Virginia US Senator Mark Warner stated this week that more rail safety standards are needed in the state and around the country, in the wake of a fiery train wreck and derailment in Lynchburg April 30.
He noted at a train safety meeting that the wreck in Lynchburg, involving oil tanker cars, could have been much worse. In the wreck, the rail cars fell into the James River. Imagine, Warner said, if the cars fell into the city itself.
In this case, the city was lucky, but the derailment, as well as other oil train wrecks in the last two years, raise alarming questions.
For example, how volatile is the oil on a typical oil train? How should towns and cities be alerted when hazardous materials are going through? How to be sure that first responders are ready?
CSX, which owned the train that derailed in Lynchburg, was at the meeting, as were leaders from towns in central and western Virginia.
A member of the Lynchburg city council said that the state should have a measured response that both protects public safety and the state economy. The member noted that a good place to start the debate is on the rail cars. The cars themselves should be upgraded to make them less likely to rupture. Also, centralized communications would be useful, where one can pick up a phone and find out right away what exactly is on a certain train.
Shipments of crude oil are up 46 fold in the last six years, and this is likely to increase as more American oil shale fields are discovered.
Warner noted that it is good news that there is more American energy coming into the pipeline and we are importing less oil. However, with the greater oil extraction, comes more risks and challenges that must be addressed.