Tag Archives: Kanawha River

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE EDITORIAL: Get rid of exploding tank cars

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: Significant quote: “Valero Energy Co. has agreed to haul Bakken crude to its Benicia bayside refinery in the newer CPC-1232 cars as part of its city permit application to revamp its facilities to receive crude by rail rather than via oceangoing tanker. But that promise now appears inadequate to protect the safety of those in Benicia as well as in other communities — Roseville, Sacramento, Davis — along the rail line.”  (emphasis added)  – RS]

Get rid of exploding tank cars

EDITORIAL On Crude by Rail, Monday, February 23, 2015
Absent new regulations, U.S. transportation experts predict more oil train wrecks like this one, which occurred Feb. 17 in Mount Carbon, W.Va. | Steven Wayne Rotsch / Associated Press

When a train carrying crude oil derailed last week in West Virginia, sending up a fireball that burned for five days, communities on rail lines in California noted that the accident involved the newer — and it was hoped safer — CPC-1232 model tank cars. Some 3 million gallons of Bakken crude spilled from 26 cracked cars into a Kanawha River tributary, endangering water supplies and forcing the evacuation of two towns. The smoldering crude burned a home, but thankfully no one was killed.

Two days before the West Virginia train wreck, a train pulling CPC-1232 tank cars derailed and caught fire in Ontario, Canada. There was a similar accident last year in Lynchburg, Va.

Clearly, it will take tank car safety upgrades more extensive than those adopted voluntarily by the rail industry four years ago to assure the public safety and protect the environment of communities crossed by rail lines. Yet authorities have dithered.

Bakken crude, a light crude with a low sulfur content, is highly flammable, by the Department of Transportation’s own account. The shippers are working on new procedures to strip out highly volatile elements before the crude is loaded, but they are not uniformly required.

The Obama administration is considering more extensive safety upgrades such as rollover protection, sturdier hulls, shields to prevent tank rupture or collapse, and electronic brakes that would stop the cars before they slam into each other. But it is taking too long to adopt new federal rules. The oil and rail industries support some upgrades, but want more time to accomplish them. This is unacceptable.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has been working on the rules since 2012 but does not expect adoption until mid-May. Once the new rules are accepted, the industry would have three to four years to phase out the unsafe DOT-111 model tank cars, which the National Transportation Safety Board has warned are not suitable to transport flammable liquids. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of the faulty DOT-111 tank cars remain on the rails. Canadian rail authorities accelerated their phaseout of the cars after a fire set off by a derailed oil train killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013.

Safety upgrades are lagging the rapid increase in oil moving by rail: Shipments have increased from 9,500 car loads in 2008 to 500,000 car loads in 2014, driven by the boom in the Bakken Oil Shale formation in North Dakota, where there are few oil pipelines and 70 percent of the petroleum is shipped by train.

Valero Energy Co. has agreed to haul Bakken crude to its Benicia bayside refinery in the newer CPC-1232 cars as part of its city permit application to revamp its facilities to receive crude by rail rather than via oceangoing tanker. But that promise now appears inadequate to protect the safety of those in Benicia as well as in other communities — Roseville, Sacramento, Davis — along the rail line.

The government and the oil and rail industries will need to move more quickly to adopt new safety rules before communities along the rail lines can welcome oil trains rolling into town.

AP: Most residents return to homes near W.Va. train derailment – 5 homes remain under evacuation order

Repost from ABC News, AP

Most residents return to homes near W.Va. train derailment

Feb 20, 1:01 PM EST

MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. (AP) — Most residents were allowed to return to their homes Friday along a road where an oil train derailed in southern West Virginia.

State public safety agency spokesman Lawrence Messina said the last of the small fires were out at the scene of Monday’s fiery crash in Mount Carbon.

One lane of the state highway nearby reopened Friday. Because of the presence of heavy equipment trucks responding to the crash site, traffic was moving slowly.

About 225 people live in 100 homes in the area of the crash along the road. A statement from multiple agencies responding to the derailment said residents of five homes adjacent to the site remained under an evacuation order. Authorities will assess those properties to determine when it becomes safe for those residents to return.

Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Kevin Thompson said frigid weather continues to hamper crews trying to transfer oil out of wrecked tanker cars before the cars are removed. Hydraulic pumps were being used Friday to pump out the oil. Other equipment froze Thursday night in subzero weather conditions, he said.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the derailment of the train carrying 3 million gallons of crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to an oil-shipping depot in Yorktown, Virginia. Speed doesn’t appear to have been a factor, Federal Railroad Administration acting administrator Sarah Feinberg said Thursday.

The crash shot fireballs into the sky, destroyed a house, leaked oil into a Kanawha River tributary and forced nearby water treatment plants to temporarily shut down.

Twenty-seven of the 107 tank cars on the CSX train derailed, and 19 of those were involved in the fires.

Lynchburg Editorial: A sense of déjà vu all over again

Repost from The Lynchburg News & Advance

A Sense of Déjà Vu All Over Again

By The Editorial Board, Thursday, February 19, 2015 6:00 am
WVa Train Derailment
Tanker cars carrying Bakken shale crude oil burn Monday after a derailment in West Virginia. The Associated Press

Monday afternoon, as Central Virginia was bracing for its first blast of winter weather, an event Lynchburgers are all too familiar with was unfolding in the tiny town of Mount Carbon, W.Va.

Situated on the Kanawha River in the southcentral part of the state, there are only 428 people in the town, at least according to the 2010 U.S. Census. But Monday, Mount Carbon became a dateline known across the country.

You see, a CSX rail line passes through Mount Carbon — and Clifton Forge, Covington, Lynchburg, Richmond and Williamsburg — with a final destination of Yorktown. And on this rail line travel four to six trains each week, pulling hundreds of tanker cars headed to the Plains Marketing transfer terminal in Yorktown. In each one of those tanker cars? More than 30,000 gallons of Bakken shale crude oil from North Dakota.

On Monday, one of those CSX train derailed. In a huge explosion, more than 20 tanker cars caught fire. A massive fireball shot into the sky, burning one house to its foundation. Oil leaked into the Kanawha River, threatening the water supply of thousands of West Virginians.

It was eerily reminiscent of April 30, 2014, when another CSX oil train derailed on the banks of the James River in downtown Lynchburg, just yards away from the Depot Grille restaurant and the Amazement Square children’s museum. More than a dozen tankers jumped the track, and three landed in the James. One ruptured and erupted into flames, with up to 31,000 gallons of oil either burning or flowing into the river.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is on the scene today in Mount Carbon, investigated the Lynchburg derailment but has still to determine its official cause. A defect in the track near the site of the derailment had been detected April 29, but NTSB officials don’t know if it played a role in the derailment.

In the wake of the Lynchburg derailment, the White House and Transportation Department fast-tracked new regulations and safety standards for trains carrying Bakken crude and for the tanker cars used. Rail companies were told to alert local governments when hazardous shipments would be coming through their communities, as well as exactly what those shipments were. Old, single-hulled tankers were to be phased out and replaced by new, double-hulled cars designed to be safer and puncture-proof. But in Mount Carbon as in Lynchburg, the cars that ruptured and caught fire were the newer models.

The upshot is simple. Domestically produced crude is fueling an energy revolution in the United States, but federal regulators and the rail industry must make its transport as safe as possible, regardless of the cost. After near-miss disasters in Lynchburg and now Mount Carbon, we may not be so fortunate the next time.

NPR: What we know three days after the Fayette Co. oil train derailment

Repost from WMKY FM, Morehead, KYNational Public Radio

What We Know Three Days After the Fayette Co. Oil Train Derailment

By Dave Mistich, Thu February 19, 2015 2:25 pm
Credit U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Angie Vallier

Investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are on the scene of Monday’s oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, W.Va. The incident sparked massive fireballs stretching hundreds of feet in the air. One home was destroyed in the incident and the homeowner was treated for smoke inhalation and then released.

1. Some initial reports from the scene turned out to be incorrect.

Department of Military Affairs and Public safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said Monday that one and possibly more cars fell into the Kanawha River.

As a result, West Virginia American Water shut down intakes at their Montgomery and Cedar Grove. Those intakes were reopened after no evidence of crude oil was detected in the river. 

Messina and other officials, including the state Department of Environmental Protection, later said no tanker cars fell into the river and no evidence of oil could be detected.

2. Federal Authorities and CSX say the train was not speeding.

The Federal Railroad Administration said Thursday that the CSX-owned train that derailed was traveling at 33 mph. They said the speed limit in the area where the incident occurred was 50 mph.

3. Fires continue to burn and containment is the focus of the response.

Kelley Gillenwater of the DEP said at least one small fire continued to burn Thursday morning.

Environmental protective and monitoring measures on land, air, the Kanawha River and Armstrong Creek. Gillenwater said response crews vacuumed about 5,000 gallons of an oil-water mixture on Wednesday. CSX contractors, overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard and DEP, were able to deploy about 500 feet of containment boom as a precautionary measure to limit potential impact on the environment.

Response teams are beginning to remove derailed cars that have not been involved in the fires. says they will begin transferring oil from the damaged cars to other tanks for removal from the site when it is safe to do so.

4. Quick Facts: Numbers on the Derailment

  • The train consisted of two locomotives and 109 rail cars (107 tank cars and two buffer cars).
  • 27 cars derailed and 19 were involved in fires.
  • The train was carrying a total of 3 million gallons of Bakken crude oil, according to the Associated Press.
  • Each of the tankers contained 29,500 gallons of oil.