No cause identified in train derailment

July 12, 2013 10:00 am


There is still no known cause for the derailment of 27 rail cars outside La Grande early Wednesday morning.

The rail line, which was recently replaced by Union Pacific, re-opened Thursday, according to company communications director Aaron Hunt. 

“We are continuing to investigate any potential cause,” he said.

There are a number of factors to look at with a derailment, including weather conditions, track conditions and the handling of the train, Hunt said. 

“And in this case, we recently replaced rail so we have to look at that,” he said.

Hunt said Union Pacific will also look at the wheels of the cars involved.

Twenty-seven cars of the 82-car train derailed at about 2 a.m. Wednesday, though most of the cars remained upright. Two Hazmat teams were called to the scene off of Highway 203 because of the potential for a hazardous material leak. About 100 gallons of diesel were spilled and a slight drip of a sodium hydroxide blend was detected, but it was not significant enough to warrant any further protective measures. 

“One of the tank cars did have a very minor release of a sodium hydroxide blend product. My team estimated it at about half a cup,” Hunt said. “The diesel fuel and that blended product, both of these were contained on the site, and we will complete a comprehensive remediation.”

Union resident Charles Bear said the incident concerns him since track was just replaced in that area.

“In the best conditions we got a failure in the system,” he said. “And that’s not supposed to happen.”

Bear, who worked for Southern Pacific for six years in the 1970s and 80s, said the derailment is also a concern as it comes just days after a derailment in Quebec that killed an estimated 50 people.

“The railroad and the trains are dangerous. They carry a tremendous amount of things that can be dangerous,” he said.

No injuries were reported during the derailment or afterward as workers moved cars and repaired the line. Crews worked through Wednesday night to get the line up and running again.

Airport Lane resident Melissa Gomes said she lives near the derailment site and saw lights on all night.

“I could see the lights from a mile away. I saw them at about 11 p.m. and then at
2 a.m. the lights were still on,” she said.

Hunt said that is typical for an incident like this because the rail line needs to be opened as soon as possible. Approximately 30 freight trains travel on that line each day.

Hunt said Union Pacific is still unsure how much the derailment will cost the company because work is still being done. Workers will remain at the site to remove derailed cars by flatbed truck. 

ODOT representative Tom Strandberg said Highway 203 lanes will be intermittently closed until work at the site is finished.

“Travelers should plan for delays until it’s all cleared up,” he said.

The derailment is under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration and Union Pacific. The ODOT Rail Division will be cooperating with the investigation, according to ODOT Public Information Officer Shelley Snow.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.