A crude oil train derailment that caused a fire and forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes in West Virginia in February was caused by a split rail, federal officials said Friday.
Two inspections — one in December 2014 and a second in January 2015 — missed the defect before the Feb. 16 accident of the 109-car CSX train, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said in a statement announcing the cause of the crash.
“Broken rail is one of the leading causes of accidents. Railroads moving crude and other hazardous materials through and alongside communities bear significant and special responsibility. All railroads, not just CSX, must be more diligent when inspecting for internal rail flaws or when contracting out inspection work,” Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting administrator, said in a news release.
The FRA said it plans to require that CSX give inspectors access to previous inspection reports to help prevent future accidents.
The agency also said it “will explore the need for rail-head wear standards."
The FRA said it issued $25,000 fines for both CSX and Sperry Rail Service, the subcontractor that performed the inspections. According to the Charleston Gazette, a Sperry Rail Service inspector received an indication there was a fault with the rail but chose not to get out of the car to take a closer look.
Derailing outside the town of Mount Carbon, the 27 overturned cars carrying Bakken shale crude from North Dakota were strewn on the banks of the Kanawha River. The leaking oil threatened water supplies, and smoke forced hundreds of people from their homes.
Fire destroyed one house, whose owner received treatment for smoke inhalation, according to The Associated Press. There were no other reports of injuries.
The announcement comes as trains increasingly transport crude across the country. According to the Association of American Railroads, the number of oil train carloads jumped from about 25,000 in 2010 to 525,000 in 2014. The Department of Transportation in May issued standards for strengthening tanks and requiring better braking systems.
In an emailed statement Friday, CSX said it was committed to safety.
“Safety is CSX's highest priority, and CSX has fully complied with all regulations pertaining to crude oil transportation and other aspects of rail safety,” the statement said.
“In collaboration with the Federal Railroad Administration, CSX is developing additional inspection processes that will enhance our ability to quickly and accurately identify rail flaws using tools provided by Sperry Rail Services, the industry's leading supplier of rail-flaw detection capabilities.”
Advocates for better rail safety have expressed concern about the proximity of oil-carrying cars to population centers. In July 2013, a crude oil derailment in Quebec killed 47 people in the town of Lac Magentic.
The company operating the train — Maine, Montreal and Atlantic Railway — filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the disaster, and on Friday a U.S. federal judge signed off on a $344 million settlement fund for victims, CBC reported.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, the Association of American Railroads was mistakenly referred to as the American Railroad Association.