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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - All that remains of a semi-truck that went off US 30 and crashed into a parked train.The recent fatal truck-train accident along U.S. 30 in Northwest Portland was unusual because it occurred along a straight stretch of road, according to Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton.

In the Dec. 13 accident, the driver of a semi truck hauling a tanker full of gasoline heading west plunged off the side of the road and crashed into a parked train, causing an explosion that quickly escalated to a three-alarm fire. The driver, 41-year-old Andrew John Lambert of Vancouver, Wash., died in the crash.

Although unusual, there were five other “off-road” accidents in that area in the 10 years ending with 2014, Hamilton says. They occurred in the 1.74-mile stretch of U.S. 30 from Northwest Balboa to the St. Johns Bridge.

The crash and fire alarmed area residents, who could see flames and dark smoke rising from an industrialized area that includes a number of fuel storage tanks. Environmentalists opposed to oil shipments by rail were quick to say fire could have been much larger. The exploding tanker set fire to eight parked rail cars full of hot asphalt. They did not rupture, but might have if they were filled with more combustible oil, the activists said.

Hamilton says ODOT officials will “debrief” the accident to see if any safety improvements are called for in the area. ODOT does not normally install safety barriers along straight stretches of road, Hamilton says, even if it borders an industrial area.

Accidents where vehicles leave U.S. 30 between Portland and Scappoose are not uncommon, however. According to ODOT statistics, they averaged 16 a year between 2005 and 2014. Although that’s a small percentage of the 1,388 total accidents, they have the potential for significant damage, as the truck-train accident clearly showed.

But ODOT considers U.S. 30 on the other side of the St. Johns Bridge to be more dangerous than where the accident occurred. Statistics show that in a 10-year period between 2002 and 2012, from the St. Johns Bridge in Portland to Deer Island Road in St. Helens:

• 1,180 crashes occurred.

• 21 crashes were fatal.

• 8 of the fatal crashes were due to cross-over head-on collisions.

• 41 of the 1,180 crashes were head-on crashes.

• The fatal crash locations are spread throughout the 25-mile stretch of U.S. 30 with the only concentration of deadly crashes occurring at Bennet Road between Scappoose and St. Helens. Two fatal crashes occurred at that location.

Because of that, since 2011, ODOT and a 17-member group focused on safety along U.S. 30 have worked to improve safety between Cornelius Pass Road and the Columbia and Clatsop County line. This work included designating a segment of U.S. 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens a safety corridor, which resulted in increased enforcement of traffic laws. It only recently ended.

Other improvements to U.S. 30 included improving reflectivity to striping and signs to help travelers see the road better, and rumble strips to help them realize when they are traveling outside of their lane.

Sunday’s crash occurred at milepost 15.4. A fatal crash has not occurred in that area within this 10-year period. However, fatal crashes did occur within a half-mile in each direction of where Sunday’s crash occurred, Hamilton says.

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