P&W: About 3 trains per week traveling to Port Westward

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - A unit train of tanker cars carrying crude oil in Scappoose last month. The Portland & Western Railroad, which is a short line, operates locomotives provided by BNSF Railway and other major railroad companies to move unit trains along the rail line through Columbia County.Members of the public can now find out about the movement of trains in their community that are laden with crude oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office announced Tuesday, July 8, that it posted reports from railroad companies about their shipments through the state to its website.

The reports are now required for railroad carriers operating trains that carry 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil on a single train, under an emergency order issued June 6 by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Train lines must provide estimates of the number of trains and volumes per week, through each county, including the route being used, emergency response information, and a point of contact at the railroad.

The Portland & Western Railroad, which operates the rail line through Columbia County and northwest Portland, estimated in a June 5 report that it will ship three trains of crude oil per week through Multnomah and Columbia counties. The terminus for those trains is Port Westward, the industrial park north of Clatskanie where Massachusetts-based energy company Global Partners LP operates an oil terminal.

The trains freighted along the P&W cross the Columbia River from Vancouver, Washington, over Hayden Island. They then travel through the Portland neighborhoods of St. Johns and Linnton before heading northwest through Burlington, Scappoose, Warren, St. Helens, Columbia City, Deer Island, Goble and Rainier, eventually reaching Port Westward in the northwestern corner of Columbia County.

Throughout much of the P&W line’s route, it runs alongside Highway 30.

The crude oil in the trains on the P&W line originate from the North Dakota communities of Berthold, Dore, Eland and Epping.

Western North Dakota is at the epicenter of the oil boom on the Bakken shale formation. Oil can be extracted relatively cheaply and easily from the shale, which also extends into parts of Montana and Canada.

Canadian and U.S. regulators are studying whether the Bakken-sourced crude is measurably more volatile than crude oil from other sources. Several trains carrying Bakken crude have been involved in train derailments, spills, fires and even explosions over the past year, most notably in a derailment that devastated the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last July.

Another railroad company that operates in Oregon, BNSF Railway, also reported operating crude oil trains in the state.

BNSF estimated that for the week of June 5 to 11 it would operate zero to nine weekly trains loaded with crude oil through Multnomah, Deschutes, Wasco, Jefferson, Klamath and Umatilla counties. BSNF did not provide the route of its rail tracks.

For its May 29 to June 4 report, the rail line reported three trains through Multnomah County and one through the other counties.

A third railroad, Union Pacific, reported that it doesn’t currently run Bakken crude oil trains exceeding the 1 million gallon threshold through Oregon.

Portland Tribune reporter Steve Law contributed to this report.

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