Crews are working to clean up after several cars of a Montana Rail Link train hauling coal left the tracks Sunday night, sending several thousand tons of coal near or into the Clark Fork River.
The westbound 120-car train derailed at around 11 p.m. Sunday night about 10 miles west of Noxon, Montana along the river, said Jim Lewis, spokesman for Montana Rail Link. Thirty of the cars carrying coal tipped over, spilling their load. There were no injuries.
Lewis stressed the cars were “not hauling hazardous material.”
Still, Shannon Williamson, executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, was critical of pollutants entering the river. In a statement sent Monday, she said the Clark Fork River has overcome “decades worth of toxic pollution from mining activity to provide some of the best fly-fishing in the country.”
“This incident is yet another reminder of what’s at risk when we transport tons of uncovered piles of dirty coal along environmentally sensitive water bodies,” she wrote. “Why sacrifice our clean water when we’ve got better, cleaner options for powering our homes and businesses?”
Bill Naegeli, emergency manager at the Sanders County Office of Emergency Management, said no structures were damaged in the derailment. He was unsure Monday if coal was confirmed to have fallen into the river.
The cause of the incident is under investigation, Lewis said. All services on that rail have been suspended, Lewis said, and an estimated time for rail traffic to resume has not yet been determined.
Ten of the 30 cars were cleared from the tracks by Monday afternoon, and crews planned to have all 30 cars cleared by midday Wednesday.