Oil train-truck accident spills only flour, but raises rail safety concerns

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A collision between an oil train and a semi truck in a southeast metro suburb Sunday afternoon didn't cause any injuries, but raised anew some urgent questions about rail safety in Minnesota.

The BNSF train collided with the semi, which was full of flour, near First Street and Hastings Avenue in St. Paul Park about 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The crash tore a hole in the side of the trailer, spilling bags of flour on the road and causing the intersection to be closed for several hours, according to the South Washington County Bulletin.

The train stayed on the tracks and wasn't damaged, and no one was injured, according to the Bulletin.

The train was traveling southbound on the tracks while the truck, operated by Werner Enterprises, was traveling westbound on First Street when it failed to cross the tracks in time, St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said, according to the Bulletin.

There are flashing lights at the intersection to alert drivers when a train is approaching, but it does not have a safety arm to block traffic, BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said, according to KSTP.

McBeth said it's unclear whether the lights were flashing at the time, and investigators will try to determine that.

The St. Paul Park and Newport police departments responded to the accident.

Crews were cleaning up the flour for several hours after the accident, but the train began moving again shortly after 4 p.m., according to the Bulletin.

Oil train safety questions

Although the accident didn't result in any damage to the oil train, it left local leaders concerned about the safety of that particular intersection and oil trains in general.

The intersection is just a short distance away from the Northern Tier oil refinery, and Mayor Franke said the accident could easily have been a lot worse.

“Depending on how the truck was hit, where the truck was hit ... it could have been an explosion upon an explosion,” Franke said to the Bulletin. “This is the best case scenario here.”

State Rep. Dan Schoen, who represents the area in the Legislature, said in a series of tweets that he's disappointed that lawmakers haven't done more to address oil train safety.

The city has been working to close the intersection to traffic, but needs to acquire some nearby property from a private owner, according to the Bulletin.

The crossing is also one of several scheduled for safety improvements after the state Department of Transportation did a rail safety study looking specifically at the main rail corridors that carry crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota across Minnesota.

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