train derailed Friday near Mosier, Oregon

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SEATTLE (AP) — Environmental crews worked Saturday to contain a sheen of oil that appeared in the Columbia River along the Washington-Oregon border after a Union Pacific train derailed and caught fire, but officials said there was no immediate indication of harm to wildlife.

Sixteen of the 96 tank cars on the train derailed Friday near Mosier, Oregon, about 70 miles east of Portland. Four burned, sending a thick plume of black smoke into the sky before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames a little after 2 a.m. Saturday.

No injuries were reported.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the derailment, which forced the evacuation of about 100 people from a nearby mobile home park, as the site remained too hot to examine. Officials said they would consider lifting the evacuation order Saturday evening.

“I want to apologize to the community,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said at a news conference, adding that the company would pick up the tab for the response costs. “This is the type of accident we work to prevent every day.”

The derailment, in the scenic Columbia River Gorge, manifested the fears of environmentalists who have long argued against shipping oil by rail — especially through populated areas or along a river that’s a hub of recreation and commerce. The tank cars were carrying especially volatile crude from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region, which has a higher gas content and vapor pressure than other types of oil.

More than 100 people rallied and marched in nearby Hood River, Oregon, on Saturday to call for a halt to the practice. Emily Reed, the city council president in Mosier, joined them.

In a telephone interview, Reed said her son was evacuated from school because of the derailment. Her husband, a firefighter, was a first responder. The family evacuated their house, and her father was unable to ship the first crop from his small cherry orchard.

“I’ve just listed four major risks that I have, and I don’t see the benefit I’m getting in exchange for this risk,” Reed said. “There is no safe way for these fossil fuel trains to come through our town, and I’d like to see them stopped until there are standards and we know it’s safe.

“This isn’t a one-off,” Reed said. “It’s happening in my town, but next time it’ll be somebody else’s town.”

At first light Saturday, crews noticed a light sheen in the Columbia at the mouth of Rock Creek. Responders deployed about 1,000 feet of boom to contain it. It wasn’t clear how much oil had spilled from the trains.

By Saturday afternoon, three of the cars had been re-railed. Crews had been waiting for the cars to cool before transferring the oil into tank trucks.

Union Pacific officials said Saturday the company had inspected the section of track where the derailment occurred at least six times since March 21. It was most recently checked last Tuesday, and within the past month, the company had used checked for imperfections and inspected the ground along the track.

To get to refineries on the East and West coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, oil trains move through more than 400 counties, including major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia; Seattle; Chicago; Newark, New Jersey; and dozens of other cities, according to railroad disclosures filed with regulators.

Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries.

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.

At least 12 of the oil trains that derailed over the past decade were carrying crude from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region. Of those, eight resulted in fires.

Since last spring, North Dakota regulators have required companies to treat oil before it’s shipped by rail to make it less combustible.

Reducing the explosiveness of the crude moved by rail was not supposed to be a cure-all to prevent accidents. Department of Transportation rules imposed last year require companies to use stronger tank cars that are better able to withstand derailments.

The tank cars that derailed in Oregon were newer model CPC-1232s, said Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs.

Critics say the upgraded models still aren’t safe enough to transport volatile Bakken oil.


Flaccus reported from Portland.


Train Traffic in California Not Safe
Information About Hazardous Materials Passing Along Railways Not Released To Public

San Diego Fire Leaders Say They Are Notified Of Anything Unusual Or Out Of The Ordinary

By JW August and Mari Payton

San Diego, CA


NBC 7 Investigates Reporter Mari Payton took an in-depth look to see if there is danger on our rails. (Published Tuesday, May 10, 2016)

They roll through at night, passing highly populated areas of the county, like downtown San Diego: rail tanker cars sometimes carrying potentially hazardous materials.

“There is no question that places like Petco Park are directly in harm’s way,” Eric de Place, Policy Director with the Sightline Institute, an environmental policy organization based in Seattle, said.

NBC 7 Investigates asked the owners of the local rail lines, North County Transit and Metropolitan Transit System, what chemicals and other materials are moving through the region. North County Transit owns the rails from Orange County to the Del Mar area and Metropolitan Transit System, owns the rails from Del Mar to San Diego.

The agencies declined to provide the information, citing homeland security issues.

The largest carrier in the region, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway company, or BNSF, also declined to provide the information.

In an email, BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said, “as a matter of security we do not disclose this type of information. It is only provided to first responders.”

With no public information on exact routes detailing when freight trains are on local tracks and what they are carrying when passing through, railroads say the risk is minimal, but, critics say it’s a dangerous situation for San Diegans.

”I think the community should have a right to know about what’s going through their towns,” de Place said. “The community has a right to know about what’s happening in their towns.”

San Diego Fire Marshall Doug Perry is involved in first responders planning through the region. According to Perry, his agency is prepared to handle any emergencies arising out of a derailment of hazardous materials. He said his department is told when large amounts or unusual products are moving on the rails, but admits, he isn’t aware of everything.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know that a chemist would know every single one because of the way that they mix ’em and match ’em,” he said. “You have had large quantities of ammonia nitrate, which is used for blasting, but that is something we don’t have come through here very often. We know on a regular basis, LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) comes up from Mexico.”

In 1996, a train carrying LPG and propane derailed and caught fire in Wisconsin. The fire burned for more than two weeks and caused thousands of residents to be evacuated. A National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) sketch of the accident scene shows how the tankers were scattered across the derailment area.

Perry said, “we do not have daily contact with the railroads” about what is coming and going. When asked why not, he responded, “Umm, as far as I know, it’s never been required. There’s no policy or procedure in place, most of the stuff that is transported through is pretty benign.”

According to a website that tracks railcar shipping statistics,, BNSF carries cement, corn syrup, cars, lumber, aluminum, grain and plastic.

NBC 7 Investigates found the Texas-based company also ships propane and LPG. Those materials are just part of a list of the 25 most hazardous commodities transported by rail in California.

Click here to see the list.

“If you look at the history we haven’t had any problems,” Perry said. “Is there always a potential? Yes.”

California Senate Bill 84, also known as the “Railroad Accident Preparedness and Immediate Response Program,” includes a provision that would charge freight carriers a fee when hauling any of the 25 hazardous commodities.

Kim Zagaris, Safety and Fire Chief for the California Office of Emergency Services said, “the bill is designed to actually provide funding to prepare, plan and respond to hazmat rail incidents.”

In the Wisconsin incident, an NTSB investigation found an “undetected bolt hole crack” was missed by rail workers during inspection process.

NBC 7 Investigates found LPG being transported on track in downtown San Diego several months ago.

Materials inside a rail tanker can be identified by a placard on the outside of the container. Rail cars with placards containing the number “1075” were found passing PETCO stadium and at the border crossing area in San Ysidro. The number “1075” represents different forms of liquefied gas.

Click here to see a complete listing of what the numbers on placards stand for.

The placards are one way first responders can identify what the tanker is carrying. Different chemicals require different responses by hazmat personnel and the fire department.

In a 2014-2015 report to the California State Legislature, the California Public Utilities Commission or CPUC, said, “railroads have been inconsistent in their compliance with federal law, California law.” According to that same report, there were 318 freight and passenger derailments in California during that time frame.

The CPUC is the state agency which oversees the rail industry in California.

“California is certainly trying to lead,” de Place said. “But there’s not much any state, even California, can do because most of the rules around the haulage of dangerous materials on the rails are preempted by federal regulations, and the federal regulations are weak and chronically bad.”

Zagaris put it this way: “the railroad reminds us they built this country and they have a lot of protection under federal law.” He said he believes transparent discussions between the industry and state agencies will go a long way to “protect life, property and the environment” in California.

In an email, Federal Railroad Administration or FRA, spokesman Matthew Lehner, said, his agency “carries out a comprehensive safety inspection and enforcement program that has led to the highest-ever collection rate of civil penalties and fewer railroad accidents. We constantly look for ways to improve our oversight and increase safety for everyone who lives along rail lines and works in the industry.”

Less than a year ago, Sarah Feinberg was named as FRA’s Administrator. Some say, under her leadership, the agency has improved the agency’s responsiveness to safety and other rail issues.

Besides the fee for hauling hazardous commodities, California Senate Bill 84 increased the amount of firefighting equipment and specialized training to respond to rail accidents involving hazardous materials. It also provides for a higher level of coordination among public agency first responders when dealing with hazardous material accidents.

“Some of it frustrates our citizens, frustrates us, frustrates our legislators,” Zagaris said. “We will continue to work here at the state level.”

NBC 7 Investigates is working for you. If you have more information about this or other story tips, contact us: (619) 578-0393, To receive the latest NBC 7 Investigates stories subscribe to our newsletter.

Published at 6:55 PM PDT on May 9, 2016
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Smart Meter Health — Maine Court

Maine Court: Wireless Smart Meters Don’t Threaten Health

Maine’s highest court has upheld a decision that wireless smart meters pose no credible threat to the health and safety of customers.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission reached that conclusion in a 2014 report.

Smart meter opponents then asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to intervene, arguing that the PUC’s findings weren’t backed up by enough evidence.

But Agnes Gormley, senior counsel at the public advocate’s office, says the PUC spent more than two years reviewing the health and safety concerns.

“They reviewed a very large amount of evidence,” she says. “And we thought that their finding was supported by all that evidence. So we were glad that the law court upheld the commission’s decision.”

Ed Friedman, a smart meter opponent and the main plaintiff in the case, says he’s still reviewing the today’s high court ruling.

Oil Train Rail Failures

“Sarah Feinberg, chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the agency is working hard to improve safety, but preventing accidents that result from defective track involves finding a needle in every haystack along thousands of miles of track.

“We have been incredibly lucky that the accidents have happened mostly in rural areas,” she said. “Some of them have been very close calls.”

The crashes have occurred as the nation’s railroad system is being asked to do more than at any time in history, putting additional wear and tear on the tracks. Since 2001, railroads have seen a modest 12% increase in the number of cars they haul, but a 24% jump in the more comprehensive measurement of cargo that looks at the weight and train mileage the system has to bear, known as ton-miles, according to industry data.

Though railroads have significantly improved safety in general, the oil train accidents are a worrisome trend in the opposite direction and not fully understood.”

New Environmental Impact Report about Oil Train Dangers

Sacramento Bee article

Benicia city officials have concluded a proposal to transport large amounts of crude oil daily on trains through Sacramento and Northern California would create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public, but say a spill is probably only a once every few decades occurrence.

Read more here: