A BNSF unit crude oil train collided with a derailed grain train outside the town of Casselton, ND before hitting the ground on Monday, triggering a series of massive explosions that could be heard and felt miles away.
The explosions briefly prompted the evacuation of the town, with mayor Ed McConnell admitting that the town had 'dodged a bullet'. The BNSF line runs through the heart of Casselton and had the oil train derailed there, the devastation would've been comparable to the Lac Meganitc disaster over the summer.
Firefighters and deputies had to brave subzero temperatures to fight the blaze and a BNSF spokeswoman said that 18 cars from the 108 car oil train had ignited. Astonishingly, despite the severity of the derailment and subsequent explosions, BNSF reported that crew members from both trains were uninjured. The railroad has also opened up a claims center in Casselton to process claims from residents who were displaced after the wreck.
By New Year's Eve, the all-clear had been given for evacuated residents to return home to the town of 2300 just west of Fargo. Investigators from the NTSB arrived on scene Thursday and officials are reportedly focusing on a broken axle that was found in the wreckage.
BNSF expects to have the line reopened by the weekend. The former Northern Pacific line is one of two east-west BNSF mainlines across the state of North Dakota. Since 2008, the line has seen an exponential increase in traffic thanks largely to the oil boom in the western part of the state. With no pipelines directly linking the Bakken oilfields with refineries on the east coast, moving the oil by rail has become the most cost-effective way to ship the crude.