Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oil train derails in W.Va., two days after one in Ontario; stricter car-safety rules pending

A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota to a Virginia refinery derailed in West Virginia on Monday, creating a spectacular fire and sending at least one car into the Kanawha River. "Last year, a train taking the same route derailed, causing an explosion in Lynchburg, Va," notes Rusty Marks of The Charleston Gazette. "On Saturday, at least seven rail cars caught fire in northern Ontario after a crude oil train on its way from Alberta to eastern Canada derailed."

Twenty-five of the CSX Corp. train's 109 cars, each carrying 33,000 gallons of crude, left the tracks in Mount Carbon (Bing map). Some exploded, 14 were reported burning, and the heat was felt half a mile away. One slammed into a house and incinerated it. "No one was reported killed, but CSX reported that one person was treated for an inhalation injury," Marks reports. Downstream communities closed their water intakes, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency. CSX said it was investigating the cause.

Even before the incident, Curtis Tate of McClatchy Newspapers wrote that the Ontario derailment could put "pressure on the White House to accelerate its review of new regulations intended to improve the safety of hazardous rail shipments throughout North America."

Tate concluded, "Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent a package of new oil train safety rules to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. According to the department’s February report on significant rulemakings, it will be another three months before the rule is published. The regulation is expected to call for stronger tank cars to transport the oil, as well as operational changes that could include train speeds and braking systems. But it would be October at the earliest before railcar manufacturers would begin building tank cars to the new standard, and at least two years beyond that before the least protected cars would be phased out of transporting the most hazardous materials."

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