Category Archives: Railroad negligence

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

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

Repost from INFORUM, Fargo ND

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

By Emily Welker on Nov 19, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
Smoke rises from scene of a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota December 30, 2013. Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO – A train conductor in the massive oil tanker train derailment and explosion in Casselton about two years ago is suing BNSF Railway, claiming its negligent safety practices left him injured in the wreck.

It’s the second lawsuit filed in Cass County District Court by a railroad worker in connection with the derailment and explosion, which prompted evacuations in Casselton as thick smoke billowed from oil tanker fires that burned for more than a day. An eastbound 106-car BNSF train hauling oil struck a derailed westbound train hauling soybeans on Dec. 30, 2013, about a half-mile outside of Casselton.

The latest lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Burleigh County train conductor Peter Riepl, says that Riepl was working as conductor on the train, which was loaded with crude oil from the Oil Patch in western North Dakota. The oil train’s lead locomotive hit a railcar from the derailed soybean train, forcing the oil train to derail, the lawsuit says. It says as the oil tankers on Riepl’s train began to catch fire and explode, he leapt from the train to escape and was injured.

The lawsuit claims BNSF was negligent in its safety practices, including in its failure to follow federal and state laws and regulations, and in failing to adopt safe methods to transport hazardous materials.

It also claims that Riepl injured his back two years before that while working on a BNSF train near Stanton, N.D., when he hit his foot on an unsafe section of flooring and fell, also due to the railroad’s negligence.

The suit doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount, but says Riepl suffered severe and permanent damages and wants the railroad to pay for those losses and damages, including his medical care.

Attorneys on both sides couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, and no response to Riepl’s lawsuit had yet been filed in court.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said in an email, “BNSF values Mr. Peter Riepl as an employee, and we are reluctant to say anything about him or his lawsuit outside of the context of his case.”

In their legal response to a similar lawsuit filed in earlier this year in connection with the Casselton derailment, BNSF officials denied any negligence.

That suit, filed by Fargo train engineer Bryan Thompson, also claimed BNSF failed to warn its train workers about the dangers of oil tanker trains and didn’t take appropriate safety precautions.

Thompson claims he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the crash, and he was forced to leave his career as a train engineer.

BNSF officials said in their response that Thompson’s suit might be barred by the terms of the federal Railroad Safety Act. The lawsuit is still pending. A trial is set for August 2017.

The Casselton derailment received nationwide coverage, coming just a few months after a train carrying North Dakota crude rolled down a hill and exploded, killing 47 people in Quebec. The crashes contributed to an ongoing national discussion about the risk of hauling crude oil overland from North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t released the final results of its investigation of the crash.