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A year later, no penalties issued for Reed Point train derailment

Train Derailment
Posted at 6:04 PM, Jun 24, 2024

One year after a Montana Rail Link train derailed in the Yellowstone River near Reed Point, no penalties have been issued by state or federal regulators.

The derailment on June 24, 2023, spilled 10 cars into the river that were carrying asphalt. Since the incident, that pollution has rendered fish in the water inedible.

Residents are becoming impatient. Among them is Jill Hickson, the secretary of the Yellowstone River Parks Association, a group that works to keep the areas along the river clean. Asphalt from the spill was collected as far downstream as Billings, where Hickson lives.

"We were outraged then, and we're still outraged," Hickson said in an interview in Billings. "The trails are one thing. The gravel, safety, that sort of thing, but the river is the bread and butter of this whole city."

Hickson said the day she first saw the damage was a frustrating one that she won't forget.

"That bridge collapsed and over... half of ton of pollutants entered the river," Hickson said.

That bridge was owned by Montana Rail Link, a company that has had multiple derailments in recent years, and Hickson said she's worried about the lack of accountability taken in the accident.

"We're going to have another disaster," Hickson said. "The Montana Rail Link's safety record is appalling."

A Unified Command, which consists of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Montana Rail Link, BSNF Railways Corporation, Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services, and the Montana Department Of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program, has been working to clean up the waters. They have completed phase one and are now currently working on phase two.

According to a statement provided by the DEQ on Monday afternoon, they collected 236,385 pounds of asphalt during phase one and 200 more pounds were collected during phase two just last week.

Hickson added that she's disappointed with the lack of transparency during the clean-up.

"It's apparent what they're working on for phase one and phase two as far as clean up, but clean up is not remediation," Hickson said. "In all of this, we don't hear about Montana Rail Link."

But that could soon change. The Montana DEQ told MTN in a statement Monday afternoon that fines could be coming.

"We are waiting until phase 2 clean up is complete to see if there are additional impacts before issuing any penalties," the statement read.

Still, 365 days later, Hickson is skeptical.

"The blame is there because Montana Rail Link has said, 'We'll do anything to insure the clean up of the river,' but there's no understanding of what that means," Hickson said.