No-one was injured in the accident, although residents of Casselton and two nearby towns were evacuated as a precaution as firecrews struggled to extinguish the blaze. The accident occurred at around 14.00 local time when an eastbound train with 106 wagons, 104 of which contained oil, collided with a westbound train with 112 wagons that was transporting soybeans and had derailed. 19 wagons carrying crude subsequently derailed and more than 20 caught fire.
BNSF said in statement posted on its website that it expected the line to reopen at 07.00 local time today and warned its customers to expect a 24-48 hour delay in delivery times as it redirected traffic onto other lines in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is now leading the investigation into the cause of the accident which is the fourth involving crude oil trains in the past six months following derailments in Alabama in November, Alberta in October, both of which resulted in fires, and an explosion in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic which killed 47 people in July.
Transporting crude by rail is booming in the United States due to rail's ability to serve major new explorations in the Bakken region of North and South Dakota. Railways carried around 750,000 of the Bakken's 900,000 barrels per day output in October, a 67% increase from the same period in 2012.
However, the accident has resulted in further calls to review the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. North Dakota governor Mr Jack Dalrymple, and US Senator Mr John Hoeven met with BNSF CEO Mr Matthew Rose in the aftermath of the accident to their express concern and to call for a review of safety procedures, while others argue that the string of accidents in the past few months adds weight to the case to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which has so far been rejected by the Obama administration.