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LYNCHBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - The CSX Corp train that derailed and erupted in flames in Lynchburg, Virginia, was carrying crude from the Bakken shale in North Dakota, the kind of oil involved in several other fiery derailments, the railroad said on Thursday.
The consignment of oil, more than 800 barrels of which spilled into the James River and caused a miles-long sheen, belonged to Plains All American, a big energy logistics firm that runs an oil terminal on the Virginia coast, three industry sources told Reuters. PAA declined to comment.
It may take days or weeks to finish investigating the incident, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jim Southworth. He said the train was traveling at 24 mph, just under the 25 mph speed limit, and some of the tank cars were DOT-111s, the most commonly used model.
"Which ones were compromised, damaged or ruptured I don't know," he said. He did not say whether the cars in question were manufactured before 2011, when the rail industry voluntarily adopted tougher standards after regulators found that older model DOT-111s were prone to puncture in a collision.
On Wednesday afternoon, some 15 cars derailed, several of which erupted in flames. Three tumbled down an embankment into the James River. No one was hurt in the accident.
It was the sixth fiery derailment to occur in North America since a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people in July. At least three of those involved oil from the Bakken, which is much lighter and therefore more flammable than most other varieties.
The U.S. Department of Transportation warned a few months ago that Bakken oil could be more flammable than other types of crude. The incident is likely to add to calls for tougher regulations on the testing and transporting oil by rail, a booming business that has grown quickly with the emergence of shale oil in places like North Dakota.
The accident occurred on the day U.S. regulators submitted a long-stalled proposal for tougher rail car design standards to the White House for review. The measure could raise costs for shippers and may require phasing out older cars.
State emergency managers estimated that a total of 30,000 gallons (831 barrels) of crude oil had leaked into the river, creating a sheen up to 9 miles long, according to Bill Hayden, a public information officer with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Most of the slick has been contained by booms and some of the oil has burned off, he said. Drinking water has not been affected, Hayden said by phone from Richmond.
Florida-based CSX said the train, which had two locomotives and 105 cars, was en route to Yorktown, Virginia.
The storage depot run by Plain All American in Yorktown can handle up to 140,000 barrels per day of such shipments. Plains did not reply to numerous calls for comment.
CSX said it has removed all cars that did not derail on Wednesday.
"It sounded like a wreck - a car wreck that went on for a long time," said Sarah Anderson, who was getting ready for work about four blocks from the scene when she hard the crashing noise. Anderson said she saw thick smoke climbing over downtown and flames that reached several stories high.
Nearly 640,000 barrels-per-day of the oil produced in North Dakota left the state aboard trains in February, according to latest data from state regulators.
Another CSX train carrying crude oil derailed in Philadelphia in January, nearly toppling over a bridge, but did not erupt. In an unrelated incident on Thursday morning, a CSX train carrying 8,000 tons of coal derailed about 200 miles northeast of Lynchburg, in Bowie, Maryland, according to a report from a local CBS affiliate.
Reporting by Selam Gebrekidan, Patrick Rucker in Lynchburg and Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman