2 Days After Oil Train Derailment Evacuated a Town, Company Restarts Service
By Mike Carter and and and Daniel Gilbert
Officials in Mosier, Ore., are objecting to Union Pacific's decision to restart train traffic after a fiery oil-car derailment Friday prompted an evacuation and disrupted the town's sewage and water systems.
Arlene Burns, Mosier's mayor, said that the City Council passed a resolution Sunday calling for Union Pacific to halt train traffic until the derailed cars are removed and the investigation into the incident is complete. The company resumed running trains Sunday evening.
"We just think it's way too soon for them to resume business as usual," Burns said in an interview. "It seems utterly unreasonable."
Justin Jacobs, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said the company had repaired the track and would continue to inspect it through the night. "We're absolutely aware of the concern, and we'll continue to work with the city," he said, adding that trains are running at reduced speeds of 10 mph through Mosier as a precaution.
Oregon officials said Sunday night that an evacuation order had been lifted for Mosier residents, and the city's wastewater treatment plant was operating after the removal of 10,000 gallons of oil. Residents can flush toilets but are still being asked to boil water for drinking.
Earlier Sunday, Greg Svelund, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said that "Investigators had discovered that the Mosier wastewater- treatment plant and sewer lines were nonoperational as a result of damage from the train derailment."
Oregon environmental officials think they've contained oil that was leaking into the Columbia River from the derailed cars.
Sixteen tank cars, part of a 96-car train operated by Union Pacific railroad, derailed Friday. Four of the cars erupted in flames and burned until Saturday morning. A small quantity of oil leaked into the Columbia River, but that has been contained by booms, officials said Sunday.
A Union Pacific official says some kind of track failure was likely the cause of the oil-train derailment in Oregon.
Raquel Espinoza says the company is focused on removing the crude oil from the damaged cars as safely and quickly as possible. She says their priority is to bring people home to Mosier, where the train derailed.
About a hundred people -- a quarter of the town's population -- had been evacuated from a nearby mobile-home park by the train derailment and fire that sent plumes of black smoke into the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.
The mayor and fire chief said Sunday they recognize that the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.
Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier -- about 25 mph -- could have turned the incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.
Svelund said no additional oil has been observed in the water and crews were working to clean it up. DEQ officials say they will continue to monitor air and water.
"Today's priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible," incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.
No injuries were reported in the incident. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.
Including Friday's incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the United States and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.
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