After a train hauling North Dakota crude oil to the transfer station in Yorktown derailed and shot fireballs into the skies of Mount Carbon, W.Va., some York County supervisors want more regulations to protect citizens.
“I was thinking, ‘Holy mackerel — what would happen if one of those cars derailed on Route 17 or near the York River?'” Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Shepperd said late last week.
In recent years, several trains carrying Bakken shale oil, which is more volatile and flammable than other crude oil, have derailed. Last year, three tanker cars fell into the James River in Lynchburg, bursting into flame and dumping oil into the water. More than a year ago there was a wreck near Casselton, N.D., and in July 2013 a derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people.
“Of course we are extremely alarmed by these derailments if they are in fact derailments,” said Supervisor Walt Zaremba. “Who knows if there is some kind of sabotage with these things considering what is going on in the world.” If the derailments are rail-related, Zaremba said, U.S. lawmakers must “make sure the rail beds and railroads are maintained.”
On Friday, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine urged federal regulators to finalize and publish new safety regulations for oil trains that aren’t expected until the spring, according to a news release. Warner and Kaine had asked federal agencies after the Lynchburg derailment to require the strongest possible tank cars and to require railroads transporting Bakken crude oil to notify local emergency response officials of their scheduled shipments.
York County has one of the country’s many crude oil transfer stations. It is run by Plains All American Pipeline and located near Goodwin Neck Road and the banks of the York River. The transfer station receives crude oil and delivers it to refineries in the region by truck and marine vessels at the deep-water port, according to a company document.
One area of concern for York supervisors is where the railroad tracks cross Route 17 near Fort Eustis Boulevard, where there are homes, businesses and woods. Parts of the rail line near Route 17 have also waited too long for repairs, Zaremba said.
“You would think where there are trains, full of crude oil, that travel almost halfway across the county, the purveyor would make dang sure that the beds and the tracks were sound,” Zaremba said.
Helmut Walter of York County said he has been concerned about erosion near culverts or pipes under railway tracks about 1,000 feet from Route 17 for more than nine years. He said if the culverts collapse the rail beds could be damaged, which could cause a derailment at the Poquoson River.
Gary Sease, a spokesman for CSX, said in an email that the company has met with county officials and “the broken pipe does not create any track structural problems.”
“We do intend to repair the pipe in the next few weeks,” he said.
Supervisor George Hrichak said the country doesn’t need more regulations right now. The accident must be investigated first, he said. Supervisor Donald Wiggins said he did not foresee a derailment in York County, but if there was one, the county’s Fire and Life Safety department could handle it.
Assistant Fire Chief Paul Long said emergency personnel have been to several hazardous material training sessions, including one at the site of the Lynchburg derailment. He said they are in regular contact with CSX and get the company’s annual report about the top five commodities transported in the county. They are not told in advance when trains are entering or leaving the county, Long said.
“Any notification for any type of hazardous commodity would be very useful information,” Long said. “We certainly have a concern about what is transported up and down our railways, highways and waterways.”
Since the Lynchburg derailment, Sease said, the railroad company has increased track inspections on primary oil routes and tightened rail wear standards. The allowed train length remains the same, on average 100 cars, and the railroad’s self-imposed speed limit is the same — 50 mph for trains carrying 20 or more carloads of crude oil, Sease said. He added that the company provides Virginia and other states with information about primary oil routes and volumes in their respective states.
This article was written by Johanna Somers from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.