U.S. Senator Mark Warner says additional rail safety standards are urgently needed.
Warner organized a hearing after the fiery train derailment in Lynchburg on April 30th. Monday afternoon in Richmond, he heard from a variety of state and local leaders who shared similar concerns.
"We saw the tragedy in Lynchburg could have been much, much worse if the rail cars had fallen not into the river, but actually into the city," Warner told reporters.
Lynchburg was fortunate, Warner said, but the April 30th derailment, and other accidents in the U.S. and Canada, raise many urgent questions.
How volatile is the crude oil the trains are carrying? How should communities be notified when hazardous materials are passing through? How do we make sure first responders in urban and rural areas are prepared?
Bryan Rhode is a Regional Vice President for CSX Transportation. "You know for CSX," Rhode told the audience, "safety is always our absolute number 1 concern."
CSX was represented at the meeting, and so were leaders from communities in central and western Virginia including Salem, Wythe County and Covington.
Lynchburg City Council Member Turner Perrow called for a measured response that protects public safety, and the economy. The safety of rail cars, he said, is a good place to start.
"What I'm encouraged about is the focus on cars," Perrow told WDBJ7. "I think that is the start of the right answer. I like the cars. I also like the centralized communications where you can pick up the phone and say what's on this train and get an immediate response."
From others we heard frustration, that efforts to improve rail transport safety standards have taken too long. The President of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters Michael Mohler said he now realizes how far we haven't come.
"They've been talking about this for over 30 years," Mohler said. "I've been in the fire department for 38 years and this has been under discussion for longer than I have been in the fire department."
Warner says rail shipments of crude oil have increased 46 fold since 2008. And the numbers are likely to grow.
"It's great news that we've got more American energy supply and that we're importing less foreign crude," Warner said, "but with this benefit comes additional risks and challenges. And it's our job to get it right."
Governor Terry McAuliffe has also called a task force to look at the rail safety issue. That group will hold its first meeting in Richmond on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen Mark Warner says oil producers and rail companies need to step up their safety efforts in the wake of the April 30 train derailment in downtown Lynchburg.
Warner hosted a hearing Monday in Richmond to discuss ways of improving crude oil transportation.
Several local and emergency officials at the meeting expressed concerns about their capacity to contain another derailment.
Federal investigators are still trying to determine what caused the 17-car derailment of a CSX train carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota in Lynchburg.
Three of the cars plunged into the James River and one caught fire, briefly causing parts of downtown to be evacuated.
A CSX spokesman said at the hearing that safety was his company's top priority.
WDBJ7's Joe Dashiell attended the meeting and will have more tonight.