Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'Fire in the Hole' at Kentucky Derailment Burned On and On and On

If you had put your ear to the ground in southwestern Louisville the morning of October 29, you might have heard the horrible crash of a train wreck. Put your ear to the ground now and you're likely to hear:

Silence!

I wrote here earlier about a train derailment in Louisville that resulted in the release of butadiene from a tank car. (See my blog on November 2 for background.) Officials unloaded the butadiene car, and a contractor monitored the air. The monitors allegedly said it was safe to proceed, so another contractor began working on the car with a blowtorch. Butadiene fumes exploded, injuring five workers, and a fire burned on for days.

A significant crisis suddenly grew more serious for Paducah & Louisville Railway, two of its contract companies, and CSX. The two contractors declined to comment or pulled the old "unavailable" escape hatch. I praised the railroad for its unusual openness and humane response to displaced neighbors. But other than P&L, I guess silence is believed to be golden.

CSX Transportation and other officials predicted the fire would burn itself out in about 45 minutes. There are always fumes and a small amount of residual material when a tank car is unloaded, they assured. Two days later and the fire, called "the eternal flame" by Emergency Management Agency Director Doug Hamilton, was still burning.

"So at a press conference," Bruggers blogged, "I asked Vincent Smith, the chief of the Pleasure Ridge Park Fire Department, if local officials ever pressed CSX and officials at P&L (whose train derailed) on what they were basing their burn estimate on. He said they did, at a 1:30 a.m. meeting on Thursday.

“'We have not been given a legitimate reason why the information they gave us was not accurate,' Smith told me."  (http://blogs.courier-journal.com/watchdogearth/2012/11/02/railroads-did-not-have-answer-for-why-burn-estimate-was-wrong-officials-say/?odyssey=obinsite)

And what's more, when Bruggers contacted CSX for an explanation -- in unison everyone -- "CSX officials did not return a request for an interview."

I'm thinking CSX isn't talking to P&L either. "A P&L vice president, Gerald Gupton, said: 'We were giving out the best info we had at the time.'”

The duck-and-dodge approach to media relations will make one person happy: The attorney seeking to file a class-action lawsuit.

"'The lawsuit we filed today was filed in federal court in Louisville,' said (Ronnie) Basham's attorney, Lee Coleman, who filed claims on behalf of seven plaintiffs. CSX is likely to face lawsuits involving personal injury, property loss or damage, loss of income and business. It could also be sued by those who were forced to evacuate or forced to shelter in place -- meaning they were forced to stay in their homes during the incident. Coleman says he expects more people to join the lawsuit."  (http://www.wave3.com/Global/story.asp?S=5958933)

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