Union Pacific blamed for oil train derailment


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN/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 wreck spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil and sparked a massive fire that burned for 14 hours.

“We could have had our entire town incinerated,” Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns said.

A photo provided by Oregon DEQ shows debris following a train derailment in Oregon.

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 first one that burst into flames from being punctured.

But Union Pacific spokesperson Justin Jacobs told KOIN 6 News an upgraded braking system “wouldn’t have made a difference in the severity of the derailment.”

Union Pacific touts safety of fastening system

Jacobs says the company is replacing all the lag bolts with rail spikes along the tracks, “which will make problems easier to detect on inspections.”

Still, members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Governor Kate Brown and local leaders are asking for a moratorium on all oil trains using the tracks until safety issues are properly addressed.

They say they feel the government’s report proves Union Pacific isn’t ensuring the safety of those who live along the tracks. The FRA responded by saying:

“FRA has been in close and regular contact with all of Oregon’s leaders, including Senators Merkley and Wyden and the House delegation. We appreciate the delegation’s partnership on rail safety.  Our investigation remains ongoing. If FRA finds that railroads need to make operational changes, we will direct them to do so. FRA will release its findings when its investigation is complete.”

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