NewsLocal News


Train derails into Yellowstone River in Stillwater County

10 rail cars involved
Posted at 9:20 AM, Jun 24, 2023

Update: 5:00 p.m.

Montana Rail Link released the following statement around 3:30 p.m.:

“Initial assessment indicates compromised rail cars contained molten sulfur and asphalt. Both substances solidify rapidly when exposed to cooler temperatures. Two cars carrying sodium hydro sulfate are also included in the consist. Neither of these cars have entered the water and initial air quality assessments have been performed and confirmed that there is no release event associated with those two cars. The present focus of operations is safely responding to the emergency, controlling all releases and mitigating impacts. Throughout the response MRL will work with local, state and federal partners to assess impacts to natural resources and to develop appropriate cleanup, removal and restoration efforts.”

Update: 1:45 p.m.

Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger offered further information to clarify the number of rail cars involved in the derailment and what they contained.

He said 10 cars in the train were derailed and there were as many as eight that went into the water. The cars that were breached either contained molten sulfur or asphalt, but there was no immediate information on the contents of all the cars.

Two of the rail cars were carrying sodium hydro sulfate, he said, but those cars did not breach.


Update 1:10 p.m.

Officials updated the number of rail cars involved in the derailment, stating that 10 cars derailed. Officials at the scene declined to say how many of the rail cars went into the river. The train is operated by Montana Rail Link, which released this statement shortly after 1 p.m.:

"This morning, at approximately 6:45 a.m. MDT, a portion of a train traveling westbound near Reed Point derailed while traversing a bridge over the Yellowstone. The train crew is safe and no injuries have been reported. There are several cars in the river and the consist makeup did include several hazmat cars. The cause of the derailment is currently under investigation with MRL personnel and first responders onsite. DES and NRC have been notified. The safety of our employees and the public remains our top priority. We are committed to addressing any potential impacts to the area as a result of this incident and working to understand the reasons behind the accident.”


UPDATE 11:55 a.m.

Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger said authorities don't know what caused the incident yet and they are unsure if the Montana Rail Link train derailed first or if the bridge collapsed first. Those scenarios are part of the investigation.

Eight rail cars were involved in the incident. The cars that ended up in the water contained asphalt and sulfur so there was no hazardous oil spill although other cars on the train were carrying petroleum, he said. He was not sure how long it will take to get cars out of the river.

Two of the rail cars contained "acidic chemicals," but officials said those cars were not breached. A total of eight rail cars were involved, authorities said.

The incident happened at about 6 a.m. and no injuries were reported.

Authorities are asking the public to stay away from the area.

Officials have shut down the river downstream including fishing accesses downriver.

The emergency protective measures at water treatment facilities in Laurel, Billings, and Lockwood have been lifted.

The scene of a train derailment in Stillwater County


BILLINGS - Water treatment facilities in Laurel, Billings, and Lockwood, as well as the irrigation canal companies, instituted emergency protective measures Saturday morning, including shutting down head gates, due to a potential hazmat spill into the Yellowstone River in Stillwater County.

Yellowstone County DES is asking residents to please conserve water at this time, officials said in a press release.

There is no reported threat to life or property in Yellowstone County at this time.

View of the train derailment in Stillwater County

Here is a press release from Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services:

On 24 June 2023 at approximately 0600 there was a train derailment on the rail bridge that crosses the Yellowstone River in Stillwater County Montana. The bridge collapsed and there are multiple rail cars in the Yellowstone River. We have not determined the cause of the derailment.

Currently Stillwater County Emergency Services, Sheriff's Office, Commissioners, Columbus Fire & Rescue are on scene with Montana Rail Link and other State agencies. Additionally, Stillwater County and Montana Rail Link are coordinating with Federal Response Agencies. We have formally established a unified command and are using the incident command system.

Actions taken:

Notifications to all required agencies

Safety and hazard mitigation efforts implemented

Notifications to neighboring jurisdictions

Coordination between local, State, Federal Agencies and Montana Rail Link

Unified Command is working together to determine the most appropriate steps to ensure a safe resolution to this incident. Additional information will be provided as soon as possible.

We ask everyone to keep away from the areas around the Yellowstone River Rail Bridge, located around Reed Point.

Location of the train derailment in Stillwater County

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.