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Another response to oil train slights

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Again, I feel compelled to reply to a letter submitted to New Times. In the letter by Madeline Palaszewski ("It's not if but when with oil trains," July 21) asking elected officials to stop the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project, she mentions the recent Mosier, Ore., oil train derailment. It should be noted that, yes, the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) did indeed fault Union Pacific for "failure to maintain track."

However, what was not mentioned by Ms. Palaszewski was this: Union Pacific actually was in compliance with FRA guidelines for proper "mainline" track maintenance. If Union Pacific had not been in compliance with FRA track rules, the FRA would have ordered a temporary halt to oil train shipments (Union Pacific probably only runs three oil trains a month over that track). But the FRA did not do so. The reason for the verbal hand slap the rail company received is simple: The FRA desires, but does not require, railroads do more inspections, primarily walking inspections, on curves.

Now why did the lag bolts (also called "screw spikes") not hold the rail from being forced outward? The reason could be anything from defective metal forging by the manufacturer to over-torqueing the spikes on installation. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) will determine what actually happened.

It should also be noted that the Union Pacific "mainline" track between Hinkle and Portland (through Mosier) is a heavy tonnage track that regularly sees 20 or more freight trains a day (no Amtrak trains), including almost daily unit trains of grain, potash, soda ash, and lumber. Heavy trains such as those do put stress on the track.

Now, compare that to the ex-Southern Pacific line that Union Pacific owns through San Luis Obispo. The rail company runs the current oil trains two to three times a week, several empty auto trains a week going to Mexico for new automobile loading, and several Amtrak trains a day. That's it. Compare that to 30 years ago when then Southern Pacific usually ran two to three, occasionally more, freight trains through SLO each way every day. And the "mainline" tracks were in worse condition back then than they are now. I've seen the difference with my own eyes.

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