The Union Pacific Railroad will pay an $800,000 fine to resolve environmental claims associated with seven train derailments that spilled oil and other hazardous pollutants into Colorado and Utah waterways.
A settlement filed in federal court in Denver also requires the Omaha, Neb.-based railroad to undertake specific measures to avert environmental damage in the future.
"We are committed to making certain that the railroad industry complies with environmental laws," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources at the Justice Department. "This agreement will result in increased protection from future derailments and spills that endanger human health and the environment."
The United States sued the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. and the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Co. in 1997 for Clean Water Act violations related to fuel and hazardous substance spills. These railroads subsequently merged with Union Pacific.
Allegedly the derailments, which occurred from 1992 to 1998, caused the discharge of diesel fuel from ruptured or leaking locomotive fuel tanks.
The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of oil or other hazardous substances into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.
"Railroads must be held accountable for the safe transport of hazardous materials traveling across our nation by rail," said Steven A. Herman, EPA''s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "Besides paying a significant penalty, the company will have to take a series of preventative actions which will greatly reduce the risk of future spills."
Under the agreement, each freight locomotive that Union Pacific buys or leases over the next five years must be equipped with a fuel tank that meets a new industry standard for crash-worthiness adopted by the Association of American Railroads.
The company also must equip its hi-rail vehicles with fuel tank patch kits and teach operators how to use them.
In addition, Union Pacific will begin a comprehensive project in Colorado to mitigate the hazards of falling rocks that can cause derailments.
Finally, the company will undertake cleanup activities, picking up discarded railroad ties, scrap rail, and other materials along railroad right-of way in Colorado and Utah.
The derailments, caused by rockslides or improper train handling, resulted in the release of more than 14,000 gallons of fuel, 5,000 tons of taconite, and 800,000 pounds of sulfuric acid.
by Virginia Sutcliffe