CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Early in the morning on July 6, 2013, a 72-car runaway train carrying crude oil from North Dakota to New Brunswick, Canada, crashed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. The resulting fire and explosion left 47 people dead and half of the downtown’s buildings destroyed.
It could have happened here, as this week’s derailment showed.
Early Monday afternoon, a CSX train with 107 cars of highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota left the tracks not far from the Fayette-Kanawha County border.
Many details remain sketchy about the crash and its immediate aftermath, in which flames shot high into the sky and black smoke billowed over the area, creating a frightening scene for a community already hit by a daytime snowstorm and continued frigid temperatures.
Twenty-six of those 30,000-gallon tanker cars derailed and nearly 20 of those caught fire. At least one home was destroyed. More than 2,400 nearby residents were initially evacuated. Drinking water intake pumps that serve the nearby community of Montgomery were closed out of concern that oil had contaminated the Kanawha River. Remarkably, no one was killed and the only injury appeared to be one person treated for respiratory problems.
The near-disaster brought immediate repeats of long-standing calls for action amid the nation’s growing reliance on oil from the Bakken and the recent dramatic increases in the amount of it being shipped by rail…