A freight train operated by Montana Rail Link derailed along the Clark Fork river near Quinns on Sunday morning. 

Railroad officials say no one was injured in the incident and no hazardous materials were spilled. The Sanders County Sheriff’s Office said about two dozen cars went off the tracks. It’s unclear what all of the derailed freight cars were carrying, though images shared online showed that cases of beer had spilled out of a derailed refrigerator car onto the riverbank. The Missoulian reported that at least one car was carrying butane, though none had spilled. 

In a statement to Montana Free Press, Montana Rail Link officials said there is no threat to public safety and that the railroad is investigating the cause of the wreck. 

derailed train montana
A Montana Rail Link train derailed near Quinn’s Hot Springs on Sunday, April 2, 2023. Credit: Courtesy Plains-Paradise Rural Fire District Facebook page

“We are committed to addressing any impacts to the area as a result of this accident, prioritizing the safety of our employees and the public, and understanding the reasons for this incident,” the statement read. 

The Federal Railroad Administration, the agency that oversees railroads, said it is also sending a team to the site to investigate. 

Montana Rail Link is owned by the Missoula-based Washington Companies and leases track across southern Montana from BNSF Railway. Last year, MRL announced it was ending its lease early. BNSF is expected to retake control of the line later this year. Most trains along the line, including the one that derailed Sunday, are operated by MRL for BNSF. 

Gov. Greg Gianforte tweeted Sunday that he had been briefed on the derailment and was prepared to mobilize state resources if needed. Montana Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester also said they had been in touch with local and railroad officials about the incident. 

Sunday’s derailment is the latest in a string of incidents nationwide to make headlines this year, the largest of which resulted in a chemical spill and fire in Ohio. In the weeks since that derailment, legislation has been proposed in Congress to increase safety along the nation’s rail lines by establishing new inspection protocols, increasing safety violation fines and requiring at least two crew members on every freight train. 

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, more than 1,000 trains derail every year in the United States. 

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Justin Franz is a freelance writer, photographer and editor based in Whitefish. Originally from Maine, he is a graduate of the University of Montana's School of Journalism and worked for the Flathead Beacon for nine years. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times. Find him at justinfranz.com or follow him on Twitter.