Oil Trains In The Northwest

Oil Train Opponents Hail Track Expansion Defeat In Columbia Gorge

By Courtney Flatt (OPB)
Nov. 4, 2016 8 p.m.
Train derailment fire as seen from Coyote Wall area on Washington state Route 14.

Train derailment fire as seen from Coyote Wall area on Washington state Route 14.

Courtesy of Derek Greenwood

Northwest oil train opponents are celebrating  after a county in the Columbia River Gorge rejected a track-expansion request from Union Pacific Railroad.

The project was proposed in Mosier, Oregon. That's where an oil train derailed last summer, resulting in a fiery explosion and groundwater contamination. Opponents said the project would result in increased oil and coal train traffic through the Columbia Gorge.


Wasco County commissioners voted the proposal down on Wednesday, rejecting the local planning commission's approval of the project.

Columbia Riverkeeper attorney Lauren Goldberg  said county commissioners were swayed by opposition from local people, including members of the Yakama Nation Indian tribe and Friends of the Columbia River Gorge.

Related: Oil Trains In The Northwest

"Wasco County's decision is just one example where we see local communities that are respecting the very important input of tribal nations as well as community members," Goldberg said. "I think we'll see more of this."

She said even before the Mosier oil-train derailment, opposition had been mounting throughout the Northwest, thanks to oil-by-rail projects that called for trains from oil-producing regions to deliver the crude to ports where ships could move it to refineries along the West Coast.

The biggest of these facilities in the United States has been proposed in Vancouver, Washington.

A spokesman for Union Pacific said the track expansion was intended to reduce the number of idling trains along the Columbia Gorge and reduce rail traffic delays.

"Our goal remains being transparent and providing information to Gorge communities," said company spokesman Justin E. Jacobs. "We plan to continue working with the community to understand its concerns and address them moving forward."

Union Pacific has not indicated whether it will appeal Wasco County's decision to the Columbia River Gorge Commission.