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Railroad Safety


Railroads were crucial in opening North Dakota to settlement. The Northern Pacific pushed into northern Dakota Territory in 1871. By the time of statehood in 1889, railroad companies had laid 2,093 miles of track here. The main railroad companies were the Northern Pacific, running from Fargo to Beach, and the Manitoba, which ran from Grand Forks to Williston. The Manitoba became the Great Northern. Hundreds of miles of branch lines created a spider web of tracks.

On this date in in 1905, the Williston Graphic reported that a man had been killed in a train accident. Fifty-four year old Vincent Prokupek was walking on the tracks when he was struck by a southbound passenger train about a half mile north of Williston. Prokupek had been a long-time resident of the area.

Another 1905 accident occurred when a car on a Northern Pacific freight train suffered a broken carriage, collapsing onto the track. The accident tore up about a quarter of a mile of track and caused a serious delay. In 1906 a Great Northern passenger train derailed near Bartlett, and only a year later another Great Northern train derailed at almost the same location, killing eleven people and injuring twelve.

The worst wreck in North Dakota history occurred near Michigan in 1945. A passenger train stopped on the tracks outside of town due to mechanical difficulties. Before warning flares could be put out, another train plowed into the rear car. The death toll reached thirty-four.

Today, trains of oil tankers are considered a greater danger than passenger trains as crude shipments increased with the oil boom. In 2009, trains hauled almost 30,000 cars of crude. In 2010, that number jumped to nearly a half million cars.

Still fresh in memory is the 2013 derailment of a BNSF grain train near Casselton. An oil train struck the derailment creating a huge fire. And even more recently, in 2015, a BNSF oil train with 109 cars derailed near Heimdal. Ten caught on fire, prompting an evacuation of the town. That same year, new regulations were passed to help lower the risks.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

The Williston Graphic. “Killed on Tracks.” 26 January, 2905.

The History Channel. “The First Railroad Accident.” "http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-railroad-accident" http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-first-railroad-accident Accessed 14 January, 2017.

North Dakota Studies. “Railroads Open Dakota for Settlement.” "http://www.ndstudies.org/articles/railroads_open_dakota_for_settlement" http://www.ndstudies.org/articles/railroads_open_dakota_for_settlement Accessed 14 January, 2017.

GenDisasters. “North Dakota Train Wrecks and Accidents.” "http://www.gendisasters.com/mainlist/northdakota/Train%20Wrecks%20and%20Accidents" http://www.gendisasters.com/mainlist/northdakota/Train%20Wrecks%20and%20Accidents Accessed 14 January, 2017.

National Transportation Safety Board. "https://app.ntsb.gov/investigations/2013/casselton_nd/casselton_nd.html" https://app.ntsb.gov/investigations/2013/casselton_nd/casselton_nd.html Accessed 14 January, 2017.

Los Angeles Times. “North Dakota town evacuated after latest oil train car explosion.” 6 May, 2015.