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Oil Train Derails, Destroying One House and Evacuating Two Towns

A CSX Corporation train moving North Dakota crude derailed earlier this week in West Virginia. The derailment led to a number of cars bursting into flames, the destruction of one house, and the evacuation of two towns.

The derailment is the second “significant” incident that involved an oil train in a three-day period, according to Reuters. In Monday’s accident, one car reportedly landed in the Kanawha River and “a couple are burning,” Robert Jelacic, night shift manager of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told Reuters. CSX reported on Tuesday that none of the train’s cars was hurled into the river. Jelacic confirmed that there were no injuries or deaths; however, the Reuters report indicates that one person is being treated for potential fume inhalation.

The derailment occurred at 1:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) on Monday, approximately 33 miles southeast of the state capital, in Charleston, according to Fayette County 911 Coordinator, James Bennett. The derailment was also less than 200 miles west of Lynchburg, Virginia, where another CSX train—also heading toward the Plains terminal in Yorktown—derailed and blew up in April 2014, noted Reuters.

CSX indicated that the derailed train was pulling 109 cars from North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia. Yorktown is where Plains All American Pipelines run an oil depot.

West Virginia State Police First Sergeant Greg Duckworth, who was at the site at the time of the crash, said that nine or 10 cars blew up, exploding in a sequence of approximately one car every 30 minutes, Reuters reported. Heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures hampered efforts to clear the area, Jelacic said. “It’s a real mess down here,” Duckworth told Reuters. All but 14 cars were pulled to safety, he added.

Following the derailment, a one-mile area was under evacuation following a house fire resulting from the accident, Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told Reuters. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin also issued a state of emergency for Kanawha and Fayette counties, Reuters wrote.

According to CSX, cleanup will begin once it is considered safe to reach the site. Water tests taken along the Kanawha River have not revealed oil traces, said a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection; however, an area water treatment plant has been closed.

Meanwhile, a similar sequence has been seen in other derailments that have taken place over the past 18 months. The fire from one tank heats gases from the nearest car, leading to ignition, according to Reuters.

In another case, two days prior to the West Virginia crash, a Canadian National (CN) Railways train coming from Alberta’s oil sands derailed into the woods in northern Ontario. CN indicated that 29 of 100 cars were involved in the derailment; seven cars became inflamed. Although there were no injuries, the cars were still burning on Monday, according to Reuters.

In 2013, 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada when a train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded.

There have been concerns regarding crude shipment safety in recent years, specifically with the flammability of very light oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale and the imperfect design of older tank cars. Reuters wrote that the U.S. Transportation Department recently submitted a proposal to the White House seeking a mandate for an additional 1/8th-inch of steel on most of today’s train tank shells; new models would be installed with a thicker hull at the time of manufacture.

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