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9 empty oil tank cars derail in North Dakota

BISMARCK — BNSF Railway says nine empty oil tanker cars derailed after a train was hit by a pickup truck just outside of western North Dakota's Oil Patch, the latest in a string of 'crude-by-rail' accidents that have prompted calls for stricter safety regulations in North America.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth says the derailment occurred about 6:45 a.m. Sunday, about 60 miles southeast of Minot. The train was traveling west. 

McBeth says there were no injuries to the pickup driver or to personnel on the train. She says the incident is under investigation.

The mile-long train, with 104 empty oil tanker cars, was coming from Oklahoma to get filled with North Dakota crude oil.

Transporting crude oil by train has become increasingly popular especially from North Dakota's Bakken shale oil formation, where the unexpected surge in production in recent years has outpaced any expansion of the pipeline network. But as ferrying crude by rail jumped to around 770,000 barrels per day now from just 23,000 bpd in 2009, so has the potential for accidents.

The most serious rail disaster hit the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, in Quebec, where 47 people died after a runaway train that was supposed to be stationary on an incline derailed and crashed, causing several tank cars to explode.

Last month several oil tank cars burst into flames after a derailment in Alabama, creating an oil spill, although no one was injured.

Such incidents have prompted calls for better testing of potentially explosive ultra-light shale crude and improved rail tank car standards.

The Association of American Railroads has urged regulators to improve safety standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, including phasing out some old cars.

McBeth says the railroad hoped to have the damaged rail cars cleared and the line reopened on Monday morning.

Reuters and Associated Press reports