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North Dakota town evacuated after oil train derails

A BNSF oil train derailed near Heimdal, N.D., on May 6, 2015.
Photo: Jennifer Willis
A BNSF oil train derailed near Heimdal, N.D., on May 6, 2015.

A tiny central North Dakota town has been evacuated after the derailment of an oil train.

The incident displaced residents of Heimdal, sheriff's officials told local media. The accident involved a BNSF Railway train with 109 cars, five of which were burning. Six to seven cars derailed and the cause of the event is unknown, according to officials.

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No injuries were reported. Five local fire crews were called to the scene. An acting administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration tweeted this around 10 a.m. EDT on Wednesday:

Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF said in a statement: "At approximately 7:30 am CDT today, a train operating approximately 50 miles east of Minot, ND derailed carrying crude oil. Initial reports from the crew indicate there are no injuries but a fire has been reported at the scene. The tank cars involved in the incident are the unjacketed CPC-1232 models. BNSF will work with the nearest first responders."

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Heimdal is located along one of the main rail lines heading east out of the giant Bakken oil patch. About two-thirds of all North Dakota oil production is shipped by rail, three-quarters of that to refiners on the East Coast.

Oil prices were up late morning Wednesday.

BNSF, which provides transport for commodities like oil, was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 2010.

BNSF did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The derailment came just days after the U.S. Department of Transportation and Canada's Transport Ministry announced new rules for oil trains, including phasing out older tank cars, adding electronic braking systems and imposing speed limits. The measures were all meant to reduce the frequency and severity of oil train crashes.

The volume of crude oil transported by rail has rocketed in recent years as production increases from areas like North Dakota outpaced new pipeline development.

A spate of explosive accidents have accompanied that growth, the worst of which occurred in July 2013 when a train derailed in the town of Lac Megantic in Canada, killing 47 people.

Already this year, five trains have derailed and caught fire in the United States and Canada, all in rural areas. No deaths have occurred but the accidents have stoked fears about the safety of moving crude oil by rail.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

Correction: Berkshire Hathaway purchased BNSF Railway in 2010. The year was misstated in an earlier version of this article.