Trail of smears: Oily leak mars tracks


On Monday morning, March 21, a Belmont resident noticed a peculiar sight on the CSX railroad tracks running east to west through downtown Charlottesville: a black line of oily liquid tarring the tracks as far as he could see. On the same tracks out in Ivy– over seven miles from downtown– the black line showed no sign of fading. Indeed, the black line was still visible in Crozet– another six miles west.

If the line was left by a leaking tanker, it's not the first time a train along the CSX tracks has had a problem.

In 1979, a damaged tanker carrying liquid carbon disulphide spewed flames as it rolled through town. Officials quoted at that time in the Daily Progress said any resulting explosion could potentially have leveled five blocks. And two years later, three tankers carrying liquid chlorine derailed 75 feet east of the Belmont Bridge.

What's up with the recent leak?

"I'll have to go check that out," said Steve Powell, general manager for the Buckingham Branch railroad, the company that since December has operated the portion of the CSX tracks traversing Charlottesville and Albemarle. Powell says approximately 10 trains travel those tracks each day and that while most are empty cargo cars, tankers also make regular trips.

County spokesperson Lee Catlin said she would have a hazmat team check out the leak to see if there was any environmental threat.


At presstime Powell called back and confirmed that the substance is motor oil from a leaky engine that has since been repaired. Will a hazmat operation soon be underway on the tracks? No, says Powell, "not for that quantity."

Oily in Ivy...

...and downtown.