NATIONAL NEWS

Work begins to clean up train derailment in Montana’s Yellowstone River

Jun 26, 2023, 4:23 PM

Several train cars are immersed in the Yellowstone River after a bridge collapse near Columbus, Mon...

Several train cars are immersed in the Yellowstone River after a bridge collapse near Columbus, Mont., on Saturday, June 24, 2023. The bridge collapsed overnight, causing a train that was traveling over it to plunge into the water below. Authorities on Sunday were testing the water quality along a stretch of the Yellowstone River where mangled cars carrying hazardous materials remained after crashing into the waterway. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Work is underway to clean up rail cars carrying hazardous materials that fell into the Yellowstone River in southern Montana after a bridge collapsed over the weekend, officials said Monday.

Montana Rail Link is developing a cleanup plan and is working with its unions and BNSF Railway to reroute freight trains in the area to limit disruption of the supply chain, Beth Archer of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said in a joint statement issued by Montana Rail Link and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Contractors and a large crane were on site to stabilize and remove cars from the river once a plan is set, officials said.

Some rail cars that did not go off the tracks were removed from the area, and two cars carrying sodium hydrosulfide had their contents transferred to other cars and moved to safety, Archer said.

Sixteen cars derailed, and 10 of them ended up in the river downstream from Yellowstone National Park Saturday morning.

Six mangled cars that carried hot asphalt, three holding molten sulfur and one with scrap metal remained in the rushing water on Monday in an area surrounded by farmland near the town of Columbus, about 40 miles (about 64 kilometers) west of Billings.

Two of the cars were submerged, and a dive team was deployed to gather more information, Archer said in a statement.

The asphalt and sulfur solidified and sank in the cold water, officials said. Some asphalt globules were found downriver, but they are not water soluble and are not expected to impact water quality, the statement said.

Initial water testing on behalf of the EPA and DEQ did not show any petroleum hydrocarbons or sulfur impacts to the water quality or any threats to drinking water, DEQ spokesperson Kevin Stone said Sunday.

The cause of the collapse was under investigation. Part of the train had crossed the bridge before it failed, and some cars at the back remained on stable ground at the other end. No injuries were reported.

The collapse also cut two major fiber-optic lines. Global Net said late Sunday that it had developed a temporary workaround. Company officials did not return a call Monday seeking further information.

The White House was monitoring the situation and was prepared to offer any federal help that might be needed, spokesperson Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday.

The derailment comes just over four months after a fire that led to evacuations and the eventual burning of hazardous materials to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

Freight railcar inspections are happening less often, union officials testified last week during a congressional hearing about the Ohio derailment.

Jean-Pierre said the U.S. Department of Transportation is looking into ways to prevent derailments.

The government has been “all hands on deck,” she said.

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Work begins to clean up train derailment in Montana’s Yellowstone River