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article imageWrecked oil train in West Virginia burns for second day

By Karen Graham     Feb 17, 2015 in Environment
A 109-car CXS oil train carrying crude oil from North Dakota to Yorktown, Virginia derailed in a small West Virginia river valley town on Monday, causing 20 cars to erupt in flames. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the fire was still burning.
The wrecked CSX oil train carrying millions of pounds of crude oil continued to burn on Tuesday, one day after it derailed during a snow storm, sending fireballs hundreds of feet into the air. The 109-car oil train being pulled by two locomotives, derailed about 1:20 p.m. Monday afternoon near the small town of Boomer in the southern part of the state, about 33 miles from Charleston.
Photos and videos posted online by witnesses show burning tanker cars that had tumbled down onto the bank of the Kanawha River, while other photos show piles of tanker cars tumbled in disarray. Witnesses reported hearing multiple explosions with flames leaping hundreds of feet in the air. At least one home was destroyed and drinking water for communities downstream of the derailment may be contaminated.
Jennifer Sayre, the Kanawha County manager said at least 12 or 13 cars jumped the tracks and over seven of the cars ignited. “there are still tankers that are on fire," she added. Lawrence Messina, the state's public safety spokesman gave an update this afternoon, reporting that a total of 26 cars derailed, with 20 of them igniting. "We hope the tanker fire will burn itself out by later this afternoon," he said.
The towns of Boomer and Adena Village were evacuated, with around 200 to 300 people taking shelter in schools, a community center and a fire station. “The railroad has made arrangements for some families to get hotel rooms,” said Ms. Sayre. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Kanawha and Fayette counties.
West Virginia American Water closed one water intake downstream from the wreck site, and they are monitoring the water quality. “I don’t think it’s gotten to the point yet where there’s no water coming out of anyone’s tap,” Ms. Sayre said, but water tanker trucks and bottled water has already been moved into the area.
The West Virginia derailment and fire comes on the heels of a derailment and fire on Sunday in Ontario, Canada, near the city of Timmins. In this incident, an eastbound oil train derailed, engulfing seven cars in flames and disrupting rail service between Toronto and Winnipeg.
Oil train derailments becoming more common
With the boom in oil production from the Bakken Shale formation lying underneath parts of the northern U.S. and part of central Canada, there has been an increase in the number of accidents. Before 2009, less than 10,000 oil tanker cars were transporting oil across the country yearly, according to the Association of American Railroads. But in 2012, traffic jumped to 230,000 tanker cars, and in 2013, over 430,000 tanker cars were moving oil across the U.S.
The rail industry came under scrutiny in July 2013, after a train with 72 cars carrying crude oil crashed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, erupting in flames and killing 47 people. What followed were derailments in North Dakota, Alabama, Virginia and other places. Data from the federal government and the petroleum industry show that over a dozen derailments involving trains carrying crude oil or ethanol have taken place in the U.S. since 2009. and these figures do not include derailments in Canada.
What is interesting about the West Virginia derailment is that all 109 oil tanker cars were the new CPC 1232 models. These cars replace the DOT-111 car which was manufactured before 2011. There was a lot of pressure to replace the older cars because of safety concerns cited by both regulators and operators in the U.S. and Canada. But in April 2014, a 105-car CSX oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, sending 17 cars off the rails, with several of them falling into the James River. A CPC-1232 car broke open, spilling 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, causing a huge fire.
By August 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) started voicing their concerns about the new oil tanker car. It is supposed to be stronger, with a thicker outer shell and thermal protection, rollover safeguards, and removable valves to prevent them breaking off in the event of an accident. But the petroleum industry vetoed the idea of removable valves, even though they will shear off and have taken a snail's pace approach to converting to a safer car. As was pointed out in an article published in Digital Journal in July, 2014, we are seeing the results of a "watered-down" version of the regulations. This leaves us with a big question: Which town is going to be next to have an oil tanker train derailment with its accompanying fiery explosion?
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