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March 6, 2015 9:00 AM, EST

Oil Train Derails in Illinois

A BNSF Railway Co. train carrying 103 cars of crude oil derailed in rural Illinois March 5 and U.S. regulators said a fire had broken out. There were no reports of injuries.

“The derailed train is on fire,” the Federal Railroad Administration said March 5 in a statement after the accident at about 1:20 p.m. outside Galena, Illinois. Eight cars went off the tracks, six of which rolled over, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said. Galena is about 160 miles west of Chicago.

BNSF personnel rushed to the area and were investigating, according to a statement from the railroad, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Besides the oil cargo, the train carried two buffer cars of sand, Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF said.

Crude-by-rail accidents are a high-profile issue because of the potential for death and injuries, highlighted by the 2013 crash in Quebec that killed 47 people. Last month, a CSX Corp. train carrying Bakken crude derailed and triggered a fireball in West Virginia.

The main-line tracks near Galena were shut and can’t be reopened until inspected, the railroad said. The accident took place about 3 1/2 miles south of the city, Moran said. He couldn’t confirm whether oil had been spilled in the accident area. The incident occurred far enough away from the Mississippi River to pose no threat to the waterway, Moran said.

The train started from North Dakota and the tank cars involved in the incident were the CPC-1232 model, BNSF said in an e-mail. Two crude cars caught fire, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Responders were evacuating residents within a 1-mile radius of the accident, which contained six homes, she said in a phone interview.

Galena first responders backed away to a safe distance upon observing a tank car smoking and eventually left the scene, Moran said. Mike Trevino, a spokesman with BNSF, said he couldn’t confirm whether tank cars had been breached or oil had been spilled.

Thursday’s incident follows the fiery derailment of two crude-carrying trains last month. A CSX Corp. train carrying North Dakota crude came off the tracks and exploded into flames in rural West Virginia on Feb. 16, forcing nearby residents to evacuate their homes. Two days earlier, a Canadian National Railway Co. train with 100 cars carrying oil-sands crude derailed in a wooded area near Gogama, Ontario, with oil spilled and some cars catching fire.

North American oil producers have increased their reliance on transporting by rail as new pipelines failed to keep up with a surge of production from shale. The typical rail car carries about 700 barrels of oil, according to data posted on BNSF’s website. The Association of American Railroads says the number of oil carloads rose more than 40-fold from 2009 through 2013, when 435,560 carloads were shipped, and kept climbing last year to an estimated 500,000.

The accidents have added pressure to U.S. regulators to announce new standards for crude tank cars to make them safer. The regulations, which are expected later this year, already missed a Department of Transportation deadline to have them in place by the end of last year.