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Accident Report Detail

BNSF Railway Unit Ethanol Train Derailment

Executive Summary

On September 19, 2015, about 6:18 a.m., central daylight time, BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) unit ethanol train GMNXDPK717, with 3 locomotives, 96 loaded tank cars, and 2 hopper cars filled with sand, derailed at a small bridge at milepost (MP) 597.7 near Lesterville, South Dakota. Seven cars (tank car 2 through tank car 8 from the head end of the train) derailed. Two of the derailed cars breached and released 49,743 gallons of denatured fuel ethanol (ethanol) that caught fire. A third car leaked ethanol from its bottom outlet valve. There were no injuries and no evacuation. The estimated damage was $1.1 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the broken rail, derailment, and subsequent fire was BNSF Railway Company’s decision to defer track maintenance and continue to operate high-hazard flammable unit trains on the Aberdeen Subdivision. Contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration’s track maintenance regulation that allowed high-hazard flammable unit trains to continue to operate after the track was reclassified to a lower standard. Contributing to the tank car breach and subsequent fire was the continued use of legacy US Department of Transportation-111 tank cars to carry flammable products.

Accident Location: Lesterville , SD    
Accident Date: 9/19/2015
Accident ID: DCA15FR016

Date Adopted: 6/26/2017
NTSB Number: RAB-17-07
NTIS Number:  

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