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Fargo train derailment worries discussed

FARGO — What if the fiery Casselton derailment on Dec. 30 had not happened a half-mile west of the small town, but in the heart of downtown Fargo?

That’s the sobering – and difficult – question Cass County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness tried to answer Tuesday at North Dakota State University.

About 5,000-plus residents would have been evacuated within a 1 1/4- mile radius of the intersection of Broadway and Main Avenues, as compared to the roughly 1,500 who left Casselton as smoke drifted over their homes.

The explosions of several tank cars hauling crude would inflict hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to businesses and buildings.

“It would take several years to rebuild and recover,” Rogness told a crowd of students at a forum hosted by the school’s Department of Emergency Services.

And there would be injuries and fatalities.

How many?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said.

Rogness said he looked at the tragic derailment in Quebec last summer as a model for what might happen in Fargo. On July 6, a parked train hauling Bakken crude hurtled into Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying much of the small town.

In Casselton, an eastbound train hauling Bakken crude collided with a derailed grain train heading west, triggering explosions, a massive fire and spilling more than 450,000 barrels of oil.

Rogness has spent years overseeing spring flooding preparations in Cass County, and has plenty of good stories to tell about keeping the waters at bay.

But with 10 oil trains – each carrying more than 3 million gallons of volatile Bakken crude – passing through the metro each day, Rogness worries the same won’t be true of a massive derailment.

“We can’t say that we’re going to have the same outcomes,” he said.

Kyle Potter
Kyle Potter is an enterprise reporter at the Forum. He came to Fargo-Moorhead in May 2013 after stints at the Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minnesota Daily. 
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