BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The nation's largest railroad has agreed to more thorough inspections and maintenance improvements after a fiery derailment and the discovery of more than 800 potential safety violations across its sprawling network.
Details on the agreement between the Federal Railroad Administration and Union Pacific Railroad were obtained by The Associated Press.
A Union Pacific train hauling crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge derailed in June near Mosier, Oregon, sparking a massive fire that burned for 14 hours.
Investigators concluded routine inspections should have caught a series of broken bolts that allowed the rails near Mosier to widen.
A Union Pacific spokeswoman says the railroad has addressed more than 800 potential safety violations found by federal railroad inspectors on lines used to haul crude oil and other hazardous materials.
Railroad spokeswoman Calli Hite says Union Pacific is committed to making its lines safer. She says it has fixed problems that were identified by the government as potential violations.
The Transportation Department says it assessed more than $15 million in civil penalties against the U.S. railroad industry this year for safety violations and other infractions, a slight increase over 2015.
There have been at least 27 oil train accidents across North America over the past decade. A 2013 wreck and explosion killed 47 people in Quebec.
Of the major railroads, BNSF Railway racked up the most penalties in 2016, totaling $3.4 million. Union Pacific had $3 million in penalties from more than 1,000 violations.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement that the Federal Railroad Administration's enforcement program helps prevent needless accidents and deaths.
Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., issued the following joint statement Friday following the Federal Railroad Administration’s announcement that it has reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad Co. that will require the railroad to meet higher safety standards. The agreement follows an oil train derailment near Mosier, Ore., earlier this year.
“We welcome the Federal Railroad Administration’s decision to hold Union Pacific to higher safety standards following the disastrous oil train derailment in Mosier this year. While banning oil trains from the Columbia Gorge is the only way to completely eliminate future derailments, this agreement has the potential to significantly improve railroad safety – something we have been calling for since 2014.
“We will review the compliance agreement’s details to ensure it helps protect communities near train tracks, and will closely monitor its enforcement to ensure the Trump administration upholds the agreement’s requirements. We also expect the FRA to complete its investigation of the Mosier accident and to make further changes to strengthen or add safety measures to the agreement if the investigation warrants them.”
In June, Wyden and Merkley called on the FRA to halt crude oil traffic through the Columbia Gorge until the cause of the Mosier accident had been fully analyzed.
In July, the senators introduced a bill to require the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate every major oil train derailment and clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to place moratoriums on oil train traffic when derailments occur. The bill, the Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules (MOSIER) Act, would also require the Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of volatile gases in the crude oil that trains transport.
Additionally, Wyden and Merkley introduced the Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act last year to reduce risks to communities near railroad tracks by speeding up the phase-out of older tank cars and encouraging companies to replace them with newer, safer cars.
The bill would place a fee on the older tank cars and use the revenue raised by the fee to help communities and first responders be better prepared in the event of a rail accident. It would also establish a dedicated fund for clean-up costs of oil train accidents, advanced training for first responders, and grant money for states and cities to reroute rail tracks carrying large volumes of hazardous materials away from highly populated areas.