Another incident involving hazardous crude oil rail transport has occurred in the United States. 

Various media outlets are reporting that a CSX train carrying crude oil from Chicago to Virginia derailed and burst into flames in downtown Lynchburg Virginia, spilling crude into the nearby James River. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate within a half-mile radius of this accident.

A published Reuters report quotes CSX as indicating that 15 cars derailed at 2:30pm local time and that three railcars were still on-fire as of 4pm. This derailment occurred a short distance from nearby office buildings and according to Reuters, is sure to bring added calls for stricter regulations and oversight for shipping crude by rail. Reuters notes that CSX has been positioning itself to deliver more crude to East Coast refineries and terminals and that in January, its CEO told analysts the company planned to boost crude-by-rail shipments by 50 percent this year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is dispatching Federal Railroad Administration inspectors to the scene of this latest accident. This would be the second train derailment involving crude oil so far this year amid continuing calls for improved tanker car safety standards. Last week, Canada’s Transport Ministry introduced stricter measures concerning railroad tank cars. The agency ordered railcar owners to phase out DOT-111 model cars in the next 30 days. At this point it is unclear what the type and age of tanker cars involved in this latest incident in Virginia actually were.

Ironically, last week the National Transportation Safety Board NTSB) conducted a two day Rail Safety Forum focused on the transportation of crude oil and ethanol standards. Outgoing NTSB chairperson Deborah Herseman attended this session and has been making rounds of various U.S. media talk shows and news programs.  Her primary message to viewing audiences was her concern for rail safety and that industry and government interests need to do more in this area. We had the opportunity to view Ms. Herseman’s interview on the CBS This Morning program and her conclusions were quite powerful, leaving an impression that other accidents will occur without stepped-up action. These messages will resonate even more after today’s incident and the effects may impact the availability of rail tanker cars across the U.S. in the months to come.