29 July 2014
A CSX train headed to Fluvanna County – hauling combustible crude oil – derailed in Lynchburg April 30, setting off an explosion and fire and raising questions about the safety of Fluvanna’s tiny river towns.
The train was traveling the CSX rail line that runs along the James River on the southern edge of Fluvanna, and passes through Scottsville, Bremo Bluff, and Columbia. The accident prompted Virginia’s governor to form a task force to consider ways of improving the safety of crude oil transportation by rail in Virginia.
The railways have traditionally been considered good neighbors by the communities in Virginia they pass through. For more than a century in the sleepy rail towns of Virginia, a derailment usually meant that the railroad had to bring equipment in to right the train and clean up the coal, loading it back into cargo vessels to head east. But since December 2013, when Bakken crude oil first appeared on Virginia’s tracks, a derailment can mean a devastating explosion and fire, and a community that must struggle to recover.
Crude oil drilled from the Bakken fields has a different, more combustible composition than traditional crude oil which means that during a derailment or other accident, if the tanker is breached, it is likely to explode. Media reports quote rail company officials as saying that U.S. freight railroads are likely to carry 650,000 carloads of crude oil in 2014, up from a mere 9,500 carloads in 2008 – a 6,742% increase in potentially explosive rail traffic. In the last year alone, there have been Bakken crude-oil-related train accidents in Alabama, North Dakota, and Alberta, Canada.