Originating in New Town, N.Dak., and hauled via Canadian Pacific to a UP interchange at Eastport, Idaho, the train was approximately 75 miles east of Portland when at least eleven cars left the track. (Follow-up reports placed the number at 16 cars.) Fire broke out on four of the cars and burned nearly 15 acres of brush before U.S. Forest Service firefighters and local fire crews contained it. The tank cars themselves remained burning for nearly 14 hours after the derailment.
A 23-mile stretch of adjacent Interstate 84 was closed for eleven hours. About 100 of Mosier’s 440 residents were still under an evacuation order 24 hours after the wreck. On the morning of June 4, an oil sheen was spotted on the nearby Columbia River. Crews quickly deployed containment booms on the Columbia at its confluence with Rock Creek. Although an EPA spokesperson said it might have come from a nearby pipe or structure and not from the derailed cars, the source of the sheen was still under investigation.
Widespread news coverage of the smoking wreckage at Mosier—the first significant crude-by-rail incident in the Pacific Northwest—comes at a time of increased awareness throughout the region on the subject of building new rail terminals for both coal and crude, as well as the potential increase of train traffic associated with such projects. A series of public hearings on a proposed coal export facility were being held in various Northwest cities during May and June. Just three weeks before the UP derailment, approximately 150 environmental activists blockaded a BNSF track leading to Shell and Tesoro oil refineries near Anacortes, Wash. The three-day protest coincided with similar anti-oil events in Los Angeles; Albany, N.Y.; and Washington D.C.
While investigators search for the cause of the Mosier derailment and crews clear the damaged cars and restore track, UP is detouring several of its trains via BNSF’s line along the opposite side of the Columbia River, which also carries unit crude to West Coast terminals. Coincidentally, the train that derailed in Mosier had made an abrupt stop the previous evening in Post Falls, Idaho, in response to an apparent near-miss at a public grade crossing.