Local first responders unprepared for oil train disaster

EUGENE, Ore. - Trains transported more than 11 million barrels of crude oil through Oregon last year - nearly 4 times as much as in 2012, according to Sen. Ron Wyden.

Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley heard from first responders in Lane County, who said they aren't prepared for a potential disaster like the one that hit Quebec last year.

That's when a 74-car train carrying crude oil from the Bakken region derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

At a meeting Monday with county officials, the Oregon senators said that the resulting U.S. policy, implemented this May, is not enough to protect Oregon from a similar disaster.

"We're just not prepared to respond," Merkley said. "The possibility of a major emergency has gone up enormously in the process."

The law requires railroad companies to notify states of crude oil shipments only from the Bakken region.

But that leaves out shipments from other areas, and excludes any shipments under a million gallons.

"What I was struck by is that this community - and we heard it again today - often seems to be kept in the dark about these critical questions relating to safety and environmental hazards," Wyden said.

Uninformed states are just part of the problem, he said.

Outdated cars, heavy loads and excessive speeds are also key factors.

Junction City Fire Chief Carl Perry said most firefighters aren't even trained to know how to fight those sort of fires.

"Myself, maybe two or three more people are the only ones still on Junction City Fire that have ever had any training about tank cars, engines or any other training," he said.