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County Panel Approves Rail Expansion In Columbia Gorge Despite Oil-Train Controversy

<p>A train carrying crude oil derailed near the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon, in June 2016.</p>
<p>A train carrying crude oil derailed near the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Oregon, in June 2016.</p>

A county planning commission has given its approval to a rail expansion in the same stretch of the Columbia River Gorge where a Union Pacific oil train derailed and burst into flames.

The derailment in June resulted in an oil spill that contaminated groundwater. It also galvanized opposition to increased oil train traffic in the Northwest.

The Wasco County Planning commission voted Monday to approve the rail expansion through the city of Mosier. That’s after a motion to deny the application failed to draw support from a majority on the panel. The railroad wants to increase the length of trains carrying oil and other freight through the gorge. It also says the track project will ease rail congestion and reduce wait times for motorists at crossings.

The environmental advocacy group Friends of the Gorge says the rail expansion puts Mosier and the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area at further, unnecessary risk.

Correction: Sept. 28, 2016. Union Pacific wants to increase the length of trains carrying oil and other freight through the Columbia River Gorge. An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated Union Pacific has said it is seeking rail improvements to increase the number of trains.

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