CASSELTON, N.D. – A "broken rail" appears to be behind the derailment involving empty oil-tank cars west of Casselton, a BNSF spokeswoman said in a statement Friday
Amy McBeth said the railroad is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to learn what caused the break.
Twenty-one cars in an eastbound train hauling lumber derailed around 5:30 p.m. Thursday, according to BNSF. The cars struck a westbound train causing 12 empty tank cars to also derail. No one was injured.
McBeth said BNSF inspectors examined the track near Casselton earlier Thursday but found no problems.
“We deserve some answers and I don’t think any of us want to hear anymore that this is a coincidence,” Sheriff Paul Laney said, recalling the fiery explosion last December when a BNSF train carrying oil derailed west of here. “To have two derailments within one mile of each other, on the same set of tracks, in less than a year … I think we need some answers as to why it keeps happening.”
“We got lucky this time, the fact that these cars were empty. They derailed right next to the ethanol plant,” Laney said. “What if they had been full?”
Laney said he called U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp Thursday night to discuss the incident.
“I believe at the state and federal level they’re going to start asking those questions,” Laney said.
No one was injured when 12 or 13 empty crude oil cars from a westbound train and an unknown number of cars from an eastbound train carrying lumber derailed Thursday, Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean said.
“Welcome to Casselton, again,” is how McLean greeted reporters at a news conference following the incident.
“We dodged a bullet again,” said Casselton Mayor Lee Anderson, recalling the fiery explosion last December.
The mayor said he felt “disappointment” overall at Thursday’s incident, but was “pleased that it happened out of town and didn’t cause any serious problems like it did last time.”
Authorities found no hazardous materials or leaking tanker cars, McLean said. Lumber was scattered in the area, he said.
“There was severe track damage,” McLean said. “I’m sure they’ll be replacing the rails on both tracks.”
Propane tanks on BNSF property were struck in the derailment, but do not appear to be compromised, a news release from the Sheriff’s Department said.
“Fortunately, this one here turned out better than last year’s,” McLean said.
Cass County sheriff’s deputies and other officials responded at 5:34 p.m. to a report of a derailment in the 3500 block of 153rd Avenue Southeast, near the Tharaldson Ethanol plant.
Steve Fox said he was working on the nearby McIntyre Pyle farm when the trains derailed.
Fox and his co-workers went out to retrieve two pickup trucks from a field about 5:30, he said.
“There was an eastbound train and I saw sparks off the last car of the eastbound train, so I assume that was the brakes,” he said.
As soon as Fox noticed tanker cars on the westbound side of the tracks, he and his co-workers quickly left because the memory of the explosion in December was still fresh, he said.
Fox said his reaction was, “Let’s get the pickup and let’s get the heck out of here.”
Last Dec. 30, a BNSF train hauling crude oil from western North Dakota derailed about a half-mile west of Casselton, causing a massive explosion. No one was hurt in the explosion, though it has prompted increased calls for safety in shipping oil by rail.
In the December derailment, 13 cars from a westbound soybean train derailed, and one of the derailed cars ended up on the adjacent track. An oncoming train hauling crude oil struck the derailed train, causing the two lead locomotives of the oil train and its first 21 cars to derail. In addition to the 20 oil-carrying tank cars, a train car carrying sand also derailed. In all, the soybean train had 112 cars and the oil train had 106 cars.
A National Transportation Safety Board report on the derailment said the soybean train was traveling about 28 mph when the crew applied emergency brakes. The oil train was going about 43 mph when the crew applied emergency brakes, and its estimated speed at the time of the crash was only 1 mph slower, 42 mph.
“We have a lot of things go through, a lot of them are oil, a lot of them are I don’t know what,” Anderson said Thursday night. “That’s obviously a concern. … They go through fast and they’ve wanted to go through faster.”
Anderson said his city’s request that trains go no faster than 40 mph within city limits has been respected.
“We can’t do anything outside of city limits,” where the two recent derailments took place, said Anderson, who took over as mayor in June. The city doesn’t even “have the authority to enforce the speed limit” in the city, he said.