Train hauling hazardous material derails, catches fire in North Dakota

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Rail cars carrying hazardous materials derailed in North Dakota on Friday and caught fire, the latest train derailment in the U.S. as concerns over railroads remain high.

Twenty-nine cars of a Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) train derailed around 3:45 a.m. in a marshy area surrounded by farmland that’s about 140 miles northwest of Fargo, according to Andrew Kirking, emergency management director for Foster County.

Video from the scene shows intense flames and thick black smoke rising high into the clear morning sky and the fire burned for at least 12 hours after the initial derailment. Kirking said it appeared that 10 to 15 of the rail cars caught fire.


Collage of a train derailment North Dakota

Rail cars carrying hazardous materials derailed in North Dakota on Friday and caught fire, the latest train derailment in the U.S. as concerns over railroads remain high. (Doug Zink/AP)

By late afternoon Friday, responders were able to “go on the offensive” in fighting the flames and have had “some success knocking the fire down,” Kirking said. With water on both sides of the tracks, officials were still working to get equipment close enough.

There were no injuries reported – with the engineer and conductor getting away safely– and the threat to those living nearby appeared to be minimal.

It is unclear what caused the derailment. 

The cars were carrying anhydrous ammonia, sulfur and methanol, with ammonia posing the biggest risk, according to Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. However, wind was carrying the smoke away from the nearby town of Bordulac, which has about 20 residents.

Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in the air can cause burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract, and can result in blindness, lung damage or death, health officials say. Exposure to lower amounts can result in coughing and irritation of the nose and throat.


Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., Kansas City Southern

A Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive pulls a train in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Monday, March 22, 2021.  (Alex Ramadan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating the derailment, per a post on X. CPKC acquired Kansas City Southern for $31 billion in 2021, seeking to create a 20,000-mile rail network linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

CPKC said in a statement that it has “initiated its emergency response plan and launched a comprehensive, coordinated response.”

The incident marks the latest train derailment in the U.S. as concerns over railroads remain high.

A freight train derailed in Matteson, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, two weeks ago prompting some residents within a mile of the crash to evacuate their homes as officials examined a leaking train car that contained liquefied petroleum gas.

Train cars are piled up after a derailment

Train cars are piled up after a derailment on June 27, 2024, in Matteson, Ill. Emergency officials ordered an evacuation after a freight train derailed in suburban Chicago. (WLS via AP)

Last year, on March 26, a 70-car CPKC train hauling hazardous materials also derailed in North Dakota, about a mile southeast of Wyndmere in Richland County. No injuries were reported.


Officials said 31 of the 70 cars derailed, some carrying hazardous materials, and crews identified a leak of liquid asphalt. No fires were caused by the derailment.

A month earlier, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying 38 cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio and spilled hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air, forcing residents to evacuate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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