Safety work means more oil trains for Oregon town

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News,Business

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A nearly $9 million project to make things safer in a Columbia River town that sees 24 oil trains a month will allow the trains to get through faster — and allow more trains.

The state of Oregon plans to provide most of the money for the project in Rainier, a city of about 1,900 along the line that brings the mile-long trains to a nearby oil terminal operated by Massachusetts-based Global Partners, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/UJtdRZ) reports.

The project would install curbs, reconfigure parking and add designated pedestrian and vehicle crossings in town, where the rail line runs along A Street. It would allow trains to increase their speeds from 10 mph to 25 mph and blow their horns fewer times.

It would also allow the number of trains to rise to 38 a month, helping expansion plans for Global Partners.

The current boom featuring North Dakota crude oil has led to heavier volumes of rail traffic in Oregon.

But North Dakota oil has proven to be more volatile in crashes, and many of the oil tankers are prone to split when they crash. All that raises concern among Oregon regulators and Gov. John Kitzhaber about gaps in the state's readiness for accidents.

Advocates of the Rainier project, including Kitzhaber, said improvements in Rainier's street are overdue and will help both safety and economic development in Columbia County, where unemployment is higher than average and wages are below average.

"This is a longstanding project designed to increase safety by separating trains from vehicle and pedestrian traffic," Kitzhaber spokeswoman Rachel Wray said. "No matter what companies haul, people living along rail lines in Oregon deserve safe infrastructure in their communities."

Critics such as Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, say the state should spend money on more rail inspectors, firefighter training or planning for increased spill risks. "There are a lot of other important gaps right now that need to be filled before helping an oil train company expand its profits," VandenHeuvel said.

Most of the money will come from the state.

Portland and Western Railroad, which operates the line between Portland and the Clatskanie export terminal, will chip in $750,000 for rail improvements. The city of Rainier expects to match that amount.

The Rainier project is a part of a concerted state effort to increase economic development in Columbia County. A $4 million project at nearby Port Westward would allow larger ships to access Global Partners' oil-train terminal and a proposed coal-export terminal.

The company is working on a $50 million to $70 million expansion of the terminal that ships oil to West Coast refineries. The company wants to increase the amount of oil it moves from trains onto barges to 1.8 billion gallons. It's currently limited to 50 million gallons, a cap it far exceeded last year.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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