News Release

West Virginia Oil Train Derailment Highlights Need for Significant Safety Reforms


Reuters is reporting today: “A CSX Corp oil train that derailed and erupted in flames in West Virginia on Monday was hauling newer model tank cars, not the older versions widely criticized for being prone to puncture, the firm said.”

MOLLIE MATTESON, mmatteson at, @centerforbiodiv
Matteson is a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity where she works for the preservation of wild places and the protection of endangered species. The group said in a statement: “An oil train transporting highly volatile crude oil derailed and caught fire today in Fayette County, W.V., spewing burning oil into the Kanawha River and setting a house ablaze, forcing the evacuation of two nearby communities and threatening municipal drinking water supplies.

“The accident, which follows a similar derailment and explosion in Timmins, Ontario on Saturday, is the latest in a string of fiery accidents involving oil trains in Canada and the United States in recent years following a 40-fold increase in crude oil transport by rail since 2008 that has been marked by no upgrade in federal safety requirements.”

Matteson added: “Back-to-back fiery derailments involving crude oil trains should be an unmistakable wake-up call to our political leaders: Stop these dangerous oil trains and stop them now. People’s lives are at stake, clean drinking water is at stake, and the well-being of towns and wildlife along thousands of miles of rail line are directly in harm’s way of this unchecked, reckless increase in oil transport by rail.”

The group notes: “Oil transport, especially by rail, has dramatically increased in recent years, growing from virtually nothing in 2008 to more than 400,000 rail cars of oil in 2013. Billions of gallons of oil pass through towns and cities ill-equipped to respond to the kinds of explosions and spills that have been occurring. A series of fiery oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada has resulted in life-threatening explosions and millions of gallons of crude oil being spilled into waterways.

“The worst was a derailment in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people, forced the evacuation of 2,000 people, and incinerated portions of a popular tourist town. Last year, an explosive derailment occurred in April in downtown Lynchburg, Va., resulted in crude oil leaking out of punctured tank cars, setting the James River on fire.

“Ethanol shipments by rail have also raised safety concerns. On Feb. 4, a train transporting ethanol derailed along the Mississippi River in Iowa, catching fire and sending an unknown amount of ethanol into the river.

“Last week the U.S. Department of Transportation sent new rules governing oil train safety to the White House for review, prior to public release. It will be another three months before the rules are published, and at least another two and a half years before the most dangerous tank cars are phased out of use for the most hazardous cargos. The oil and railroad industries have lobbied for weaker rules on tank car safety and brake requirements. The industries also want more time to comply with the new rules.

“Without regulations that will effectively prevent derailments and rupture of tank cars, oil trains will continue to threaten people, drinking water supplies and wildlife, including endangered species.”