YORK COUNTY -- Recently added train service that hauls raw crude oil to a storage facility in York County has some activists questioning the safety implications.
In December, CSX began hauling raw crude oil from the Bakken oil shale in North Dakota to the Plains Terminals facility in York County. The train hauls dozens of cars, each of which contain roughly 30,000 gallons of raw sweet crude oil.
Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club's Virginia chapter, said a rash of catastrophic derailments involving Bakken crude within the past year is troubling.
"This Bakken Shale oil is explosive, it's being hauled in here to be stored and then exported for refining and we really think that people need to be aware of this and take special precautions," Besa said.
Trains hauling Bakken Shale oil have been involved in at least five derailments in the past year, the deadliest of which was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on September 11, 2013. In that crash, 47 people were killed after tankers on the derailed train burst into flames.
"It's really important, with a fuel this volatile, that emergency preparedness people be aware of what you're dealing with in case there was an accident here," Besa said.
First responders in York County say they are prepared to handle an incident involving an oil train.
"The hazards that it presents are similar to some of those that are faced on the roadways with tankers that are moving gasoline and other petroleum products, it's just being moved by rail, in this particular case, at a higher volume," said Paul Long, Assist Chief of Emergency Management in York County.
A spokeswoman for CSX said the company works with first responders to provide information about hazardous materials shipments by request. The spokeswoman also said the company provides a technology called SecureNOW that gives homeland security fusion centers and other state security and emergency management agencies access to virtually real-time information on the location of key trains and individual hazardous materials shipments.
"Each year, CSX trains thousands of emergency first responders using a dedicated safety train, our training facility at Atlanta, and the Association of American Railroads' Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colorado," said spokeswoman Melanie Cost.
The National Transportation Safety Board weighed in on safety issues surrounding trains hauling crude oil in January when it asked the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to develop response plans for oil trains that could derail.
Melanie Cost, with CSX, said the company is part of a larger group of industry players which partnered with US Department of Transportation to devise new industry safety standards for hauling crude oil in February.
The new safety measures include increased track inspections, better breaking systems and lower speeds.