1969 Derailment near Ashland


Neighbors of ours who are long-term residents of Ashland have graciously researched the 1969 derailment that occurred just north of Ashland. Here are some of the facts to do with that event.

  • 28 cars of a freight train “jumped the tracks”.
  • The cars were loaded with steel, paper and miscellaneous freight. There is no record of a tank car containing a Highly Hazardous Chemical as being part of the consist.
  • The cars traveled up to three car-lengths away from the tracks.
  • There had been another, similar derailment in Hanover County less than a month earlier.
  • There were no injuries.
  • Both accidents were due to a “journal failure”.

The pictures show some scans from the Herald-Progress and the Times Dispatch. We have also shown a sketch and a picture of the journals used on rail cars.





Immediate Response to a Vapor Release


In my discussions to do with the Highly Hazardous Chemicals that are being transported through Ashland it has become evident that many people are not aware of the immediate actions to take should there be a release of a toxic gas such as chlorine.

Suggested Responses

Here are some thoughts as to what to do in such a situation.

Move Across the Cloud

As the gas escapes from the release point it forms a cloud such as that shown in the sketch above. Inside the cloud boundary the concentration of gas is high enough to have an unacceptable effect on human health — outside the boundary the gas may be detectable but it should not affect have a long-term effect on the health person involved.

This means that, if you are inside the toxic envelope, the best thing to do is not to move downwind as many people think but to move at 90° to the cloud — that way you leave the affected area as quickly as possible.

Move Indoors

If you are in a near a building a good response is to move indoors, close all doors and windows and turn off the air conditioning. A rule of thumb is that a normal building will reduce the concentration of gas by a factor ten. So, if the concentration of the gas outside is 100 ppm (parts per million) it can be as low as 10 ppm indoors. Then wait for say 20 minutes.


In this clip we see a release of chlorine gas — evidently from a ruptured hose. The gas affected people many hundreds of yards away, although there do not appear to have been fatalities.

Letter to DRPT – Attachment A


As discussed in earlier posts we are researching the hazardous chemicals (toxic, flammable and explosive) that travel through our town. This is part of a larger effort to write a White Paper with the title “The Ashland Third Main-Line: Unsafe, Destructive, Costly”.

Information to do with the chemicals that go through town is provided in Attachment A of the White Paper. Today we mailed (not emailed) a letter and Attachment A to the DRPT project team. We assume that they are conducting a similar analysis and we hope that our research can be helpful to them.

The letter is shown below. It states, “It is my conclusion that the transport of these chemicals through town is already hazardous — adding a third rail and a lot more freight traffic makes an already serious situation completely untenable.”

Attachment A is 10 pages long; if you would like a copy of it or of the full draft White Paper please contact me. In the meantime we show the current list of chemicals that wend their way through Ashland. This list is “organic” — we are constantly adding new materials to it. Please help us in this effort.Stock-6-cropped  Chemicals-1Chemicals-2


As part of our White Paper The Ashland Third Main-Line: Unsafe, Destructive, Costly we are compiling a list of the toxic and flammable chemicals that travel through our town by rail by tank car. The cars have a red placard on them (see picture) with two numbers. I would be grateful if people could jot down the numbers on the placards that they see and send them to me.

Below is an example that I saw a few minutes ago.


The number ‘1987’ means (industrial) ethanol. The number ‘3’ means that the material is flammable.

Ethanol has a flash point of 16.6 °C (61.9 °F) which means that it will ignite if exposed to an ignition source (such as a car engine) at ambient temperatures. Evidently it is not possible to extinguish an ethanol fire with either water or normal foam (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxRU0QLt3vc).

Once more, please jot down the numbers that you see and send them to me.

Emergency Response Guidebook


I have been asked about the toxic and flammable chemicals that move through town on tank cars. The go-to document is the “2012 Emergency Response Guidebook” published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (co-published by Transport Canada.) It can be downloaded at no cost here: http://phmsa.dot.gov/staticfiles/PHMSA/DownloadableFiles/Files/Hazmat/ERG2012.pdf.

It is a lengthy document (392 pages) but actually quite readable — if you like that kind of thing. It provides guidance on the meaning of the safety placards that we see on tank cars. As time permits I will try and publish a shorter version of this document that we can all use.