PORTLAND, Ore. — The fiery derailment of an oil train in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge has state transportation officials asking for a halt to the massive trains because of concerns their heavier weight could put extra strain on a certain type of bolt that fastens rails to the tracks.

The Oregon Department of Transportation discussed its concerns about the safety of the so-called “lag bolts” in a presentation Thursday to the Oregon Transportation Commission and made public a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration asking for the moratorium.

Union Pacific, which operated the train, has said the June 3 derailment was caused by a failure of the bolts, fasteners which are used to attach the rail to the rail tie on a curved section of track. The accident forced evacuations in the tiny town of Mosier, about 70 miles east of Portland, and spilled 42,000 gallons of oil into the Columbia River. No one was injured.

In a presentation to commission members, ODOT administrator Hal Gard said the lag bolts found at the scene were rusted on both ends, indicating they had been sheared off before the derailment. State officials showed a photo of a pile of lag bolts collected at the site.

Trains that carry only crude oil began running in that section of the Columbia River Gorge in 2014 and state investigators are concerned that the heavier weight and shorter length of those trains might be causing the lag bolts to break. The trains’ weight is spread out over a shorter distance, increasing the pressure on the tracks.

Without the fasteners anchoring the rails to the rail ties, the parallel rails can be pushed further apart, causing a derailment.


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