Train collision in North Dakota sets oil rail cars ablaze

Train collision in North Dakota sets oil rail cars ablaze
A plume of smoke rises from scene of a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota December 30, 2013.

FARGO, North Dakota - A BNSF train carrying crude oil in North Dakota collided with another train on Monday, setting off a series of explosions that left at least 10 cars ablaze, the latest in a string of incidents that have raised alarms over growing oil-by-rail traffic.

Local residents heard five powerful explosions just a mile outside of the small town of Casselton after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed, and an eastbound 104-car train hauling crude oil ran into it just after 2 p.m. CST (2000 GMT), local officials said. There were no reports of any injuries.

City officials said they heard a series of blasts following the collision, including one at 3:40 p.m. Windows shook at the city auditor's office.

"Approximately 10 cars are fully engulfed resulting in heavy smoke in the area," the Cass County sheriff said in a statement at 4:36 p.m., adding that local fire and hazardous material teams were battling the blaze. The sheriff said it was not yet clear how the collision had occurred.

Residents within 10 miles were asked to remain indoors to avoid contact with the smoke.

Casselton City Auditor Sheila Klevgard said crews are pushing snow to contain the oil before it reaches a nearby creek.

Half of the oil cars have been separated from the train, but another 56 cars remain in danger, said Cecily Fong, the public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The collision destroyed both engines on the oil train. Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The incident will likely stoke concerns about the safety of shipping increasing volumes of crude oil by rail, a trend that emerged from the unexpected burst of shale oil production out of North Dakota's Bakken fields. Over two-thirds of the state's oil production is currently shipped by rail.

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