A CSX train carrying crude oil derailed Wednesday afternoon in Lynchburg, Virginia. Several train cars tumbled into the James River shooting flames and black, pungent smoke into the sky and spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the river. The train was en route on its way from Chicago to Virginia. No injuries have been reported when 13 cars of the 105-car train derailed.
The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the cause of this train accident. The NTSB’s initial fact-gathering investigation is expected to take between a few days and a few weeks. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will perform an aerial survey to analyze the environmental impact of the oil spill.
A CSX spokesperson said the derailed train had originated its trip in the Bakken shale region in North Dakota, one of the nation’s epicenters for fracking. The train was handed off to CSX in Chicago and was en route to Yorktown, Virginia. Earlier this year in January, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a safety alert stating that the “type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”
Local businesses were disrupted as buildings near the train derailment and fire were forced to evacuate. The city of Lynchburg, Virginia declared an emergency, evacuated part of its downtown in response to the train derailment, and advised residents to keep away from the downtown area.
Thankfully no lives were lost during the Lynchburg train derailment. In July 2013, a train derailed and exploded in Quebec, Canada killing 47 people and destroying 30 buildings. The train in Canada was also carrying crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota.
In addition to the Lynchburg derailment, another CSX train derailed in Bowie, Maryland early Thursday morning. This train was carrying approximately 8,000 tons of coal. It was the third CSX accident in 24 hours after a retaining wall collapsed onto freight train tracks in Baltimore.
Jim Hall, a former NTSB chairman told the Lynchburg newspaper that the movement of oil trains across America is increasing due to higher domestic oil and gas activities. “The growth and distribution of this has all occurred, unfortunately, while the federal regulators have been asleep. This is just an area in which the federal rulemaking process is too slow to protect the American people," he said.
Negligent incidents like these demonstrate the vital importance of government safety regulations. If government regulators strenuously enforced safety regulations, incidents like these would be much rarer. Train accidents also demonstrate the importance of the civil justice system and the power to hold negligent corporations accountable.
Large corporations would prefer that their actions were not subject to legal accountability and seek to limit the ability of citizens to seek justice through the court system. In a train accident, business owners who lost business due to negligent train and railroad operators, those who were injured, and those affected by environmental damage may use the legal system to hold careless corporations responsible. Without this power, justice is tilted sideways in favor of large corporations.