C: Columbia Riverkeeper
C: Columbia Riverkeeper

The political and regulatory fall-out from the crude by rail crash in the Colombia River Gorge earlier this month is still continuing.

On June 3, a crude by rail train carrying volatile Bakken crude derailed near Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, resulting in the derailment of 16 cars of a huge 96 train.

In the accident four cars caught fire and spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil which led to an an oil sheen being found on the Columbia River itself.

The accident shocked the local community and the fall-out continues. Mosier’s Mayor, Alrene Burns accused the company involved, Union Pacific, of “playing Russian Roulette” with the town. “It’s totally unacceptable,” she added.

On Wednesday this week, ten US senators wrote to US Transportation Anthony Foxx, arguing that crude by rain trains pose an “”imminent hazard” to surrounding communities.

The letter, which was instigated by Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, was signed by all six senators from Washington, Oregon and California, as well as Bernie Sanders, requested that the Obama administration act “immediately” to impose tougher standards.

They urged Obama to “immediately set an interim standard for volatility of crude oil to ensure its safe transport. While standards for tank cars improve, derailments, fires and explosions continue to occur.”

“It is clear that the shipment of crude without a national standard regulating volatility poses an imminent hazard”, they argued. “For the safety of our communities, we urge you to move now to issue an interim standard for volatility.”

Yesterday, writing in the local press, Jay Inslee the Governor of Washington state, added that the accident had been too close for comfort”.

Inslee noted: “The increase in Canadian and domestic oil production has led to a dramatic, rapid increase in oil transport by rail through Washington state. In the past few years, we have seen oil train derailments in 10 states and three Canadian provinces. Some have resulted in explosions and fires, others in evacuations of entire communities.”

He added that to protect local communities and the Gorge, “we must urge Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement the strongest possible measures that will ensure the safe transportation of Bakken crude”, including speeding up transition to safe cars; and lower speed limits”.

He finsihed by stating that “The concerns of the people who live and work near oil train routes can no longer be brushed aside, and the safety policies needed to protect them can no longer be postponed.”

It has also emerged that the Oregon Department of Transportation has waded into the debate, calling for a moratorium on crude by rail trains running through the Columbia River Gorge.

In a letter to the Federal Railroad Association, the Department said: “Until the underlying causes of the bolt failures is understood, and a means of detecting this defect is developed, we request a moratorium on running unit oil trains over sections of track that contain track fasteners of this material.”

The letter came after investigators outlined their preliminary findings which suggested that they might not be able to determine the cause of the crash, although investigators are focussing on the metal fastening system that connects the railroad to the rail.

It is the first state to request such a move.



  • Crash after crash, spill after spill, contaminated water, and then there’s global warming. Aren’t we over fossil fuels yet?

  • Has anyone considered the fact that the derailment was probably due to the failure of the track. All of the mainline track in the US needs to be upgraded to state of the art which is continuous weld track bolted onto concrete crossties. To do this may require partial socialization of railroad right of way and changes in the tax structure for railroads. Railroads are not all highly profitable businesses that have the money to maintain excellent track.

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