MOYIE SPRINGS — By working around the clock since a Wednesday rockslide derailed a BNSF Railway train and sent the lead locomotive and its crew into the Kootenai River, railroad officials said the track should be back in operation today.
Two of the locomotives — one which ended up on the riverbank and another that ended up in the right of way — were being re-railed Friday with cranes and crews being brought in to do the work. As soon as the locomotives are re-railed, Gus Melonas, director of public affairs for BNSF Railway for the region, said crews were expected to immediately do the necessary track replacement work to get the line open for traffic.
“We are working with agencies to determine the best plan to remove the locomotive from the river,” Melonas said. “We still have that chore ahead of us.”
Of the six cars that derailed, Melonas said five were empty and the sixth contained a steel product. That car was unloaded and then re-railed. The train, which measured over a mile in length, had 115 cars — 74 of which were empty and 41 which contained freight.
Melonas said BNSF does not detail privileged information on the commodities they handle for its customers.
Geo-technicians inspected the site and determined the area where the rockslide took place was stable. BNSF crews were able to determine that the rockslide was 50 feet wide with a debris field 10 feet deep. It is unclear at this time what caused the slide, he said.
“We have geo-techs on site and they have determined it is safe to work in the area as well as continue with operations,” Melonas said. “Once the green light is given, once track work is repaired, we’ll be able to open the line.”
While efforts have been underway to re-rail the cars and locomotives derailed by the slide, Melonas said some train traffic was rerouted.
Booms have been installed downriver of the accident site and Melonas said the railroad is working closely with the various agencies to protect the environment and taking the necessary steps to work through the process.
The work to re-rail the locomotives and cars follows Wednesday’s rockslide, which derailed six cars and the three locomotives of the mile-long BNSF Railway train enroute from Minneaplis, Minn., to Pasco, Wash. Various personnel responded within minutes of the derailment, which was reported at 8:45 p.m.
The two-person crew — a conductor and an engineer from the Spokane/North Idaho area — were not injured when the lead locomotive plunged into the Kootenai River, where they were rescued by Boundary County Sheriff’s Marine 1 jetboat just before 11 p.m. Jan. 1.
Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer praised Marine 1, the Boundary County Sheriff’s boat crew and dispatchers, which brought additional staff on board to help during the emergency. Making the response even more notable is the remoteness and difficult terrain.
Rescue crews, including a BNSF employee who responded to the scene, found the conductor and the engineer on the engine. A first respondeer said the BNSF employee smashed one of the windows on the train to get the trapped employees out and on top of the train. A medic and a firefighter showed up in a high rail truck with life jackets and helmets for the train crew, said a rescuer who asked that his name not be used.
“It is a challenge going up that part of the river, even in the daylight, with the low waters and sandbars that need to be negotiated,” he said the day after the accident. “Despite the conditions, they did a great job. This shows our community how many first responders turned out from just about every agency to bring this to a successful resolution.”
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.