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NW Montana avalanche delays BNSF, Amtrak trains again

Loco Steve, flickr

UPDATE: 2:30 PM: Matt Jones with BNSF said freight travel re-opened at 12:30 PM today on one of the two tracks closed by last night's avalanche. The other track should open soon. 


Amtrak and BNSF trains are delayed after an avalanche was reported late Sunday night east of the small northwest Montana town of Essex.

BNSF Regional Public Affairs Director Matt Jones expects the debris to be cleared from the track and freight trains should running again by this afternoon.

On the contrary, the avalanche has activated a mandatory 48-hour moratorium on Amtrak travel through the area. Chicago-based Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said charter busses will be taking passengers between the Whitefish and Shelby, MT train stations while the closure is still in effect.

This disruption came one day after an east-bound BNSF train derailed, kicking 45 empty coal cars off the same track west of Whitefish, near the town of Olney. That Saturday afternoon crash closed both the railroad and a portion of U.S. Highway 93 and Jones said crews weren’t able to get everything back open again until 6:30 PM Sunday evening.

Jones said there were no injuries reported in either closure and it does not appear as if the Saturday derailment was weather related. Still, he said this has been a challenging winter for BNSF both in Montana and the region.

“Severe winter events one after the other in the mid-west have impacted traffic significantly for several months," Jones said.

"This is probably the toughest winter all of us have had in almost three decades,” Amtrak spokesman Magliari said, “between the extended cold periods, the no chance for thaw and then just more cold and snow."

This on top of increased freight traffic on the Empire Builder line has led Amtrak to warn passengers to expect delays continuously since mid/late last year, Magliari said.

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