On March 15, an estimated five Union Pacific railcars derailed and ploughed down a hill 12 miles northeast of Bonners Ferry, near the Moyie River. Six to eight other railcars also tipped over in this accident. Union Pacific personnel reported that recent rain and snowmelt may have caused a washout on the tracks, leading to the derailment. Steep and remote terrain has prevented emergency responders from accessing the scene.
Our Lucky Stars
Thankfully, these railcars were only carrying grain, but we may not be so lucky next time. These train cars commonly haul oil, coal and other hazardous materials through populated city centers and along some of our most treasured Idaho rivers and lakes. As many rail lines do, the stretch of the Union Pacific line where the derailment occurred runs along a river, in this case mere feet away from the Moyie River in places. The Moyie is part of our water supply, a critical part of wildlife habitat, and the lifeblood of local entrepreneurs who guide whitewater rafters down the river in the spring and early summer. Do we want to put these values at risk?
This derailment exemplifies the fact that despite safety precautions, we likely cannot prevent all railcar derailments. Worse yet, we may not be able to effectively clean up our own mess, if the derailment occurs in difficult terrain as this one did. So, in your morning phone calls to local, state, and federal representatives and at the next town hall meeting, ask your representative what they’re doing to keep our communities and environment safe from oil and coal trains. Tell them, we’re tired of dodging bullets, and we’re tired of them dodging the question.