Matthew Brown / File / AP

Montana train derailment spills crude oil

Three rail cars continue to leak crude; Amtrak suspends rail service in the area

An evacuation order has been lifted for a rural area of eastern Montana after a train hauling oil from North Dakota derailed and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil, prompting the suspension of Amtrak service in the area.

Authorities said Friday that three of the 21 train cars that derailed from the 106-car train were leaking oil. Transportation officials estimated that 35,000 gallons were spilled in the crash. Such cars typically haul about 30,000 gallons of oil each.

The derailment is the latest in a series of recent oil train accidents across North America, including a 2013 derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people when a train exploded in downtown Lac Megantic. Critics have questioned whether adequate safety standards are in place in the United States to ensure such a disaster doesn’t occur, after a series of similar derailments in mostly in rural areas.

A hazardous-materials team used earthen dams to contain Thursday night's spill east of the small town of Culbertson near the North Dakota state line, according to a memo sent by Michael Turnbull of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He said the oil had not affected any waterways.

Unlike in many prior crashes, no explosions or fire were reported after the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train derailed Thursday night in Montana. Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Sheriff Corey Reum said the train knocked over a power line and firefighters planned to spray foam on the wreckage to prevent an ignition.

Authorities had earlier ordered an evacuation for everyone within a one-mile radius of the crash site, a local NBC affiliate reported. U.S. Highway 2 was shut down through the area, and all traffic was detoured along country roads, NBC added.

Police, fire and other emergency responders were at the site of the derailment.

Craig Shultz from Amtrak said that the company would bus stranded passengers from Wolf Point to Minot so that they could resume their travel, NBC Montana reported. He said the situation was "quite a challenge," and that there would be delays.

The derailment came about six hours after rail traffic started moving again following another BNSF derailment farther west, near Fort Kipp, on Tuesday, the Billings Gazette reported.

In the earlier derailment, Amtrak passengers were also stranded near Fort Kipp, and were left waiting for over 18 hours, NBC Montana reported.

Rail officials declined to specify if the train was hauling crude from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch, where growing numbers of shipments have raised safety concerns because it is more flammable than other types of oil.

U.S. transportation officials recently extended an order for railroads to notify states about shipments of hazardous crude oil shipments and put in place new rules that require sturdier construction of tank cars containing dangerous liquids. Critics have said the rules do not do enough to keep cars on the tracks.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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