Montana Rail Link crews on Sunday began cleaning up debris from an embankment below the site of last week’s train derailment near Fish Creek, including three aircraft fuselages that went into the Clark Fork River.
MRL had cleared the area around the tracks and reopened the rail line to train traffic Saturday.
Company spokeswoman Lynda Frost said work started about 7 a.m. Sunday to pull the Boeing Co. 737 fuselages and train cars out of the water and up the embankment. MRL is using eight pieces of heavy machinery to pull the fuselages up the hill with cables.
The cleanup, originally expected to be completed by the end of Sunday or early Monday, will likely continue through Tuesday, Frost said.
“It’s taking longer than we had originally anticipated,” she said.
MRL stopped train traffic on the line for about 12 hours Sunday during the cleanup, and similar shutdowns are likely as work proceeds.
Nineteen train cars derailed about 10 miles west of Alberton at 4 p.m. Thursday. Thirteen cars were carrying aircraft components, soybeans and denatured alcohol, and half a dozen were empty.
While no alcohol leaked and no soybeans spilled, three cars with 737 fuselages went into the river, Frost said.
No one was injured in the derailment, the cause of which remains under investigation.
Boeing spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg said the seven cars of aircraft components included six 737 fuselages, as well as parts for 747s and 777s. The components were being transported a production facility in Wichita, Kansas to a Boeing assembly plant in Renton, Washington.
Steinberg declined to give a value for the aircraft components.
A team from Boeing was on the scene Friday to determine the status of the components and work with MRL to retrieve them. The team had yet to issue a full evaluation. Until that evaluation is completed, Steinberg said, it is unknown whether any of the parts will still be usable.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said there are no plans to close the Clark Fork during the cleanup, but brief delays could occur in the area when the 737 fuselages and other parts are moved.
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One such delay occurred about 1 p.m. Sunday, when floaters were held up about half an hour, said FWP spokeswoman Christine Oschell.
“It’s possible there will be other brief delays on the river,” she said.
MRL has been working with FWP and the Whitewater Rescue Institute to keep the river open during the cleanup.
Members of the Whitewater Rescue Institute are on the river informing floaters of what had happened and watching for hazards. They will remain there throughout the cleanup.
“We intend to keep (the river) open unless we feel that there is a safety concern,” Oschell said.
Zoo Town Surfers owner Jason Shreder said he was upset by FWP’s decision Friday to close the Clark Fork in the area of the derailment – a decision the agency backtracked only on a few hours later.
“Especially when I’d seen the adequate safety that they have put down there – it’s good that they kept it open,” he said.
Shreder said Zoo Town, located about a quarter mile upriver of the derailment, received a lot of calls over the weekend from people curious about the incident – and a few people even booked raft trips to see the fuselages and other debris.
Zoo Town guide Andrew Spayth said the derailment is right after a large section of rapids in the river.
“You come through them, go right around the corner and boom, (the fuselages are) right there,” he said.
Spayth floated the river with a few other guides the night of the derailment.
“We were all just saying, ‘Whoa, there’s full planes in the river, there’s cars everywhere, trees broken and bent,’ ” he said.