Oil Train Derailment – Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary report finds railroad operator failed to fix broken bolts

KTVZ: Feds blame railroad for fiery Mosier oil train derailment

Portland Mercury: Feds Blame the Mosier Oil Train Derailment Union Pacific’s “Failure” to Maintain Track

Gresham Patch: Governor Brown Says “Halt Oil Trains” After Fed Report Highlights Company Failure

Federal Railroad Administration: Preliminary Findings Report, Mosier, Oregon, Union Pacific Derailment

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Oil Train Derailment: Q&A With Federal Railroad Administration Head Biggest-in-nation oil terminal would pose bigtime fire risk, state agency warns…recommendation for rejection comes just under three weeks after 16 cars of a Union Pacific oil train derailed near Mosier, Oregon, with four cars catching fire Union Pacific blamed for fiery oil train derailment, says it will replace bolts

Eugene Register-Guard: Railroad blamed for fiery derailment (…photo…shows south train rail tie plates and lag bolts at the site of a fiery June 3, 2016 train derailment in Mosier, Ore.)

Yakima Herald: Feds: Railroad at fault for fiery oil train derailment

Republican-American: APNewsBreak: Railroad blamed for fiery oil train derailment

Columbus Dispatch: Railroad says it will replace bolts after fiery oil train derailment

Portland Press Herald: The June 3 accident in Oregon released 42,000 gallons of crude and sparked a massive fire that burned for 14 hours

KOMO 4 TV: Railroad blamed for fiery oil train derailment along Columbia River Gorge

Seattle Times: Federal investigators: Union Pacific Railroad failed to properly maintain its track

Medford Mail Tribune: Railroad to replace bolts after fiery Oregon oil train derailment, Angry Mosier mayor calls safety claims ‘outrageous’

Greenfield Daily Reporter: Union Pacific Railroad will replace a type of bolt that led to a fiery oil train derailment Union Pacific blamed for fiery oil train derailment

Kitsap Sun: The Latest: Union Pacific touts safety of fastening system

Q13FOX, Seattle: Railroad blamed for fiery oil train derailment along Oregon-Washington border

KTVZ, Bend OR: Feds blame railroad for fiery Mosier oil train derailment – Senators, gov renew call for halt to oil-train shipments; UP defends rail fastening system

KOIN 6 Portland OR: Union Pacific blamed for oil train derailment
Company says rail fastening system has outstanding safety history despite derailment Oregon’s senators object to resumption of crude oil trains

Daily Journal of Commerce: Oil trains resume in Columbia Gorge

KGW. com Portland OR: Mosier community ‘devastated’ oil trains will resume in Gorge, mayor says

iTALK 106.7FM: Railroad to replace bolts after fiery oil train derailment

NEW! DOT 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook

By Roger Straw, June 21, 2016

U.S. Department of Transportation releases 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook for First Responders

Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/ Hazardous Materials Transportation Incident
Click to download the NEW 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook (latest version, June 2016)
  • English Emergency Response Guide helps satisfy 49 CFR 172.602 — DOT’s requirement that hazardous materials shipments be accompanied by emergency response info
  • ERG guide aids in emergency preparedness, planning, and training
  • Emergency Response Guidebook formats come in standard size (5-1/2″ x 7-1/2″) or pocket size (4″ x 5-1/2″)
  • Formerly known as the North American Emergency Response Guidebook
  • Bound pocket size version ($5.95).
  • Youtube video overview/introduction.

2016 Emergency Response Guidebook Summary of Changes from 2012 ERG

  • Replaced written instructions on page 1 with a flow chart to show how to use the ERG2016.
  • Expanded Table of Placards and updated title to Table of Markings, Labels, and Placards and Initial Response Guide to Use on Scene.
  • Expanded Rail Car Identification Chart and Road Trailer Identification Chart to two pages each.
  • Updated Table 1 and Table 3 based on new TIH data and reactivity research.
  • Updated pipeline emergency response information.
  • Added information about Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) markings.
  • Added all new dangerous goods/hazardous materials listed in UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods to 19th Revised Edition.
  • Added information on Emergency Response Assistance Plans (ERAP) applicable in Canada.

Empty tank cars aren’t so empty

Repost of an email from Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign, STAND
[See also High Hazardous Flammable train placards to watch for.  – RS]

Empty tank cars and tank car cleaning resources

…here are a couple of government, industry, and expert sources. re the likely volume of crude oil in a given “empty” residue tank car with a hazmat placard:


Heel: the crude oil residue in the bottom and on sides of the tank car

Clabber: consolidated scunge from many uses w/out cleaning

This document for Customs and Border Patrol provides a sample estimate of oil tank cars having 7% heel, or 2,100 gallons for a 30,000 gallon car (p.7):

This document by the American Petroleum Institute explains the different ways they measure heel, and also supports the likelihood of 7% heel. It also contains this statement, which raises concerns about fluctuating vapor pressure and off-gassing: “Classifying and Loading of Crude Oil into Rail Tank Cars”

Crude oil expands and contracts based on changes in temperature. For example, the volume can change by 0.4 % to 0.6 % per 10 °F change depending upon the density. Volume corrections shall be carried out in accordance with API MPMS Ch. 11.1-2004 or API MPMS Ch. 11.5, as appropriate.

This formal filing by Phyllis Fox explains how tank cars vent toxic gas, including residue cars, and why temperature changes can cause tank cars to vent: