Near Miss

"Train derailment blocks track near Essex"

"Nineteen cars on a BNSF Railway train derailed about four miles west of Essex on Wednesday, bringing railroad traffic to a halt until the line could be reopened sometime today."

"[Flathead County Sheriff Chuck] Curry said the concern was that hazardous materials might have been involved in derailment — but that was not the case."  Not this time at least. We are seeing more and more 100-car oil trains carrying toxic Bakken oil traveling tracks that follow our waterways west of the continental divide every month. Each of the oil tanker cars carry nearly 30,000 gallons of oil.

The route that follows the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, partially through Glacier National Park, is noted for a number of derailments each winter. The incident on Wednesday, fortunately, did not involve any cars carrying toxic materials, but it is not a matter of if, but when, we have a derailment involving rail cars carrying extremely toxic oil.

In a recent column in the Missoulian newspaper, columnist George Ochenski called these trains a "disaster waiting to happen".

"The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is a wild, undammed river in which known methods of mitigation for an oil spill are likely to be ineffective, especially in winter or during run-off. And it pours directly into Flathead Lake, the largest natural body of freshwater west of the Mississippi."

Once 30,000 gallons, or more, of toxic Bakken oil reaches the Middle Fork, it will be game over for our efforts to resurrect our populations of native bull trout and westslope cutthroats in our home waters.


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