A train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire Monday in West Virginia, less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Transportation sent a package of new rail safety regulations to the White House for review.
The CSX train was traveling on the same route as another crude oil train that derailed and caught fire 10 months ago in downtown Lynchburg, Va. It was the second derailment in as many days of a train loaded with crude oil. Early Sunday, a Canadian National train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Ontario. At least seven cars burst into flames.
In Monday’s derailment, residents of two small towns east of Charleston were evacuated, and at least one tank car fell into the Kanawha River, according to the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The river supplies drinking water for several local communities, and residents were urged Monday to conserve water.
The fire was expected to burn throughout the night.
A spokesman for the department said the 109-car train was traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va., and that 12 to 15 cars had derailed. Trains from North Dakota’s Bakken region have been traveling to the Yorktown facility since December 2013, where the oil is transferred to barges for delivery to refineries on the East Coast.
Photos taken by local residents posted to Twitter showed a column of black smoke and fire that resembled the Lynchburg accident and others. Early Sunday, a Canadian National train carrying crude oil derailed in a remote part of northern Ontario.
Other fiery accidents have taken place in Casselton, N.D., Aliceville, Ala., and Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The latter derailment, in July 2013, killed 47 people and wiped out the town’s business district.
Those derailments prompted a series of changes by government and industry on both sides of the border, including operating practices, track inspections, train speeds and tank car design. The new rules currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget are scheduled for publication in mid-May.
The response to Monday’s derailment was complicated by a winter storm. The National Weather Service forecast a snowfall of 6 to 10 inches in the area.
Sarah Feinberg, the acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said investigators from her agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were on their way to the scene, about six hours from Washington.
“Both agencies are monitoring the situation closely and will commence official inquiries into the cause of the derailment,” said Kevin Thompson, an FRA spokesman. “The agencies are prepared to take all necessary enforcement actions following the investigation.”
The National Transportation Safety Board, which last month added tank cars to its list of “most-wanted” safety improvements, was monitoring the incident, a spokesman said.
Following the Lynchburg derailment last April, the Transportation Department began requiring railroads to notify state officials of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude.
The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management declined McClatchy’s request to review the notifications in June, invoking an exemption under the state’s open records law because CSX had marked the documents “proprietary and trade secrets.”
However, the frequency of the shipments could be gleaned from surrounding states, notably Kentucky and Virginia, that did make the reports available to McClatchy and other news organizations.
The reports show that two to five Bakken trains a week traverse West Virginia.