Task force says preparing for 'worst case' train derailment will be very costly

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RICHMOND, Virginia — Virginia doesn't have the specialized training, expertise and equipment necessary to deal with a "worst-case scenario" involving train derailments, according to a new report from a state task force.

The group, created by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe after an April 2014 train derailment in downtown Lynchburg caused a fire and led to nearly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil being dumped into the James River, said in its report that the likely strategy for fighting a fire caused by a derailment would be to let it burn out.

But more populated areas, the report said, would need more aggressive strategies using foam firefighting, which would require equipment and trained personnel "that will immediately exceed the available response resources in the commonwealth."

"Maintaining a level of capability to deal with the worst-case scenario will be very costly and require continual investments in personnel, equipment, training, and supplies," the report said.

The report also said current law makes it difficult to balance the need to keep some information about hazardous rail cargo private for security reasons with the need for "real-time information sharing" with local emergency management officials about train locations and other information.

The task force, composed of state employees from various departments, made several recommendations to improve rail safety. Those include increasing foam firefighting capability and exploring "better mechanisms to share information."

The task force also said that Virginia should consider a "sustainable funding source" to pay for its recommendations but did not include specifics on where that money should come from.

The Virginia report comes the same day as U.S. and Canadian officials announced sweeping regulations to boost the safety of trains transporting crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids.

The Lynchburg derailment briefly caused parts of downtown Lynchburg to be evacuated. The April 30 derailment saw 17 tankers derail, with three going into the James.

An oil boom in North Dakota has increased dramatically the amount of Bakken crude traveling through West Virginia and Virginia to an oil depot in Yorktown.

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