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Senators ask BNSF to halt hazardous material trains in Gorge


(Update: Comment from railroad)

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Thursday urged Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to cease the rail transport of hazardous materials through the Columbia River Gorge while wildfires there are active and the threat remains of flash flooding and rockslides.

The Oregon lawmakers’ letter to BNSF CEO Matthew Rose came as the Eagle Creek Fire and Archer Mountain Fire continued to burn and smolder in the gorge, near the railroad tracks.

“These tragic events have forced evacuations of towns and homes, and endangered lives and infrastructure near these fires,” Wyden and Merkley wrote. “We were pleased to see BNSF take immediate action after the Eagle Creek Fire began, and temporarily stop all train traffic through the Gorge.

“However, we are concerned that prematurely resuming service and the movement of oil, or other hazardous materials, by train while the fires are still burning, could put local communities at further risk of harm,” they wrote, noting they are conveying concerns they have heard firsthand from Gorge constituents. “We request that BNSF postpone movements of oil trains and trains carrying other hazardous materials through the Columbia River Gorge while there are active wildfires and the ongoing concern of flash flooding and rockslides.”

In response, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas in Seattle said, “BNSF has been working with associated Incident Command and agencies. The Archer fire is contained, there is no threat to our operation.

“We shut down all traffic immediately through the area, but all movements are safe now. We have resources, fire trains and materials positioned to support further safety on our Gorge route and are monitoring our trains’ movements. We meet federal and BNSF safety operating standards. If there is a threat from fires, we will halt our crews from working, passenger trains and all train movements.”

“Again, there is no current threat to any types of the traffic that we are moving through the Columbia River Gorge,” Melonas added.

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