A BNSF oil train and a semi-truck carrying flour collided near First Street and Hastings Avenue in St. Paul Park Sunday, spilling bags of flour onto the roadway and closing the intersection for hours.
There were no injuries reported and the train did not derail or lose any contents.
According to Police Chief Mike Monahan, a southbound BNSF train, driven by engineer Keith Ryan of La Crosse, was hauling crude oil when it smashed into a Werner Enterprises freight truck, which was westbound on First Street. The truck was driven by Anthony Leake of Sapulpa, Okla.
Mayor Keith Franke said the intersection doesn’t have a safety arm but does have lights. Amy McBeth, regional director of public affairs for BNSF, said the lights "were working as intended."
“Whenever any incident happens on our railroad we investigate it fully and we’ll look at the train handling, we’ll look at the operation of the signal, all of those things, and work with local law enforcement as they conduct their investigation,” McBeth said.
Monahan said it is uncertain at this point what caused the collision, but that the police department is conducting a “thorough investigation.”
The intersection of First Street and Hastings Avenue has been on the city’s mind recently, and is one that officials want to see closed.
“We have increased truck traffic, we have increased train traffic, and more and more of these oil tankers coming through,” Franke said. “In a perfect storm, it could be a lot worse.”
McBeth said BNSF has been working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city of St. Paul Park to close the intersection, which is abutting the city of Newport. But in order to do that part of the nearby land, which is privately owned, needs to be vacated.
“We’ve talked about it for a while but we got a lot more traction once (Gov.) Dayton put it on his transportation safety package,” Franke said.
The St. Paul Park rail crossing is one of several slated for safety improvements following the release of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s recent freight rail safety report. It studied the main rail corridors - including BNSF’s Twin Cities to Fargo/Moorhead route - that carry Bakken crude oil from North Dakota through Minnesota.
McBeth added that BNSF has a program in place to help communities “close crossings where they might be redundant or have a nearby overpass or underpass.” The First Street and Hastings Avenue roadway crossing is approximately a half-mile from 70th Street overpass.
“If there is no longer a roadway crossing, there it reduces the potential for risk.”
Part of the larger issue, McBeth said, is preventing collisions altogether.
“At BNSF safety is our top priority,” she said. “We have strict operating procedures, and all of those things we work on on the prevention side to prevent derailments or collisions before they occur.”
Crews were still cleaning up the flour hours after the incident, but shortly after 4 p.m. the BNSF train started moving.
“Depending on how the truck was hit, where the truck was hit, you see that they are tanker trucks, it could have been an explosion upon an explosion,” Franke said. “This is the best case scenario here.”