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Oregon Officials Call for Ban on 'Bomb Trains' in Wake of Fiery Derailment

 'We must have an immediate plan to phase out all fossil fuel infrastructure,' say climate activists

Rail cars burn near the Columbia River Gorge after a 100-car train derailed near the town of Mosier, Ore., June 3, 2016.  (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read/flickr/cc)

On the heels of a fiery derailment near the Columbia River Gorge city of Mosier, Oregon, officials in that state are calling for a suspension to oil-carrying trains.

The June 3 Union Pacific train derailment leaked over 40,00 gallons of Bakken crude, sending oil into the sewage system and forcing the evacuation of 100 residents.

The new request came in a letter dated June 8 from Oregon's Department of Transportation (ODOT) to the Federal Railroad Administration, a body whose duties include enforcing rail safety regulations.

The Associated Press reports that ODOT made the letter public during a presentation Thursday to the Oregon Transportation Commission.

Union Pacific officials said the derailment was caused by broken lag bolts, which AP describes as "fasteners which are used to attach the rail to the rail tie on a curved section of track."

"As the trains move around the curve, they apply a lateral force to that rail, shoving that rail out. What holds that rail intact are those lags," a Union Pacific spokesperson said last week. "If all those lags are broke for so many ties in a row, it allows that rail to spread out, which allowed the wheel to fall in. We had one wheel down at the point of derailment."

Despite multiple track inspections in the month before the derailment, the broken bolts were not detected. Union Pacific had tested the bolts every 18 months but will now test them every three months.

But that's not enough for Hal Gard, administrator of Oregon's Rail and Public Transit Division.


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"Until the underlying cause of the bolt failures is understood and, a means of detecting this defect is developed, we request a moratorium on running unit oil trains over sections of track that contain track fasteners of this material within the state of Oregon," the Portland Tribune reports Gard as writing in the letter.

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Tom Fuller, ODOT's director of communications, also asked, given that neither ODOT nor Union Pacific spotted the broken bolts, "Where else might this exist ... just waiting to have a derailment?" 

Such an accident could put hundreds of young lives at risk, as a recent report from Stand (formerly ForestEthics), for example, found that over 250,000 students in Oregon and Washington state alone are enrolled in 748 schools within the "blast zone"—the one-mile evacuation area in the event of an oil train derailment and fire.

For climate activists, while a pause on the so-called bomb trains might be welcome, it fails to fully remove the inherent dangers of transporting fossil fuels. 

Sparked by the Mosier derailment, the Fossil Fuel Resistance Network (FFRN) is organizing a direct action to take place Saturday in Vancouver, Washington, which is the proposed home for one of the nation's biggest crude-by-rail facilities

On its Facebook page, FFRN says, "We must go beyond a temporary moratorium on oil trains, and we must have an immediate plan to phase out all fossil fuel infrastructure."

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