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Hard cleanup: Montana train derailment spills beer and clay

Authorities say the derailment happened Sunday in a hard-to-reach spot beside the Clark Fork River

A group of fishermen claim a bottle of beer from a derailed railcar on the banks of the Clark Fork River near Quinn's Hot Springs, in St. Regis, Mont., Sunday, April 2, 2023
A group of fishermen claims a bottle of beer from a derailed railcar on the banks of the Clark Fork River near Quinn's Hot Springs, in St. Regis, Montana, on April 2, 2023.Ben Allan Smith (AP)

Crews could face a difficult cleanup task after a 25-car train derailment spilled powdered clay and cases of beer beside a scenic western Montana river, leaving some cars off the tracks in a narrow, century-old tunnel with limited access, officials said.

“It’s a terrible spot to get in and out of,” Bill Naegeli, manager for Sanders County Disaster and Emergency Services, said of the derailment on the Clark Fork River. “The biggest issue is the cars derailed inside the tunnel” with little clearance.

Montana Rail Link has said nobody was hurt, and no hazardous materials spilled Sunday morning in the derailment that left some cars precariously close to the banks of the river and some slightly dipping into the water in the mountainous area.

Seven cars are believed derailed in the narrow tunnel where it will be hard to extricate them, Naegeli said.

The train derailed Sunday across the river from Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, spilling the clay and cases of Coors Light and Blue Moon beer, in cans and bottles, the Missoulian reported.

Directly across the winding river, Some of Quinn’s guest cabins were evacuated as a precaution, the Plains-Paradise Rural Fire District said in a social media post.

Denise Moreth, the resort’s general manager, told the Missoulian that front desk workers heard a “loud, rumbling crash, and then they heard the train derailment.”

A tanker car carrying butane was on its side, but it did not leak, Naegeli said.

Andy Garland, spokesperson for Montana Rail Link, said Sunday it was unclear how long it would take to remove the derailed cars and repair the tracks and railroad bed, which appeared to have been damaged when the cars slid off the tracks.

The Sanders County Sheriff’s Office referred additional questions Monday to Montana Rail Link, which did not immediately return phone and emailed messages seeking comment.

The derailed area can only be reached by vehicles traveling on the blocked railroad track or by taking a boat across the river, Garland said Sunday.

The cause of the derailment is still under investigation, officials said.

Federal regulators and members of Congress are urging railroads to do more to prevent derailments after recent fiery wrecks involving hazardous chemicals in Ohio and Minnesota prompted evacuations.

Rail accidents including derailments have been trending downward in the U.S. as the number of miles traveled by trains decreases.

However, the rate of accidents per mile has been increasing, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Railway unions contend rail transportation has become riskier in recent years following widespread job cuts.

Most rail accidents involve freight trains, and fatalities involving passenger trains are rare.

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