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Major oil train derailment spills about 7,500 gallons of crude near Pittsburgh

February 14, 2014

Twenty-one cars of a long, 118-car train carrying crude oil and liquified natural gas (propane, or LPG) derailed yesterday morning in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, about 36 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Emergency personnel examine the wreckage of a train derailment near Vandergrift, Pennsylvania February 13, 2014. (Reuters / Jason Cohn)

Emergency personnel examine the wreckage of a train derailment near Vandergrift, Pennsylvania February 13, 2014. Photo: Jason Cohn, Reuters

The train is owned by Norfolk Southern, which said that thousands of gallons of crude oil will need to be cleaned up. Nineteen of the derailed cars were carrying crude oil, and two carried propane (LPG). Norfolk Southern said that four of the cars have been leaking crude oil since the derailment occurred shortly before 8 AM on Thursday, February 13th, according to the Pittsburgh television station WTAE in “Train carrying oil, propane derails in Vandergrift.”

Initially Norfolk Southern estimated about 1,000 gallons; then it refused to say, but sources told WTAE that 3 to 4,000 gallons had spilled from four cars. Later yesterday afternoon, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokespeople clarified that 15,000 gallons had spilled so far:

Four of the cars were punctured and are leaking heavy crude oil – three of them have released only a few gallons. The fourth car split open and released about half its load, or up to 15,000 gallons. Deputy Sec. Dana Aunkst says when the oil spilled, it “tarred up in the snow” so it did not spread.

Source: “Train carrying crude oil derails in western PA,” StateImpact PA, by Marie Cusick and Katie Colaneri.

UPDATE 4:54 pm Friday, February 14th: PA DEP has revised its earlier statement, according to StateImpact, clarifying that the entire rail car carries about 15,000 gallons. So, about half that load means an estimated 7,500 gallons spilled. We revised our headline and inserted this update as soon as we learned about the clarification. Norfolk Southern continues to claim that about three to four thousand gallons of crude oil have spilled.

Some of the cars struck a building where metal products are made. Westmoreland County officials said the accident occurred on a rail line between Vandergrift and East Vandergrift, near the MSI Corporation property.

Photos: Train derailment in Vandergrift

Observers Alarmed

Another news story, “Penn train derailment leaks thousands of gallons of oil, sends car into building,”  commented that the train, derailed as it was making its way across Pennsylvania, resulted in “spilling thousands of gallons of oil and alarming observers who have called for stricter safety standards on trains hauling hazardous material.”

Some close-at-hand observers were quite alarmed:

Residents said the derailment was tremendous enough to shake buildings and could be heard throughout the surrounding area. One of the loose cars slammed into a business, destroying equipment that is used to mill steel blocks.

I heard a strange noise, a hollow, screeching sound,” witness Ray Cochran, whose home oversees the railroad tracks, told Reuters. “I looked out the window and saw three or four tankers turn over and one of them ran into the building.”

From “Penn. train derailment leaks thousands of gallons of oil, sends car into building.”

Call to Action

Consider yourselves alarmed, observers, wherever you live. If you live in a rural area or small town anywhere that these mile-long oil trains travel, please call your town or county’s governing body today expressing that alarm, and urging that these unsafe trains be halted.

If you live in a larger city, including Pittsburgh, Philadelpha, Chicago or Albany, consider making a Valentine’s call to your City Councilmember to demand a moratorium on the oil trains (not just on Valentine’s Day, but any time this week.) And wherever you live — this is a national and international issue — a call to your state and federal legislators demanding not just for safeguards, but a moratorium on these dangerous trains now — would be well-timed this week.

Talking Points

1. This is the seventh recent major oil train derailment since last June, when a train carrying Bakken Shale oil derailed, exploded, and incinerated 15 acres of downtown Lac Megantic, killing 47 people.

2. Officials say they do not know why the derailments are happening. Therefore the trains should be stopped until they do know.

3. In particular, the DOT-111 cars, known to be thin, easily punctured, overly rigid, and unsafe, should be taken off the tracks immediately. No compromising safety for profit.

4. The Philadelphia derailment of explosive Bakken Shale crude oil involved stronger, less easily punctured 101 trains. That suggests that if the DOT- 111 trains had derailed over the Schuylkill River on that train bridge, the derailed cars would have exploded, burning a power station and gas pipelines in an expanding fire which would have burned universities, likely nearby hospitals including Children’s Hospital and the vast UPenn medical complex, residences, and a major highway, the Schuylkill Expressway; all while sending oil into the river below.

5. Officials are still testing the Bakken Shale crude oil to see whether it has too much gas in it and whether it should be re-classified as a more dangerous gas, rather than as ordinary crude. Obviously there should be a moratorium at least until the final test results are in and hazardous cargo can be properly classified.

6. Those who have inspected several of the wrecks have said that when oil trains have exploded and burned, it may be the explosion which causes the derailment and not the other way around. With cargo so intensely flammable and explosive, why wait for a major disaster, a full-scale catastrophe, to occur? Why not act now?

7. Over one million gallons of crude oil spilled from oil trains in 2013, with a total of 1.15 million gallons. That’s more than spilled in the years from 1975 to 2010 combined, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Protect our waterways!

8. This oil does not “have to get to where it needs to go,” as NPR cheerfully framed the derailment story last night. The oil has no needs. The oil is happy underground, in the shale, in the sands, in the earth. The oil, in the process of being extracted, transported, processed, transported again, and finally burned, is destroying our climate.

9. Have you ever seen solar panels spill? Have you ever seen wind turbines explode and incinerate 15 acres, killing 47 people? Where is the national climate action plan?

10. The town of Cassleton was evacuated; and a 5-mile radius around Casselton was urged to evacuate, when that oil train exploded and sent a fireball high into the sky on December 30th, 2013. Yesterday only 35 people were evacuated in the tiny town of Vandergrift… because the accident didn’t happen “in town.” Ask your local officials: what’s the evacuation plan for an oil train derailment within five miles of you?


The ongoing spike in derailments, explosions, fires and spills from the surge in crude-by-rail is completely unacceptable. No one’s life is expendable, rural or urban. Neither are our waterways or our climate. Resist the oil trains. And take the DOT-111 cars off the tracks immediately.

Future: Look for future posts related to resisting fossil fuel transportation in the Philadelphia area. The Philadelaphia Inquirer reports that the derailed Pittsburgh area train was carrying Canadian crude oil bound for Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The particular oil tankers which derailed were headed for an asphalt plant in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

  1. February 14, 2014 4:10 pm

    First Responders ask federal administrations to consider adding secondary containment to rail tank cars used to transport chlorine gas, providing lifesaving safety to First Responders and the public they serve. See First Responders Comments at PETITION C KIT

  2. February 14, 2014 7:56 pm

    Reblogged this on Frack_Free_Farming.


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