By Kim Smiley
On February 16, 2015, a train hauling 109 tank cars of crude oil derailed in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. It has been reported that 27 tank cars in the train derailed. Some of the tank cars were damaged and released an unknown amount of crude oil, resulting in a large fire. Hundreds of families in the surrounding area were evacuated, but only one injury was reported.
The accident investigation is still ongoing, but what information is known can be used to build an initial Cause Map, a visual format for performing a root cause analysis. The Cause Map can be easily expanded as needed to document additional information as it becomes available.
The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information for the issue as well as how the overall goals were impacted. In this example, there were many impacted goals. The safety goal is impacted because there was an injury, the property goal is impacted because of the damage to the train, the environmental goal is impacted because of the release of oil, etc. Once the Outline is complete, the Cause Map itself is built by starting with an impact to a goal, asking “why” questions, and laying out all the causes that contributed to an issue.
The significant aftermath of this derailment is known, but little has been released about what specifically caused the train to derail. It was snowing heavily at the time of the accident, which may have played a role, but since more evidence is needed, a “?” is included on the Cause Map. Data from the digital data recorder has shown that the train was not speeding at the time of the accident, which has been a factor in previous derailments. Another fact worth noting is that the damaged train cars were a newer design that incorporated modern safety upgrades.
With so many unknowns, the Federal Railroad Administration is conducting a full-scale investigation to determine exactly what happened. The damaged tank cars, track, and other components along with relevant maintenance and inspection records will be all be analyzed to better understand this derailment.
Unfortunately, crude oil train accidents are predicted to become increasingly common as the volume of flammable liquids being transported by rail continues to rise. According to the Association of American Railroad, 40 times more oil was transported by rail in 2012 than in 2008. Hopefully, the lessons learned from this derailment can be used to help reduce the risk of future rail accidents.
To view the Outline and initial Cause Map for this accident, click on “Download PDF” above.