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Blake Nicholson, Published July 30 2013

Crash with Amtrak train in ND kills bulldozer driver

BISMARCK — A bulldozer operator was killed after his vehicle collided with an Amtrak train in northwest North Dakota, and hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the locomotive as its front wheels came off the tracks, authorities said Tuesday.

Dennis McQueen, 45, of Williston, was killed in the collision, according to the Highway Patrol. He was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the bulldozer, authorities said. He was flown to a Williston hospital, where he died.

Amtrak's Empire Builder train was traveling eastbound with 326 passengers and crew when it collided with the bulldozer at a private crossing 9 miles west of Trenton about 7:30 p.m. Monday. No train passengers were hurt. Two train engineers were treated at a Williston hospital for minor injuries and released, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The incident delayed the train more than 11 hours, Magliari said.

"Aside from the tragic nature of what occurred with the operator of the construction equipment, this has delayed several hundred people that were making their way across the country," he said.

The crossing is an entrance to a private gravel pit and has stop signs but no crossing arms, patrol Sgt. Darcy Aberle said.

The patrol said there was significant damage to the lead locomotive of the train. Magliari did not immediately have a monetary estimate early Tuesday.

The front wheels of the locomotive came off the tracks, and fewer than 500 gallons of diesel fuel spilled. The spill was quickly cleaned up, according to Magliari.

The damaged locomotive was left behind to be repaired, and the 13-car train continued on with the aid of two BNSF Railway freight locomotives. The Empire Builder runs on BNSF Railway tracks, and the two companies often help out one another, Magliari said.

Locomotives are needed not only to propel the train, but also to run comfort systems such as toilets and air conditioning, he said.

Amtrak's Empire Builder line connects the Midwest with the Pacific Northwest, stretching from Chicago to Seattle and to Portland, Ore. Other stops Grand Forks, Fargo and Minneapolis.