Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology/Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Mona J. E. Danner (Director)

Committee Member

Randy Myers

Committee Member

Travis Linnemann


In recent years, several significant train derailments involving the transportation of crude oil have dotted the North American landscape. Each resulted in environmental and social harm to some degree which was extensive in many instances. Oil train derailments have occurred in places such as Lac-Mégantic, Canada (July 2013), Casselton, North Dakota (December 2013 and November 2014), and Mount Carbon, West Virginia (February 2015). Following derailments, communities have faced substantial environmental damage, human death and injury, and overall disruption from the explosions and subsequent oil spills that characterize these events. This project specifically examined the April 30, 2014 derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia. A CSX-operated train containing 104 oil tank cars derailed which caused 17 cars to leave the tracks; 3 of these cars plunged over the bank of the James River and became submerged. The derailment resulted in a large explosion and subsequent fire that burned for over an hour after one tank car ruptured and lost its contents. It was estimated that nearly 30,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled (NTSB 2016). Serious environmental and human health concerns resulted, particularly fears that downstream cities, including the state capitol of Richmond, would have contaminated water.

Through a lens of green criminology, victimology, and securitization, this dissertation examines perceptions of criminality, victimization, and ecological harm as a result of the oil train derailment among members of the Lynchburg community. The environmental and social consequences of the Lynchburg train derailment are considered through a case study approach that is situated within the politics surrounding oil extraction and transportation within the US and Canada where dramatically expanded rail transport of oil has resulted in an influx in derailments in recent years. Interviews with 22 individuals—officials, environmentalists, witnesses, and members of the Lynchburg community—were used to examine the extent and nature of harm to the environment, community, and individuals as a result of the oil train derailment including the aftermath of the event. Official documents and media representations supplement the in-depth interviews. This case study reveals an array of victimizations and differing ideas about responsibility and criminality in the wake of the event. Security has been inserted into the realities of oil train shipment by the railroad industry which has problematized the dissemination of information about these volatile shipments to communities who experience them. Significant identities with both the James River and the railroad within the community have served to help make sense of the derailment, framed ideas about responsibility and culpability, and determined the conceptualization of the environment as a victim.