Oregon DOT seeks federal suspension of oil-bearing trains in state

Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) asked its federal counterpart to temporarily halt movement of trains carrying crude oil in the state until ways are found to prevent a track bolt failure that led to a June 3 derailment and 1,100-bbl oil spill on a Union Pacific track near the town of Mosier (OGJ Online, June 5, 2016).

“While it is clear the investigation into this incident is ongoing, preliminary investigations point to broken Rectangular Head Timer Coach Screws,” ODOT Rail and Public Transit Administrator Hal Gard said in a June 8 letter to Federal Railway Administration Region 8 Administrator Mark Daniels.

A number of these screws were found broken near the accident site in the upper Columbia River Gorge, “many of which exhibited evidence of having been broken for a significant amount of time prior to the derailment,” Gard said in the letter, which was publicly disclosed at a June 16 Oregon Transportation Commission meeting in nearby Hood River.

“Given the nature of this defect, it was not detectable by normal inspection methods,” he said.

It is not clear whether the breaks were the result of defective metal or manufacturing, over-torqueing during installation, or an insufficient fastening system for these types of loads in that vicinity, Gard said. “New rail was installed at this location in 2013 so these fasteners are relatively new,” he added.

ODOT asked the US Department of Transportation to place a moratorium on running unit oil trains over sections of track containing track fasteners of this material in Oregon, Gard wrote Daniels. FWA’s Region 8 office in Vancouver, Wash., reportedly was considering the request.

The derailment and spill led to the temporary evacuation of many of Mosier’s approximately 475 residents and imposition of water and sewer restrictions for a few days. Union Pacific resumed running trains along the affected track stretch at reduced speed of 10 mph, but none were to carry crude until the accident’s investigation concluded (OGJ Online, June 8, 2016).

Oregon’s two US senators, Jeff Merkley and Ronald L. Wyden, joined seven other Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders in asking DOT and the US Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue an emergency order setting an interim crude oil volatility standard for shipments moving by rail.

“Currently, PHMSA and the [US] Department of Energy are engaged in a multiyear effort to study the volatility of various types of crude being transported by rail,” they said in their June 15 letter to US Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx and PHMSA Administrator Maria Theresa Dominguez. “However, due to the fact that these studies are years from completion, we remain gravely concerned about the safety of our communities along rail lines carrying this volatile crude oil.”

The federal lawmakers cited the Mosier derailment, although the spilled crude did not ignite or spread far and no one was injured.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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