Category Archives: James River

NTSB crash analysis in Lynchburg derailment slow, deliberate

Repost from The Roanoke Times
[Editor: Slow, deliberate … and of course, COSTLY.  – RS]

NTSB says train cars being analyzed in Lynchburg derailment investigation

June 3, 2014  |  by Alicia Petska, Lynchburg News & Advance
Train Derailment.JPEG-050.1
Associated Press | National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator James Southworth said it’s too early to say if weather was a factor in Wednesday’s oil train derailment in Lynchburg.

Federal officials continue to sift through a mountain of information in the Lynchburg train derailment, lead investigator Jim Southworth said.

Southworth, of the National Transportation Safety Board, was among some 80 federal, state and local officials who attended a rail safety roundtable organized Monday by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

Southworth was not one of the speakers, but in an interview afterward he said the investigation into what caused the April 30 train derailment in Lynchburg is continuing at a slow and deliberate pace.

Southworth said officials will review CSX’s maintenance and inspections records going back months.

In addition, the team will do a 3-D scan, inside and out, of the oil tanker that ruptured and send pieces of it off to a lab for metallurgical testing.

Other tankers in the 105-unit train that derailed will be scanned as well to compare their performance to the ruptured unit.

Southworth said it is too early to comment on what may have caused the derailment that upset 17 oil tanker cars, three of which fell into the James River.

He said Monday he hoped to complete the investigation in a year or less.

“There is a lot of interest in what happened here because of the type of tanker cars,” he noted. “It’s going to be scrutinized quite deliberately.”

The train that derailed in downtown Lynchburg contained a mix of older and newer model oil tankers, but the car that ruptured was a newer model intended to be safer in the event of an crash.

The derailment, which sparked a large fire on the river but caused no injuries, has made Lynchburg part of a national debate on the best way to ship crude oil in the country.

So far, there has been no evidence the derailment was caused by operator error, Southworth said. He declined to comment on other possibilities and said the investigation still is in the fact-gathering stage.

Investigators no longer are working on-site at the derailment scene, but continue to gather information and analyze the train cars and pieces of the damaged track.

NTSB Investigating Lynchburg, Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Repost from The Legal Examiner

NTSB Investigating Virginia Crude Oil Derailment

Posted by Patrick Austin  |   May 27, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is taking charge of the investigation of an oil train on April 30 that was hauling crude oil through Lynchburg, Virginia (VA). However, it will be many months before any conclusions are reached and recommendations issued.

According to Investigator Jim Southworth, these incidents happen fast but they take a long time to go through. At this point, the NTSB is gathering facts before moving into analysis. Depending upon how complex the oil accident was, it could take 6-18 months before the report is completed.


Personnel from the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Lynchburg’s fire and police departments, labor unions, and CSX Transportation are helping with the investigation, he said.

Several working groups will look at train operations, communications, mechanics, the track and several other areas. These groups then will meet each day to share the information they glean. The preliminary investigation has shown that the train had 105 cars of crude oil and was traveling under the 25 MPH speed limit when the train derailed. Three cars were dumped into the James River.

A total of 13 cars on the CSX train derailed on April 30 at 2:30 PM as it rolled through Lynchburg. Three tankers broke out in flames and nearby residences and businesses had to be evacuated.

CSX removed all of the cars that did not derail, in coordination with local first responders. The railroad also is now doing an environmental assessment that includes air, water and land-based assessments of potential environmental effects.

State of Virginia forms Task Force on Railroad Safety & Security

Repost from The Lynchburg News & Advance

McAuliffe names co-chairs of new railroad safety task force

Autumn Parry/The News & Advance  |  May 15, 2014
Olympia Meola Richmond Times-Dispatch
Train derailment
Autumn Parry/The News & Advance – Train derailment – Three CSX tankers sink as they leak crude oil into the James River after the train derailed in Lynchburg on April 30.

Virginia’s secretaries of Transportation and of Public Safety and Homeland Security will co-chair the state’s Railroad Safety and Security Task Force established in the aftermath of the train derailment in Lynchburg that thrust cars carrying crude oil into the James River.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday announced leadership of the interagency panel that will also include representatives from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, the State Corporation Commission, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia State Police.

The task force, which will hold its inaugural meeting at 1 p.m. on June 4, will solicit input from the public and present recommended state and federal actions intended to prevent future accidents and ensure the state is prepared should one occur.

The tanker car derailment April 30 in Lynchburg raised concerns over the potential threat to public water supplies in the Richmond area and the ecology of the James River.

The CSX train was carrying 105 tanker cars of crude oil from shale fields in North Dakota to Yorktown. Seventeen of the tanker cars derailed, and a massive fire ensued. Three of the derailed cars tumbled into the James River.

McAuliffe said in a statement that the task force is an important step toward ensuring that Virginia “is doing everything it can to keep our railroads and the communities around them safe, and that we are prepared to respond to incidents like the derailment and fire in Lynchburg earlier this month.”

“I have asked Secretaries [Brian J. Moran] and [Aubrey Layne] to bring our public safety, transportation and environmental protection agencies together to investigate what happened in Lynchburg and make recommendations of how Virginia can work with the federal government to keep our communities and our natural resources as safe as possible.”

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.”