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New rules to help prevent train derailments in Great Falls

Posted at 2:45 PM, Sep 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-03 16:47:13-04

GREAT FALLS – Officials with BNSF met with representatives of the Great Falls Police Department on Thursday to discuss the derailment of several empty lumber flat cars in early August.

The derailment happened next the parking lot of the GFPD in downtown Great Falls. There were no injuries, but several parked vehicles were damaged.

Two similar incidents happened at that location in 2010 and were caused by “train handling accidents,” or caused by human factor.

BNSF said in an email to MTN on Friday:

At the conclusion of the investigation into what caused the derailment, BNSF transportation officials implemented new train handling rules for crews making switching moves in this location. That includes implementing new braking procedures for trains made up primarily of empty cars. The new procedures will prevent derailments by reducing the kinetic energy that long sets of empty cars experience during switching moves, which caused the empty cars to lift from the track and derail a few weeks ago.

There is no word yet on the dollar amount of damage caused by the derailment.

(AUGUST 8, 2018) People inside the Great Falls Police Department were conducting business as usual on Wednesday afternoon when a loud crash was heard.

“Of course, we came running outside to see what happened and you can see we had another train derailment,” Police Chief David Bowen said.

According to BNSF spokesman Ross Lane, five empty, flat cars derailed between GFPD and River Drive South. The incident occurred around 4:25 p.m. and there were no reports of injuries. The cars are typically used to haul lumber although the line itself is often used to haul a variety of commodities.

“Today, there was no cargo on board, but there are chemicals that come through here and that concerns me as well,” Bowen said.

He added that the tracks affect not only police department employees who park near the railway, but also the public as the River’s Edge Trail runs through the area.

Bowen said it’s about the fourth derailment that’s occurred in a number of years: “I sat down last time with BNSF officials and worked out an agreement to limit this happening again and so we’re gonna have the state come in and look at this investigation to see what happened and then I’ll have a chance to sit down with them again and say, ‘What do we do now? What went wrong here? What can we do to ensure this doesn’t keep happening?'”

While estimates are not yet available for damage costs, nine different vehicles were involved including a marked police car and GFPD employee vehicles.

The incident occurred as crews were performing a switching move, according to Lane. The cause is under investigation.

“I think that something might have to do with the temperature today,” Bowen said. “So as the day heats up and the tracks flux a little bit, that’s probably gonna be something that the investigators are gonna look at. What happened here? BNSF has some difficult questions to answer because quite frankly, I need some answers.”