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Officials discuss rerouting trains around Richmond that transport volatile oil

RICHMOND, Va. — Fire officials in Central Virginia said the probability of a large train derailment in the City of Richmond involving a train carrying a volatile type of oil is very low, but if one did happen, they would not have the capability to respond alone.

Deputy Fire Marshall and Hazmat Coordinator Captain Darl Jewell with the Richmond Fire Department and Assistant Fire Chief Rick Edinger with the Chesterfield Fire Department both said trains have derailed in the area over the years, but nothing like the recent disasters in Lynchburg and Quebec.

“Minor derailments happen more often than you think, but they’re often never reported,” Jewell said.

Jewell said between four and six trains a week pass through Richmond carrying a particularly combustible form of oil.

“It literally burned the downtown area down before they could get the fire under control,” Edinger said about the derailment in Quebec.

If some of those train cars were to fall of the tracks in Richmond, Edinger and Jewell said the results could be devastating.

“It would be like a large plane crash,” Edinger said.

Edinger said most localities are prepared to respond to an accident involving a truck carrying 9,000 gallons of oil.

Compare that to the amount of oil carried in a single car on one of those oil trains, which can reach 30,000 gallons, and those trains, can have up to 100 cars.

Edinger said that means a single train could have more than a million gallons of oil on board.

CBS 6 asked Edinger if departments are prepared to handle a worst case scenario, something even like the Lynchburg derailement.

“There aren’t many departments, if any, that have the capability to immediately respond to that,” Edinger said.

Edinger said that volume is why local fire departments need more resources and training.

“We need some more comprehensive training, and we’ve had those discussions with the railroads,” Edinger said.

Fire officials define the “worst case scenario” for this situation would involve 33 train cars derailing in Shockoe Bottom.

If that were to happen during peak business hours, the impact could stretch to a half mile radius encompassing hundreds of thousands of people.

Edinger and Jewell said they are in talks with the railroad company and government officials about possibly rerouting the trains that carry the volatile oil around Richmond.

Jewell said the railroad company inspects the tracks twice a week to prevent derailment.