Multiple inspections failed to catch track defect before Gorge d - KPTV - FOX 12

Multiple inspections failed to catch track defect before Gorge derailment

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An oil train derailed near Mosier on June 3. (Photo: ODOT) An oil train derailed near Mosier on June 3. (Photo: ODOT)
Broken lag bolts found at the scene of a train derailment near Mosier. (Photo: ODOT) Broken lag bolts found at the scene of a train derailment near Mosier. (Photo: ODOT)
MOSIER, OR (KPTV) -

The Oregon Department of Transportation is calling for a moratorium on oil trains after repeated inspections failed to catch a defect that led to a derailment and fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

ODOT's findings were presented at a Transportation Commission meeting in Hood River on Thursday.

The report states the track through Mosier was inspected on April 27, May 11 and May 31. No defects were found during those inspections. 

On May 31, a Union Pacific rail detector car with ultrasound technology was used through Mosier that was supposed to identify internal rail defects.  

Three days later, 16 tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed near Mosier, causing explosions and a massive fire.

An estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil escaped from four rail cars, with 10,000 gallons removed from the wastewater system. The remaining 32,000 gallons either burned off, were captured by booms in the Columbia River or absorbed into the soil.

Union Pacific reported that the primary cause of the June 3 derailment was broken lag bolts, which are part of the rail fastening system.

""Many of those bolts, it’s very apparent, had been broken for a long time," said Hal Gard, ODOT's Rail and Public Transit Administrator. "So we’re using inspection techniques that did not allow us to detect that kind of defect in the rail.  And that was alarming."

The broken lag bolts allowed the rails to spread, according to the company, creating a wider rail gauge that resulted in tank car wheels moving off the rail.  

"This fastener system has been extremely reliable since Union Pacific introduced it in 1999, installing it on the Columbia River Gorge route in 2001," according to a Union Pacific statement.

New rail was installed at the derailment site in 2013.

"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 ODOT letter states.

Trains were running through Mosier again days after the derailment as crews removed the remaining oil and cleared the rail cars.

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