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Crews work to reopen BNSF rail lines after ND derailment

Work continued Monday at the scene of a train derailment in Page. A leaking tanker car containing methanol, also known as wood alcohol, burned at the heart of the wreckage. Dave Olson / The Forum

PAGE, N.D. - Repair crews working around the clock expect to have rail lines open for traffic by early today near this community where 37 train cars derailed Sunday afternoon.

For part of Monday, a leaking tanker car containing methanol, also known as wood alcohol, burned at the heart of the wreckage while crews systematically cleared the area of debris, said to Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman.

The fire was extinguished by early afternoon and the car was removed from the area, said Melonas, who said investigators had not determined an official cause for the derailment, which occurred on a curve of track about a mile east and a half mile south of Page.

City officials said the incident happened in an area where a train derailed about 20 years ago.

Melonas said there was no connection between the two incidents.

When the derailment happened about 12:40 p.m. Sunday, it ignited an explosion heard by many in the community, said Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney.

"It shook the foundations it was so loud," said Laney, whose department set up a command center in Page to deal with the incident.

It is believed the explosion occurred in an empty tanker car that was carrying liquid propane, Laney said.

It was likely the fumes in the empty tanker were ignited by the force of the wreck, he said.

"We're moving forward very methodically. We haven't had one single injury. Our goal is to keep it that way," Laney said Monday.

Kris Roberts of the North Dakota Department of Health said methanol is a poison and it isn't known how much methanol leaked from the wrecked train car.

"And we won't know until we can get in there and assess the situation," he said.

Page Mayor Shane Larck said response to the incident was swift.

"Our fire department did an excellent job, along with sheriff's department. They secured the situation quickly," Lark said.

Melonas said crews worked around the clock to clear wreckage from the tracks and set it aside.

He said it will likely be days or weeks before all of it is hauled away.

While train and law enforcement crews worked into the night Sunday, the Page Café stayed open until midnight keeping people fueled up, said Joanne Erickson, a café employee who was not on duty Sunday but was helping handle a lunch-hour rush Monday.