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North Dakota oil train explosion causes town evacuation

02 January 2014

A train carrying crude oil derailed near Casselton in southeastern North Dakota on December 30 causing a number of explosions, a large fire and a thick column of acrid smoke. No one was hurt in the incident. The 2,400 residents were advised by the Sheriff's Office to evacuate the town, about a mile from the derailment site. BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars each.

Initially the fire was so intense that investigators could not ascertain how many of the train’s cars were burning, but the train’s owner, BNSF Railway Co., later said it believed about 20 cars caught fire, and that the oil train was derailed by another train carrying grain which came off the tracks first. BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars each.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said it would investigate the incident. Officials said the cars would be allowed to burn out.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of theUS National Transportation Safety Board overseeing the incident, told reporters late  on December 31 that just one car of the grain train came to rest on the other track, and the oil train "struck that one car."

Investigators are optimistic that they can retrieve information from event and video recorders on both trains, Sumwalt said. Two of the event recorders on the oil train were destroyed, but the third one — on the rear locomotive — survived intact.

Sumwalt said the 112-car grain train derailed for unknown reasons as it was carrying soybeans from Nebraska to Washington state.

The oil train, which was traveling from Fryburg, N.D., to Haiti, Mo., comprised three locomotives and 106 un-upgraded DOT-111 tank cars — the same kind of cars that blew up when a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic oil train derailed in Quebec in July, killing 47 people.

In September, NBC News Investigations reported that the DOT-111 has a serious design flaw and can split in an accident, potentially turning a derailment into a large-scale fire.

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