Report: Broken rail caused Fayette County crude derailment

MONTGOMERY, W.Va. — The derailment of more than two dozen crude oil tanker cars in Fayette County last February was preventable, federal investigators announced Friday.

The Federal Railroad Administration released the results of its investigation into the Mount Carbon derailment during a news conference in Montgomery. A broken rail from a vertical split caused the derailment—a split that should have been detected months before, FRA acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said.

MORE: Read derailment report

The CSX train was going the legal speed and carrying a legal load when it ran over the rail along state Route 61 near Adena Village on Feb. 16. The rail broke and 27 tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil went off the track causing multiple explosions and fires. The incident lasted for 10 days. A house was destroyed and one person injured.

The investigation team led by FRA Chief Safety Officer Robert Lauby discovered that CSX’s rail contractor, Sperry Rail Service, should have detected the split during inspections last December and January. The inspector detected a rough rail from an on-track monitor but didn’t take the extra step.

“You’re supposed to stop what you’re doing, get out of the truck, go down with a hand-held ultrasonic and check along there. Because you haven’t gotten a good reading there and you don’t know what’s underneath. That’s what should have happened at that spot,” Lauby told MetroNews Friday.

The inspector made an assumption.

“That the reason he was getting this reading was because of this rough rail service. He assumed that but underneath was this vertical split head that caused the derailment,” Lauby said.

The split was likely caused by normal wear on the line, investigators said. CSX said the rail had been in place since the 1990s.

The railroad administration fined CSX and Sperry $25,000 each. CSX said it has implemented new inspection technology that detected three rail problems in recent months, Feinberg announced.

Lauby said the new technology will help CSX in trending where the defects are.

“They can look at the readings that they’re getting and they can tell if they’re growing and if they are getting a reading twice in a row at the same spot where they didn’t think there was a problem,” Lauby said.

A statement from CSX further explained the new step:

“CSX has requested that Sperry Rail Services compare current inspection results of a track section with previous inspection results of that track section, to increase the likelihood that defects will be identified before they become safety-critical,” CSX said the process is called “run-over-run comparisons.”

The broken rail was found under one of the burning tankers, Lauby said.

“When we start taking the pile apart of wreckage that’s where we look for damaged components, frankly, that’s where we found the vertical split head rail, under a car at the site of the derailment,” he said.

“We were lucky,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Friday, proclaiming rail safety must improve. “Let’s get to work and get it done.”

Feinberg praised local first responders who at the derailment scene minutes after it happened. She also thanked BridgeValley Community and Technical College for hosting the FRA team in the aftermath of the derailment.

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