EPA officials en route to incident 100 miles west of Minneapolis in which 22 cars were derailed with four catching fire

A train hauling ethanol and corn syrup derailed and caught fire in Minnesota early on Thursday and nearby residents were ordered to evacuate their homes, authorities said.

The BNSF train derailed in the town of Raymond, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis, at about 1am, according to the Kandiyohi county sheriff, Eric Tollefson.

The US has been increasingly focused on railroad safety after a fiery Norfolk Southern derailment last month that prompted evacuations in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border.

Residents in that town of about 5,000 remain concerned about health impacts after officials decided to release and burn toxic chemicals to prevent a tank car explosion. State and federal officials maintain no harmful levels of toxic chemicals have been found in the air or water but residents remain uneasy.

Major freight railroads have said they plan to add about 1,000 trackside detectors to help spot problems but federal regulators and members of Congress have proposed additional reforms to prevent derailments.

BNSF said 22 cars derailed in Minnesota but no injuries were reported. Environmental Protection Agency officials said four ethanol cars ruptured and caught fire and continued to burn shortly before 10am on Thursday.

“The main track is blocked and an estimated time for reopening the line is not available,” said a statement from a BNSF spokesperson, Lena Kent. “The cause of the incident is under investigation.”

Homes in a half-mile area around the site were evacuated, Tollefson said, and residents were taken to a shelter in Prinsburg.

The US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told CNN about 14 cars were carrying hazardous materials. BNSF said the only hazardous material on board was ethanol.

“We’ve been in touch with the governor,” Buttigieg said, adding that EPA officials were en route to the site “given the hazardous material situation”. The EPA started monitoring the air around the derailment for toxic chemicals by 6.30am.

The governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, said he would visit the site with state emergency management officials.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were all responding to the derailment. The NTSB said a team would conduct a safety investigation.

It did not appear likely that the BNSF train would have been covered by additional safety regulations for high-hazardous flammable trains because those rules only apply when a train has either a block of 20 flammable liquid cars or more than 35 total flammable liquid cars on the train.

Rules that require additional safety measures and notice to states were developed after a string of fiery crude oil and ethanol derailments a decade ago.

Earlier this month, a BNSF train derailed in Washington state and spilled 3,100 gallons of diesel fuel near the Swinomish Channel on that tribe’s reservation, after a safety device meant to keep a train from crossing on to an open swinging bridge malfunctioned.

The Association of American Railroads trade group says 99.9% of all hazardous materials shipments that railroads haul reach their destinations safety.

But the Minnesota derailment and the one in Ohio demonstrate how even a single crash involving hazardous materials can be disastrous.

Railroads say safety has generally been improving but there were still more than 1,000 derailments last year, according to FRA data.

Hazardous materials account for about 7% to 8% of 30m shipments railroads deliver across the US each year.

Extracted in full from: Residents evacuated after train carrying ethanol derails in Minnesota | Minnesota | The Guardian