FARGO, N.D. — The 911 dispatch recordings from the fiery Dec. 30 train derailment west of Casselton show initial confusion about whether the burning cargo on board was crude oil or ethanol.
One of the train crew members told emergency dispatchers in Fargo that the train was hauling ethanol, according to the recordings.
The caller said it appeared that two trains were involved, "a loaded ethanol and an empty ethanol train" but he couldn't determine the number of cars.
"For sure there's one ruptured, but I'd be worried about these empties blowing up," he said.
The substance actually was highly flammable crude oil from western North Dakota.
An employee of the nearby Tharaldson Ethanol plant who also called 911 told the dispatcher that the burning cars appeared to be carrying oil.
Officials said a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed first, and a portion of it fell onto an adjacent track carrying the eastbound oil train. Eighteen cars on the 106-car oil train derailed and several exploded and burned.
No one was hurt, but many of the 2,400 residents of Casselton left their homes until Tuesday afternoon because of potentially unsafe air.
The BNSF Railway lines reopened three days after the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the cause of the derailment. It could be a year or more before a final determination is made.
Members of North Dakota's congressional delegation say they plan to press federal officials for more information about the derailment and are interested in finding the best way to transport oil. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Sen. John Hoeven say they're concerned about the impact of recent accidents and are expressing concern for North Dakota residents who live along the path of oil tankers.