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Crude train derailment prompts evacuation of North Dakota town

No injuries were reported in the accident, which happened near Heimdal, about 115 miles northeast of Bismarck. The residents who left were staying with family and friends, Wells County Emergency Manager Tammy Roehrich said.

 

Ten tanker cars on the BNSF Railway train caught fire, creating thick black smoke, state Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said.

 

“The engine and cars that aren’t burning have been decoupled and moved to safety,” she said.

 

Firefighters from four area communities responded to the fire, and regional hazardous materials teams from Grand Forks and Devils Lake were sent to the scene, Fong said. A team of 10 investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration was expected to arrive on the scene by mid-day Wednesday, said spokesman Kevin Thompson.

 

It was unclear how many cars were part of the train or how many derailed. There was no immediate word on the cause of the wreck or on the source of the oil the train was carrying. A spokeswoman for BNSF did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.

 

Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have seen at least 24 oil train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant amount of fuel spilled, according to federal accident records reviewed by the AP. The derailment Wednesday was the fifth this year and comes less than a week after the Department of Transportation announced a rule to toughen construction standards for tens of thousands of tank cars that haul oil and other flammable liquids.

 

FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg said in a statement that the accident was “yet another reminder” of the need for changes that have been resisted by the oil industry, which says it will take years to get the unsafe tank cars replaced or off the tracks.

 

It was not immediately known if the oil had been processed under the state’s new rules that were meant to reduce the volatility of North Dakota crude by stripping out gases that can easily ignite, Thompson said. North Dakota officials have said the rules would make the volatility of treated oil comparable to gasoline. Critics have said the state’s requirements were too lax and insufficient to prevent major fires.

 

Also unclear was whether the tank cars involved were a newer model intended to improve safety but has been involved in several recent accidents, Thompson said.

 

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