By August 21, 2015 Read More →

Oil train derailment: Fire chief critical of railroad’s slow response

1 oil train tanker car caught fire, 30,000 gallons of oil spilled into river in Lynchburg, VA

CSX oil train derailment

CSX oil train derailment occurred near a restaurant and walking path beside the James River in Lynchburg, VA.  Waterkeeper Alliance photo.

The fire official who led the response to a 2014 CSX oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia, criticized CSX Transportation, saying it took two hours for the company’s representative to arrive at a command post after the wreck.

With fire and smoke billowing along the James River in Lynchburg, city fire battalion chief Robert E. Lipscomb said the sooner he could get answers about the train from the company, the better.

“I felt, from an incident commander’s perspective, that that two hours was a little bit long,” he told the National Transportation Safety Board a day after the April 30, 2014 accident. The derailment is still under investigation and Lipscomb’s comments were part of documents released this week.

Seventeen cars derailed near a restaurant and walking path near the James River. Three went into the river, one caught fire and nearly 30,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the river. The derailment briefly caused parts of downtown Lynchburg to be evacuated. No one was injured.

“What we were looking for at that point in time, as much as anything, was information from the engineer or a conductor,” Lipscomb said. “We really wanted to know what was on that train.”

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency does not set response times for reporting to an accident site.

“However, NTSB will review the emergency response as it does in the majority of accident investigations and evaluate whether there were any significant issues that pertain to this accident,” Holloway said in an email.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle declined comment on the NTSB documents, citing the ongoing investigation.

A Norfolk Southern representative who had arrived on site within 45 minutes determined the accident didn’t involve the company’s train. Authorities initially requested assistance from Norfolk Southern and CSX because both had rail lines along the river in Lynchburg.

Lipscomb said CSX initially told authorities that someone was headed to the scene, “but what I needed was someone from that company at my (command post) to be able to provide me answers to: Where’s the locomotive? Is there anything else going on down line that we don’t know about? Is there anything wrong with the engineer? … Did it (hit) a tractor-trailer further down that we don’t know about?”

In addition, responders had determined the train contained oil but needed help from CSX figuring out whether all rail cars contained them or whether other products were present, he said.

Lipscomb said “multiple, multiple notifications” were made to CSX. He recalled looking at his watch and deciding that he would call state public safety officials if the CSX representative didn’t show up by 4:05 p.m.

“I was getting frustrated. 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.”

There was confusion where the representative needed to be. The representative initially went to one end of the train, but Lipscomb said the official needed to be at the command post.

Lipscomb said the initial CSX responder told him he drove about 50 minutes to get to the scene.

Once CSX was there, “they came in force,” Lipscomb said.

The train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota. An oil boom in North Dakota has increased dramatically the amount of Bakken crude travelling through West Virginia and Virginia to an oil depot in Yorktown.

A dozen oil trains derailments have occurred over the past two years in the United States and Canada.

The Canadian Press.

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