Trains roll through Central Oregon all the time, a growing number carrying crude oil. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., with first responders from across Central Oregon in Bend on Friday to discuss related safety issues.
Fires involving tanker cars are "very explosive -- they burn really hot," Bend Fire Battalion Chief Bill Boos.
Recent disasters like the four-tanker explosion in eastern Canada have made U.S. authorities more aware of, and concerned about the issue.
"I"m not just going to let people debate this whole question and issues relating to safety and somehow give Central Oregon short shrift," Wyden said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered railroads shipping crude oil from the Bakken oilfields of North Dakota to alert local communities when trains with more than a million gallons are passing through.
Wyden said that's not enough.
"Communities like Central Oregon also have a right to be informed and not just when it comes from an area covered under the emergency order," Wyden said.
Central Oregon's oil shipments come from many regions, not just North Dakota, and rail shipments have increased dramatically.
In 2010, there were only a handful of crude-by-rail facilities in the United States and Canada. That number has since exploded. Fire officials say knowledge is key to adequate preparation. "What this would allows is, know what type material is coming through here. So that would be a key indicator," Chief Boos said. On Friday, they got that information for the first time -- the same day the meeting with Wyden was scheduled.
"The fact that Oregon's two senators are scheduling things, and then somehow we get the information -- we've got to do better than that," Wyden said "We can't have the community get information when the two United States senators schedule a forum. "
BNSF Railways officials said their main concern is safety as well, but they say they're prohibited under the Homeland Security Act to make details public. But recent news reports in The Oregonian and other publications say that isn't the case.
Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney said after the meeting that Bend Mayor Jim Clinton "had good comments regarding the train bisecting the city of Bend and the lack of resources in the event of a spil,l etc." Baney said there was discussion about working with BNSF on a community emergency response "tabletop training" on a large-scale hazardous rail event." Redmond Fire Chief Tim Moor and ODOT's rail division will compile a proposal on event response and send it to the senator's office, she said. She noted the governor's office has begun working on a prevention, response and restoration plan for Oregon.