Crews assess the Twin Bridge incident where 10 Montana Rail Link cars entered the Yellowstone River. It’s unclear if a train derailment led to the bridge’s collapse, or if the bridge collapse led to the derailment. Credit: Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

One of the railcars lodged in the Yellowstone River near Reed Point following a Montana Rail Link derailment appears to have leaked asphalt into the river, according to agency officials responding to a Saturday morning incident that resulted in 10 railcars plummeting into one of the state’s largest rivers.

During a Monday evening press conference, the team responding to the incident said that divers assessing the condition of the railroad cars reported that molten asphalt was leaking from one of the cars in the river. “Globs” of asphalt were reported floating downstream. 

Crews removed the first impacted car, which contained asphalt, from the Yellowstone River Tuesday morning, but the incident response team has “observed an ongoing release of asphalt material” and is “determining next stamps to mitigate and address the release,” according to a press release. The asphalt is not water soluble, meaning that it doesn’t dissolve when introduced to water, and not anticipated to impact the Yellowstone’s water quality, according to the release.

The 10 cars in the river contained either asphalt liquified petroleum, molten sulfur or scrap metal. 

The release said there are “no detectable levels of petroleum hydrocarbons” in the Yellowstone and no apparent changes to the river’s sulfur content. “At this time, there are no known risks to public drinking water or private drinking water wells,” the release continued.

Montana Rail Link is asking anyone who reports seeing asphalt or molten sulfur in the river to email

At least one of the cars that derailed but didn’t enter the river contained sodium hydrosulfide. According to the National Library of Medicine, sodium hydrosulfide is used in paper pulping, manufacturing dyes and wastewater treatment. It’s also used to remove hair from hides and in paints, lacquers and varnishes. It is corrosive to metal and skin and toxic if consumed.

In order to recover the remaining cars in the river, crews were disassembling the west segment of the bridge. Montana Rail Link President Joe Racicot said during the press conference that the company would pick up “100%” of the clean-up costs. 

Officials are still unsure of the underlying cause of the incident. It’s unclear if the bridge collapsed first, sending the railcars into the river, or if a train derailment led to the bridge collapse. 

Joni Sandoval, an on-scene coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Monday night that the incident response team had invited federal and state wildlife managers to the scene to assess impacts to wildlife. 

The incident command team is hosting a public meeting at the Columbus High School gym on Wednesday, June 28, at 7 p.m. Updates from the responses team will be posted to

The response team includes representatives from Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Rail Link.


Amanda Eggert studied print journalism at the University of Montana. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, Amanda spent four years working with the Forest Service as a wildland firefighter. After leaving the Forest Service in 2014, Amanda worked for Outside magazine as an editorial fellow before joining Outlaw Partners’ staff to lead coverage for Explore Big Sky newspaper and contribute writing and editing to Explore Yellowstone and Mountain Outlaw magazines. Prior to joining Montana Free Press’ staff in 2021 Amanda was a freelance writer, researcher and interviewer. In addition to writing...