A bridge spanning the Yellowstone River in Montana collapsed Saturday morning as a freight train passed through it, spilling hazardous materials into the water. Officials have closed downstream drinking water intakes while assessing the risk of an accident.
A preliminary assessment found four of the submerged cars contained molten sulfur and three contained molten asphalt, materials that solidify quickly when exposed to cold temperatures, according to Montana Rail Link (MRL).
The train also had two compartments carrying sodium hydrosulfate, but none of them fell into the water, the company said. A preliminary air quality assessment has confirmed that there are no leaks associated with these two compartments.
“The current purpose of operations is to respond safely to the emergency, contain all spills, and minimize impacts. Throughout the response, MRL will work with local, state, and federal partners to assess impacts to natural resources and develop appropriate cleanup, removal, and restoration efforts.”
At the request of Stillwater County officials, parts of the Yellowstone and Stillwater rivers were closed due to the derailment. According to the Montana Forest Service. The river is closed to navigation, bathing and fishing and there are areas under caution “due to possible contact with contaminated material”.
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“I am closely monitoring the derailment in Stillwater County and the state stands ready to support Montana Rail Link and county officials as they assess their needs.” Montana Governor Greg Gianforte tweeted.
“We are committed to addressing the potential impacts in the area as a result of this incident and to understanding the reasons behind the accident,” a company spokesperson said in a local media report.
High-speed provider Global Net said the bridge collapse also broke a fiber optic cable that provides internet service to many customers in the state.
About 175 kilometers northeast of the park, the derailment occurred in a less populated area. Railroad crews were at the scene of the accident near Columbus, about 40 miles west of Billings. Although it is not clear whether this was the cause of the bridge collapse, recent heavy rains have caused flooding in the river. In 2022, an unprecedented flood occurred on the Yellowstone River, causing extensive damage to Yellowstone National Park and nearby Montana towns.
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