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Gianforte visits train derailment site in Stillwater County as cleanup continues

Bridge at Yellowstone River collapses, sending train into waters below
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Posted at 9:54 PM, Jun 25, 2023

STILLWATER COUNTY — On Sunday, Gov. Greg Gianforte got an up-close look at the Montana Rail Link train derailment and bridge collapse that happened early Saturday morning over the Yellowstone River.

Montana Rail Link officials updated the total number of train cars that derailed to 17. Ten of those cars ended up in the river. Of the ten in the water, six were carrying asphalt, three had sulfur and one contained rocks.

Department of Environmental Quality has been on the scene since 12 p.m. Saturday. Shasta Steinweden with DEQ said they are running multiple tests to ensure that the contents spilled into the Yellowstone River are not causing contamination.

“We’re currently sampling the water for the materials that have spilled. So, we’re looking for petroleum from that asphalt and then we’re testing for sulfur, as well," Steinweden said on Sunday. "All of our initial results are coming back as non-detect, or normal.”

During Gianforte's visit to the derailment, he was taken close to the bridge collapse to view the full extent of the damage.

“You see this disaster from the highway and it’s an, ‘Oh my,’ moment. Things could have been a lot worse,” he said. “I’m incredibly impressed with the response so far, and I’m confident we will get this cleaned up and get the rail operating again.”

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. Montana Rail Link released this statement at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

“Transloading of the sodium hydrosulfide car nearest the river has been completed successfully and the car will be re-railed and moved to a secure location. This process entails moving the contents from one rail car to another rail car or truck. We are aware of reports of globs of asphalt appearing down river that may be associated with the derailment and we will proactively investigate and sample this material. Water quality sampling is being performed by a contractor on behalf of Montana Rail Link with oversight by Montana DEQ and EPA. Preliminary results do not show petroleum hydrocarbons or sulfur impacts to water quality. Water quality testing will continue until the cleanup is complete and at this time there are no known risks to public drinking water. Sprint and its contractors are on site to repair a damaged fiber line associated with the incident. As of this afternoon, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials have also arrived onsite to assist in reviewing the incident."

A driving bridge that once stood right next to the now-collapsed rail line was demolished two years ago because the Montana Department of Transportation discovered that the foundation under that bridge was unstable. The bridge that collapsed on Saturday was built around the same time.

“We need to make sure our bridges have good integrity. This bridge that failed under this rail car was tested just as recently as May. The rails were tested more recently, according to Montana Rail Link. Safety programs are critical to make sure our infrastructure is strong,” Gianforte said.