Train derailments: Another reason to stop the Uinta Basin Railway

The toxic train derailment in Ohio is a warning of what could happen in Colorado

Ashley National Forest in High Uintas Wilderness

In February 2023, a train carrying toxic, flammable chemicals derailed outside of East Palestine, Ohio, spilling 1.1 million pounds of carcinogenic vinyl chloride into the environment. The train, operated by rail company Norfolk Southern, was not the first to derail. The United States averaged about three train derailments every day in 2021.

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain
Toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

Not all trains carry toxic chemicals or flammable oils, which is perhaps why train derailments don’t often make the front page. The proposed Uinta Basin Railway, however, would transport at least 5.46 million gallons of crude oil every day from Utah to Colorado, posing a significant threat to dozens of communities in central Colorado and the Colorado River, which provides 40 million people with water. 

The Uinta Basin Railway is a proposed 88-mile stretch of train tracks that would connect oil fields in Utah to railway systems in Colorado that lead to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast. If built, the railway would require blasting through mountains, endangered sage grouse habitat, hundreds of streams, private property and even a roadless area in the Ashley National Forest. The railway may cost up to $4.5 billion, and the oil produced will be exported to the highest bidders across the globe. By contrast,  the largest solar farm in the U.S., which serves American energy needs, cost $2.5 billion and provides energy to the equivalent of 225,000 homes. 

Endangered black footed ferrets live in the Uinta Basin.

The Uinta Basin Railway would derail  U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change. It would quadruple the region’s oil extraction from 85,000 up to 350,000 barrels of oil per day, increasing air pollution, noise pollution, habitat degradation and the risk of water pollution and wildfires. The region already suffers from chronic air pollution, falling below federal standards for ozone pollution set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is impossible to predict how often an oil tanker may derail from Uinta Basin Railway tracks and spill into communities and the Colorado River. If we’ve learned anything from the train derailment in East Palestine, it’s that once is more than bad enough. The Uinta Basin Railway is not worth the risk.


Sammy Herdman

Campaign Associate

Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.