An Army tanker truck crash that spilled gasoline and forced residents to evacuate their homes could lead to hundreds of soldiers rushing to fill up motor vehicles for military bases and the commuter rail system.
The tanker bus carrying 200,000 gallons of fuel toppled over on the East Coast, damaging a bridge and blocking a 4-mile section of Route 295. More than 30,000 gallons leaked. Tanker trucks capable of carrying that amount of fuel are about 100 feet long, easily pinned by a vehicle and even a large SUV on some roadways.
“There’s a very high probability we’re going to need a significant number of troops to handle the challenge of refilling the tanks,” said Maj. Gen. James Glynn, commander of the Army Tank Automotive Command, which manages about 600,000 fuel tankers and scores of supply vehicles.
The main supply routes into Washington — the George Washington Parkway and the Potomac River — should be cleared later Saturday afternoon, and the Defense Department said, including officials with the Capital Area Regional Transit agency, it had enough fuel to get around the closure.
For thousands of vehicles, most of which will need to be rerouted, the Fuel Manager Rapid Response plan can provide a range of options to address any fuel-availability issues and boost supply to the Capital Area Regional Transit system.
Troops were likely to be mobilized to perform backup refueling on alternate routes and in new spots along the routes, Glynn said. They would also provide assistance in federal and regional efforts to remove the fuel from the area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been conducting work to reduce the fuel spillage, including using “methane hydrates” to slow the tanker truck, he said.
Col. Jeffrey Riches, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, said his soldiers would be able to move quickly.
“We could be out in the field as soon as they turn on the tap,” he said, adding they could get to the pump if the local service station “can’t keep up with demand.”
He said they could also draw on the fuel supplies from the tank farm at Fort Drum, which is located in upstate New York.
A convoy could be used to ferry materials from other parts of the Army, in addition to the regular support vehicles now in the region. One option Glynn outlined is taking supplies from the 302nd Transportation Unit at Fort Stewart in Georgia or the 450th Infantry Brigade at Fort Hood in Texas.
“If they have to go somewhere else, they can do it with what they have,” Riches said.
The Pentagon also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had a plane ready to fly immediately after the crash to assess the scope of the damage and will use volunteer search and rescue teams from the Defense Department as needed. The department also said it has notified the Pentagon and state emergency officials and FAA about its plans.