Oil Train Derails in Casselton, N.D.
Crash causes evacuation, costs millions
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 18:01
On Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, thirteen cars of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. train derailed outside of Casselton, N.D.
According to a preliminary report published by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead the grain-carrying train was heading west when the incident occurred just after 2 p.m. The derailed train had a car “foul” into the adjacent, parallel tracks. Later, an eastbound BNSF train carrying combustible Bakken crude oil crashed into the derailed car. The crews of both trains were uninjured.
The collision caused a series of large explosions, which could be seen, heard and felt for miles as the train carrying the Bakken crude oil ignited into massive fire columns and mushroom clouds. The smoke was heavy enough for visible radar to pick it up on their detectors.
The emitted smoke from the accident blew to the south, away from Casselton. Residents of the town were advised to stay indoors. Later that day, local emergency officials issued a voluntary evacuation – airing on the side of caution. Approximately 1,400 of the town’s 2400 people were estimated to have left for the night. The evacuation was lifted the next afternoon.
The National Transportation Safety Board compiled a preliminary on-site investigation, which found 18 of the 20 oil tanker cars that derailed were punctured, discharging an estimated 400,000 gallons of crude oil.
The crude-carrying train was traveling “about 43 mph when the train crew initiated an emergency break application,” according to the NTSB report. It is estimated the train slowed down to 42 mph by the time of collision.
Preliminary estimates figure this incident will cost upwards of $6 million.
“There have been numerous derailments in this area,” Casselton mayor Ed McConnell told The Associated Press. “It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when. We dodged a bullet by having it out of town, but this is too close for comfort.”
This was the fourth derailment near Casselton within the last ten years. Before the railways were cleared, politicians spurred to action.
“We need to manage the growth,” Sen. John Hoeven, Rep., N.D., said in a telephone interview with the New York Times on Friday. “Our citizens are very supportive of the growth and development of the energy industry, but we want to make sure we maintain our quality of life and safety.”
Following the incident, Sens. Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, Dem., N.D., met with transportation secretary Anthony Foxx and head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Cynthia L. Quarterman for a summit that Heitkamp deemed necessary to address the lack of safety and urgency on this issue.
On a local level, the train derailment caused headaches statewide. Alberto Moncera, a freshman studying music at NDSU, was planning on taking the Amtrak from Rugby, N.D., to Fargo in order to catch the Gold Star Marching Band bus traveling towards Frisco. He caught his bus, but it took some improvising.
“In the end a bus (in Rugby) picked us up at the train station and ran the exact same routes,” Moncera said.
The Amtrak he was to take back to Rugby after the game also got cancelled, although not because of the accident, but because of the extreme cold.
The train derailment has not affected Moncera’s view on rail transportation, however. He is still willing to ride the tracks.
“The trains that crashed weren’t for transporting people,” Moncera said. “I’m sure it was a freak accident.”