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NTSB report: 18 of 20 rail cars in fiery crash punctured

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Nearly all the tank cars in the fiery explosion last month in North Dakota punctured in the crash, according to an investigation released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Fargo Forum reports that the crash, which involved two BNSF trains, started when a train hauling grain derailed. Another train carrying crude oil struck it, causing the two lead locomotives of the oil train and its first 21 cars to derail. Twenty of those cars were carrying oil, and of those, 18 were punctured. The Star Tribune said the derailed oil train spilled 400,000 gallons of crude.

MPR News reported that both trains were traveling slower than the posted speed limit for the track at the time of the collision. The NTSB is still analyzing a broken axle, two train wheels, incident recorders and onboard video from the locomotives.

There were no injuries, but emergency responders urged about 1,600 Casselton residents to evacuate. Damage is estimated at $6.1 million.

Incidents like the one in North Dakota have prompted other communities to question the safety of crude-carrying trains that rumble through their cities. The La Crosse Tribune reported growing concern about the 60 daily trains a day that use the rail line there. Some of the trails are hauling oil from the Bakken fields to refineries to the east and south.

In December, BNSF Railway informed the Wisconsin commissioner of railroads that it plans to add a second parallel track. Because the railroad owns the land, grading work could begin later this year if the project is approved. But in the wake of recent derailments, people living near the tracks question the wisdom of sending more trains through densely residential La Crosse neighborhoods.

“That’s something that really bothers me, keeps me up at night, how many people are living within close proximity to those tracks,” said Mayor Tim Kabat, whose home is near the BNSF line. He wants more federal and state oversight of rail transportation.

U.S. railroads were expected to haul 400,000 carloads of oil in 2013, almost 40 times the number in 2009. Experts have warned that oil from the Bakken shale fields In North Dakota and Montana is lighter and more volatile than more familiar forms of crude.

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