Photo: Virginia DEQ

Train Derailment Dumps Coal in Great Dismal Swamp

A coal train derailed in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, dumping 36 train cars’ worth of fine coal grains into the wetlands.

Now, there is a delicate, multi-agency cleanup effort happening to minimize damage to the environment. The derailment happened Tuesday, in the wildlife refuge about 30 miles southwest of Norfolk. According to the Welcome Center, it is home to one of the largest black bear populations on the East Coast, subtropical birds, butterflies, bobcats and white-tailed deer.

The railroad company, Norfolk Southern, has been working with Virginia Departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Emergencey Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with contractors.

Removing the coal is first and foremost. DEQ says the next focus is erosion and sediment controls, and monitoring wetland impacts.

DEQ writes in a tweet, “Environmental monitoring (incl. surface water/sediment chemical analysis), & erosion & sediment control installation, is underway by contractors at regular intervals throughout the site.”

Boat traffic at the Great Dismal Swamp Canal is not affected, and locks are operating on schedule. But the wildlife refuge did close the Jericho Lane Trailhead to the public beginning Friday. A Facebook post explains:

“This is to allow cleanup of the recent train derailment, expeditiously and to minimize further impact to our natural resources. We apologize for any inconvenience and will again notify you when the trailhead is re-opened.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano