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Four Hurt as BNSF Oil Train Hits Semi Carrying Anhydrous Ammonia at Unguarded, Dangerous Crossing

(Murdock, Minnesota – May 7, 2013)

 The second collision this year between a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train and an 18-wheeler at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of 100th Avenue SE and BNSF rails resulted in injury to both the driver of the tank truck, which was carrying anhydrous ammonia, and three members of the train crew about 8:30 A.M. Tuesday morning near the small western Minnesota community of Murdock.

The Kansas City-bound train struck the rear of the tank truck’s trailer, spinning it around and compromising the trailer through a small leak of the extremely toxic contents generally used as farm fertilizer. The crossing is adjacent to the Koch Nitrogen Plant and has only standard, passive railroad crossbuck and highway “stop” signs as protection from the 13 trains that traverse the crossing daily at a top allowable speed of 40 mph.

Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas which gives off a sweet odor and is mainly used as fertilizer. However, in concentrated amounts, exposure to the toxic gas can lead to severe respiratory injuries, lung damage and even death.

Even though authorities claimed the situation posed no danger, police still shut down Minnesota Highway 12, which parallels the BNSF railroad tracks for miles, and students were evacuated from the Murdock Elementary School and transferred to a safe haven at the district’s high school building in Kerkhoven, MN as a precaution.

On January 23 of this year, a similar accident occurred between a BNSF train and an 18-wheeler, and a third such train/semi-trailer truck collision was recorded at the same intersection October 5, 2005. Yet, with all the warnings through repeated, similar accidents, railroad, state and county officials obviously see no reason to install active crossing protection devices such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates even though the Association of American Railroads released a study five years ago that claimed the presence of such signalization could prevent 93% of the accidents and deaths occurring at railroad crossings.