Lessons from Lynchburg – Get ready for the next one!

Repost from The Daily Press, Newport News VA
[Editor:  This article turns into a promo for CSX with too-easy suggestions of safer times ahead, but it details a good overview of events immediately following a major derailment with explosion and fire.  See “Responders had to…” highlighted below.   – RS]

Virginia, CSX offer advice for crude-by-rail accidents

Symposium session addresses preventing, responding to train derailments

By Tamara Dietrich, March 21, 2015

A big lesson from the crude oil train that derailed in Lynchburg last April, sparked a raging fire and spilled fuel into the James River is this: Get ready for the next one.

Not that emergency response experts are predicting another derailment in Virginia, but since up to five CSX trains each week carry Bakken crude across the width of the state to a fuel terminal in Yorktown, the possibility exists.

And residents should understand the risks, how to mitigate them and how to respond.

“I would think they would engage with their emergency manager for that region and say, ‘Hey, what do we need to know?’ ” said Wade Collins, hazardous materials supervisor with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM). ” ‘What do we need to do? How are we prepared for that?’ ”

Collins regaled first-responders from around the area with a blow-by-blow of the combined emergency response to the Lynchburg derailment, part of a presentation Friday morning at the 2015 Virginia Emergency Management Symposium in Hampton. The symposium ran from Wednesday through Friday.

Appearing with him was Bryan Rhode, vice president for state government affairs for the Mid-Atlantic region for CSX Transportation. Rhode spoke on measures that CSX and the industry are taking to prevent derailments, the safety training they offer and the ways they assist in the response when an accident occurs.

Those measures include reducing maximum train speeds, enhancing braking systems, conducting more track inspections, offering training for first-responders around the country, pressing for improved tank car regulations and better testing and classification for Bakken crude oil, which is more volatile than typical crude.

“Safety is our absolutely No. 1 priority,” said Rhode, a former Virginia secretary for public safety. “Nothing takes a back seat to safety.

Lynchburg was lucky

The Lynchburg derailment made national headlines when 17 cars out of a 105-car tanker train carrying about 3 million gallons of crude suddenly jumped the tracks in the downtown area.

Three tankers careened down the banks of the James River and into the water. One tanker burst open, spilling its fuel.

Something sparked, setting off a fireball so intense it burned itself out after 49 minutes, Collins said.

But Lynchburg was lucky.

“If we had to have a crude oil derailment in Virginia, everything was in our favor that day, actually,” Collins said.

Two days of rain had put the James at flood stage, which helped douse the flames and cool the tankers.

The weather was bad, so residents weren’t milling at the riverside park. No anglers were hanging out at popular fishing holes.

And the tankers ran into the river rather than crash into the commercial area.

Of the 30,000 gallons of fuel contained in the broken tanker, Collins said 29,245 gallons were consumed by the fire. Another 390 gallons were released to the river, and less than 200 gallons into the soil. What little remained was recovered.

And no one was hurt.

Emergency responders at the scene ranged from the local fire department to state hazardous materials teams, the National Guard to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. CSX immediately deployed its own group of hazardous materials professionals and special agents to set up an outreach center for local residents and business owners impacted by the accident.

“We bring an enormous amount of resources to the table,” Rhode said. “If we have an incident, we’re going to be there from that point until it is effectively resolved. And we’re going to get the job done.”

Responders had to evacuate the area, notify local municipalities, identify water intakes downstream and access points on the river for vehicles and boats. Booms were spread across the river to stop the flow of residual oil.

The toppled tanker cars still on the tracks were up-righted, put on flatbed cars and shipped off. The ones in the water were drained of fuel, then hauled from the river.

Contractors hired by state and federal authorities as well as CSX began testing the water and soil. Collins said monthly tests are still conducted.

“They monitored it very closely,” Collins said. “They looked for fish kill or damage or injury, and we found nothing.”

The initial response took nine days and has cost about $4 million, he said. The investigation into the cause of the derailment is still ongoing.

Be prepared

Among the lessons learned, Collins said, is the value of relationships, partnerships and training. And keeping up on current issues.

“Know what’s coming through your community,” he said.

And know if you have the resources to respond to a rail emergency.

“As we look along that crude oil route, many of those jurisdictions are rural,” Collins said. “They have volunteer emergency services. They may or may not have the capability to do an effective response. If you know you don’t have that capability, then be planning — where can I get that?”

CSX offers hazardous materials safety training at the local level, and hosts a trainer training facility in Pueblo, Colo., that handles 4,000 first-responders a year, said Rhode. Tuition and travel costs are covered.

The company hosted a three-day safety training event in Richmond last year and will try to conduct another in Virginia next year. It also offers online training opportunities on its website.

On Thursday, Rhode said, CSX presented a $25,000 donation to the Virginia Hazardous Materials Training Facility in York County.

The rail company also offers a system “unique” in the industry, that provides emergency response officials near real-time information on what’s on a particular train, he said. The company is also piloting a mobile app for first-responders to get that information “when you need it.”

Letting the public know what’s being carried on a train, however, is more problematic.

“Railroads are not allowed to disseminate customer information, but are able to do it in terms of our emergency response,” Rhode said. “It’s a security matter. You don’t want real-time information about very hazardous materials necessarily out there in the wrong hands.”

CSX operates in 23 states and two provinces of Canada. It runs 13,000 trains a day, two of which carry crude oil.

In Virginia, it operates 2,000 miles of track and four major rail yards, including one in Newport News. The company employs 1,200 people in the state. About 40 percent of the cargo unloaded at the Port of Virginia is transported on CSX trains, Rhode said.