Tanked up: CSX line hauling hazmat?

Charlottesville's CSX rail line, used for at least a decade almost exclusively for empty coal cars, hosted an unusual guest recently: a tanker train.

Tankers are a frequent sight on the north-south-running Norfolk Southern line, says avid city pedestrian Kevin Cox. Less so on the CSX line running east and west and vehicle for the Amtrak Cardinal in addition to empty coal cars.

On the morning of Monday, May 3, a line of tank cars rolled past the under-construction Walker Square apartment complex (seen in this photo), along and over West Main Street, and presumably thru Afton Mountain toward West Virginia.

At press time, a CSX spokesperson was unable to identify the cargo or the destination.

One Saturday morning 25 years ago, a passing tanker gave Belmont and Garrett Square a night to remember. On August 4, 1979– in those days the railroad was called Chessie– a damaged tank car carrying liquid carbon disulphide spewed flames as it rolled through town.

While firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, authorities quoted then in the Daily Progress said an explosion could have leveled a five-block area. As a precaution, about 500 residents, mostly in the housing complex now called Friendship Court, were evacuated from their homes.

Two years later, downtowners got another scare as three chlorine tankers derailed about 75 yards east of the Belmont Bridge. The December 5, 1981 accident happened as the train was traveling just three miles per hour.

In 1988, after several mergers formed CSX, the railroad briefly entertained a plan to abandon this allegedly redundant rail line but two years later announced plans to keep it in use.

Tanker cars aren't usual town travelers.