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Larry Larsen, Mandan, N.D., Published January 11 2014

Letter: An oil train wreck all but certain

BNSF Railway is the second-largest freight railroad in North America. It is a subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. In 2011, revenue was $19.229 billion. When the report of the derailment and explosion at Casselton, N.D., occurred, it sent a shiver of fear up my spine.

My neighbors and I live close to the BNSF line that transports Bakken oil, as do many people along the Interstate 94 corridor. My home is 45 years old. When it was built only a few freight trains and passenger trains passed. Today, 20-plus trains, carrying freight, coal and now explosive crude oil pass through the center of Bismarck-Mandan.

The mushroom fireballs we saw on television and in The Forum amplified that concern. How could crude oil explode like that? Bakken crude oil has the consistency of gasoline. (Google: The high volatility of Bakken crude oil.) In the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Bakken oil would thin tar sands oil, but Bakken crude oil would still be sent east to refineries by rail. Many Main Avenue businesses in Bismarck are less the 100 feet from the tracks.

In July 2010, a BNSF coal train derailed along Apple Creek. In March 2011, 13 coal cars derailed in the 100 block of South Airport Road in Bismarck. It is only a matter of time before a train carrying flammable Bakken crude derails and vaporizes a portion of Bismarck-Mandan.

Options: Slow the trains to a crawl, but that would acerbate traffic problems at the Third and Fifth Street crossings. BNSF builds a new two-track Missouri River bridge and bypass, a greater distance to the north, around Bismarck-Mandan. Bypasses could also be done at other cities along the I-94 corridor, thus limiting and controlling BNSF’s potential liability from deaths and damage incurred. That is just good business.