Federal investigators released a final report Feb. 7 on a fiery oil train derailment and spill that forced the evacuation of Casselton, North Dakota, blaming the disaster on a defective axle on another train.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the Dec. 30, 2013, derailment and crash occurred when a defective axle broke on a BNSF train hauling soybeans, forcing a section of the train to derail.
Two men aboard the oil train told investigators that heavy, blowing snow obscured the tracks from their vision shortly before they saw a derailed train car lying across the tracks. The men applied the train’s emergency brakes, but it was too late to avoid a collision. The oil train hit the BNSF at 42 mph, derailing 18 cars and setting off a series of explosions that could be seen and felt ten miles away.
The derailed cars released about 400,000 gallons of crude oil that continued to fuel the fire, forcing the evacuation of about 1,400 people from their homes.
The NTSB also found that a communications problem contributed to the crash. An emergency announcement about the derailment was made over the radio, but the oil train engineers did not hear it because the warning was made over a different channel.
Investigators further determined that BNSF train car’s axle was made by Standard Steel in 2002. The bearings and wheels were removed and remounted at a BNSF shop in 2010, but inadequate testing failed to detect the flaw. The NTSB said more thorough testing could have prevented the derailment.
Additionally, the NTSB said that BNSF had not taken sufficient safety measures to protect the oil train’s crew, including insufficient bumper cars. The agency recommended further study of the number and placement of buffer cars on oil trains.
The NTSB also ordered further study of advanced braking systems on oil trains after the Casselton derailment, saying that in this particular case such a system would have lessened the severity of the crash.
“Such systems would not have prevented the collision, because only a few seconds passed between the time the oil train crew saw the derailed grain car and the moment of collision,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said. “However, advanced brake systems can apply brakes faster, thereby lowering train speed more quickly, shortening stopping distances and reducing the overall severity for many other accident scenarios.”
Source: Associated Press