Derailment raises tough questions

By Observer editorial July 15, 2013 10:34 am
The scene last week southeast of La Grande resembled a child’s toy train set tossed across the front room.

Yet the derailment of a Union Pacific freight train going from Nebraska to the Portland area was, unfortunately, not child’s play. It was all too real.

Obviously, something went wrong to spark the derailment. Yet a lot of other things could have gone wrong but didn’t. This time, the community was lucky.

While it would be easy to blame Union Pacific the fact is the historic railroad firm is conducting an investigation into the incident in a forthright manner in an effort to find answers.

Also of special note was the prompt reaction of local emergency service agencies to the incident.

Clearly, answers need to be found. Just as clearly, Union Pacific appears to be doing its part to find these answers.

Yet the incident, while of note locally, also underscores the relevance to public questions regarding safety of the rail network. A good statewide example is the current controversy raging over a proposed coal export terminal in Boardman at the Port of Morrow.

Proponents of the venture seek to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to that terminal — and two similar facilities situated in Washington State — and then export it to Asia.

At least one environmental group — The Sierra Club — filed suit in June in Federal court against the firms behind the coal terminal venture. The core of the suit appears to focus on the assertion coal dust from uncovered coal trains taints the Columbia River.

The controversy will continue, no doubt, but derailments — such as the one here locally last week — raise some relevant questions regarding train safety. And its ultimate impact on local residents, and pristine areas such as the Columbia River.

The local area was lucky last week. Will it be so lucky in the future?