Category Archives: Lynchburg VA

As oil train burned, firefighters waited 2 hours for critical details

Repost from McClatchyDC

As oil train burned, firefighters waited 2 hours for critical details

By Curtis Tate, August 21, 2015

•  Oil train burned for 2 hours before railroad official arrived
•  Firefighters lacked key details about train and its cargo
•  Incident led railroads to offer more information, training

Contract workers begin cleaning up the site of an oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va., on May 1, 2014.
Contract workers begin cleaning up the site of an oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va., on May 1, 2014. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

Newly released documents show that firefighters responding to an oil train derailment and fire last year in Lynchburg, Va., waited more than two hours for critical details about the train and what was on it.

The Lynchburg Fire Department’s battalion chief, Robert Lipscomb, told investigators that it took multiple calls to get a representative from the correct railroad to come to the scene, according to an interview transcript published Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board. And by the time someone arrived, the massive fire had almost burned out.

The April 30, 2014, derailment of a CSX train released more than 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the James River and led to the evacuation of about 350 people. No one was injured.

Because of Lynchburg and other oil train derailments, railroads, including CSX, have improved their lines of communication with local emergency responders and offered them more training opportunities.

Rob Doolittle, a CSX spokesman, said Friday that safety was the company’s highest priority and that it “looks forward to reviewing the NTSB’s findings and recommendations when its investigation into this incident is complete.”

NTSB investigators interviewed Lipscomb, who led the response to the derailment, the next day. He told them his department probably wouldn’t have changed how it handled the incident if they’d had more information from the start.

“We did it the way we did it because that’s what we were looking at,” he said.

However, he expressed frustration that it took railroad officials more than two hours to arrive.

We really wanted to know what was on that train. Robert Lipscomb, battalion chief, Lynchburg Fire Department

“We really wanted to know what was on that train,” Lipscomb told investigators.

The confusion even included not knowing what railroad to call. Norfolk Southern also operates trains through downtown Lynchburg parallel to the CSX tracks.

Lipscomb said both railroads were notified, and officials from Norfolk Southern arrived within 45 minutes of the derailment. However, they determined quickly that it was not one of the railroad’s trains.

“They did stay on scene to kind of, I guess, be of some assistance, but they weren’t able to help us at all really because it wasn’t their train,” Lipscomb said.

Other issues Lipscomb identified: The paperwork identifying the train’s cargo was in the locomotive, but firefighters didn’t know where to find it. They also couldn’t find the train crew.

Firefighters knew from the red hazardous materials placards on the tank cars that the train was carrying crude oil. But they didn’t know how much was on the train or what kind of oil it was.

Lipscomb said he kept looking at his watch and proposed “taking it to the next level” by calling the state’s deputy secretary of public safety if a CSX representative didn’t arrive by five minutes past 4 p.m., more than two hours since the derailment.

“I’m like, ‘I’ve got to know; we’ve got to have someone here,’” Lipscomb said, “and before my time ran out, he showed up.”

Lynchburg VA Task Force issues 32 draft recommendations on railroad safety

Repost from WSLS 10, Roanoke VA

McAuliffe’s Railroad & Security Task Force presents draft of rail safety proposal

By Margaret Grigsby, Apr 09, 2015 5:18 PM
Flames and black smoke were seen at a train derailment in downtown Lynchburg in 2014.
Flames and black smoke were seen at a train derailment in downtown Lynchburg in 2014.

RICHMOND (WSLS 10) – Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Railroad Safety and Security Task Force presented its recommendations on railroad safety and how to protect lives, property and the environment at a meeting in Richmond Thursday. The task force was created after the Lynchburg train derailment in 2014. Its report is a result of eight months of research and input multiple sources.

In a draft of the group’s report are key findings of its investigation into the current state of rail safety in Virginia as well as recommendations on how to make the tracks safer for people and the environment. The report says Virginia railroads are generally safe, efficient and reliable, however recent derailments involving Bakken crude oil and other flammable liquids is cause for concern.

Included in the recommendations section of the draft were 32 items in the areas of planning, organization, training, information sharing, response, funding and regulatory/legislative. The recommendations covered everything from prioritization of areas where a derailment would have high impact to the purchase and implementation of training equipment and procedures.

Read the full report draft here.

In a statement released by the James River Association on the task force’s report draft, Policy Specialist for the JRA Adrienne Kotula said the recommendations were a “key step forward in addressing the risks posed by transporting crude oil by rail through Virginia.”

Kotula noted what the report lacks is focus on recommendations to prevent accidents through inspections of railways.

The report noted federal studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation conclude rail transport of crude oil and ethanol could result major financial and environmental damages. The report quotes the USDOT’s 2014 research, saying:

The analysis shows that expected damages based on the historical safety record could be $4.5 billion and damages from higher-consequence events could reach $14 billion over a 20-year period in the absence of the rule.

The final recommendations from the task force are set to be issued on April 30, the anniversary of the Lynchburg Bakken crude oil train derailment. The draft is available for public comment through April 19.

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.