Category Archives: Lynchburg Virginia

Lynchburg city leaders: ‘We dodged a bullet’

Repost from The Lynchburg News & Advance

James River Association reflects on train derailment

May 14, 2014 11:08 pm  |  Alex Rohr
River association reflects on train derailment
Bobby Harris listens to Lynchburg City Manager L. Kimball Payne III speak during a community meeting on rail safety concerns hosted by the James River Association at the Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center on Wednesday.  Photo by Autumn Parry

The phrase repeated throughout a James River Association forum reflecting on the CSX train derailment of two weeks ago was “we dodged a bullet.”

No one was killed in the wreck that caused 17 tankers of a 105-car train to derail on April 30. No one died in the subsequent fire after one tanker breached, spilling 20,000-plus gallons of oil into the James River. The damage to environment likely is minimal.

But the JRA held a forum Wednesday with City Manager Kimball Payne, Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert and City Councilman Turner Perrow to reflect on the incident, the aftermath and what to do going forward to prevent a worse disaster.

Payne and Perrow had just left a meeting at City Hall when they were told separately about the wreck. Payne, who was named JRA’s 2014 River Hero at the beginning of the meeting, recounted watching black smoke from a window at City Hall.

He immediately thought downtown was on fire, the Depot Grille had been destroyed, and people had died.

“It was a horrifying thought. …So I, like an idiot, headed for the river,” Payne said.

By the time he arrived, police and firemen were on the scene, knew the tankers were hauling Bakken crude and were acting accordingly.

“Then I realized the Depot Grille was still standing and I felt a lot better. But the river was on fire. … It could have been a lot worse.”

As the April 30 incident unfolded, Payne, Calvert and Perrow found themselves in a national discussion on rail safety, fielding questions from reporters across the country.

“I don’t know how they got my cellphone. I was getting texts from CBS news,” Payne said.

Safety concerns related to the hauling of Bakken oil — more volatile than standard crude — have been growing nationwide following the fatal wreck in Quebec, Canada in July as well as derailments resulting in environmental damage. The National Transportation Safety Board, the agency investigating the derailment, held a forum the week before the Lynchburg wreck on rail safety, referencing a national increase in rail traffic.

“The national discussion is happening. We’re on the sidelines right now,” Perrow said after the meeting.

“What this did is it pulled Virginia into the conversation. We’ll see if we have a seat at the table or not.”

One week after the wreck, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to provide state agencies information about Bakken crude hauled by rail. The order did not include a requirement for the state to share that information with localities.

“We don’t think it’s strong enough. They need to do more,” Calvert said speaking for the JRA. He specified the JRA wants stronger regulations on rail cars, in particular the older models that have proved vulnerable even with upgrades.

While Payne said he wants to know what hazardous materials are hauled through Lynchburg in general and how to deal with them, he doesn’t know what the city would do with minute-by-minute details.

Ed Melton, general manager of RockTenn, a packaging manufacturer on Concord Turnpike near the tracks, attended the forum and said he is concerned about evacuating his employees.

But the speakers emphasized hazardous material safety is not only about crude or rail. Payne said the city needs to know the general dangers on roadways. Calvert said hazards on the James include those causing the February Duke Energy coal ash spill into the Dan River in Eden, North Carolina and the January Freedom Industries chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia.

“The James River watershed holds about 80 percent of the toxic substances in the state of Virginia. To me, that’s very alarming,” Calvert said.

He and JRA Chief Executive Officer Bill Street said addressing those hazards should be part of the discussion going forward.

“We don’t have all the answers. That’s why we wanted to bring people together to talk about it,” Street said.

All three speakers said because the issue involved interstate commerce — the oil was drilled in North Dakota, and the train came from Chicago on the way to Yorktown — a decision would need to come at the federal level.

Perrow said the discussion needs to include whether hazardous materials should be going through populated areas where they could cause loss to human life or less populated ones where it may take longer to respond resulting in harsher damage. He said personal safety and environmental health should be balanced with economic benefit.

“I know I haven’t given you any answers, but I don’t think they’re out there right now,” Perrow said.

Calvert said he drank out of a plastic water bottle and arrived at the meeting in an automobile — both acts dependent on crude oil.

“We’re all dependent on this. We are all sort of complicit in this. Now what are we going to do about it?” Calvert said.

Those who are interested in participating in the policy decisions, and at least making sure what can be done is done, may contact their government representatives.

Perrow, who has been educating himself on rail, and in particular rail car safety, said people should do the same, and also talk to Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner because they are involved in the conversation at the national level. The senators issued a joint statement May 5 asking for tighter regulations, and another after the May 7 emergency order urging further action.

When asked by an attendee what she and others could do to help shape policy, Perrow said they should get or stay involved with JRA.

Street said the JRA keeps its members informed about ongoing issues and lets them know when to contact representatives when decisions are being made so their voice can join others most effectively.

“We are the voice of the river,” Street said. “The more people we have in this effort, the stronger the voice will be.”

Lynchburg emergency calls to 911

Repost from  ABC13, WSET TV Lynchburg, Danville, Roanoke

911 Train Derailment Tapes Released

Posted: May 05, 2014 6:43 PM PDT By James Gherardi – ABC13

Lynchburg, VA – The 911 recordings from Wednesday’s train derailment in downtown Lynchburg were released Monday, and the terror in the voice of some of the callers, is obvious.

You can hear men and women frantically scrambling to get help to the downtown disaster.

“Lynchburg 911, what’s the address of the emergency?” asked the dispatcher.

“We’re on Jefferson Street right now next to the tracks; we see the derailing of a train. There’s a large fire, a lot of smoke” said one caller.

Firsthand accounts of the downtown trail derailment came to life Monday.

“Do you know if anyone’s on the train?” asked the dispatcher.

“No it appears just to be a cargo train. I guess it’s carrying some type of flammable liquid” said the caller.

“It really looks like it’s going to explode and I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to move, I’m sorry” said another man.

This caller was frantic, losing his train of thought, while watching the flames fly.

“I came down by the City Hall and I saw huge black smoke. Oh my God, I can’t believe, I’m sorry” he said.

“Ok, we’ve got someone on the way” said the dispatcher.

“It’s like a huge ball of flames, it looks like it’s getting worse and it’s definitely a chemical spill probably” he replied.

Five days later, cars are clear from the river. Tracks have been relayed and trains have resumed travel.

But knowing now of the potential for what can happen here, there’s a new push.

“It caused us some significant worry and we really want to understand, what is the Federal DoT doing to make sure the regulations appropriately keep communities safe” said Senator Tim Kaine.

Virginia Senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner urged the Department of Transportation Monday, to mandate upgrades in the transportation of crude oil by train, and to make sure cities are prepared to handle derailment disasters.

“You can’t prepare for a hazmat incident if you don’t know what exactly is being shipped. Your plan is only as good as the information you have about what’s coming through your community” he said.

Kaine said NTSB recommendations are one thing; whether they become safety standards is another. He said standards have got to be the case; Americans are transporting more oil by train now, than we were any year over the last decade.

Rachel Maddow: Canada forcing new U.S. regulations; Obama must act decisively

Repost from MSNBC / The Rachel Maddow Show
[Editor: This is a lengthy video, (sorry about the commercial ad), but well worth your time.  After exploring oil pipeline spills, Maddow digs into the incredible increase in crude oil transport by rail, and the explosions and the need for quick action from the Obama administration.  Near the end, she interviews Wall Street Journal energy reporter Russell Gold, author of The Boom.    – RS]

Public safety at risk by oil train shipments

 Rachel Maddow, 05/02/2014

Russell Gold, senior energy reporter for the Wall Street Journal, talks with Rachel Maddow about the safety shortcomings inherent in shipping oil by rail, particularly the highly flammable Bakken crude.

Lynchburg cleanup, and quote by Contra Costa County Fire Marshal

Repost from The Huffington Post
[Editor: A detailed account of the difficulties in emergency response and cleanup.  Look for the quotes by Contra Costa County Fire Marshal Robert Marshall, indicating that they couldn’t adequately fight this kind of fire unless the oil company provide specialized equipment.  – RS]

After Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Crash, Fire Chiefs Fear Other Accidents

AP | by By ALAN SUDERMAN and LARRY O’DELL | 05/02/2014
Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014.  Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014.  Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Early reviews found no human error or mechanical failure that could have caused a fiery derailment of an oil train in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

Investigator Jim Southworth said a total of 17 train cars derailed Wednesday afternoon, with three tumbling into the James River. Southworth said one of those cars breached and caught on fire. The CSX train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota when it derailed.

CSX said in a statement Friday that all but two of the derailed cars have been position for removal from the site.

Southworth said at a news conference that investigators have interviewed the train’s conductor and engineer, and reviewed footage from a camera mounted on the front of the locomotive and the train’s data recorder that is similar to a black box found on airplanes.

“I don’t see anything in the way the crew handled the train that might contribute to this accident,” Southworth said. He said they would continue to try to find the cause.

He also said no defects have been found in the train cars or the track signals. Southworth said there’s still large amount of work to do to examine the rail itself due to the ongoing cleanup. Recovery efforts are moving slowly because of complexity involved in hauling a more than 200,000-pound tanker car out of the river by crane, he said.

State environmental officials on Thursday spotted oil sheens 12 miles downstream from the derailment site, said Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden. The state has estimated that about 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of oil escaped. Hayden said the department had not seen any oil around Richmond, which is downriver from Lynchburg and draws its drinking water from the James River.

The derailment was the latest in a string of oil-train wrecks, which has brought renewed demands that the Obama administration quickly tighten regulations governing the burgeoning practice of transporting highly combustible crude by rail. Some experts say stronger rules to head off a catastrophe are long overdue.

There have been eight other significant accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude, and some of them caused considerable damage and deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Bakken crude ignites more easily than other types.

No one was hurt or killed when a train derailed in Lynchburg, but emergency officials say it underscores that many departments don’t have the resources to deal with such an accident along a busy route for hauling oil from the booming Bakken oil fields in the northern U.S. tier and Canada.

“It definitely raises concerns,” said Williamsburg Fire Chief William Dent. “We have some minimal resources here.”

The worst-case scenario for his department, Dent said, would be an oil-train derailment on a stretch of CSX track passing between the College of William & Mary and the popular Williamsburg historic area. Some buildings on both sides would have to be evacuated, and the department would have to call on neighboring localities for help responding to the disaster.

Lynchburg officials evacuated some buildings and let the fire burn out, but Richmond Fire Chief Robert Creecy said a more aggressive response would be required if an oil train plunged from the elevated CSX track dissecting Virginia’s capital. The track spans Interstate 95 and, like the stretch in Lynchburg, grazes the edge of James River.

Richard Edinger, assistant fire chief in the Richmond suburb of Chesterfield County, said no fire department except those at some refineries has sufficient equipment and materials to deal with exploding oil-filled tank cars.

Edinger, who also serves as vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Hazardous Materials Committee, said emergency responders have long been aware of the threat posed by the transport of crude oil.

“What’s new to this picture is the scale, the amount of product coming through,” he said. “That’s the game changer.”

Fire chiefs said firefighters receive training on responding to oil tanker fires — Williamsburg just conducted an exercise based on a simulated derailment of Bakken crude March 27, Dent said — but it hasn’t received any special emphasis.

“These are low-frequency, high-consequence incidents,” Edinger said. “When looking at all you need to purchase and train on, this is one of them but it doesn’t always make the highest priority.”

Nearly all of the train’s cars in Lynchburg were carrying crude, and each had a capacity of 30,000 gallons, officials said.

Lynchburg city spokeswoman JoAnn Martin said there was no effect on the water supply for Lynchburg’s 77,000 residents because the city draws from the river only during droughts.


O’Dell reported from Richmond.  Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.