PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Every day, tanker trains travel Norfolk Southern’s Conemauch line through towns like Vandergrift – and mostly without incident.
But that’s not always the case.
Last February, 21 tanker cars derailed, spilling thousands of gallons of crude, and that’s always in the backs of minds of residents like Christine Floyd.
“I am very concerned about all this crude going through the community. If it spills, will it go in the Kiski Riber? Should it burn, then we’re up the creek,” said Floyd.
The concern is the uptick in tanker traffic, carrying the so-called Bakken crude from Montana and North Dakota. The highly flammable crude is passing through our region on the way to refineries in New Jersey and has resulted in fiery derailments like on in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“Is there the potential for an incident?” said Mike Huss of the city’s Public Safety Department. “Sure, but we’re as prepared as we can be.”
Figures released by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency show that up to 200 tanker trains carrying the Bakken crude can pass through the region in a given week.
Up to 40 in Westmoreland County and as many as 75 pass through Allegheny County. That includes many that pass by the David L. Lawrence convention center through the heart of downtown.
And Huss says the city has trained for an emergency response.
“Would we prefer that those shipments go around the city to less populated areas?” Huss asked. “Of course, but not the less we are preparing.”
In Vandergrift, a freedom of information request by KDKA to the Federal Railroad Administration shows that the probable cause of the accident seems to be loose spikes on the track.
Two other derailments this past summer in McKeesport and Sewickley are still under investigation and also did not result in explosion or fire. But people like Floyd believe we may have dodged a bullet.
“I am very concerned, not just for myself, but for the whole community,” Floyd said.
But the demand for Bakken crude is such that trains carrying it will continue to rumble through towns like Vandergrift, which will do their best to prepare for any possible disaster.
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