We are back from a week in the mountains of the Upper Kanawha River Valley in Central West Virginia, where we took dozens of depositions in our Mt. Carbon Train Derailment case against the CSX railroad and Sperry Rail.

We have approximately 450 clients many of whom have filed suit in US District Court in Huntington following the Feb. 2015 derailment and explosion of a CSX crude oil tank car train. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes for 3-4 days during a bitter winter storm because of the danger from exploding crude oil tank cars. Homes also lost utility service and had pipes freeze and split. The blasts sent spears of flame shooting more than 100 feet into the air. The shock wave broke windows. There were no fatalities. Several of our clients claim the thundering explosions cracked their walls and concrete and left black deposits on their property and vehicles.  The derailed exploding cars narrowly missed falling into the Adena Village Subdivision in Mt. Carbon.

Federal investigators say a previously discovered flaw in a steel rail caused the train to derail.

Our depositions were held at West Virginia Institute of Technology, a state operated engineering school in Montgomery, West Virginia, smack dab in the heart of coal country. Because of declining enrollment and large deferred maintenance costs,  the campus is closing down at the end of this semester and the state is moving the entire college to more prosperous Beckley, about 45 miles away. The school dropped its football program in 2011 as a cost saving move. The stadium with artificial turf sits idle on a ledge overlooking the campus. The closure has drawn bitter reaction in Montgomery, and a lawsuit was filed to delay the exit.

In Beckley, the state has acquired newer facilities from another college that closed. The friendly cafeteria folks at West Virginia Tech gladly serve up an all you can eat breakfast buffet including coffee and fresh fruit for $3. Lunch and super is just $5.00.

We started our days at 8 and wrapped up at 5. Our team spent nights at a stately home in Charleston, about 30 miles away, which we rented through AirBnB.  Each day, we passed the golden dome of the West Virginia State Capitol, near our home.

Side trips in the area will take you to an Oak Hill West Virginia gas station, where Hank Williams died in a car on the way to a concert in Ohio in 1953. And you can visit Gauley Bridge, a small town at the foot of Gauley Mountain and learn about the Hawks Nest Disaster.  This was the site of the country’s all-time worst occupational health disaster. Hundreds of workers  – many of them African Americans opting for work during the depr4ession  – developed silicosis from digging a 3 mile long water diversion tunnel through a mountain from 1929-1932, and many are said to be buried in unmarked graves in the area. As many as 1,500 workers may have died. Congress later awarded meager death benefits to families, but gave African Americans less money than Caucasians.

The future in this depressed area is uncertain. There is still a market for the metallurgical coal that is mined nearby, and a new mine for that coal used in steelmaking recently opened. But continued low prices for natural gas means the market for coal used in power generation remains very weak.