Following the fiery derailment of a Union Pacific train hauling crude through the Columbia River Gorge in June 2016 and discovery of more than 800 potential safety violations across its network, Union Pacific has agreed to more thorough inspections and maintenance improvements along its 32,000 miles of track across 23 states.
The June derailment that occurred along a curve in the tracks near Mosier, Oregon and sparked a fire that burned for 14 hours, forcing evacuation of nearby residents, was caused by a series of broken bolts that allowed the rails to move too far apart. Fortunately, no one was injured. After a two year examination of tracks across the U.S. used to haul crude, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) officials reported 800 safety violations against Union Pacific, the nation’s largest freight railroad. In the case of the Mosier accident, Union Pacific had not been following its own voluntary inspection procedures to ensure that the track was safe. Federal enforcement actions against the company have not been finalized.
Union Pacific Signs Compliance Agreement with FRA
Union Pacific has now signed a compliance agreement with safety measures that apply to all track used to haul oil and other hazardous liquids, explosives, radioactive materials and poisonous gases. The railroad must keep an inventory of all curves in the track that are three degrees or greater across its network and perform walking inspections every 120 days on tracks that have the type of bolts involved in the Mosier accident. Inspections must occur every 30 days in the part of the network that includes the Mosier area. Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg said the agreement raises the bar on safety, requiring Union Pacific to go “above and beyond existing regulations.”
USDOT Assesses Penalties for Oil Train Derailments
The oil industry relies on trains due to limited pipeline capacity in the oil patch of the Northern Plains and the oil sands region of western Canada. Trains must travel through more than 400 counties across the U.S. to reach refineries on the West, East and Gulf coast. According to Associated Press analysis of accident records, within the past decade 27 oil trains have been involved in major derailments, fires or oil spills in the United States and Canada. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has assessed more than $15 million in civil penalties against the U.S. railroad industry this year for safety violations and other infractions, a slight increase over 2015. Union Pacific had $3 million in penalties from more than 1,222 violations, not including pending violations.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown and U.S. Senators Wyden and Merkley, who have called for a ban on oil trains to completely eliminate future derailments, welcomed the safety agreement.