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Train in fiery derailment in Virginia was hauling North Dakota crude

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Thirteen train cars derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia yesterday, setting off an explosion and fireball that rocked the nearby area and prompted the evacuation of homes and businesses. No one was injured in the inferno.

In news that is sure to spark additional debate about safety, the Associated Press reports that the 105-car CSX train involved in the incident was carrying crude oil that originated in the Bakken shale region in North Dakota. WSET, the ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, reported that at least 50,000 gallons of crude is missing after the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board has a team of specialists at the scene to examine the train and condition of the track.

Concern is growing about the flammability of Bakken crude. Federal officials in January issued a safety alert with a warning that the oil pumped in the region may be more flammable — and more dangerous — than other forms of oil.

State lawmakers have responded by saying there needs to be an increase in rail oil safety oversight. Nine or 10 trains a day haul crude oil eastward from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields – seven or eight of those trains go through Minnesota, most through the heart of the Twin Cities, Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation told the House Transportation Committee.

Lawmakers stepped up their scrutiny of oil shipments by rail after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train near Casselton, North Dakota in December. Last summer, a train loaded with Bakken crude derailed in a small town in Quebec, killing 47 and destroying 30 buildings.

Sen. Al Franken has called for more federal oversight of oil transport by rail. He has joined Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D in urging the creation of a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund. The fund would pay for more safety inspections, disaster response training, studies and community outreach. The senators also want funding to hire more inspectors.

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