Opponents of Gorge railroad expansion rally in Dalles

Union Pacific wants to build 4 additional miles of mainline track through the Gorge

A woman holds up a sign during a protest for a Union Pacific railroad expansion in Mosier, September 6, 2016. (KOIN)

The Dalles, Ore. (KOIN) — Community members rallied against plans for a Union Pacific railroad expansion before a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday night.

Union Pacific wants to build 4 additional miles of mainline track that would allow longer trains to come through the Columbia River Gorge.

But opponents say they’re worried the railroad expansion would negatively impact the natural area there, including the salmon habitat.

A photo provided by Oregon DEQ shows debris following a train derailment in Oregon.
A photo provided by Oregon DEQ shows debris following a train derailment in Oregon.

On top of that, there’s safety concerns about possible derailments.

A Union Pacific train derailed near Mosier on June 3, 2016. In the incident, 11 cars full of crude oil derailed and one caught fire.

At the time, Dan Serres, Columbia Riverkeeper’s conservation director, called it a “textbook example of what can go wrong with an oil train.”

Many residents and environmental groups in the area have spoken out against oil-by-rail since the derailment, citing dangers to the natural resources along the Gorge.

Union Pacific spokesperson Justin Jacobs says, while they understand opponents’ concerns, they want to reassure the public that safety will be their top priority.

“They are continuing the replacement process of… lag bolts for rail spikes for better detectability in the Gorge as our commitment following our derailment,” Jacobs said.

Still, not everyone is on board. The group Friends of the Columbia River Gorge doesn’t feel the railroad expansion will bring any economic benefits to local communities.

The Wasco County Planning Commission could make a decision next month.

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