DEQ: Train engine, not tanker car, source of spill

A small oil spill occurred along the Portland & Western Railroad in Rainier earlier this month, according to state, railroad and fire district officials.

Michael Greenberg, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s oil spill incident commander, said the state’s emergency response team, the railroad, and Columbia River Fire & Rescue were notified about the spill last Tuesday, April 15, although the spill is believed to have occurred the previous week. The U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the scene.

About 15 gallons of oil are estimated to have spilled. Greenberg said the suspected culprit is an oil retention tank on a P&W locomotive engine.

“It appears that it came from those trains,” Greenberg said.

While crude oil is among the products freighted through Columbia County by train, the spill apparently did not come from a tanker car.

“Testing confirmed that the oil was not crude oil,” wrote Michael Williams, spokesman for P&W parent company Genesee & Wyoming Inc., in an email Wednesday, April 23. “The railroad therefore believes the oil came from a locomotive and is conducting a thorough internal investigation as to how that may have occurred.”

Ron Youngberg, CRF&R division chief, said a major release from a tanker would have manifested differently.

The spill was cleaned up by the evening of Wednesday, April 16. No environmental impact occurred as a result of the spill, Greenberg and Williams said, and although the section of track where the spill occurred along Laurel Beach Road is very close to the bank of the Columbia River, the oil does not appear to have made it into the river.

“It was confined to the ditch,” said Greenberg.

Railroad operations were not impacted, according to Williams.

The incident remains under investigation. Greenberg said no determination has been made yet as to whether P&W will be fined for the spill.

A resident of the area reported first noticing oil along the tracks on April 12, according to Greenberg — days before it was reported to the appropriate agency. He urged members of the public who see evidence of an oil spill to immediately call the Oregon Emergency Response System at 800-452-0311.

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