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Communication disconnect halts oil train

Delay attributed to temporary loss of contact between train, track inspector


by: MARK MILLER - A unit train of DOT-111 tank cars carrying crude oil parked on the train tracks south of Havlik Road in Scappoose. The train began moving again within 15 minutes or so of stopping.A unit train of tanker cars bearing placards used to label crude oil sat at a complete standstill in south Scappoose for almost 15 minutes Monday, June 23.

The train stopped on the tracks after 11 a.m., just south of the Havlik Road crossing. Officials from the Portland & Western Railroad, which operates the rail line through Scappoose, attributed the stoppage to a safety precaution taken after a temporary breakdown in communication between the railroad and a track inspector who went out in a road-rail truck ahead of the train.

“They had lost contact with him for 10 to 12 minutes,” said Joel N. Haka, president of P&W. “He was in a cell phone coverage area that was spotty.”

The train began moving again at about 11:22 a.m., after resuming contact with the inspector, Haka said. The train horn blasted several times as it got back up to speed and the rail crossing lights flashed.

The train was bound for Port Westward, a large industrial park north of Clatskanie where an oil terminal is located.

The cars, which were DOT-111 tank cars, bore the diamond-shaped “1267” placards used to indicate when a car is carrying crude oil, classified by the Federal Railroad Administration as a flammable liquid.

A spokesperson on behalf of Global Partners LP, which operates the terminal at Clatskanie, confirmed the company was “expecting a shipment” Monday. The spokesperson said the DOT-111s in the train were models that comply with the latest federal safety guidelines, including internal puncture shields on each end of the car.

Global announced earlier this year that it would no longer accept older-model tank cars at its oil terminals near Clatskanie and Albany, New York.

Oil trains generally do not stop while in transit to their final destinations, although Haka and Jerry Vest, a senior vice president at Genesee & Wyoming Inc., which owns the P&W, said exceptions are made for crew changes and safety concerns.

“When we say we don’t stop it, that doesn’t mean the train never stops,” said Vest. “Obviously, we don’t like stopping any train, especially one of these, especially right in the middle of the tracks through Scappoose.”

A road-rail truck, which is a truck modified to travel along railroad tracks, goes out ahead of each oil train on the P&W line to ensure the tracks are clear, according to Haka.