WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — James City County Supervisor John McGlennon said he was concerned about trains carrying crude oil through the area after a fiery derailment of a CSX train in Lynchburg last week.
The derailment sent three rail cars into the James River and sparked a fire that burned for several hours, according to city spokeswoman JoAnn Martin. She said the NTSB and Federal Railroad Administration would be investigating what happened.
“When I heard about the derailment, the immediate thought that came to my mind was that those tracks, through which the trains are going to be traveling, go right through the heart of my district,” McGlennon said.
McGlennon said he has already heard from several residents concerned about the cargo because the train that derailed in Lynchburg was headed to Yorktown.
CSX said it was “responding fully, with emergency response personnel, safety and environmental experts, community support teams and other resources,” regarding the Lynchburg incident.
“We want to know what’s being done to make sure these rail cars are as safe as possible,” McGlennon said. “We want to make sure the tracks on which the trains are traveling are both safe currently and that any attention is devoted to trying to make sure that if an accident did occur, you could minimize the damage.”
The supervisor has asked James City County Fire Chief Tal Luton to prepare a briefing for the county and seek more information about how often the trains travel through the area. He also had concerns about possible erosion underneath the tracks in some parts of the county.
“I think that what you can see is that the track is elevated above the roadbed quite significantly,” McGlennon said. “There’s a very sharp drop off, and on the other side of the track, it’s even greater and backs up to a residential neighborhood. The concern there would be that if there were a derailment, the cars would actually fall several feet and that would increase the likelihood of a more severe accident than otherwise might occur.”
Chief Luton said local emergency responders met about crude oil train safety several weeks ago: “We have started talking about some more in-depth training and education for our folks regarding the refinery in Yorktown.”
He said crews would likely have to evacuate areas a half mile from any spill or fire, if it only involved one rail car.
“The fire department response would be three pumpers, a ladder truck, a battalion chief. We would contact the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and request the hazardous materials team respond,” he said.
Luton said he planned to contact CSX to address concerns about possible erosion.
Resident Barbara McDuffie said the Lynchburg incident made her more nervous about trains that pass behind her house. She has lived in the area for 40 years.
“I know it’s scary. What are you going to do? They need to put a barrier or something here so everybody along this way out here has got some kind of protection,” she said.
From 2002 to 2012, there were 148 incidents involving releases of crude oil from railroads, and most of those released less than five gallons of oil, according to the Association of American Railroads. The association also said shipments of crude oil by train have surged in the past six years, an increase from an estimated 9,000 to an estimated 400,000 rail cars carrying the product across the country.
10 On Your Side contacted CSX Tuesday about concerns raised in James City County, but did not receive a response.