​Railroad reveals cause of fiery oil train derailment

An aerial view of an oil train that derailed in the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon, June 3, 2016.


MOSIER, Ore. -- At least one broken bolt holding the rail in place caused the fiery derailment of a Union Pacific train moving volatile crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border, railroad officials say.

Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs said Saturday that the company filed a report Friday with the Federal Railroad Administration citing one or more broken bolts as the cause of the June 3 derailment.

"We are unaware of any time when this has happened in the past," Jacobs said. "This is an unusual failure."

He said there's no evidence of malevolent activity by anyone to damage the tracks.

"There's nothing to indicate that would be the case," he said.

The type of bolt that broke is unique in that it's only used on curved sections of track, Jacobs said. He noted the train was going 26 mph in a 30 mph zone so it's not clear why the bolt failed. As a result, he said, the company is now in the process of checking similar bolts in curved sections of its 32,000 miles of track in 23 states.

No one was injured in the derailment, but the tiny town of Mosier, Oregon, was evacuated after four cars caught fire. Of the 96 cars all loaded with crude oil, more than a dozen derailed.


A view of the derailed oil cars near the town of Mosier, about 70 miles east of Portland.


Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton, who fought the blaze after the derailment, said he appreciated Union Pacific's maintenance and safety procedures but the risk of one broken bolt resulting in such a disaster or potentially worse disasters means regulators should not allow shipments of crude oil to travel by train through the area.

"We have to accept that there are going to be failures in the rail system," he said. "But we have to recognize that there are some risks that are unacceptable."

Officials have said 42,000 gallons of crude oil were released in the derailment of the unit crude oil train, called such because it hauled only one type of commodity. About 10,000 gallons were recovered in wastewater systems, while the rest was burned off, captured by booms or absorbed into soil.


A plume of smoke seen from derailment of train pulling oil cars in Mosier, Oregon on Friday, June 3, 2016.


Jacobs said bolts in that section of track, following the derailment, have been replaced with heavier duty bolts.

He also said inspections have been increased in the Columbia River Gorge from once every 18 months to four times a year. He said the broken bolt possibly escaped detection because the break occurred out of sight. He said the testing going on now on the company's network of tracks is much more labor intensive and will detect broken bolts.

"We know this has been a major setback and we apologize," a Union Pacific official told Mosier residents Friday night at a town hall meeting, CBS affiliate KOIN reported.

Representatives touted the safety of the track during the meeting.

"The track stretches that we've built through the Columbia River Gorge are the safest track structures in the industry and the United States of America," another railroad representative said.

Union Pacific promised to make things right, but leaders from the surrounding cities and Northwest native tribes are calling for an end to oil trains coming through the Gorge, according to KOIN.

"We believe there is no safe way," Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns said. "This is a straight piece of track and the trains were going at a normal speed or slower."

It's not easy to just put a stop to oil transportation according to Jacobs.

"At the end of the day we have tens of thousands of customers that rely on our goods and services for this economy and we take that obligation very seriously," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said the way to restore trust in the community is to be transparent and work with the community.

Despite the safety measures in place and the cleanup, Burns isn't budging.

"We need to shift to a different way of doing business and so we are not wanting to compromise," she said.

Union Pacific has temporarily halted sending unit crude oil trains through the area, and it's not clear when they will resume.

"We will notify the community before we start running unit crude oil trains through the gorge," Jacobs said.