More oil cars rolling through Northeastern Oregon

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PENDLETON (AP) — The rising amount of crude oil on trains headed through Pendleton to Portland is coming on mixed freight trains, rather than trains made up entirely of oil cars, a railroad spokesman says.

The oil boom in North Dakota means trains have been carrying crude through northeast Oregon since 2012 — before that ships handled the transportation — and the number of tank cars is slowly increasing, the East Oregonian reported.

The boom and subsequent derailments such as a recent fiery crash in eastern North Dakota have drawn attention to the shipments and to the most common tank cars, which have a history of breaking open in crashes. A wreck in Quebec killed 47 people.

Although Union Pacific wouldn’t reveal the amount of crude oil coming through northeast Oregon, the company said it shipped 140,000 total carloads of crude oil in 2012 compared with 25,000 carloads in 2011.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said the company now moves crude oil through Pendleton only on mixed freight trains, meaning an oil tank may sit next to containers filled with flat screen TVs or fertilizer in a train made up of dozens of cars.

The rail company doesn’t have a choice regarding moving crude oil, Hunt said, because federal law requires common carriers such as Union Pacific to move hazardous materials, ethanol and crude oil for their customers.

If a customer delivers the hazardous material and meets U.S. Department of Transportation standards, “Union Pacific is obligated to transport that material,” Hunt said. “Our main goal is to safely transport those hazardous materials.”

The surge in domestic oil production and the increasing use of the rails to move it have cast a spotlight on the common oil tank car known as a DOT-111.

The Federal Railroad Administration has told the industry to phase out the tankers. Hunt said Union Pacific supports that, but he couldn’t say how long it will take.

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