Union Pacific Railroad operates dual lines through Eureka County. In the study area (from Battle Mountain in Lander County to approximately Maggie Creek in Elko County, a distance of about sixty miles), the lines follow the Humboldt River, passing through Palisade Canyon in Eureka County. The lines cross once, just east of Barth in Palisade Canyon, go through several tunnels, and cross the Humboldt River on bridges several times.

The Union Pacific dual lines through the Eureka County study area are part of a major corridor rated for the heaviest trains. In 2003, 27 trains per day passed through the study area, as well as two passenger trains. Principal commodities carried by Union Pacific in Nevada are coal, chemicals, aggregates, lumber and consumer goods. Rail traffic fluctuated during the 1970's and 1980's in the study area, reaching a high in 1986. While it was not possible to obtain rail traffic data for the study area for the 1990's, data obtained from the Surface Transportation Board for the Western U.S. as a whole show that during the 1990's rail ton miles throughout the west increased, so it is assumed that ton miles also increased in the study area during that time period.

There were 73 rail accidents or incidents in the study area between 1975 and 2005 and total reported damage to tracks and equipment in the accidents was $7,702,901. The largest accident that took place in the study area, in terms of dollar damage, was a derailment and chemical spill near Battle Mountain in 2001. The number of rail accidents in the study area has dropped since the early 1980's, possibly as a result of track and equipment improvements carried out after industry deregulation, combined with newly-instituted safety programs.

Forty-four percent of accidents in the study area were equipment-caused; 25% were track-caused; 24% were human-caused and 7% had miscellaneous causes. Derailments were the most common type of accidents in the study area, accounting for 81% of all accidents. Most accidents occurred on the main track, and most accidents involved freight trains. Eleven accidents involved trains carrying hazardous materials, but there was only one hazardous spill during the 1975-2005 time period. In addition to accidents, Eureka County firefighting personnel report that rail operations may ignite wildland fires, these fires may be caused by sparks resulting from friction between the equipment and the rail.

Two potential weather effects which might affect rail operations in the study area were identified. First, extreme hot and cold weather may cause increased damage in derailment accidents. Temperatures within the range that may have an effect exist in the study area only at the cold extreme, not at the hot extreme. The author of the study cited in this report cautions that these results may no longer apply in light of track improvements made in recent decades.

Floods in the Humboldt River represent a more serious weather effect in the study area. Flooding caused at least one of the major accidents during the referenced time period. In addition, a 1910 flood washed away the tracks entirely. Photographs taken in May 2005, when the Humboldt River was about 2000 cfs above flood stage, show water standing on or around the tracks. (Some of these photographs are included in Appendix E of this report.)

On the dual Union Pacific tracks through the study area, train movement is controlled by an Automatic Block Signal (ABS) system in which the railroad is divided into sections, known as blocks. A train cannot enter a block until it is permitted, generally by a signal that the block ahead is empty, or by warrant from the train dispatcher.

Union Pacific operates trains in accordance with a code of operating procedures and timetables supplemented by special instructions. General operating procedures are laid out in federal regulations implemented by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), but each railroad has its own code which may include additional practices.

In a July, 2005 policy statement the DOE announced a decision to use dedicated trains to transport SNF and HLW to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. AAR and DOE say that these dedicated trains are the safest way to ship the waste, but some questions about the use of dedicated train remain, including whether waste shipment will be solely by dedicated trains or by a mix of dedicated and general trains.

Railroads are responsible for regular inspection of all track, equipment, and operations. Each railroad must make written schedules of inspections, as well as inspection results, available to the FRA. The FRA and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUCN) also conduct regular inspections, but these inspections function more as oversight for the railroad's own inspection program.

Standards and procedures for transporting hazardous materials are laid out in federal regulations; railroads implement the hazardous materials management in their codes of operating procedures. Responsibility for response to hazardous spills is shared by the railroad, the federal government, and state and local agencies. Union Pacific has an emergency management plan to guide emergency response and emergency procedures also are in the timetables carried by each train crew. The closest Union Pacific emergency response crews to the study area are located in Roseville, California and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The railroads themselves are responsible for security of railroad operations, property and cargo, unlike the aviation industry, where the federal government provides security personnel. Union Pacific has increased security in several ways since the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Recommendations for Further Study or Follow-up

It is possible for Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC's) to obtain information on the flow of hazardous materials through their communities by submitting a request for such information on a form provided by the railroad (See Appendix F, American Association of Railroads Circular No. OT-55-G for a generic copy of this form from the American Association of Railroads.) This information, if regularly obtained by Eureka County's LEPC, would not only supplement this report, but help in the County's hazardous response planning efforts.

Additionally, it is recommended that the Eureka County LEPC obtain information from Union Pacific on the railroad's emergency management plan and emergency management procedures that apply to the Eureka County area. This would also aid the County in emergency and hazardous waste incident response planning efforts.

Table of Contents  |  Executive Summary
Home – Yucca Mountain.org

Back  —  Next