Emergency officials: Indy is prepared to handle West Virginia-style train derailment

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 17, 2015) - Train cars, like the ones that ruptured and exploded in West Virginia Monday, travel every day through downtown Indianapolis.

It's raised the question, is Indy ready for a disaster like the one in West Virginia?

“There were as many gallons of oil spilled from rail cars in 2013 as the prior 37 years combined,” said Jesse Kharbanda, the Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

The latest spill was in West Virginia Monday. After a derailment, 19 crude oil cars caught fire and leaked their volatile contents into a nearby river.

“It’s critical that these rail cars be specially equipped to handle hazardous liquids,” said Kharbanda.

The Hoosier Environmental Council works to make sure an explosion and spill doesn’t happen in Indy.

“We have community emergency management response teams in Marion County and elsewhere… but I think that the question would be are the ready to match both the frequency and scale of hazardous material that may be traveling through Indiana,” he said.

Similar to the derailment in West Virginia, in April 2014, cars derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia.  It resulted in 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the James River, a water source for cities across the state.

“We shouldn’t be waiting for this time bomb to be going off in Indiana communities or any other communities across this country, this is not an isolated issue,” said Pat Calvert, a member of the James River Association. Calvert witnessed the Lynchburg derailment from his office window.

The CSX crude oil cars travel through Indy on a daily basis. Often times, hundreds of cars are in a single caravan. The train cars, environmental experts argue, are not nearly safe enough to be transporting such a volatile substance.

“We want to make sure it’s safely coming through,” said Gary Coons, the Indianapolis Director of Homeland Security.

Coons said city and state officials know what is coming through and when. Emergency response teams are trained to handle a disaster with any chemical that may be on board.

“With Marion County health, looking at our plan, just making sure our plan is up to date every year and utilizing the best practices that are around and that’s pretty much how we ensure we’re prepared if something was to occur,” said Coons.

Coons said though the risk isn’t limited to train tracks. Chemicals are transported via truck, and airplane every day, there are risks associated with those forms of transit as well.

Emergency response officials say the best practice is to plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

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