UPDATE 4-BNSF oil train derails in rural Illinois; two cars aflame

Thu Mar 5, 2015 7:25pm EST
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(Updates to add detail from online photos)

By Edward McAllister and Catherine Ngai

NEW YORK, March 5 (Reuters) - A BNSF Railway train loaded with crude oil derailed and caught fire on Thursday afternoon in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, according to local officials and the company.

The incident marks the latest in a series of derailments in North America and the third in three weeks involving trains hauling crude oil, which has put a heightened focus on rail safety.

Dark smoke was seen for miles around the crash site, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency told local WREX.com that two of the cars were potentially on fire. Images posted online by Dubuque Scanner showed flames several hundred feet high, while aerial footage showed the wreck spread across two sets of track.

The train with 105 loaded cars - 103 of them carrying crude oil - derailed around 1:20 p.m. CST (1920 GMT), according to a BNSF statement. The incident occurred on what appears to be a major rail line alongside the Mississippi River that handles as many as 50 oil-trains a week, one official said.

"The sky is pretty dark down there, the smoke is pretty black," said Kevin Doyle, whose property borders the tracks. "If you're standing on the tracks you can throw a rock in the water."

BNSF said there were no reported injuries and no evacuations. The Berkshire Hathaway Inc unit did not know what had caused the derailment, which occurred about 3 miles outside Galena, a town of just over 3,000 on the border with Wisconsin.