On June 3rd, a Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed in Mosier, Oregon, causing a fiery explosion and spilling more than 10,000 gallons of oil into the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Federal Rail Administration’s investigation of the incident concluded that the oil train derailment was due to Union Pacific’s failure to maintain its tracks.
Despite its dangerous tracks and its failure to address the underlying issue that caused the derailment, Union Pacific has already resumed running oil trains through the Gorge. In fact, Union Pacific resumed traffic before the derailment had even been cleaned up, so trains were running past derailed, damaged oil cars sitting just feet from the tracks. The decision to resume traffic so quickly in this sensitive area on the banks of a vital salmon and steelhead river flies in the face of Oregon’s political leaders, the Oregon Department of Transportation, as well as countless conservation, safety, public health, and tribal organizations who have asked for a moratorium on oil train traffic until the track safety issues are addressed.
This accident is indicative of a growing threat that has concerned the conservation community for years as the number of oil trains running along our cherished rivers has been on the rise. Fortunately, though an oil sheen was seen in the Columbia the environmental impact of this spill was limited. But unless something is done to improve the safety of these trains, more damaging incidents will undoubtedly occur in the future.