Weather Forecast


Check out The Forum's voter guide to compare candidates and prepare your ballot

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

Smoke rises from scene of a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota December 30, 2013. Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO – A train conductor in the massive oil tanker train derailment and explosion in Casselton about two years ago is suing BNSF Railway, claiming its negligent safety practices left him injured in the wreck.

It's the second lawsuit filed in Cass County District Court by a railroad worker in connection with the derailment and explosion, which prompted evacuations in Casselton as thick smoke billowed from oil tanker fires that burned for more than a day. An eastbound 106-car BNSF train hauling oil struck a derailed westbound train hauling soybeans on Dec. 30, 2013, about a half-mile outside of Casselton.

The latest lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Burleigh County train conductor Peter Riepl, says that Riepl was working as conductor on the train, which was loaded with crude oil from the Oil Patch in western North Dakota. The oil train's lead locomotive hit a railcar from the derailed soybean train, forcing the oil train to derail, the lawsuit says. It says as the oil tankers on Riepl's train began to catch fire and explode, he leapt from the train to escape and was injured.

The lawsuit claims BNSF was negligent in its safety practices, including in its failure to follow federal and state laws and regulations, and in failing to adopt safe methods to transport hazardous materials.

It also claims that Riepl injured his back two years before that while working on a BNSF train near Stanton, N.D., when he hit his foot on an unsafe section of flooring and fell, also due to the railroad's negligence.

The suit doesn't ask for a specific dollar amount, but says Riepl suffered severe and permanent damages and wants the railroad to pay for those losses and damages, including his medical care.

Attorneys on both sides couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, and no response to Riepl's lawsuit had yet been filed in court.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said in an email, "BNSF values Mr. Peter Riepl as an employee, and we are reluctant to say anything about him or his lawsuit outside of the context of his case."

In their legal response to a similar lawsuit filed in earlier this year in connection with the Casselton derailment, BNSF officials denied any negligence.

That suit, filed by Fargo train engineer Bryan Thompson, also claimed BNSF failed to warn its train workers about the dangers of oil tanker trains and didn't take appropriate safety precautions.

Thompson claims he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the crash, and he was forced to leave his career as a train engineer.

BNSF officials said in their response that Thompson's suit might be barred by the terms of the federal Railroad Safety Act. The lawsuit is still pending. A trial is set for August 2017.

The Casselton derailment received nationwide coverage, coming just a few months after a train carrying North Dakota crude rolled down a hill and exploded, killing 47 people in Quebec. The crashes contributed to an ongoing national discussion about the risk of hauling crude oil overland from North Dakota's Oil Patch.

The National Transportation Safety Board hasn't released the final results of its investigation of the crash.