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Coal Train Spill Raises Questions About Export Plans

July 3, 2012 | Northwest News Network
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Anna King

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  • Large plumes of dust blew across Mesa, Wash., on Tuesday as crews cleaned up about 30 train cars full of coal that overturned the day before. credit: Courtney Flatt
Large plumes of dust blew across Mesa, Wash., on Tuesday as crews cleaned up about 30 train cars full of coal that overturned the day before. | credit: Courtney Flatt | rollover image for more

RICHLAND, Wash. - This week crews are cleaning up about 30 train cars full of coal that overturned near Mesa in Eastern Washington. The accident has raised questions about proposed increased train shipments of coal through the nearby Columbia River Gorge.

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Crews clean up overturned coal.

Huge machinery had to be trucked in from the Tri-Cities to clean up the black dusty mess in the rural burg east of Yakima. Car loads of coal overturned and damaged the tracks there.

A handful of onlookers drove by the coal pile Tuesday, as strong winds and cleanup efforts caused dust to blow around the area. Fire crews doused the pile with water all afternoon to keep it from catching fire. Powder River Basin coal is known to combust when stored in large piles.

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Philip Rigdon is the deputy director of the Yakama Nation’s Department of Natural Resources. He says the tribes are concerned about proposals to increase shipments of coal from the interior states through the Columbia River Gorge and then on to Asia.


“You’re going to have accidents,” Rigdon said. “What happens if this is along the Columbia River, and resources that, in the middle of our fishing season and in a time when our salmon are moving up?”

Rigdon says the tribe is also concerned about China burning coal and adding to the world’s air pollution. Rail shipper Burlington Northern Santa Fe didn’t return calls for comment.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said crews will be cleaning up coal and wrecked railcars for the next three weeks. About 30 cars spilled coal from the 125-car train. He says the company is investigating. No injuries were reported in the derailment.

Melonas said the majority of the derailed cars ended up on their sides and an undetermined amount of coal spilled. Melonas says no environmental threat was reported.

Railroad officials were on site and the cause of the derailment is under investigation.

Melonas says more than 30 trains use that track daily. Heavy equipment was being dispatched from Pasco to shove the rail cars off the line so crews can replaced the damaged tracks.

(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)

(EarthFix reporter Courtney Flatt and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)

© 2012 Northwest News Network
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