CSX Corp train hauling crude derailed in West Virginia on Monday, setting at least two cars ablaze and forcing the evacuation of two nearby towns in the second significant oil-train incident in three days.

Initially, it had reported 14 cars had caught fire, but a federal official later revised the number.

One or two train cars plunged into the Kanawha River, and "a couple are burning," said Robert Jelacic, night shift manager of the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. There were no injuries or deaths, he said.

A one-kilometre-wide area around the derailment was being evacuated after a house caught fire because of the accident, Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told Reuters.

Messina said CSX had confirmed the train's only cargo was crude oil. Heavy snow and frigid temperatures were hindering efforts to deal with the incident, Jelacic said. A CSX spokesman did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

The train derailed at 1:20 p.m. ET about 54 kilometres southeast of Charleston, the state capital, according to Fayette
County 911 Coordinator James Bennett.

Crews from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and numerous fire departments responded to the scene, Messina said.

WOWK television reported that the nearby towns of Adena Village and Boomer Bottom were being evacuated.

2nd rail crash in region

It was not immediately clear where the train was heading, where its cargo originated or whose oil it was carrying. The
crash occurred less than 320 kilometres west of Lynchburg, Virginia, where another CSX train bound for an East Coast oil terminal run by Plains All American Pipelines derailed and erupted in flames last April.

Local websites showed images of large flames and a thick plume of black smoke near a partly frozen river, with a number of houses nearby.

The latest incident comes just two days after Canadian National Railways train from Alberta's oil sands derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario. CN said 29 of 100 cars were involved and seven caught fire. No injuries were reported, but the cars were still on fire on Monday.

A boom in oil shipments by rail and a spate of derailments across North America have put heightened focus on rail safety. In 2013, 47 people were killed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.