BOOMER, W.Va. (AP) — A full-scale federal investigation of an oil train derailment in southern West Virginia has begun as work continues to remove the overturned tank cars from the site, federal officials said Sunday.
A fire sparked by the Feb. 16 derailment in Mount Carbon prevented investigators from gaining full access to the crash scene until this weekend. Foul winter weather also has hampered the investigation. As of Sunday, some cars had been removed from the site but many remained.
"The folks at the site of the derailment are making a lot of progress. It has absolutely been difficult. It is a great testament to them that we have no one injured up there despite the ice and snow, the cold and dampness," Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Administrator, said Sunday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Investigators have not determined what caused 27 cars of the 109-car CSX train to go off the tracks during a snowstorm. Feinberg said the investigation is in an early stage and the railroad agency will examine all elements, including weather, the track and the operation of the train.
"Some of the things we want to look are still under the cars in the pileup," Robert Lauby, the railroad agency's chief safety officer, told The AP.
Investigators have reviewed video from cameras on the locomotives' front and rear, along with video from another train that passed the CSX train minutes before the derailment. The train's data recorder also has been recovered.
"Now we can begin work on the forensic investigation," Feinberg said.
The investigation will include inspecting the damaged tank cars, recovering damaged rail and reviewing maintenance and inspection records, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Sunday in a news release.
The oil involved in the derailment is being tested by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to determine its gas content, volatility and tank car performance. Investigators also want to determine whether the oil's classification complied with federal hazardous material regulations, the DOT said.
Derailment investigations can take several days to a couple of weeks, Feinberg said.
The train was carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude when it derailed. As of Sunday afternoon, response teams had recovered 152,000 gallons from tank cars, multiple agencies responding to the derailment said in a news release.
"Some cars still have to be righted," Skip Elliott, CSX vice president of public safety, health and environment said Sunday at a multiagency media briefing in Boomer, across the Kanawha River from the derailment site.
The derailment shot fireballs into the sky, leaked oil into a Kanawha River tributary, burned down a house nearby and forced nearby water treatment plants to temporarily shut down. Containment booms have been deployed to lessen the environmental impact.
A small amount of oil was detected in the river. Water and air monitoring in the area is continuing, Dennis Matlock, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said at the briefing.