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Train catches fire in Lynchburg, Va., derailment

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) -- Several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed in downtown and caught fire along the James River in Lynchburg, Va., leading to the evacuation of nearby buildings, but no injuries, city officials said.

The city on its website and Twitter posted that firefighters on the scene made the decision to let the fire burn out and urged motorists and pedestrians to avoid the area. It tweeted that the tanker cars were carrying crude oil and that three or four of them were breached. The city said 13 or 14 tanker cars were involved in the derailment.

Photos and video show several black tanker cars derailed and extensive flames and smoke.

The city said there was no impact on the drinking water for its 77,000 residents due to spillage into the James River. However, officials for the city of Richmond said its public utilities department is drawing from an old canal system instead of the James River as a precaution.

The train with about 15 cars was traveling from Chicago to Virginia when it derailed, CSX said in a statement. It did not say where the train was headed. The railroad operator said it is "responding fully, with emergency response personnel, safety and environmental experts, community support teams and other resources."

The National Transportation Safety said it is sending investigators to the scene.

The city said on in a news release on its website that CSX officials were working to remove the portion of the train that is blocking workers from leaving Griffin Pipe Foundry located in the lower basin.

"We're used to kind of bangs and booms," said Gerald McComas, a security officer at foundry up river from the derailment site. "My first thought was it sounded like one of the guys started a motorcycle and then a realized, wait a minute, no ... that was more of a boom. We walked outside and there was the smoke rolling in."

A portion of the train was blocking the road allowing workers at to leave their parking lot, McComas said. Instead workers were walking along the tracks to get to the other side of the train in order to leave their facility.

"I'm walking home tonight," McComas joked.

A phone message left by The Associated Press with the Lynchburg Police Department wasn't immediately returned.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Adam Thiel was dispatched to the site to provide officials with updates on the situation.

In one of her last acts before leaving office last week, outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman warned the Obama administration that it needs to take steps immediately to protect the public from potentially catastrophic oil train accidents even if it means using emergency authority.

The safety board has long recommended that the Department of Transportation toughen its design standard for the kind of rail tank cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol.

The cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, even in low-speed accidents. Their flammable contents are then spilled, fouling the environment and often igniting.

"We are very clear that this issue needs to be acted on very quickly," Hersman told reporters at the conclusion of a two-day forum the board held on the safety of rail transport of oil and ethanol. "There is a very high risk here that hasn't been addressed ... We don't need a higher body count before they move forward."

In 2011, the oil, ethanol and railroad industries agreed on voluntary measures that toughened standards for rail cars known as DOT-111s, which are the kind of tank cars used to transport most flammable liquids. However, there have since been several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured. NTSB officials have said the voluntary standards don't go far enough.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said he expects the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the department, to send a proposal for new tank car standards to the White House for review this week. However, it's likely to be at least months, and possibly years, before new government standards go into effect.

There have been eight significant oil train accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving traings hauling crude oil, including several that resulted in spectacular fires, according to the safety board.

Join the discussion

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CHROBO42 April 30 2014 at 5:55 PM

"There have been eight significant oil train accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude oil, including several that resulted in spectacular fires, according to the safety board." Coincidence? Eco-terrorism? Spectacular disregard for the environment by oil companies? Poor condition of the rails?

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veterian74 April 30 2014 at 5:50 PM

The Keystone pipeline would be much safer than rail or trucks, but libs don't like creating jobs, they like them on welfare.

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7 replies
Richard L. Feig April 30 2014 at 5:49 PM

TRANSPORT ALL CRUDE AND OTHER OIL AND NATURAL GAS , ETC THROUGH UNDERGROUND PIPLINES WITH AUTOMATIC SHUT DOWN ON ANY SIGNIFICANT LEAK. LESS EXPENSIVE, MORE EFFICIENT, SAFER, AND NOT LOCATED INSIDE CITIES. LESS TANKERS AND TRAINS WHICH ALL USE OIL TO MOOVE.

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ceosvcs April 30 2014 at 5:48 PM

The rail industry needs to repair and replace the rails and railway right of way, the transport vehicles or rail cars are built to travel on welded rail with broader curves, the rail of yesteryear was not built to handle the length, the traffic, or the degree of turn the infer structure of the entire rail industry must be maintained with more vigor and labor.

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1 reply
jjb179 ceosvcs April 30 2014 at 6:10 PM

The railroads spend billions of dollars each year upgrading tracks. New ribbon rail, ballast and ties.
ast and ties.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
juststeve35 April 30 2014 at 5:48 PM

Wow...

This is sure safer than some pipeline, eh?

That said:

Even if new standards are created/legislated for railroad tanker cars, it would be half a decade or more before the replacements START to be utilized and likely over a decade before enough are produced that the old style ones could be phased out.

Far quicker/cheaper to simply build more pipelines, which is unlikely to happen in our NIMBY society.

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2 replies
prosymom juststeve35 April 30 2014 at 6:01 PM

And what happens to those undergrond pipelines when they traverse eathquake prone areas....?

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1 reply
gramargo prosymom April 30 2014 at 8:22 PM

I presume folks have noticed that earthquakes are happening much more often in the midwestern states, as well as in New England and along the Atlantic Coast. It's a very good question, in my opinion.

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Mike juststeve35 April 30 2014 at 6:10 PM

Car manufacturers can gear up pretty quickly, depending on what they have in outstanding orders. It would be more like 8 months before they were used, but there would also be a replacement lag (as you stated) depending on what the FRA and AAR standards required. How quickly do you think we could obtain land and build major pipelines across the United States? That's not a quick process either.

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wdodf April 30 2014 at 5:53 PM

Why did the cars derail? Until that is known, don't look for any other answer.

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drcantrell April 30 2014 at 5:45 PM

These trains are being sabotaged by someone for some reason

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2 replies
welcom joyce drcantrell April 30 2014 at 5:51 PM

my name is dc cantrell and i agree tank cars just don,t explode or derail they are very heavy when loaded

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lynette drcantrell April 30 2014 at 6:14 PM

These rail cars don't need to be sabotaged-old cars on older tracks pulled by engines that do not need to meet emissions standards. All it takes is one bad wheel bearing (hot box) to drop a car off the tracks and the rest follow.

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cablecaw April 30 2014 at 5:42 PM

Build the pipeline........

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2 replies
jwemrw cablecaw April 30 2014 at 5:49 PM

As long as we build it on your land, with your money, build it!

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1 reply
lynette jwemrw April 30 2014 at 6:08 PM

Keystone would be fully paid for by PRIVATE not public money.

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stgelights cablecaw April 30 2014 at 6:29 PM

you can put the pipeline on your land not mine

Flag Reply +1 rate up
neutralslamm April 30 2014 at 5:42 PM

Keystone Pipeline

Flag Reply +3 rate up
vtmilitia April 30 2014 at 5:40 PM

You'll have that when "greenies" ban pipe lines.

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