West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) said in a news conference Wednesday the rocks that the train hit came “from off the mountain.”
“I know we’re all on heightened alert with what’s happened in East Palestine, Ohio, but I do think that this situation is under control,” he said.
The train’s operator, CSX, said four of the train’s locomotives — the cars that pull the other ones along the track — derailed when it encountered the boulders about 4:50 a.m. An additional 22 cars also derailed after the crash, CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker said. The train’s three crew members suffered injuries that weren’t life-threatening. One has been released from a hospital, while the other two are still being treated, Tucker said.
The crash in West Virginia involved empty coal cars, according to CSX. “There were no hazardous materials being transported by this train,” it said in a news release. “The incident posed no danger to the public,” the company said.
Parts of the train caught fire, with at least one fuel tank falling into the river, Terry Fletcher, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said at a news conference. State officials have notified downstream public water systems, he said.
The train — which had more than 100 cars — turned a corner before running into the rockslide, Tucker said. The boulders were the “size of buses,” he said, confirming the accuracy of an image showing the rocks just before impact.
The conductor couldn’t prevent the crash because most trains need a mile of railway to halt, even when using emergency breaks, he said. Another train had passed by the same tracks just three hours earlier without incident, Tucker said.
Emergency responders and West Virginia state officials were prioritizing containing the spread of diesel fuel in the area, Tucker said in a phone interview. After containing the fuel that had already spilled into the New River, officials will seek to clean up any that may have seeped into the soil under the gravel, he said.
Encountering unexpected rockslides in railways is not common, Tucker said. Railway officials usually inspect the railways up to three times a week for hazards, he said. The site of this week’s derailment had been checked on the day before the crash, Tucker said.