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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Train derailment closes Highway 203 near Union

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Train derailment closes Highway 203 near Union


By Kelly Ducote

The Observer

LA GRANDE — Twenty-seven cars and one locomotive were derailed early this morning near Hot Lake Springs on Highway 203.

About a dozen or so nearby residences and people staying at Eagles Hot Lake RV Park and Hot Lake Springs bed and breakfast were evacuated and the highway was closed until about 9 a.m. amid concerns of a hazardous material leak.

Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings said the evacuation radius was initially four miles from the derailment site.

Official reports confirmed there was about 100 gallons of diesel spilled, but no hazardous spills were found. A regional hazmat crew out of Hermiston was at the scene early this morning along with another team deployed by Union Pacific to investigate potential leaks.

“We have confirmed that (the diesel) has been contained. No waterways were impacted,” said Aaron Hunt, Union Pacific corporate relations director. He said the cause of the derailment is under investigation.

No injuries were reported in the accident.

The train was heading westbound from Nebraska to the Portland area and had a two-member crew, according to The Associated Press. 

About a mile and a half of rail was affected by the derailment of the train, which was carrying 82 cars in tow. Hunt said Union Pacific is not yet sure of the extent of the damage, but officials at the scene indicated some of the track had been destroyed.

Oregon State Police Sgt. Kyle Hove said the train was headed north toward La Grande when the initial report that the rear pusher unit was on its side came in. A command center was set up about two miles from the derailment site due to the potential hazardous situation.

“We just use extreme caution in these scenarios,” Hove said.

Earlier reports at the scene indicated there was a small drip of sodium hydroxide leaking from the valve of an overturned car, but officials later said no leak was found.

Hunt said 27 cars and a locomotive derailed, but only two or three actually overturned.

“We have refrigerated cars derailed, three tank cars derailed and a number of other cars,” he said. “The diesel leak appears to have come from a refrigerated car.”

Hunt said the train had a mix of freight. There were no releases from another tank car, which contained glycol, and a tanker that normally carries benzene was empty, according to The Associated Press.

Officials said they plan to be working the scene for at least the rest of the day.

“We’ve got folks responding to the site. They’re going to re-rail the cars. If they have significant damage, they will have to be transported out of the area on a flatbed truck,” Hunt said. “There is no estimated time when the rail line will re-open.”

Part of that line was recently replaced just a few weeks ago as part of an $8.9 million investment program in Eastern Oregon. About 30 freight trains come through the area every day.

“Hopefully, the damage here is minimized,” Hunt said.

ODOT representative Tom Strandberg said Highway 203 was re-opened about 9 a.m. to one-way traffic, with flaggers and pilot cars directing traffic.

“Prepare for delays. Drive with extra caution,” he said.

Hove said the narrow road with little shoulder room could be difficult for workers.

“This is going to be a dangerous work zone,” Hove said. “These folks have a big task ahead of them.”

La Grande Rural Fire Department, La Grande Fire Department, Island City Fire Department, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, ODOT, Union Pacific Railroad and Oregon Regional HazMat Team 10 from Hermiston responded to the scene.

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