Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Feb. 18, 2020

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Washington governor calls for oil train moratorium on Union Pacific

Gov. Jay Inslee's calls for halt to oil transport after fiery crash in Gorge

By , Columbian Political Writer

Gov. Jay Inslee called for a halt on Union Pacific Railroad oil trains traveling through Washington on Friday until stricter safety standards are enacted.

Inslee’s call comes after an oil train headed to Tacoma derailed in the Columbia River Gorge, in the town of Mosier, Ore., earlier this month. Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown and other political leaders called for a moratorium on oil transport in response to the fiery crash. Inslee’s call for curtailing Bakken oil traveling through the state focuses solely on Union Pacific.

Jamie Smith, Inslee’s spokeswoman, said Inslee’s call for a “moratorium would essentially apply to UP (Union Pacific) since they aren’t doing adequate inspections,” but added, “the ask is to halt any Bakken oil trains that haven’t been cleared by a walking inspection by the railroad.”

BNSF Railway has inspectors who walk the tracks, Smith said. BNSF is the primary carrier of oil in Washington, according to state data.

“Ideally, FRA (the Federal Rail Authority) could halt all oil trains that don’t have all the safety improvements, electronic brakes, newer cars, but that doesn’t appear to be within their authority,” Smith wrote in an email, adding that’s why Inslee is focused on stopping all oil trains until walking inspections are mandatory.

Inslee said in the statement, he’s not “interested in symbolic measures.”

“It is unclear at this point whether the FRA (Federal Rail Authority) has the authority to order a stop to unsafe oil train transport, but they committed to looking into what they can do and will revisit what can be done to halt UP’s (Union Pacific) Bakken oil train transport until necessary safety improvements are made,” Inslee said.

In the past couple of years, the number of oil “unit trains” traveling through both states has increased dramatically. Many more trains would be likely to travel through the Columbia River Gorge if Vancouver Energy’s plans to build the nation’s largest oil terminal here are approved. The governor has the final say in whether the Tesoro-Savage project will be approved.

The state kicks off its public review of the proposal on Monday.

The Union Pacific tracks near Mosier had been inspected shortly before the derailment and no problems were identified. However, accident investigators believe a track problem caused the derailment.

Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown repeated her call for a moratorium on oil transport on Thursday.

“The Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary Mosier derailment report calls attention to serious safety concerns and the need for improved track inspections,” Brown said in a statement. “I expect the final investigation report to be completed quickly and again call on rail operators to halt oil trains in Oregon until the strongest safety measures are put in place by federal authorities to protect Oregonians.”