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Tank cars catch fire as crude train derails in Virginia

THOMAS BLACK and CHRISTINE HARVEY

LYNCHBURG, Virginia (Bloomberg) -- A CSX Corp. crude train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, sparking a fire in at least three tank cars, spilling oil into a river and forcing a partial evacuation of the city’s downtown.

No injuries were reported, and the fire was out within about three hours after today’s accident. About 15 tank cars came off the tracks as the train rolled through Virginia from Chicago, according to a statement from CSX, the largest carrier in the eastern U.S.

Crude, once an almost-negligible cargo for North American railroads, has grabbed regulators’ attention after recent U.S. and Canadian crashes including the Quebec derailment that killed 47 people in July. Canada tightened tank-car standards this month, and the U.S. is studying whether to follow suit. The Federal Railroad Administration sent inspectors to Lynchburg.

The train was en route to a so-called transloading facility where crude is transferred to barges, CEO Mike Ward said by telephone. Virginia is the home of a Plains All American Pipeline LP center in Yorktown with daily capacity to unload about 140,000 bbl. Brad Leone, a spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to email and phone messages for comment.

Video broadcast by WSLS-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, showed thick black smoke and flames billowing from the side of tracks holding a row of tank cars. The accident occurred near the James River, which flows through the heart of Lynchburg, about 181 mi (291 km) southwest of Washington.

The cause wasn’t immediately known, according a statement on the city’s website. LuAnn Hunt, a city spokeswoman, said the fire department had let the fire burn out while looking for ways to contain the oil dumped into the James. She said the accident occurred about 2 p.m. New York time.

About 300 to 350 people were evacuated from the area, Hunt said. Lynchburg has a population of 76,500 and is located at the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“We are aware of the derailment in Lynchburg and are sending FRA inspectors to the scene now,” the agency’s associate administrator, Kevin Thompson, said in a statement.

Today’s accident was the first to spill crude from a CSX train, Ward said. The Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad had a low-speed incident earlier this year in Philadelphia that didn’t release any oil, Ward said.

Oil tank cars made up the entirety of the cargo, according to Ward, who said he didn’t know the length of the train involved in the crash. A train carrying only crude would typically be about 100 cars, Ward said.

CSX rose 0.2% to $28.22 at the close in New York, paring the carrier’s decline this year to 1.9%.

The accident occurred shortly before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the White House to strengthen oil-transport regulations. A letter from Cuomo and a state report on crude safety sent to U.S. officials were aimed at helping “prevent the disasters that have occurred in other states and Canada as transit infrastructures adjust to the crude oil boom,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Companies from PBF Energy Inc. to Phillips 66 are looking to boost crude-by-rail shipments to refineries on the U.S. East and West Coasts.

Phillips 66 said today it plans to take delivery of 1,200 railcars by year’s end and have new rail terminals operating in New Jersey and Washington state in 2014’s second half. PBF is expanding rail capacity to 240,000 bpd by the end of next quarter and studying a new rail terminal in Toledo, Ohio.

04/30/2014

 

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