The rail tracks run straight through the middle of Casselton, a town of 2,400 people about 25 miles west of Fargo. McConnell estimated that dozens of people could have been killed if the derailments had happened within city limits. He said it is time to "have a conversation" with federal lawmakers about the dangers of transporting oil by rail.
"There have been numerous derailments in this area," he told The Associated Press. "It's almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we're going to have an accident, it's when. We dodged a bullet by having it out of town, but this is too close for comfort."
A train carrying crude from North Dakota's Bakken oil patch crashed in Quebec last summer and 47 people died in the ensuing fire.
North Dakota is the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., trailing only Texas, and a growing amount of that is being shipped by rail. The state's top oil regulator said earlier this month that he expected as much as 90 percent of North Dakota's oil would be carried by train in 2014, up from the current 60 percent.
The number of crude oil carloads hauled by U.S. railroads surged from 10,840 in 2009 to a projected 400,000 this year. Despite the increase, the rate of accidents has stayed relatively steady. Railroads say 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipments reach destinations safely.
Shipping oil by pipeline has to be a safer option, McConnell said Tuesday.
Authorities haven't yet been able to untangle exactly what caused the derailment. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said another train carrying grain derailed first, and that this knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
BNSF said both trains had more than 100 cars each.
The NTSB said Monday night it had launched a "go-team" to investigate this latest derailment.