BOZEMAN - Railroad officials say hundreds of pounds of coal spilled in a train derailment entered a nearby creek, but it has since been removed and they believe it doesn't pose a threat to wildlife.
While the incident didn't injure any railway employees, 39 train cars were derailed in the Tuesday accident on Bozeman Pass, east of the Trail Creek Road exit. The cause is still under investigation.
Out of the 39 cars in the derailment, 33 spilled nearly 4,300 tons of coal in the area. As contractors begin an environmental assessment of the area, Montana Rail Link crews are working quickly to clean up the scene.
"Every derailment is different in different locations, and you know, different products involved," says MRL's Chief Communications Officer Ross Lane. "But we take each one very seriously."
Lane says the accessible location of Tuesday's derailment is helping crews quickly clean up coal scattered throughout the area.
MRL says delays should be expected due to the amount of coal spilled. Lane compares the delays to an airline system, where one delay corresponds to another.
"We prepare for that by positioning crews," he explains, "and so as soon as we're open we can have crews on the trains and be ready to move them."
About 30% of the coal from the overturned cars reached nearby Rocky Creek, the railroad sais.
However, it has since been removed, leaving MRL to believe there is no hazard to wildlife or water quality. Still, the company brought in a private environmental contractor to assess the creek for contaminants, standard procedure within MRL in the case of a derailment and loss of product.
Much of the heavy-lifting took place on Tuesday night, with crews hauling the damaged cars off the tracks and taking unaffected cars to Livingston and Bozeman.
Derailments - especially ones with more than three dozen cars involved - aren't frequent for the rail company. While Lane couldn't give an exact figure on derailments for the company, he notes that in the past 22 years, MRL has seen an 86% reduction in accidents.
"The rail really is a safe way to move products over land," he says. "And also the most fuel-efficient way."
With the cars off the track, workers spent the day at Bozeman Pass installing new tracks and rail ties, which had been destroyed in the accident.
Lane does not know when the tracks will reopen, but hopes to have the new tracks finished and ready to be tested by Thursday morning. Over the next few weeks, crews will scrap the train cars, which have been pulled off to the side of the rail, and pick up coal and other debris.
Both MRL and the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office are urging people to avoid the area unless you live nearby.