Tag Archives: Cass County ND

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

Repost from INFORUM, Fargo ND

Second train worker sues BNSF over Casselton oil train explosion

By Emily Welker on Nov 19, 2015 at 5:30 a.m.
Smoke rises from scene of a derailed train near Casselton, North Dakota December 30, 2013. Michael Vosburg / The Forum

FARGO – A train conductor in the massive oil tanker train derailment and explosion in Casselton about two years ago is suing BNSF Railway, claiming its negligent safety practices left him injured in the wreck.

It’s the second lawsuit filed in Cass County District Court by a railroad worker in connection with the derailment and explosion, which prompted evacuations in Casselton as thick smoke billowed from oil tanker fires that burned for more than a day. An eastbound 106-car BNSF train hauling oil struck a derailed westbound train hauling soybeans on Dec. 30, 2013, about a half-mile outside of Casselton.

The latest lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Burleigh County train conductor Peter Riepl, says that Riepl was working as conductor on the train, which was loaded with crude oil from the Oil Patch in western North Dakota. The oil train’s lead locomotive hit a railcar from the derailed soybean train, forcing the oil train to derail, the lawsuit says. It says as the oil tankers on Riepl’s train began to catch fire and explode, he leapt from the train to escape and was injured.

The lawsuit claims BNSF was negligent in its safety practices, including in its failure to follow federal and state laws and regulations, and in failing to adopt safe methods to transport hazardous materials.

It also claims that Riepl injured his back two years before that while working on a BNSF train near Stanton, N.D., when he hit his foot on an unsafe section of flooring and fell, also due to the railroad’s negligence.

The suit doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount, but says Riepl suffered severe and permanent damages and wants the railroad to pay for those losses and damages, including his medical care.

Attorneys on both sides couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday, and no response to Riepl’s lawsuit had yet been filed in court.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said in an email, “BNSF values Mr. Peter Riepl as an employee, and we are reluctant to say anything about him or his lawsuit outside of the context of his case.”

In their legal response to a similar lawsuit filed in earlier this year in connection with the Casselton derailment, BNSF officials denied any negligence.

That suit, filed by Fargo train engineer Bryan Thompson, also claimed BNSF failed to warn its train workers about the dangers of oil tanker trains and didn’t take appropriate safety precautions.

Thompson claims he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the crash, and he was forced to leave his career as a train engineer.

BNSF officials said in their response that Thompson’s suit might be barred by the terms of the federal Railroad Safety Act. The lawsuit is still pending. A trial is set for August 2017.

The Casselton derailment received nationwide coverage, coming just a few months after a train carrying North Dakota crude rolled down a hill and exploded, killing 47 people in Quebec. The crashes contributed to an ongoing national discussion about the risk of hauling crude oil overland from North Dakota’s Oil Patch.

The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t released the final results of its investigation of the crash.

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    Locomotive Engineer of Exploding North Dakota “Bomb Train” Sues BNSF

    Repost from DeSmogBlog

    BNSF Engineer Who Manned Exploding North Dakota “Bomb Train” Sues Former Employer

    By Steve Horn, April 2, 2015 13:54

    A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) employee who worked as a locomotive engineer on the company’s oil-by-rail train that exploded in rural Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013 has sued his former employer.

    Filed in Cass County North Dakota, the plaintiff Bryan Thompson alleges he “was caused to suffer and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” including but not limited to ongoing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues.

    Thompson’s attorney, Thomas Flaskamp, told DeSmogBlog he “delayed filing [the lawsuit until now] primarily to get an indication as to the direction of where Mr. Thompson’s care and treatment for his PTSD arising out of the incident was heading,” which he says is still being treated by a psychiatrist.

    The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the oil-by-rail world, the only time to date that someone working on an exploding oil train has taken legal action against his employer using the Federal Employers’ Liability Act.

    BNSF Engineer Casselton Lawsuit

    Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

    “Run for His Life”

    In the aftermath of the Casselton explosion, rail industry consultant Sheldon Lustig told the Associated Press that freight trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin are akin to “bomb trains,” putting the now oft-used term on the map for the first time. 

    Since Casselton, several other oil-by-rail explosions and disasters have ensued in the U.S. 

    Thompson experienced the wrath of an exploding “bomb train” up close and personal. 

    Flaskamp told The Forum newspaper in Fargo, North Dakota that Thompson had to “run for his life” to escape the train he was manning once it derailed after colliding with an oncoming grain train.

    Behind him, tank cars were starting to derail, catch fire and explode,” Flaskamp told The Forum of Thompson, who is in his 30s and is currently in school to obtain a teaching degree.

    The plaintiffs allege BNSF, owned by multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, violated the Federal Employers’ Liability Act in multiple ways.

    They include “failing and neglecting to provide [Thompson] with a reasonably safe place to work” and “failing to warn [him] of the dangers of hauling explosive oil tank railcars and the tendencies of these railcars to rupture and explode upon suffering damage.”

    BNSF Employee Casselton Lawsuit
    Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

    BNSF‘s Knowledge

    In the aftermath of the Casselton explosion, DeSmogBlog reported that the company that owned the terminal intended to receive that oil — which owns a facility in Missouri that off-loads the oil into barges in the Mississippi River — notified the Missouri government on its permit application that the oil it planned to handle has high levels of volatile chemicals.

    Put another way, BNSF may have known quite a bit more about the danger of carrying Bakken fracked oil than it ever told Thompson. And that will likely serve as a contentious point in the case as it snakes its way forward in Cass County court.

    BNSF knew or should have known of the dangerous nature of the cargo it required its crews to transport and should have exercised great care in its transport,” Flaskamp told DeSmogBlog. “The Answer to the complaint which will be filed by the BNSF will be telling as to their theories of defense.”

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