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Federal safety board releases final cause, recommendations after fiery ND oil train derailment in 2015

Wreckage of the BNSF oil train derailment smoulders just outside of Heimdal, N.D., more than 10 hours after the accident on May 6,2015. Eric Hylden/ Forum News Service file photo

HEIMDAL, N.D.—The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final accident report and safety recommendations nearly three years after a fiery oil tanker train crash in north-central North Dakota that spilled 96,400 gallons of crude oil in the area.

The accident on May 6, 2015, one mile east of the small community of Heimdal, was caused by a broken wheel that led to the derailment of six of the 107 loaded tank cars on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train, said the board in a release on Thursday, Jan. 11.

The NTSB determined the left wheel on the 81st car on the train was broken due to a vertical split rim "which led to catastrophic failure of the wheel due to multiple overstress fractures."

The report said the investigation led to two recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration. They are to research and evaluate wheel load thresholds and also to mandate action for railroads to avoid or identify mechanical defects when they are alerted by wheel impact load detectors.

The third recommendation to both the FRA and the Association of American Railroads is to evaluate a safe peak vertical load threshold for high-hazard, flammable trains.

In the report, the NTSB said in its summary that there were no injuries or fatalities in connection with the derailment, but that about 30 residents from the unincorporated village of Heimdal and the surrounding area had to be evacuated due to the smoke plume.

The village is about 60 miles southwest of Devils Lake or about 90 miles southeast of Minot.

The train had three locomotives and two buffer cars, in addition to the 107 loaded oil cars, in the 7:20 a.m. accident. The train was traveling about 45 mph and with the broken wheel it couldn't maintain its position on the rail and the derailment sequence began.

The momentum of the train pulled that 81st car off the track and five others cars behind it. Five of the six cars began leaking oil, which fueled the fire on the overcast, 57 degree morning.

BNSF estimated the damage because of the accident at $5 million.

In responding to the report, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer said in a release Thursday, ""I vividly remember arriving on the accident scene and seeing the damage caused by the derailment. Thankfully, the quick response by first responders and railway officials helped ensure property damage was kept to a minimum. I look forward to reviewing the accident report and working to help implement the recommended changes."

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