Feds blame railroad for fiery Mosier oil train derailment
Senators, gov renew call for halt to oil-train shipments; UP defends rail fastening systemFrom AP and KTVZ.COM news sources, June 23, 2016 9:45 PM PDT
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.
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
SeattlePI.com: 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