MOSIER — Union Pacific on Tuesday asked a federal judge to reject local rules that threaten to derail its plans to add a second main track along the Columbia River Gorge where a crude oil train derailed last June.
The railroad filed the lawsuit in federal court in Portland against Wasco County and the Columbia River Gorge Commission.
Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific says federal laws govern railroads, so local restrictions like the ones Wasco County approved don’t apply to the project.
Rod Runyon, chair of the Wasco County board of commissioners, said Tuesday that he was surprised by the lawsuit. He added that he had not yet seen the lawsuit to comment further.
Krystyna Wolniakowski, executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, said the group is still reviewing the complaint.
Union Pacific had sought a permit for the $42 million double-track project in 2015. But the June train wreck in the tiny town sparked a massive fire and renewed concerns about the safety of oil trains rolling through the region.
In November, Wasco County commissioners voted to reverse a decision by the county’s Planning Commission and deny the railroad’s application to add 4 miles of a second mainline to existing tracks in and around Mosier. The commission cited concerns about the project affecting tribal treaty rights.
Union Pacific has filed an appeal before the Columbia River Gorge Commission, which is expected to hear the case this summer.
Because it’s apparent that federal laws take precedence, the railroad argued, it can seek a ruling now in federal court and shouldn’t have to wait until that administrative process is finished.
The project is important to the national railroad system because it would relieve congestion between Portland and Hermiston, a critical piece of the western region corridor, Union Pacific said in its lawsuit.
The double track would allow trains to pass each other without stopping. Much of the tracks would run through the Gorge’s National Scenic Area.
The Yakama Nation had appealed county planners’ approval of the project to Wasco County commissioners. The tribe said increased train traffic along the Columbia River would interfere with tribal members’ ability to access fishing sites that lie alongside those tracks.