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FRA: Broken rail culprit in West Virginia oil train derailment

The derailment of a CSX train carrying Bakken crude, which resulted in a fire that forced the evacuation of hundreds of area residents, was caused by a defect that was missed on two separate inspections, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

   Federal Railroad Administration officials have determined a broken rail was the cause of a February crude oil train derailment in West Virginia that resulted in a fiery blaze that burned for days after and forced the evacuation of hundreds of area residents, according to a statement from FRA.
   A CSX train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region derailed Feb. 16 during a snowstorm in West Carbo, W.Va. The train, which was travelling from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va., consisted of two locomotives and 109 CPC 1232-model railcars. Twenty-seven of the train’s 109 cars derailed, with 20 leaking crude oil.
   The administration noted that the broken rail resulted from a defect in a vertical split head rail that was missed on two separate inspections in the months leading up to the accident. Both CSX and its contractor Sperry Rail Service inspected the area that contained the defect in December 2014 and January 2015, according to the FRA.
   FRA said data from both inspections show evidence of the defect, but neither CSX nor Sperry Rail discovered it, and that the broken rail was also near the location of a previous broken rail discovered by an FRA inspector and repaired in May 2014.
   Both CSX and Sperry Rail have been fined $25,000 for failure to verify a potential rail defect, said the administration.
   In addition to announcing the cause of the derailment, FRA also provided gave the following guidance for preventing similar rail accidents in the future:

  • FRA will release a Safety Advisory, which urges closer and more detailed inspections where defects and flaws are suspected, and stronger training for rail inspection vehicle operators;
  • Explore the need for rail-head wear standards and potentially require railroads to slow trains or replace a rail when certain conditions pose a safety risk;
  • And FRA secured a commitment from CSX to require internal rail flaw operators to review previous inspection data alongside real-time data in order to assist in identifying conditions and flaws that have changed or worsened between inspections.

   “Our country relies on the safe transportation of large quantities of energy products across the nation, and it is our responsibility to require operators to implement strict safety standards,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said of the announcement. “FRA’s findings and action today should make it clear to rail operators that we will do exactly that.”
   “When we see a need for action, we will take it, and that is what FRA is doing today. Broken rail is one of the leading causes of accidents,” added FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “Railroads moving crude and other hazardous materials through and alongside communities bear significant and special responsibility.
   “All railroads, not just CSX, must be more diligent when inspecting for internal rail flaws or when contracting out inspection work. This is just our latest effort to increase the safe transportation of crude and other energy products.”
   DOT released new rules in May 2015 requiring stronger tank cars and the more efficient electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake system in an attempt to improve the safety of the transport of crude and other flammable liquids by rail. ECP brakes can reduce the distance and time needed for a train to stop and keep more tank cars on the track in the event of a derailment, according to FRA.
   The DOT rules also support FRA’s plan to add an Automated Track Inspection Program car to inspect crude routes, and secure voluntary agreements from railroads to inspect track more frequently than current regulations require.