ND crash highlights dangers of old train cars

N.D. train crash still burning, fire hamperin... 02:26

CASSELTON, N.D - The North Dakota train derailment, which lead to several massive explosions and an evacuation order, is raising questions about the safety of transporting crude oil by rail.

The BNSF Railway train that derailed about a mile from the small town of Cassleton, North Dakota, caused a series of toxic explosions that continues to burn a full day later. While no one was injured in the accident, this isn’t the first of its kind.

A fireball seen from the train derailment outside Cassleton, N.D. CBS News
In July, a freight train carrying oil derailed in Quebec, Canada. 47 people died in the ensuing fire.

The oil boom in America meant record traffic for the nation's railroads, but it also means increasing concerns about safety, especially with tracks passing directly through some towns.

Patricia Reilly of The Association of American Railroads defends the industry.

“The rail industry this year alone moved over 400-thousand car loads of crude oil,” Reilly said. “And including the North Dakota accident yesterday, we've only had three incidences involving crude oil. The industry can always be safer." 

The billowing smoke rising from the train explosion can be seen miles away CBS
 With safety in mind, Reilly’s group wants the government to require some older rail cars carrying oil to be strengthened or phased out.

It’s this type of train car that NTSB investigators say may be burning in Casselton, North Dakota. But no one can be sure until the fire is out.

“Our biggest challenge right now is that the fire is still burning and we’re not able to get up close and personal to the wreckage until the fire has gone out and the scene declared safe,” said Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators do believe that 10 cars of a train, headed westbound and carrying grain, derailed and spilled onto adjoining tracks just before an eastbound train carrying crude oil came through. The second train hit debris from the derailment.

While this accident is unfortunate, it may be the wake up call the rail industry needs in order to reform and make the entire operation safer in the future.