Freight Train Derailment Spills Hundreds of Cases of Beer Into Famed Montana Trout River

An angler was photographed retrieving a bottle of Coors from the scene of the derailment. Associated Press.

A clean up is underway after 25 rail cars left a track that runs alongside a scenic Montana trout river. The wrecked cars dumped unopened cases of beer as well as powdered clay into the Clark Fork River—a waterway popular with both local and visiting anglers. None of the materials that entered the river are considered “hazardous waste,” according to a recent report in the Missoulian, but one rail car carrying liquified butane did derail at the site.

The derailment occurred around 9 a.m. on Sunday April 2 within plain view of several guest cabins owned and operated by the nearby Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. While the guest cabins were evacuated, no injuries were reported during the accident and none of the rail cars caught fire in the aftermath of the crash. First responders have since confirmed that none of the liquefied butane contained in a derailed tanker car leaked out into the river.

Some of the derailed train cars are currently visible along a winding stretch of Highway 135, which parallels the Clark Fork as it flows northeast of St. Regis, Montana. Others are hidden inside a 100-year old tunnel. “It’s a terrible spot to get in and out of,” Bill Naegeli of Sanders County Disaster and Emergency Services told The Hill. “The biggest issue is the cars derailed inside the tunnel.”

As early as 4 p.m. Sunday, crews had rigged a floating boom across the Clark Fork to stop any floating debris from moving further downstream. This included many cases of Coors Light and Blue Moon beer in both cans and bottles, according to the Missoulian.

An official with Montana Trout Unlimited (MTU) told Field & Stream that the organization is monitoring the derailment and any potential impacts to the river. “We’ve been following the story of the train derailment on the lower Clark Fork,” MTU wrote on Facebook. “There are no reports of any hazardous chemicals at this point, but we have trust that a full investigation will be completed. We know Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is actively engaged.”

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FWP spokesman Greg Lemon told F&S that his agency is involved but deferred questions about potential impacts of spilled clay on the aquatic ecosystem to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency leading up the investigation. “We’re working with all the parties involved to do what we can to make sure that aquatic habitat is taken care of during the cleanup process,” Lemon said. “Our understanding is that there weren’t any hazardous chemicals or materials that went into the river. Sounds like a little bit of beer, and that shouldn’t pose a problem for the aquatic resources.”

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