Train Derailment in West Virginia Injures Workers and Spills Diesel into Protected River

Summers County, WV — As the nation reacts to the tragic train derailment in East Palestine, OH, a train derailment occurred on March 8, 2023 in southern West Virginia next to the New River Gorge National Park. The derailment injured three workers, caused parts of the train to catch on fire, and resulted in an “unknown” amount of diesel to spill into New River, one of the continent’s oldest rivers. The company responsible, CSX, quickly claimed “the incident pose[s] no danger to the public.” The Federal Rail Administration and WV Emergency Management said they are monitoring the situation. 

CSX says no hazardous materials were being transported by the train. WV American Water has determined that no drinking water advisory is needed for its customers. Diesel is a product of crude oil. Oil has a significant impact on freshwater bodies, which are sensitive to changes to their local ecology, and can impact human health and other parts of the environment because of their interconnectedness. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency says oil hangs onto plants and can contaminate the animals that consume those plants. Oil can also disrupt local ecology as it gets trapped within the rocks within the water.

The WV Emergency management says CSX is responsible for cleaning up the site and has begun the process to do so.

Maury Johnson, West Virginia resident and Executive Committee member of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition (POWHR) responded:

“Disasters like this are no shock to West Virginians, and neither are attempts by companies to get out of paying for clean-up and making sure people and the environment are safe. We have heard from rail workers that railroad companies are cutting staff and not paying enough attention to safety measures as they should be. We demand CSX follow through on their duty to pay for and complete the clean-up of the New River. The river is core to our health, recreation, and culture. We will ensure it is protected and we will ensure that West Virginia doesn’t continue to be the target of sloppy companies and their sloppy projects – including the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” 

A bill to allow the Public Service Commission (PSC) to fine railroads was considered by the State Legislature but did not move forward. The PSC has endorsed the bill and it has received bipartisan support. PSC Chairwoman Lane said the Commission recorded 600+ violations last year but they did not have the jurisdiction to endorse fines.

Kathy Ferguson, Interim Executive Director, Our Future West Virginia responded:

“For many ‘regulation’ is a dirty word, but when incidents like this occur, it underscores the importance of regulation as a preventative tool. Cut backs on staffing, extending rail cars to over 2 miles long, poor quality containment tanks, all of these things and more can have devastating consequences. If the New River had been further compromised, the effects would’ve been catastrophic – not only on the ecology, but the habitability of the area, to our tourism and certainly to many folks living downstream. Our Future West Virginia will not be complicit by remaining silent. We continue to speak to the policies and regulations necessary to protect the air, land, waters and moreover the people.”