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W.Va. Train Derailment Raises Safety Questions About Newer Tankers

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Last night brought more fireballs shooting up from the crude oil spilled when a group of tanker cars derailed. The train wreck occurred along the Kanawha River in West Virginia. Hundreds of residents have been evacuated from their homes. Investigators have not yet determined what caused the derailment, but it and other ones like it are raising concerns about newer tank cars that were believed to be safer than older models. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The fiery explosion blocks away rattled Kristi Halstead's home. She says the ensuing fireball was like being in hell.

KRISTI HALSTEAD: It just lit the whole entire sky. I mean, it was like - it was just red. I mean, it was unreal.

SCHAPER: Halstead's family and their neighbors are now being put up in a hotel by the railroad CSX while authorities let the fire burn itself out. Only one person was hurt, but the images of this fiery wreck and others before it haunt Tom Weisner. He's the mayor of Aurora, Ill., a city of 200,000 that has several long oil trains roll through it every day.

MAYOR TIM WEISNER: If the same thing were to happen in downtown Aurora, the damage would be incredible. And it's very scary.

SCHAPER: Scary, says Weisner, because the tank cars that went up in flames Monday in West Virginia are not the much-maligned DOT-111s, the type of tank cars that exploded in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec, in 2013 killing 47 people. Now the tank cars in Monday's fiery derailment are CPC 1232s, a type that is designed to be much stronger.

WEISNER: And it should be, I think, an alarm bell for the federal government.

SCHAPER: Weisner worries that the long-awaited new federal tank car standards won't be much better. That's a concern shared by the National Transportation Safety Board's acting chairman Christopher Hart.

CHRISTOPHER HART: They proposed regulations were a step in the right direction, but we weren't satisfied that they went far enough.

SCHAPER: Hart says the NTSB is not in West Virginia but is closely monitoring the derailment investigation. David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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