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Why Feds Chose Not to Investigate Oil Train Derailment in Columbia Gorge

July 8, 2016

The National Transportation Safety Board has responded to letter from Oregon’s senators about why it did not investigate last month’s oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, saying its limited staff likely would not have gleaned any new safety recommendations from examining the incident.

The federal agency provided a 50-page response to Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, saying it “recognizes the impact of this accident on your constituents and understands the concerns of those affected.”

The NTSB said it did not send a team to Mosier because the incident involved no injuries or fatalities and because early information gathered from Union Pacific Railroad, first responders and the Federal Railroad Administration “indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues.”

Specifically, federal investigators have seen tank cars rupture before when carrying flammable liquids. Their response to the Oregon senators included a list of 23 known incidents in North America involving crude oil, ethanol or other flammable liquids.

The NTSB opened an investigation into only nine of those and has not yet closed any, according to data relased in the response.

Wyden said he will be scrutinizing whether the agency needs to increase the size of its investigative staff.

“As I keep working to build support in Congress for my bill,  I will also continue to look at ways to improve oil-by-rail safety,” Wyden said. “I find it very disturbing that the NTSB did not appear to have enough resources to send an investigative team to Oregon to more closely examine the Mosier accident.”



A 16-car oil train derailment caused a fire and left a small oil sheen on the Columbia River.

Conrad Wilson

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