BNSF Oil-Train Crash Sparks Fire, Evacuation in North Dakota

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A BNSF Railway train carrying crude oil derailed in North Dakota, setting several tank cars on fire and prompting the evacuation of nearby residents, U.S. and local authorities said.

The Federal Railroad Administration sent a 10-person team Wednesday to the site near the town of Heimdal to determine the cause of the accident, Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a statement. No injuries were reported, according to a statement from BNSF.

“Today’s incident is yet another reminder of why we issued a significant, comprehensive rule aimed at improving the safe transport of high-hazard flammable liquids,” Feinberg said. “The FRA will continue to look at all options available to us to improve safety and mitigate risks.”

The fire, coming almost two years after a crude-train derailment killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Quebec, highlights the growing debate in the U.S. and Canada over how to move oil by rail. This month, officials in both countries jointly set new rules on tank-car design and safety procedures to reduce the risks.

Overheating Cars

U.S. regulators want the industry to upgrade the so-called CPC-1232 cars that were involved in Wednesday’s derailment. Built to the current industry standard, the cars can overheat and explode in a fire more quickly than previously thought, the National Transportation Safety Board said last month.

The BNSF derailment involved six or seven cars, according to Deputy Janelle Pepple of the Wells County sheriff’s office. The FRA said there was “a large fire involving several tank cars.” All but two of the 109 cars on the BNSF train were carrying crude oil, the company said in a statement.

The train derailed in a sparsely populated area, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Minot, North Dakota. Heimdal is unincorporated and had a population of 27, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

The accident occurred about 7:30 a.m. local time, said Michael Trevino, a spokesman for BNSF, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BNSF said company personnel are on-site to assess the accident, which will result in delays of some customer shipments by 24 to 48 hours.

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