DEFIANCE – About 27 hours before it derailed and burned in southern West Virginia, a CSX Transportation train loaded with more than 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil headed for Virginia rolled without incident through this northwest Ohio city.
Its trip took it through Holgate, North Baltimore, and several smaller towns before it made a slow turn to the south in Fostoria, then headed through Carey and Upper Sandusky on its way to Columbus and points beyond.
Dozens of trains like the one that wrecked near Montgomery, W.Va., Monday afternoon cross northwest Ohio weekly to deliver oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil fields to terminals along the East Coast, and the CSX line through Defiance is, according to data released recently by a state agency, Ohio’s busiest.
“Obviously we’re concerned,” said Tim Bowling, the assistant fire chief in Defiance. If a train like that were to derail and catch fire in town, he said, “You’re not going to spray a couple of hoses on that and put it out.”
“It scares the bejeezus out of me,” Ken Chapman, Fostoria’s fire chief, said of the oil trains through that city, where the CSX line crosses a Norfolk Southern track that also handles some oil trains. “I don’t care if you’re Columbus, or Fostoria, or any city in between: nobody’s fully prepared for it.”
It may take months to determine the cause of the West Virginia derailment, where about 25 of 107 loaded oil tank cars, each carrying about 30,000 gallons of oil, jumped the tracks. About 20 caught fire.
One burned a house to the ground, while others erupted with spectacular fireballs. And while nobody was seriously hurt, nearby residents remain evacuated while the fire burns itself out. Authorities worked Tuesday to determine if any oil that spilled into a creek near the tracks made it to the nearby Kanawha River, but drinking-water intakes downstream on the Kanawha were shut off as a precaution.
The train’s tanks were a newer model — the 1232 — designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago. The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Timmins, Ontario on Saturday, and last year in Lynchburg, Virginia.
A series of ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.
If approved, increased safety requirements now under White House review would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars being used to carry highly flammable liquids.
Oil-train traffic, once rare on United States rails because of the proliferation of pipelines serving established transportation corridors, has grown rapidly in the past half-decade because of booming production in North Dakota, which is not well-served by the pipeline network.
But with the oil trains hauling that oil have come accidents, most notably a runaway-train disaster in 2012 that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. There also have been several high-profile pileups in North Dakota, Alabama, Virginia, and now West Virginia. Yet another oil train derailed and caught fire in a remote area of northwest Ontario over the weekend.
And while no oil-train accidents have been reported in Ohio, the 2011 derailment of an ethanol train just southwest of Fostoria created a spectacular fire and forced nearby homes’ evacuation, too.
Since then, the railroad industry, regulators, and tank-car manufacturers have worked to beef up design standards for tank cars used for flammable cargoes such as oil and ethanol. But even the stronger cars built in recent years can’t withstand the physical forces of higher-speed derailments as demonstrated by the fact that the cars in the latest wreck were built using the new standard.
Fostoria’s Mr. Chapman, Defiance’s Mr. Bowling, and Willard Fire Chief Joe Reiderman all said Tuesday that they consider their relations with CSX to be cooperative, with the railroad helping out with training programs. Last summer, CSX held tank-car familiarity classes at its terminals in Willard and Garrett, Ind., to which many northwest Ohio emergency agencies sent representatives.
“Obviously, that is overwhelming to say the least,” Mr. Reiderman said of the West Virginia crash. “My heart goes out to the first responders down there.”
Information from the Associated Press was included in this article.
This article was written by David Patch from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.