Belgrade police chief weighs-in on frustration over freight traffic, set to increase

Posted at 3:51 PM, Apr 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-19 18:35:02-04

BELGRADE – Some people living in cities like Belgrade, Manhattan and Clarkston say it at times it is hard to cross the railroads as trains come through town.

On occasion, a train will stop at an intersection, making the wait even longer. And those waits may become more common.

According to Montana Rail Link, the freight business is only looking to get busier.

Many people understand the freight industry is important to the State of Montana for many reasons.

But others say they are running into frustration, waiting for long periods of time at railroad crossings, like the ones in Belgrade.

The Belgrade Chief of Police and the Rail Link both say business is only going to go up.

“We have a lot of trains,” said Chief E.J. Clark Jr. “There’s no question about it and over the years, train traffic has increased.”

It’s a sound and a sight longtime Belgrade citizens like Chief Clark have come to know well.

He said hearing complaints is an issue dating back through the years.

“We have a lot of residential homes being built and things right now,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of growth. There’s going to be conflicts.”

Clark said many of the drivers who are complaining are calling the wrong number.

“Unless there is an impact with a vehicle or a pedestrian, some kind of emergency or the train has come off the rails or something, it’s not a 911 call and we do get those,” Clark said.

While the Montana Rail Link said with business going up and freight demand going up, the traffic will only increase.

“Montana Rail Link and its predecessor companies first came through the Gallatin Valley in the late 1800s and so every town across really our southern line was built up around the railroad,” said Ross Lane, chief communications officer at Montana Rail Link. “We do not have the ability to move our operations and as more people move to the western United States, there’s demand for products in Montana and also overseas increases, we are going to continue to see an increase in the freight rail environment.”

Chief Clark said law enforcement and other first-responders usually work well with MRL.

Yet with less patience, other safety concerns grow.

“They’re usually pretty quick about getting there and trying to get it fixed because what we don’t want is people trying to say, well, those crossings aren’t working,” Clark said. “I’m just going to go around them.”

Many try to pull U-turns when they are sitting at the pole position, which is illegal.

Chief Clark said Belgrade has done what it could to help by adding an overpass over Airway Boulevard, while patrols keep a close eye out for trouble.

“We have guys on patrol so the officers are out and about so there’s a likelihood we’ll have somebody on that side, anyway, but at least now we can get around,” Clark said.

But, for now, he said one word is key.

“It’s going to be patience,” Clark said. “Patience. People working with each other. It gets extremely frustrating for people and we certainly understand it, ourselves.”

Chief Clark reminded that calls about train jams need to go to Montana Rail Link which adds that they do try to keep track of each of those calls.

MRL says the signs next to the tracks are meant for emergencies only but there is a number you can call.

Anyone who does have a complaint or wants to file one can do so by calling (406)523-1500.

You are also encouraged to email Ross Lane at or call his number at (406)523-1438.