Derailed CSX Oil Train Had Newer Tank Cars

The CSX crude oil train that derailed and burned in West Virginia had newer model tank cars.

In the meantime, the fires that ignited after the train jumped the tracks on Monday had started to burn themselves out and workers had begun the task of removing the charred hulks from the scene.

Hundreds of families were evacuated and nearby water treatment plants were temporarily closed in the aftermath of the accident.

The burning cars shot fireballs into the sky and leaked oil into a Kanawha River tributary. A nearby home was destroyed by fire.

The train, which originated in North Dakota and was bound for an oil depot in Yorktown, Va., was carrying about 70,000 barrels of crude oil.

The tank cars used in the train were model CPC-1232, which were designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago.

The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Ontario on Saturday and last year in Lynchburg, Va.

Federal regulators are considering requiring such upgrades as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously.

Those regulations, which are currently under review by the White House, means phasing out use  of tens of thousands of older tank cars used to carry highly flammable liquids.

“This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

But industry officials say implementing those proposals would be too costly. The Railway Supply Institute estimates that $7 billion has been spent to put 57,000 of the newer model cars into service.

“We have billions invested in tank cars,” said Bob Greco, a senior official with the American Petroleum Institute. “Every day new, modern 1232 tank cars are coming into service.”

Nonetheless, some tank car manufacturers manufacturers support requiring thicker shells and other protections even as the oil industry worries that implementing changes too quickly could slow the U.S. energy boom.

“We think we can reduce the magnitude of these incidents, in part with a safer tank car,” said Jack Isselmann, a senior vice president of Greenbrier Cos., an Oregon-based tanker-car maker.

But he said tank car orders were slow because leasing companies were waiting for the final federal rule, expected to set the standards for new tank cars as well as a timetable for retrofits.

Oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to more than 435,000 in 2013, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana.

In 2009, U.S. railroads transported about 21,000 barrels of oil a day. Today they carry more than 50 times that amount, according to federal data, as fracking-fueled oil production in North Dakota outpaced pipeline capacity and trains became the easiest way to get crude to refineries.

Pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail, according to American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

Reports of leaks and other oil releases from tank cars have risen from 12 in 2008 to 186 last year, according to Department of Transportation records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Last Saturday, 29 cars of a 100-car Canadian National train carrying diluted bitumen crude derailed in a remote area 50 miles south of Timmins, Ontario, spilling oil and catching fire. That train was headed from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

In the most serious incident, a train derailed on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Railroads have declined to disclose the exact routes used by oil trains. Some railroads, including CSX have filed lawsuits to prevent states from publicizing them.

Monday’s derailment occurred near unincorporated Mount Carbon just after passing through Montgomery, a town of 1,946.

The train had 109 cars of which 26 of them left the tracks. One person — the owner of the destroyed home — was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported.

The CSX engineer and conductor uncoupled the locomotives from the train and walked away unharmed. The NTSB said its investigators will compare this wreck to others.

CSX regional vice president Randy Cheetham said no cause of the accident has yet been determined. He said the tracks had been inspected just three days before the wreck.

“They’ll look at train handling, look at the track, look at the cars. But until they get in there and do their investigation, it’s unwise to do any type of speculation,” he said.

The explosions that followed the derailment frightened local residents. Morris Bounds Jr., a 44-year-old general contractor, said he was sitting in his living room when he heard a series of booms that shook the ground like an earthquake.

His father, who lives 400 yards away, called and frantically told him a train had derailed next to his house.

The younger Bounds hopped in his pickup truck and sped toward his father’s home. Before he got there, he saw his father running barefoot through the snow.

Behind him, flames were leaping from spilled-over tanker cars and his father’s home was already burning.

“It was like a horror movie trying to get to him,” the young Bounds said. “I had seen cars piled up and flames shooting through them. He was just running for his life.”

Bounds said he was relieved that his mother wasn’t in the house. She is recovering from heart surgery and was readmitted to the hospital with the flu.

Within a minute or so of driving away, the two men saw the tankers begin to explode, sending shock waves through the air and huge balls of flames that rose against the mountains.

“Everything they owned was there,” he said of his parents’ home. But, he added: “I got him out of there safely.”

By Tuesday evening, utility company crews were restoring electricity, water treatment plants were reopening  and most of the local residents were back home.

Initial tests showed no crude near water plant intake points, state Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator, Sarah Feinberg, and chief safety officer, Robert Lauby, will visit the site. Investigators from the FRA and the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were at the scene already.

Shares of CSX Corp. were down 0.22 percent to $36 in pre-marker trade following the accident.

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