CSX's oil shipping information publicized by government

The Roanoke Times | June 20, 2014 | Column by Jeff Sturgeon

The disclosure of routes and frequency of oil trains through Virginia was first mandated by the Department of Transportation.

Between two and five CSX tanker trains loaded with 1 million gallons or more of flammable crude oil cross Virginia’s midsection weekly, taking a west-to-east route to a Yorktown refinery, state records show.

No railroad has previously revealed its oil shipping volumes and routes in the state. But the U.S. Department of Transportation last month told the nation’s railroads that ship flammable Bakken crude oil to notify states of oil-filled trains moving within their borders as a safety precaution, effective this month.

The first notice, received by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management about June 4, was made public Friday in response to a public records request.

The information is supposed to empower local emergency responders to better respond to a future train crash like the derailment that caught fire in Lynchburg almost eight weeks ago.

In disclosing its oil-hauling practices, CSX mapped the route along which it carries oil. The trains, which contain domestically pumped crude oil, appear to enter the state from West Virginia in Alleghany County, pass through or near Covington, and roll east to the Yorktown area, the site of an oil distribution terminal.

The trains traverse 20 counties.

Virginia officials are passing the information to local emergency responders in counties where oil trains pass. Quarterly updates will be shared as well, VDEM said.

The state’s emergency response agency plans to ask CSX to help develop a procedure by which a community holding a special event could ask CSX to modify its train schedules and not ship crude through that community during the event.

A high number of Bakken crude-filled trains in North America have crashed in recent years, leading to enactment of enhanced safety measures. The federal transportation agency issued an emergency order May 7 that directed the nation’s railroads to notify states about all oil trains carrying 1 million gallons or more of crude oil.

A train carrying 1 million gallons of oil would typically be comprised of about 35 tanker cars.

Norfolk Southern Corp. has notified the state it does operate such trains in Virginia.

Just a week before the new rule, a CSX oil train derailed, released oil and caught fire on the bank of the James River in Lynchburg. That train, which came from Chicago, was carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil on its way to Yorktown, VDEM said.

CSX continues to use the route through Lynchburg.

CSX officials asked Virginia officials to not make public the notification. But VDEM released it, saying the same information was available from other public sources.

In addition to describing oil train movements, the CSX notice to Virginia officials named contacts within the Jacksonville, Fla., company who oversee hazardous materials shipments; published a number for its emergency call center; and furnished nine pages of general and technical information about crude oil’s makeup, chemical properties, handling, dangers and mitigation measures in the event of a spill.

A red placard bearing the number 1267 is plastered on the side of every oil tanker car for easy identification.

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.