Oil Train Theater:  Close Call in Mosier, Oregon

Posted: July 17, 2016 in Rail Transport of Oil
Tags: , ,
Close Call in Mosier presents the direct quotes of those who were there. (Frances Burke, Alan Hirsch, Jean Jackman)

Close Call in Mosier presents the direct words of those who experienced the derailment and fire. (Frances Burke, Alan Hirsch, Jean Jackman)

This Oil Train Theater piece was prepared for the 3rd Stop Oil Trains memorial of the Lac Megantic oil train derailment and explosion that claimed the lives of 47 people in July 2013.   It highlights the close call in Mosier, Oregon when an oil train derailed and four cars burst into flame on June 4th, 2016.  Most of the words are direct quotes from the people involved.

Oil Train Theater:  Close Call in Mosier, Oregon

Directions for the Reader’s Theater:  15-20 minutes

Readers:  Jean Jackman, Phil Summers, Elizabeth Lasensky, Frances  Burke, Carol Warren, Dawn Student, Alan Hirsch , Lynne Nittler

Signs:  Craig Thomsen, Alan Hirsch

  • Signs: Each speaker will be identified to the audience with a sign with large lettering held up as they speak.   Craig and Alan.
  • Quotes. Passages in quotes are actual quotes!  There are 28 changes of speakers (but 6 are the narrator, and two are the UP spokesperson.)
  • The Narrator speaks 6 times and will wear red to stand out.
  • UP rep. The UP spokesperson speaks twice (though in reality, the apology came from a woman Media rep and the resuming business-as-usual came from a man rep).  Jean found glasses and mustache to distinguish him.
  • Dignitaries. We have a governor, both Oregon Senators, and several mayors who can all put on a top hat?
  • Fire Chief. Our Mosier Fire Chief – a fire hat
  • Other speakers will be dressed in black as they come to the two microphones. Some may select hats or other props.  Parts vary in length.  Readers will have more than one role.
  • (Craig Thomsen) will hold a sign to announce each speaker as they come to the microphone. Once (Alan) finishes his part, he will help Craig with the speaker signs. The narrator will also read the name of each speaker.

The Incident

  1. Lynne Nittler composed and narrated the Oil Train Theater.

    Lynne Nittler composed and narrated the Oil Train Theater.

    (Lynne) Narrator: On Friday, June 3, 2016 at noon, a Union Pacific train hauling crude oil derailed on a relatively straight track a ½ mile from downtown Mosier, Oregon just 70 miles east of Portland.  It happened along the Columbia River Gorge in a National Scenic Area.  The train of 96 upgraded “safe” tank cars was traveling less than the 30 mph speed limit.


16 tank cars of highly volatile Bakken crude oil derailed.  Four ruptured and caught fire, sending massive smoke and flames 50 feet up into the air. 10-15 wooded acres burned.

Firefighters were forced to let the intense fire burn itself out.

Meanwhile, they hosed down the remaining cars to keep them from catching fire.  They poured 1,500 gallons of water per minute for 10 hours on the hot cars, first depleting the city water reserves, and then drawing from the river.   It took 14 hours to quell the fire.

Altogether, 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the soil, the city wastewater system, and the Columbia River which is known for its prized chinook salmon.

Voices at the scene

  1. (Elizabeth) Downtown observer:  Business Owner Brian Schurton/ restaurant worker Silas Bleakley:  “All of a sudden, I heard Bang! Bang! Bang! Like dominoes.  The train wasn’t going very fast. It would have been worse if it had been faster.”   “I could feel the accident occurring through the ground.  It was more of a feeling than a noise.  I saw tanker cars accordioned across the tracks.”


  1. (Alan) City Official: The City evacuated 200 elementary students and 125 residents from 50 houses within a half mile radius.  Others were alerted.  The evacuations were still in effect two days later.  The derailment caused a massive traffic gridlock in the region on major freeways.

The City warned people with asthma and respiratory infections, lung or heart disease and diabetes to stay inside and limit physical activity due to the air quality.

The city declared a water use and sewer emergency, warning residents not to flush toilets, not to run water down sinks or tubs, and not to use bathrooms.  Drinking water had to be boiled. Portable showers and toilets were delivered Sunday afternoon as the sewer system was damaged by the oil spill and the water supply was depleted.

  1. (Jean) Mosier City Council president, Emily Reed: “My son was evacuated from school because of the derailment. My husband, a firefighter, was a first responder. My family evacuated our house, and my father was unable to ship the first crop from his small cherry orchard.  I’ve just listed four major risks I’ve faced, and I don’t see the benefit I’m getting in exchange for these risks. There is no safe way for these fossil fuel trains to come through our town, and I’d like to see them stopped until there are standards and we know it’s safe.

“We were incredibly lucky with the weather.  If this had been any other typical day in the Gorge, that west wind would have taken that fire down all 96 cars of fuel that line our town and completely obliterated our town, our community, our people. The risk is so much higher with these oil trains than with anything else…There is no safe way for these fossil fuel trains to come through our town…This isn’t a one-off.  It’s happening in my town, but next time it’ll be somebody else’s town.”

  1. (Dawn) Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns: “We believe there is no safe way to transport crude oil by rail.  This is a straight piece of track and the trains were going at a normal speed or slower.  We’ve been saying for a long time that it’s not fair for trains with toxic loads to come into our towns.  We don’t have the capacity to fight these fires….Thankfully, it’s not a windy day and the ground is not brittle and dry.”
  1. (Jean) Union Pacific Spokesperson, June 3rd: “It’s very unfortunate. We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon, and the broader Pacific Northwest Region for any inconvenience this incident may be causing.”
  1. (Lynne) Narrator: Before this incident, Mosier’s fire chief believed that stepped-up safety protocols and firefighting preparedness could help responders meet the risk posed by oil trains.   This incident changed his mind.
  1. The Fire Chief of Mosier (played by Phil summers here) pledged to stop "insane" oil trains in the legislature. Photo by Judy Moores.

    The Fire Chief of Mosier (Phil Summers) pledged to stop “insane” oil trains in the legislature. Photo by Judy Moores.

    (Phil) Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton: “Doom, for a moment, seemed possible: My horror upon arriving at the scene was not so much the fire but the long line of rail cars that … could have ignited, a line that extended all the way through town and out of sight. … That’s the moment my heart stopped.”

“Mosier really dodged a bullet in the last 24 hours.  We have to accept that there are going to be failures in the rail system, but we have to recognize that some risks are unacceptable. 

“This incident proves to me this cargo in this mode is unsafe. … I will lead the charge in the Legislature to stop unit trains of Bakken oil. I hope this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s “insane.” I’ve been hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community. 

Responses from beyond Mosier

  1. (Frances) Oregon Governor Kate Brown: “It is horrific to have such a disaster in an area as beautiful as the Gorge.”


  1. (Dawn) Democratic Senator from Oregon Ron Wyden “It’s clear with this crash – as it has been for years – that more must be done to protect our communities from trains carrying explosive hazardous fuels. That’s why I’ve repeatedly called for more resources and notification for first responders, and why I’m continuing to push for my bill to move unsafe cars off the tracks and away from communities.”


  1. (Lynne) Narrator: Editorial note: the derailed train consisted of the upgraded CPC-1232 tank cars that have been designated the new “safer” tank cars.  It seems there are no “safer” cars.


  1. The Mayor of Portland, Oregon (played here by Elizabeth Lasensky) "crude oil cannot be safely transported by rail!" Photo by Judy Moores.

    The Mayor of Portland, Oregon (Elizabeth Lasensky) “crude oil cannot be safely transported by rail!” Photo by Judy Moores.

    (Elizabeth) Portland Mayor Charlie Hales: “This spill proves that crude oil cannot be safely transported by rail. This is a fundamentally bad idea to move really flammable materials, like oil or propane, by rail car through places where people live. It’s just never going to be safe.”


  1. (Frances) Dan Serres, Conservation Director of Columbia RiverKeeper (June 8th, 8 am): “As of June 8th, Mosier still did not have potable water, still did not have a sewage system, and UP was moving trains through again. It’s clear that profit for the fossil fuel industry is trumping the health and safety of people that live along these corridors.”

Union Pacific returns to business as usual

  1. (Lynne) Narrator: Less than 3 weeks after the accident, UP resumed business as usual despite pleas from Oregon Governor and Senators for a moratorium on oil trains until the reasons for the derailment were thoroughly understood and corrected.
  2. Union Pacific was apologetic about the inconvenience but resumed shipping crude oil again with a few weeks.

    Union Pacific (Jean Jackman) was apologetic about the inconvenience but resumed shipping crude oil again with a few weeks.

    (Jean) UP Spokesperson Wes Lujan: “UP has a singular goal: to operate trains safely.  We stand by our safety record…  During our recent meetings with residents and elected officials, Union Pacific committed to notifying communities we serve along the Gorge when normal operations would resume. We expect those operations to resume over the course of this week, including transporting crude oil.

Some of the products Union Pacific transports are considered to be hazardous, including crude oil… …As we have stated…, the federal common carrier obligation requires railroads to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials. If a customer delivers a crude oil tank car…, we are obligated to transport the rail car to its destination.” 

  1. (Elizabeth) Joint statement of democratic senators from Oregon:  “The preliminary findings released today by the Federal Railroad Administration confirm the deep concerns we have regarding track safety in the Columbia River Gorge. Union Pacific has not done enough to regain the confidence of Oregonians shaken by the Mosier derailment to restart oil shipments through this area.”

“We reiterate our call for federal rail regulators to put in place an emergency order, and to continue examining issues related to lag bolts and track fastening systems that appear to have caused this accident.”

Stopping Oil Trains

  1. (Frances) Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a senior organizer with Columbia RiverKeeper: :  Two years ago, the Mosier City Council passed a resolution expressing strong opposition to the practice of shipping crude oil through their town. And they aren’t alone — cities along the Columbia River, from Hood River to Portland, have voiced opposition to oil and coal trains. The city of Portland recently passed a resolution banning new fossil fuel infrastructure from being constructed within city limits.


“The tragedy is that the city of Mosier did everything they could have done to avoid a situation like they experienced on Friday. They used the democratic process to pass a resolution, they have been active in public comment periods on fossil fuel transportation for years, their citizens are part of a broader, region-wide coalition. They’ve done everything right, and yet they still experienced this horrific tragedy in their community.”


  1. (Lynne) Narrator: The Mosier oil train derailment comes at a time when fossil fuel companies are redoubling their efforts to move oil, gas, and coal through the Pacific Northwest and CA. Two of the largest fossil fuel export terminals — an oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Washington, and a coal export terminal in Longview, Washington — are entering the final phases of their proposals. Decisions are expected to come within a year or two on both. If constructed, the Vancouver Energy Project would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the U.S., and would send up to five oil trains a day rumbling through the Columbia Gorge down the same tracks where the Mosier spill occurred.


  1. (Carol) Yolo Move-on member: In California, two projects threaten to move oil trains through Davis on a daily basis if they are approved.  The Valero proposal would bring 100 oil tank cars a day through Davis to the Benicia refinery, and the Phillips 66 proposal would add another 80 tank cars five days per week headed to San Luis Obispo.


Led by the city of Davis and Yolo County, the greater Sacramento Region has been vocal about its many, serious “uprail” concerns for both projects from greenhouse gas emissions to potential spills, fires, environmental damage and loss of life for the last three years.  Currently, our governmental agencies are fully engaged again as the issue of federal pre-emption goes to the Surface Transportation Board in Washington D.C.


… We hope the Mosier derailment will finally show decision-makers that accidents associated with crude-by-rail transport are not a question of if, but when.  And that is not acceptable.

  1. (Phil) Eric de Place, policy director at the Sightline Institute, a progressive Seattle think tank: “We’re playing Russian roulette. I think the industry is perfectly willing to put a gun to our heads and risk our lives for the sake of making money.”


  1. (Dawn) 350 Sacramento member:  Imagine a derailment in Sacramento, where 13,000 students in 17 schools spend their days in the blast zone!


  1. (Carol) Yolo Move-on member: Imagine a derailment here in downtown Davis, where core businesses, residences, the police station, senior housing, and the Mondavi Center are in the blast zone.


  1. (Lynne) Narrator:  The day after the Mosier accident, 100 protestors rallied and marched in Hood River (7 miles up-river) to call a halt to the oil trains!   What can we do in Davis? 
  • (Frances) Thank our public officials for passing legislation and taking a strong protective stance on our behalf for the last three years and ongoing!


  • (Elizabeth) Write and speak out against the Benicia and San Luis Obispo proposals. Show that we will not change our minds or go away.


  • (Lynne) Sign up to receive email oil train alerts at our tables before you leave.


  • (Dawn) Take a pledge to consume less fossil fuels (point to our tables).


  • (Phil and Jean) Sing This Land is Your Land again!


Save Us from Oil Trains 

New Verses to This Land is Your Land

By Raging Granny Ruth, SF Bay Area

Original  song by Woody Guthrie

  1. This land is your land, This land is my land
    We don’t want oil trains, Where we work & play
    If we don’t speak out, Against those oi-yul trains
    Big Oil is gonna have its way.


  1. This land is our land, They can’t co-opt it
    For greedy fat cats, To make a profit
    This land is our land, They can’t destro-oy it
    We CAN NOT let them have their way.


  1. As we were riding, The train this morning                                                                                                        I Looked out the window, and it was gorgeous
    But with crude oi-yul, It could be po-i-soned
    Let’s make sure we don’t see that day


  1. This land is your land, This land is my land
    From California to the New York island;
    From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
    This land was made for you and Me.





  1. […] For detailed information about the June 3rd oil train accident in Mosier, Oregon, read these newsletters from the San Luis Obispo group from June 8 and June 27 .  Read the Oil Train Theater Script titled, Close  Call  in Mosier, Oregon. […]

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