BNSF Fuel Leak Remains Under Investigation as DEQ Develops Cleanup Plan

Railway officials say a locomotive trailed 900-1,000 gallons of dyed diesel fuel on a 65-mile route between Browning and Belton in West Glacier

By Tristan Scott
A snowstorm swirls around a BNSF freight train parked in Columbia Falls on Dec. 18, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

BNSF Railway officials are working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to determine what caused a locomotive to leak approximately 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel along a 65-mile route between Browning and West Glacier.

Company officials first reported the leak on Monday and initially guessed the locomotive had leaked 1,300 gallons of diesel fuel between Havre and West Glacier, according to an initial assessment. They later revised the amount of leaked fuel but still haven’t determined the cause.

“The cause of the release is still under investigation, but an initial examination indicates the release was caused by a leak within the fuel system of the unit, resulting in the loss of an estimated 900-1,000 gallons of dyed diesel fuel,” according to a statement from a BNSF spokesperson, who said the leak was first identified Dec. 18 at the Belton depot just east of the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park. “BNSF teams continue to investigate the corridor, but to date, only a thin and intermittent trail of fuel has been observed on top of the ballast along the roughly 65-mile route between Browning and Belton. As the locomotive did not stop in between these locations, we are not expecting any concentrated releases along the corridor. BNSF will work with DEQ to address impacts resulting from the release.”

According to a DEQ official, BNSF crews were dispatched Monday to asses the fuel leak, which started somewhere outside of Browning, where investigators “observed an intermittent 3-inch diesel trail along the tracks.”

“No water impacts were observed in the scouting thus far and many bridges are snow covered,” the DEQ official said. “Crews will visit bridges that can be safely accessed to remove impacted snow. DEQ is working with BNSF to develop a cleanup plan.”

The locomotive has been taken to the Whitefish rail yard for further investigation.

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