As discussed in previous posts we are writing a White Paper entitled The Ashland Third Main-Line: Unsafe, Destructive and Costly. Details are available here and here. Part of that White Paper includes a review of train accidents that provide lessons learned for the Rail project. One of those incidents was the derailment and fire that occurred in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 30th 2014.
The following is a summary of some of the relevant details.
- A train carrying light crude oil derailed.
- The cause of the event was a broken rail.
- Three tank cars rolled into the James River.
- At least one of the cars exploded and caught fire.
- The train was traveling at 24 mph.
- The event occurred in downtown Lynchburg during the lunch hour but no one was injured.They were lucky. Had the car rolled the other way they could have impacted businesses and restaurants in the area. The incident was also close to the parking lot of a children’s museum (which was evacuated safely).
- The cars were not overloaded.
- The cars were operated by CSX. It took two hours for a CSX representative to reach the scene and assist the fire fighters.
- A substantial amount of oil leaked into the James River.
For those analyzing the Ashland Third Rail project the following lessons can be learned from this Lynchburg incident.
- To the best of our knowledge crude oil does not go through Ashland. However we do have many cars containing light hydrocarbons such as isobutane and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). These are considerably more dangerous than crude oil because (a) they are much more likely to generate a large explosion, and (b) a fire would be very difficult to extinguish (indeed, the fire fighters may decide not to extinguish it because there could then be a second explosion).
- CSX and other operators have a stringent rail inspection program. Nevertheless rail failures can occur at any time or place.
- The train was being operated properly — in particular it was traveling below the speed limit.
- Had this event occurred in Ashland, particularly were a third rail to be installed, it is certain that property damage would have been extensive and it is likely that there would have been injuries, possibly fatalities.