Minot train derailment
|Date||January 18, 2002|
|Location||Ward County, North Dakota|
|Operator||Canadian Pacific Railway|
|Type of incident||Derailment|
|Cause||Joint fatigue, improper maintenance|
The Minot train derailment occurred just outside Minot, North Dakota, on January 18, 2002, when a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train derailed in Harrison Township in Ward County, west of Minot, spilling hazardous materials.
At approximately 1:37 a.m. CST, 30 cars of a Canadian Pacific train derailed about four miles west of the city center, in a development called Terracita Vallejo. Five tanker cars carrying anhydrous ammonia ruptured, releasing a cloud of caustic, poisonous gas over the city.:1 Soon after the derailment, a large area around the derailed train was evacuated, and residents in the remainder of the city were told to stay indoors. The accident killed one person, caused serious injuries to 11 people (including the two train crew members), and caused minor injuries to 322 others.:11
Dispatchers told residents to close doors and windows, boil water, and cover their faces with wet cloths to counteract the ammonia.
Emergency response to the disaster was disorganized. Local emergency managers did not activate the city's radio-based Emergency Alert System. The public siren system failed during the event and the 911 telephone system became overloaded. Because it was the middle of the night, there were few people at local radio stations, all operated by Clear Channel with mostly automated programming. No formal emergency warnings were issued for several hours while Minot officials located station managers at home. North Dakota's public radio network, Prairie Public Broadcasting, was notified and did broadcast warnings to citizens.
The incident has been cited as an example of the physical dangers of media consolidation and the currently prevalent cost-cutting measure of not keeping overnight staff at stations. Even without activation of the Emergency Alert System, a live announcer would still have been able to warn citizens of the emergency via the traditional means of the broadcast signal and an on-air microphone. As local stations were running in automated mode, there was nobody on-site to interrupt programming and issue warnings concerning the disaster.
By the morning of January 18, the cloud was dissipating, but covered a wider area of the city. Governor John Hoeven arrived on a North Dakota National Guard helicopter to survey the disaster, landing near Dakota Square Mall for a brief press conference.
The accident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB determined that the train crew was operating their train at the appropriate speed through the region and adhering to operating procedures, and did not have alcohol or drugs in their system. Therefore crew training or operation were ruled out as factors.:53 The NTSB found evidence at the derailment site of fatigue cracking on the rail and on joint bars used to connect sections of track together. The joint bar failed, followed by failure of the rail itself, causing the train to derail.:53-54 The NTSB determined that the railway was using visual inspection to inspect tracks in the area, and that this was inadequate to identify small fatigue cracks.:55 As a result, the NTSB determined the probable cause of the derailment to be ineffective Canadian Pacific inspection and maintenance procedures, which resulted in failure to replace cracked joint bars before they fractured.:69
Coverage and aftermath
The derailment made national news in the United States and Canada, though the CP involvement perhaps encouraged broader coverage in the latter. CBC reporters were on the scene the day of the disaster, and filed reports on the aftermath on the national news programs throughout the week, while ABC News provided only a short clip the day of the disaster.
Cleanup operations began around 24 hours after the wreck, as soon as the gas cloud had dissipated enough to allow workers to safely get near the train. As part of the operations, CP removed ammonia-contaminated ice from the Souris River to avoid further environmental damage. After the disaster, CP opened a claims office in Minot to avoid a larger lawsuit. Residents were offered several hundred dollars as a settlement, waiving their rights to pursue a claim in court.
The NTSB estimated that the accident caused over $2 million in damages, and another $8 million in environmental cleanup costs.:1
Following the incident, the Minot city council imposed a speed limit on trains passing through the city.
- "Derailment of Canadian Pacific Railway Freight Train 292-16 and Subsequent Release of Anhydrous Ammonia Near Minot, North Dakota, January 18, 2002" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. March 9, 2004. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
- "Minot train derailment kills one, injures dozens". CBC. January 18, 2002.
- "EXCLUSIVE... 911 Calls in North Dakota Town Reveal Dangers of Media Consolidation". Democracy Now. January 25, 2007.
- "Reconsidering Minot and EAS". NewBay Media. Retrieved October 12, 2010.
- Klinenberg, Eric. Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media. Holt: New York, 2008.