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Several CSX trains carrying crude oil derailed and exploded Wednesday in Lynchburg. Photo: Elyssa Ezmirly, used with permission
Several CSX trains carrying crude oil derailed and exploded Wednesday in Lynchburg. Photo: Elyssa Ezmirly, used with permission

Another oil train explosion; NY urges better train safety

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Several CSX rail cars carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Va., Wednesday afternoon. Authorities evacuated the area as plumes of black smoke filled the sky. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but there were reports of oil spilling into the James River.

The latest railroad accident involving crude oil came just hours after New York released a report saying the federal government is failing to keep rail towns safe and urging President Barack Obama to act.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the Lynchburg explosion part of "a startling pattern" of accidents involving trains that carry 160,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakkan fields in North Dakota every day. Much of that oil rolls through New York State, including many towns in the North Country, on its way to refineries on the East Coast.

The report released yesterday says New York is stepping up train and track inspections and spill response exercises. But its focus was on what's not happening. It laid most of the blame for loose regulations at the feet of the federal government.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been calling for crude oil tankers known as DOT-111s to be taken off the rails since 2009 because they're prone to derailment and puncture. Departing NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman told NPR this week the federal government has not acted quickly enough.

"Yes, we need to have public comment. We need to provide the opportunity for all sides to be represented. We have to justify what we do, based on a good cost-benefit. But there are some situations where they have to fast-track some of these things and not let these processes that can take years to play out. We don't have that time," Hersman said.

The New York state report calls for the federal government to retire the inadequate tanker cars, increase testing of the volatility of Bakken crude, and strengthen safety measures in the rail system.

The report was praised by green groups. Environmental Advocates called it "a solid first step" in a press release.

Also Wednesday, Global Partners, the company that operates the Port of Albany's crude oil terminal, announced it will accept only new, safer oil tanker cars, phasing in the rule starting in June.

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