Union Pacific to step up inspections in aftermath of oil train accident

Oil tank cars lay scattered and burned after a train derailed near Mosier, Oregon, in early June.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Union Pacific Corp. has agreed to more inspections and maintenance improvements after a fiery oil train derailment in Oregon and the discovery of more than 800 potential safety violations across its network.

Sixteen tank cars from a Union Pacific train hauling North Dakota crude through the Columbia River Gorge derailed in early June along a curve in the tracks near Mosier, Oregon. The accident sparked a fire that burned for 14 hours and prompted the evacuation of nearby areas.

No one was injured.

Federal officials said the railroad wasn’t following its own inspection rules to ensure the track was safe. A closer examination of the tracks would have caught a series of broken bolts that allowed the rails to move too far apart where the accident occurred, officials said.

Details on the agreement between the Federal Railroad Administration and Union Pacific were obtained by the Associated Press. The investigation into the accident is continuing.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Calli Hite told The World-Herald that the agreement was reached with the Federal Railroad Administration through a “collaborative effort” and that the company has an “unwavering commitment “ to railroad safety.

“All issues noted in today’s agreement have been addressed and remediated,” Hite said Friday.

Freight-rail travel is already remarkably safe, according to the Association of American Railroads. The train accident rate in 2015 was down 77 percent from 1980 and down 37 percent from 2000; the employee injury rate in 2015 was down 84 percent from 1980 and down 47 percent from 2000; and the grade-crossing collision rate in 2015 was down 81 percent from 1980 and down 42 percent from 2000.

“By all of these measures, recent years have been the safest in rail history,” according to an Association of American Railroads statement.

The more than 800 potential violations against Union Pacific were found as part of a two-year examination of tracks across the United States used to haul crude oil. The violations include some of the same lax inspection problems blamed in the Mosier derailment, federal officials said.

Enforcement actions against the company have not been finalized.

Hite said Union Pacific is committed to making its lines safer and has fixed the problems identified by the government as potential violations.

“All of the issues, the 800 that were noted, have been addressed,” she said. “We did everything as soon as we talked to them and knew we needed to do it.”

Sarah Feinberg, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the agreement raises the bar on safety.

“This compliance agreement requires Union Pacific to go above and beyond existing regulations,” she said.

The oil industry has become heavily reliant on trains in recent years because of limited pipeline capacity in the booming oil patch of the northern Great Plains and the oil sands region of western Canada.

Omaha-based Union Pacific operates more than 32,000 miles of track across 23 states.

World-Herald staff writer Russell Hubbard contributed to this report.

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