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Workers gather asphalt and get ready to fix a bridge at the derailment site close to Reed Point



Montana – As employees continue to work on the bridge collapse and train disaster close to Reed Point, the public has another opportunity to hear from the Unified Command.

Three days into the cleanup phase, the crews have already gathered 37,000 pounds of asphalt-related debris.

At Columbus High School, an update was given by the Unified Command, which consists of Montana Rail Link, Stillwater County Disaster & Emergency Services, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is yet too early to know what caused the asphalt to leak into the Yellowstone River, how much asphalt was lost, or how long the bridge will need to be repaired.

Within a few kilometers of the derailment, a significant amount of asphalt has been collected.

“There’s all these different variations of what it looks like,” said Chief Rich Cowger, Columbus Fire Rescue. “As long as it’s in the river. It’s typically more of a solid product.”

According to Cowger, it is unknown how much asphalt entered the river.

“Federal Railroad Administration, NTSB have to look at all of those rail cars to do their investigation on what the cause the accident before they can actually open up the cars to know how much product is still left in any of the cars,” Cowger said.

Six rail cars were loaded with asphalt; two were primarily full, two were primarily empty, and two were in the middle.

When all were filled, there was more than 1 million pounds of asphalt in total.

Paul Peronard, federal on-site coordinator for the EPA emergency response program, then made an educated assessment as to how much might have leaked.

“So this is a question for next week,” Peronard said. “Okay, how much do you think was lost? Estimate? Rough estimate? Can I say a rough estimate? About 500,000 pounds, All right. And so that’s that’s sort of the order of magnitude we’re trying to get after in the river.

Additionally, Peronard, who is based in Denver, claims that some of the debris will become entangled in various areas and that some may already be in the Mississippi River before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

“Oil spill response in particular and this asphalt considered an oil, recovery rates are usually pretty low,” Peronard said. “Thirty percent is a good recovery. So the best thing you can normally do is stop the leak.”

As for the bridge repair Montana Rail Link has people on site doing prep work, “We’re going to reuse the eastern span,” said Joe Raciocot, MRL president. “Then, they’re going to create some additional piers there. We’re going to actually utilize some emergency spans that we have from our safety stock in conjunction with some emergency spans we’re getting from BNSF as well.”

Racicot claims that it is still too early to predict when the bridge will be finished.

“No timeline yet but I would anticipate weeks not months for reconstruction,” Racicot said.


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