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NTSB investigating derailment, oil spill in Lynchburg

Photo by Paula Mays

Fire, oil spill into James River highlight growing concern over rail transport of crude

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 10:11 pm | Updated: 11:27 am, Thu May 1, 2014.

BY MICHAEL MARTZ AND REX SPRINGSTON Richmond Times-Dispatch

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation of a freight train derailment in Lynchburg that destroyed three oil tanker cars, lifted a plume of black smoke into the sky and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River.

No one was killed or injured when more than a dozen CSX tanker cars derailed on Wednesday afternoon, but the resulting fire and spill prompted City Manager Kimball Payne to declare an emergency and temporarily evacuate part of downtown.

The spill also prompted Richmond utility officials to prepare to possibly switch to an alternative source for the city’s drinking water supply, which depends primarily on the James. With the river at flood stage, that isn’t likely, said city officials, who plan to use booms to capture any oil nearing the treatment plant.

The incident also cast a bright light on the rapidly expanding rail transport of crude oil from the Upper Plains through Virginia — and downtown Richmond — to terminals and refineries in the Northeast, raising safety and environmental concerns all along the way.

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