State ‘Dodged a Bullet’ in Feather River Derailment, OES Says

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PLUMAS COUNTY-

Union Pacific work crews continue to clear a 12-car derailment that dumped a shipment of corn into the Feather River.

The Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River is a major route for bulk goods into and out of California.  While the track has been cleared, train traffic is being held back periodically while the delicate clean-up process moves forward.

That includes vacuuming corn from the cars before their removal, and installing barriers to keep more grain from getting into the feather river.

At the same time, investigators want to know why the cars left the track.

That’s because corn isn’t the only freight that is hauled through the scenic canyon.

“In this particular case, we dodged a bullet,” California Office of Emergency Services Communications Director Kelly Huston said.

OES says two oil trains carry volatile Bakken crude oil through the Feather River canyon each week  a million gallons at a time.

It’s the same crude oil that has exploded into flames and polluted rivers in several train derailments over the past year and a half.

“As the train travels through the Feather River it eventually ends up in downtown Sacramento and into Stockton and into the bay area and it’s traveling through a lot of high population centers," Huston said. "As it gets into high population areas it could also pose a threat if there’s a fire and explosion."

Union Pacific also wants to find out what happened to prevent another derailment.

It says it’s spent $30 billion in the last decade on new technologies to reduce derailments by 23 percent. It also says it adheres to strict federal safety standards.

"We operate all our trains under federal regulations we are required to do so, and that includes for all commodities that we move on the system,” Liisa Stark, with Union Pacific Public Affairs office, told FOX40.

But critics say federal regulations have not caught up with the emerging danger of Bakken crude derailments.

Katie Payne was heading to a family gathering in Porterville where she grew up and stopped with her husband and two sons to look at the wreckage.  Her brother works for the railroad in the area.

“It does concern me. They do have issues with rock slides and train problems so if it’s dangerous chemicals or crude oil that could really destroy this wild and scenic Feather River,” Payne said.

Not to mention that it is a major water supply and hydro-electric source for valley residents.

The fact is rail accidents happen despite anyone's best intentions, which is a worry as the number of Bakken crude shipments increase.

”We’re not taking the right precautions, we’re not keeping the public safe,” Payne said.