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Kyle Potter, Published December 31 2013

Governor: Casselton train crash a ‘huge accident’ but a coincidence

CASSELTON, N.D. – Gov. Jack Dalrymple called Monday’s fiery train crash in Casselton, his hometown, a “huge accident” that could have been far worse.

Dalrymple is set to visit the site of the crash later this afternoon, where he will meet with local officials and federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to discuss accident response, safety and what may have caused the crash.

The fire started about 2:10 p.m. when an eastbound 106-car train carrying crude oil crashed into a derailed westbound grain train half-mile west of Casselton. More than 10 of those oil cars eventually caught fire and exploded, belching a thick cloud of black smoke into the air that led local and county officials to urge the 2,400 citizens of Casselton to evacuate.

In an interview with The Forum, Dalrymple said he plans to ask the NTSB whether anything could have been done to prevent the crash. He said it’s currently unclear how long the first train was derailed before it was struck.

“It’s a huge accident, I don’t think there’s any denying that,” the governor said. “There are a lot of questions, and I suppose the first one is: How did this train derail in the first place?”

Dalrymple also acknowledged the accident may stir anxiety among North Dakotans, who may not have given second thought to hundreds of trains carrying oil through their towns. But he stressed that Monday’s crash was a "bad coincidence."

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502