It’s Been 22 Years Since the Minot Train Derailment, Yet Problems Still Abound

It’s Been 22 Years Since the Minot Train Derailment, Yet Problems Still AboundOn January 18, 2024, Inforum published an article in “The Vault” section of their site, talking about the day a CP292-16 derailed on its way to St. Paul. The train had been carrying anhydrous ammonia in 15 tanks, and seven of those tanks sustained damage. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of ammonia were released.

It’s a really well-written piece; we’d recommend it. The article was published on the 22nd anniversary of that derailment, but it doesn’t feel like 22 years to us. We lived through that nightmare twice: as residents of Minot, and as attorneys for the largest group of plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Canadian Pacific Railway. We remember the toxic cloud that settled over our houses and blocked out any lights that managed to stay on, given that the train cars took out power lines. We remember not knowing what happened because the radios weren’t broadcasting the news. We remember holding wet cloths up to our faces to keep the ammonia from burning our eyes, noses, and throats. (Ask our firm founder how he fared in the days after the derailment, and he’ll tell you about his horses.)

We remember folks being scared, but we also remember people helping each other through it. Those were our neighbors who suffered injuries and illnesses – many of them with permanent scarring and damage. When we took on that lawsuit, it was personal for us in many ways.

We’re really proud of the work we did for our neighbors. A lot of systems failed that night – the train tracks themselves, the way inspections were done, how information was relayed (or not, as it were) via radio. The justice system didn’t fail, though. Our work helped the families who were hurt and ensured that CPR was held accountable. The derailment in Minot also helped spur the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which was supposed to make us all safer.

All of this got us thinking. We recently passed the one year anniversary of the East Palestine, OH train derailment – another preventable train accident that released 100,000+ gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground, water, and sky. So, we took a look to see if any new legislation or regulations have been put in place to prevent it from happening again.

As it turns out, no. In fact, if the New York Times is correct, the number of train accidents increased last year:

Derailments rose at the top five freight railroads in 2023, according to regulatory reports for the first 10 months of the year, the most recent period for which data exists for all five companies.


[T]he five Class 1 freight railroads operating in the United States — Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National — reported 256 accidents on their main lines last year through October [2023], an 11 percent increase over the same period in 2022, according to data compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration. The five railroads had reported an aggregate decline in accidents in 2021 and 2022.

Derailments, the most common accident, were up 13.5 percent last year, and “obstruction accidents,” a term used to describe a train striking certain objects, and the second most common category, rose 21 percent.

What happened to the Railway Safety Act?

Remember the Railway Safety Act? One of Ohio’s Senators introduced it in March 2023, and it was supposed to update safety regulations for HAZMAT-carrying trains. It was supposed to increase the fines for railways that violated safety regulations, phase out certain kinds of tanker cars, require two-people crews for freight trains, and more. It had 11 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle in the Senate, and 17 cosponsors on the version in the House. It was a pretty good bill – one that was easy to support, even if the idea of adding more federal regulation to anything makes you feel a little queasy.

And then it stalled. The Association of American Railroads, an “industry trade group” – AKA, a lobbyist group – said it had some problems with the way the bill was worded, and that was that. The bill never went to a vote.

But it still can. And we can encourage our own Senators and Congressman to take up this bill once again and get it passed, no matter what the railroad lobbyists say. What happened in Minot 22 years ago should have been enough to make sure East Palestine’s tragedy never happened, but it wasn’t. So it’s time to rectify that error and get this new bill passed.

Help in the event of another train derailment or crash in North Dakota

In the meantime, Larson Law is here to help if you are injured in any train-related accident. We have proven that we can take on the railroads and win for our clients, and we’ll fight for you, too. Our railroad accident lawyers in Minot, Fargo, and Bismarck handle toxic exposure claims from HAZMAT crashes as well as injury and wrongful death claims stemming from:

We practice in both state and federal court (North Dakota and Minnesota), including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

Larson Law has a team of skilled personal injury attorneys ready and willing to help when you need us the most. We provide legal services to injured parties across North Dakota, including in and around Minot, Fargo, and Bismarck. To learn more about our services, please call us or fill out our contact form.