Freight Train Derails in Montana

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MALTA, Mont. (AP) — About 50 people were voluntarily evacuated and U.S. Highway 2 was closed for more than five hours after a westbound freight train, including tankers containing a poisonous and flammable chemical, derailed near here.

``Our hazardous material team inspected the cars and it was determined we had no leaks,'' Gus Melonas, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman, said Tuesday. ``The people can go home and the highway was reopened,'' Melonas said. ``It does not appear there will have to be further evacuations.''

Seven cars from the westbound BNSF train derailed a mile east of Malta, and residents were moved back a half-mile. No injuries were reported, but sparks from the derailing train created small fires for several miles.

Melonas said three of the tankers contained carbon disulphide, a poisonous, highly flammable chemical used in making solvents and cellophane. Two other tankers contained titanium dioxide and posed no threat to the environment, Melonas said.

Another derailed car, containing glue, remained upright, as did an empty lumber car, he said.

Melonas said the derailment occurred Monday about 8 p.m. MDT on a 100-car train from Memphis, Tenn., to Pasco, Wash. Malta, a town of about 2,300, is about 50 miles south of the Canadian border.

A railroad emergency team rushed to the site and a special hazardous-materials firm was sent from Helena, about 290 miles to the southwest. The tank cars have thick outer walls, insulation and then an inner tank to reduce the possibility of leaks, Melonas said.

Phillips County Fire Chief Clark Kelly said the train set fires along the right-of-way as far away as 20 to 30 miles to the east, toward Saco, and train personnel and others were fighting them. Within two hours, firefighters from Malta and Dodson said they had the fires under control.

The Malta City Hall was opened for evacuees, Kelly said. In addition to those families leaving their homes, others had been placed on alert for possible evacuation, he said.

Melonas said that some BNSF traffic was being rerouted over Montana Rail Link tracks through the central part of the state. Melonas said it had not been determined when the line across northern Montana will be reopened.