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Rail safety concerns rekindled by latest North Dakota oil train derailment

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A town in North Dakota was evacuated by authorities after an oil train derailed Wednesday morning.

Valley News Live reports the Wells County Sheriff's Office confirmed a BNSF train left the tracks near Heimdal at around 7.30 a.m.


An image of the crash by Jennifer Willis published on Facebook shows tankers left the track and caught on fire, with thick black smoke billowing from the cars.

She says she was evacuated from her home along with the rest of the town.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, BNSF said that the train consisted of 109 cars, of which 107 were carrying crude oil and the other two were buffer cars loaded with sand.

MPR News reports six rail tanker cars were burning, but no injuries were reported nor were any buildings threatened.

KHND reports motorists were told to steer clear of the area by emergency officials.

Heimdal is a small town located between Harvey and New Rockford, and has a population of just 27, according to the 2010 census. The town is located about 192 miles west of Fargo.

The state has had several train derailments in recent years involving trains transporting fuel from the Bakken oilfields.

The most notable derailment occurred in Casselton in 2013, and Wells County Emergency Manager Tammy Roehrich told the Bismarck News Tribune this latest incident bears the hallmarks of Casselton.

The newspaper adds the train's engine and some of its cars were decoupled and taken away from the burning wreckage.

BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino told the Forum News Service the train had 107 tank cars carrying crude oil with two buffer cars loaded with sand between the crude cars and locomotives.

Dayton calls for improvements

The high number of derailments across the country has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to call for an "aggressive schedule" to replace or retrofit oil railcars so they are better protected against heat from fires, as well as improving their ability to withstand impact damage.

BNSF confirmed to FOX 9 the train cars involved in the derailment are the same models the federal government wants phased out by 2020.

Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking to FOX 9, said the latest incident is another example of why he wants to push ahead with his proposed $842 million bonding bill, part of which would fund a series of railway infrastructure projects across Minnesota.

Minnesota created two emergency response teams – one in Moorhead and one in St. Paul – to travel to oil the site of any oil train derailments in Minnesota.

According to WCCO, Republicans are proposing the creation of two more, in St. Cloud and Duluth, but they have resisted the governor's call for a new tax on railroads to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Republicans have resisted Dayton's call for a new tax on railroads to pay for some of those infrastructure improvements.

"The problem is [derailments are] not happening at rail grade crossings," Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) told WCCO. "They're happening in North Dakota, outside the towns and rail grade crossings."

Additionally, the railroads themselves say they are spending $300 million on rail improvements.

Around 50 oil trains a week pass through Minnesota on their way to refineries on the East Coast and in the south.

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