Concerns remain after Mosier railroad safety upgrades

Reality set in when 14 cars twisted into a flaming mess across the tracks in Mosier

Scattered and burned oil tank cars, Saturday, June 4, 2016, after the train derailed and burned near Mosier, Ore., Friday. (Washington Department of Ecology via AP)
Scattered and burned oil tank cars, Saturday, June 4, 2016, after the train derailed and burned near Mosier, Ore., Friday. (Washington Department of Ecology via AP)

MOSIER, Ore. (KOIN) — On Monday, elected officials conducted a tour of railroad improvements near Mosier hoping they’ll prevent a disaster similar to the one that occurred 5 months ago.

The derailment and fire that took place in Mosier was a wake-up call about the potential dangers of oil trains. It has already led to some changes but not enough for those who want even more safety measures in place.

Whether Mayor Arlene Burns in Mosier, City Councilwoman Amy Weissfeld in Stevenson or Dow Constantine, executive from King County in Washington, their concern is the same.

“We don’t think the risk to our people is worth the continued transport of these materials until they can be shown to be safe,” said Constantine.

Reality set in when 14 cars twisted into a flaming mess across the tracks in Mosier.

It happened around 200 yards from a school where today children play only because conditions were in the town’s favor.

Burns and others on Monday are part of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, a coalition of local government leaders demanding more resources and safety upgrades from oil and rail companies. They want those upgrades not just to fight a fire when it happens, but also to prevent it in the first place.

“We certainly want to be protected against having a catastrophic explosion happen in an urban area,” said Constantine.

Since the derailment, Union Pacific has enhanced safety with a new fastening system throughout the eight miles of curved track in the Columbia River Gorge. The company is also dramatically stepping up the frequency of inspections.

It’s a start, but the upgrades are still not enough for people like Burns.

“All of us in Mosier. . . when we hear a train coming, there’s sort of a chill that runs up our spine,” Burns said.

One of Monday’s tour guides called unsafe conditions of rail lines and rail cars “literally playing Russian roulette with nearby communities.”