NTSB begins investigation of Virginia crude train derailment

The National Transportation Safety Board took charge of the investigation into the Apr. 30 derailment of a train carrying crude oil in Lynchburg, Va., but it will be months before conclusions are reached and recommendations are issued, the investigator-in-charge said.

“These incidents happen very quickly, but take time to go through,” Jim Southworth told reporters at an initial briefing on May 1. “We are simply gathering facts now before moving into the analytical phase. Depending on the complexity of this accident, it could take 6 months to a year-and-a-half before this investigation is finished.”

Personnel from the Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Lynchburg’s fire and police departments, labor unions, and CSX Transportation have joined the effort, Southworth said.

Working groups will examine operations, signals and communications, mechanics, the track, and other areas, then meet daily to share information, he said. “Preliminary indications are this was a 105-unit crude oil train traveling 24 mph in a 25 mph zone, and there are 3 tank cars in the James River,” Southworth said.

Thirteen cars on the CSX train derailed about 2:30 p.m. EDT on Apr. 30 as it was passing through Lynchburg, setting 3 on fire and forcing evacuations of nearby businesses and residences (OGJ Online, Apr. 30, 2014). All but two of the businesses reopened on May 1, but the city asked there be no recreational use of the river near the derailment.

CSX removed nonderailed cars from the scene in coordination with first responders which opened blocked crossings and provided personnel better access to the derailed cars, the company said on May 1.

The railroad also is implementing an environmental assessment and protection effort that includes land, air and water-based assessments of potential impacts, including measures to prevent dispersal of any of the train’s contents which may have entered the James River, it said.

CSX said it also has established a community outreach center, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily to provide assistance to residents and businesses affected by the derailment. The train originated in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota and was handed off to CSX at Chicago en route to Yorktown, Va., it said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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