CSX railroad trains first responders for emergency situations

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CSX Railroad is training central Ohio first responders, including firefighters from Columbus, Worthington, Upper Arlington, and Grandview Heights, to have a basic understanding of pressurized valves commonly found on tankers carrying hazardous materials.

Lt. Chris Courtney with Worthington Fire said in more than 20 years of service, he's never responded to a critical incident involving a train, but the veteran firefighter said it's critical to train and prepare for the worst-case scenario.

"The danger is there. When these cars fail, it's usually cataclysmic," said Lt. Courtney.

Joe Taylor is one of nine CSX Railroad Hazardous Materials Managers. He said critical incidents involving trains are rare, but the railroad is doing its part to ensure first responders know who to communicate with in case of an emergency, and have a working knowledge of tankers.

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Taylor referenced a series of letters and numbers on the side of each tanker and explained first responders can now enter that data into an app, and learn within seconds what material the tanker is carrying. He said the most important lesson for first responders to learn is that they aren't alone.

"Any incident of any magnitude or significance, they will have 100 percent support from us," said Taylor. He said the goal of the training is to make sure the railroad and first responders are prepared to work together in the event of an emergency. Those incidents are rare, but do occur.

In May of 2001, a CSX runaway train barreled through more than 60 miles of northwest Ohio with no one on board. A second engine was used to slow the train before it was boarded by a CSX employee who brought the train safely to a stop. No one was hurt, but 10TV later learned hazardous materials were on board.

On July 11, 2012, it was a Norfolk Southern train carrying tens of thousands of gallons of ethanol that sent a fireball into the sky near 11th Avenue in north Columbus. The explosion forced the evacuation of everyone living in a one-mile radius.

More recently, in February of 2016, a CSX train carrying non-hazardous materials derailed near Marysville. CSX said in addition to working closely with first responders, it's also prepared to share information with any community or neighborhood impacted by an incident involving a train.

"Our corporate communications team aggressively works to ensure communication is timely, accurate, and frequent," said Taylor.