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


Less than three weeks after a fiery oil train derailment in Mosier, Oregon spilled 42,000 gallons of Bakken crude into the Columbia River and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents and schoolchildren, Union Pacific — the company behind the derailment — announced that it would resume sending oil trains through the Columbia Gorge.

In the time since the Mosier disaster, there have been no significant changes to the safety picture

Union Pacific had temporarily stopped shipping oil by rail over the tracks where the derailment occurred, but had resumed shipping other cargo just days after the incident, even before the derailed train cars had been fully removed from the site of the accident.

Following the June 3rd derailment, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) called for a temporary moratorium on oil train traffic through the Columbia Gorge until rail safety could be ensured; she reiterated those concerns in light of news that oil shipments would restart sometime this week.


“As I said last week and again as oil begins to roll through our Gorge, I call on federal authorities to ban the transport of oil by rail until safety can be greatly improved and our first responders have the tools they need,” Brown said in a statement to local news station KATU. Last week, Sens. Ron Wyden (D) and Jeff Merkeley (D) joined Brown’s call for a temporary moratorium, requesting that the United States Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) halt oil train shipments until a full investigation into the Mosier derailment has been conducted.

For others, however, a temporary moratorium on oil trains does not go far enough. Local leaders like mayor of Portland Charlie Hale and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury have called for a permanent ban on oil trains. The Oregon Department of Transportation also asked that the federal government place an indefinite moratorium on oil train traffic, until rail companies are better able to detect potential failures within the track system.

Preliminary results of the investigation into the Mosier derailment have found that the incident was most likely caused by broken screws along the tracks, which safety inspections failed to detect. Union Pacific conducted a full inspection of the tracks — including the screws — just weeks before the derailment.

“By restarting oil train traffic along the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, Union Pacific shows a reckless disregard for the safety and health of rail line communities,” Rebecca Ponzio, director of the Stand Up To Oil campaign, said in a statement. “Only three weeks ago, the derailment and fire in Mosier horrified communities across the Northwest. What is even more troubling is that it happened while taking industry-approved precautions: ‘safer’ tank cars, lower train speed, and frequent track inspections. In the time since the Mosier disaster, there have been no significant changes to the safety picture — meaning our communities, health, and waterways are being put at known risk.”

The U.S. Has An Oil Train ProblemClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Transportation Safety Board of Canada Recipe for disaster: Put a flammable substance under…thinkprogress.orgThe domestic oil boom has made shipping oil by rail an uncomfortable reality for communities that live along major rail routes, which have seen a major uptick in the amount of oil by rail traffic in the last half decade. In 2010, the United States only shipped about one million barrels of oil by rail — by 2014, that number had ballooned to about 25 million barrels. The Pacific Northwest has been especially appealing for fossil fuel companies in North Dakota, thanks to its existing rail system, access to deep ports, and proximity to the Bakken oil fields. But Bakken crude oil is an especially volatile oil to ship by rail, placing communities in the path of the oil trains in constant danger of an explosion or spill if a train should derail.


Communities in the Pacific Northwest have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to oil trains and proposed fossil fuel infrastructure that would boost train traffic. One such proposal is the Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project proposed for the Port of Vancouver, Washington, which, if constructed, would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the United States. Opponents of the project argue that it would increase the oil train traffic traveling through the Columbia Gorge five-fold, placing communities like Mosier in even more danger of derailments. On Saturday, 21 activists were arrested for blocking train tracks in Vancouver during a protest of both the Tesoro Savage project and oil trains in general.

A final decision on the project could come as early as this year, though the timeline is unclear — the ultimate decision will be handed down by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and the Port of Vancouver. Still, following the Mosier derailment, the project seems to acquiring more critics — the Washington Department of Natural Resources recently came out in opposition to the project, citing “the potential for tremendous catastrophic loss associated with shipment of crude-by-rail.”