Columbia River coal train derails, providing ammo for coal foes
By Erik Siemers
A coal train derailment in Washington made a mess near the Columbia River.
A coal train derailment by the Columbia River near Pasco, Wash., this week is providing new ammunition to opponents of major coal export terminals proposed across the Pacific Northwest.
A BNSF coal train carrying 125 loads of coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to British Columbia derailed just before 7 p.m. Monday 30 miles east of Pasco, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas.
Nobody was injured and Melonas said no hazardous materials were spilled. The derailment wasn’t close enough to the river to impact the waterway.
Of the train’s 125 cars, 31 derailed, with 20 crashing into a pile, 10 falling onto their side and one shoved upright. The upright car was re-railed, while the rest were pushed to the side to make way for track replacement groups to begin repairing damage.
An average of 30 trains per day use that strip of railroad, including Amtrak’s daily service between Portland and Chicago. Several trains were rerouted Tuesday to other Northwest routes.
The rail line is expected to reopen for traffic starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday night. But it could be another three weeks before the debris is cleaned up, including spilled coal, damaged rail and 30 railcars that will go to the scrap heap.
The biggest damage, though, could come in the political arena.
Oregon and Washington are facing six separate proposals — including three projects along the Columbia River — for export terminals designed to transport coal from the Powder River Basin to energy hungry markets in Asia.
Proponents have argued the projects would bring much-needed jobs and economic investment to local communities and manufacturers. The three Columbia River projects alone account for around $1 billion in new investment.
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