Oregon residents return home after oil train derailment

Donna Gordon Blankinship and Bob Seavey
Associated Press

Seattle — Dozens of residents of a Columbia River town in northern Oregon have been given the all clear to return home, after crews made progress in repairing damage caused by the derailment of an oil train that sparked a fire.

About a hundred people — a quarter of Mosier’s population — were evacuated Friday after several cars carrying the volatile oil went off the tracks.

But officials said late Sunday night that the Wasco County Sheriff’s office lifted the evacuation order, after progress was made in cleaning up the derailment and restoring essential services, including a waste water treatment plant.

A statement by incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said 10,000 gallons of oil had been removed from the plant. She said water and sewer services were usable, but a boil water order remains in effect.

“We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Union Pacific Railroad official Raquel Espinoza said Sunday, before the all-clear was signaled.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Espinoza said a failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was the likely cause of the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure.

Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.

No injuries were reported in the derailment in which 16 of 96 tank cars went off the tracks and started a fire in four of the cars. Authorities were working Sunday to clean up an oil sheen in the Columbia River near the scene of the derailment.

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 an 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.