Minnesota residents may remember the serious oil train accident that occurred in 2013 in neighboring North Dakota, in the city of Casselton. The National Transportation Safety Board has recently issued its final report on this accident. Per this report, the NTSB recognizes that the wreck did result in safety improvements, however, more needs to be done to address the issue of oil train safety.
According to the report, the train's axle had a manufacturing defect that caused the wreck. After the axle broke a car containing soybeans derailed, falling onto the railroad track that an oil train was traveling on. 470,000 gallons of oil spilled and created a massive explosion. Since the front locomotive door was damaged in the collision, the train's workers had to escape through the back, which brought them closer to the fire. Due to the wreck, 1,400 individuals had to be evacuated from their homes, and the issue of oil train safety garnered national attention.
The oil train only had one buffer car carrying sand serving as a buffer between the train's engine and the train's oil tank cars. Under federal law, in general trains need five buffer cars. However, these laws have been interpreted to mean that trains carrying only hazardous materials only need one buffer car, as opposed to trains that would not be pulling cars containing non-hazardous materials, which would need the five buffer cars. One NTSB board member believes this dichotomy doesn't really make sense. Therefore, a federal study will be conducted on the issue of how many buffer cars there should be in order to keep railroad workers safe.
The NTSB also determined that the axle was inadequately tested after the 2010 replacement of the train's wheels and bearings. Proper testing would've revealed the defect. Since the wreck, such testing is now a requirement.
While the Casselton train accident has resulted in some railroad safety improvements, more work needs to be done to improve both railroad worker safety, and the safety of surrounding communities.
Source: MPR News, "NTSB: Safety improved since Casselton train accident, but more work needed," Dan Gunderson, Feb. 7, 2017