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Feds Say Engineer|Slept at the Switch

PENDLETON, Ore. (CN) - With its conductor and engineer both asleep, a Union Pacific train derailed and dumped nearly 700 gallons of diesel fuel into critical salmon habitat, federal prosecutors say. The Federal Railroad Administration found that the conductor and the engineer had been asleep for an hour before the wreck, and the train was "speeding," according to the complaint.

Twenty-nine cars tipped over in the March 6, 2005 wreck, five of them refrigerated cars carrying hazardous material, the government says. Each car's refrigeration was powered by a 500-gallon diesel engine, two of which spilled into Dry Creek, critical steelhead salmon habitat just outside Umatilla National Forest.

One refrigerated car spilled 320 gallons of diesel oil, and the other one dumped 375 gallons.

Response workers exacerbated one of the spills by trying to move a refrigerated car before draining its diesel engine, according to the complaint. The workers flipped the car over to try to stop the leak, but that caused an extra 200 gallons of oil to drain into Dry Creek, the United States claims.

The wreck polluted Dry Creek, halfway between Pendleton and La Grande in Eastern Oregon. Dry Creek feeds two other creeks before joining the Grande Ronde River, which flows into the Snake.

The government seeks at $130,000 and up to $4,300 "per unit of reportable quantity of oil" deposited into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

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