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Montana Rail Link shows extent of Noxon derailment cleanup - KBZK.com | Continuous News | Bozeman, Montana

Montana Rail Link shows extent of Noxon derailment cleanup

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NOXON - Imagine trying to pick up millions of chunks of coal. And before you can start the job, you have to move tons of wrecked railcars and do it all in a timely manner. 

That’s what Montana Rail Link faced when one of its trains derailed west of Noxon in mid-August.

It was one of the worst derailments MRL has faced in years. Over 30 cars of a loaded coal train jumped the tracks in a remote location above the Clark Fork River between Noxon and Heron.

The train was coming around a curve, westbound, when it went out of control and jumped the rails. Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly what caused the accident. 

“Well, the first step was to just to remove the product and the debris from the derailment," said MRL Information Officer Jim Lewis. "The next steps included a barge that came in and coal from the shoreline. We had a vacuum truck that came in and removed and vacuumed coal up from the track as well as the site. And then we came in an hydrosealed the entire site as well. Because we feel like we have a responsibility to return to its previous condition. And that’s really what we tried to attempt here.”

And it wasn’t just a case of scooping up the nearly 4,000 tons of coal along the track and into the edge of the river. Heavy equipment had to be moved to the remote site to cut away and scrap the wreckage, 600 feet of rails had to be replaced and it all had to be done within environmental guidelines, a job made tougher when some of the coal, which can spontaneously combust, began to burn during the worst of fire season. 

“Oh, it definitely was a huge undertaking for our employees at Montana Rail Link," Lewis said. "And also a lot of contractors were involved as well. When you’re talking about removing 31 aluminum coal cars, removing nearly 4,000 tons of coal from a site, it was a huge undertaking.” 

There’s still some small amounts of coal around the site. But Lewis says testing on land and in the river shows no residual problems. And he says the complete cleanup is proof of the cooperative effort.

“Oh exactly and not only a lot of cooperation and coordination within Montana Rail Link, like I said, with contractors, government agencies with many groups and individuals to get to what you see today.” 

Lewis says while the cause of the Noxon derailment is still under investigation, “99 percent” of derailments are usually caused by problems with wheels or rails. That’s why MRL uses an extensive system to constantly scan for problems across its rail network.

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