Drinking water a concern over Vilnius train wreck

  • 2000-03-23
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS - With some amount of luck, Vilniusites won't be suffering from the effects of diesel-enriched water. A train derailment on February 24 resulted in a spill of 201 tons of diesel fuel into the ground and the nearby Voke River, which feeds into the city water supply. The derailment, which was blamed on an electric technician, resulted in the death of another electrician, who was standing close to the tracks when the derailment occurred.

The accused electrician "roughly violated the regulations on the safe movement of trains and the technical specifications of the maintenance of the signaling equipment," said Angelika Baltakyte, a senior specialist in the Lithuanian Ministry of Transport and Communication's railway department.

After the crash, 911,000 kilograms of contaminated soil and 44,000 kilos of snow were collected. Officials estimate that 174 tons of spilled fuel still remain in the ground. Also, an oil slick appeared in the Voke River, which, officials claim, has been contained.

However, their statements regarding the possibility that the city's drinking water hasn't been contaminated have so far lacked certainty.

"Yes, this could have affected it, but we will hope that it caused] some damage to the water, but the slick hasn't reached the water storage facility."

Arimantas Rackauskas, vice minister of transportation, added that research on the city's drinking water as a result of the crash has not yet been completed.

"The last results show that the water is of normal quality," he said. Reading in between the lines of these statements, Vilniusites would be wise to keep a healthy stock of mineral water.

The losses have been large for Lithuania's state-run train company, Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai, which of late has been on the busy track to restructuring and privatization.

Environmental clean-up, says Rackauskas, should cost roughly 8 million litas. Mazeikiu Nafta lostapproximately 110,000 litas, and the train companywill have to pay an additional 330,000 litas torebuild the destroyed railway.

The Lithuanian Green Movement has been considerably quiet about the incident, but doubts that the traincompany will ultimately pay up.

"Persons or organizations should clean it from their own funds according to the basic environmentalists'principle `polluter pay'. In this case it's clear that lots of soil is polluted, because most of diesel was absorbed into the soil. I expect that Lithuanian railway will try to escape from the payment complaining about no money," said Linus Vainius, vice chairman of the Greens.

However, Rackauskas has insisted that train company will pay.