BNSF settles Montana derailment lawsuit

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
grain railroad Montana BNSF

A BNSF grain train rolls through the Kootenai National Forest west of Whitefish, Mont. Railway Age photo by Bruce E. Kelly

BNSF Railway will pay nearly $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit over damages to a national park following a 2011 derailment in Montana.

Under the settlement, BNSF will pay the United States government $200,000 and as much as $750,000 through 2019 to repair and maintain Forest Services roads located in the Kootenai National Forest.

A broken wheel rim caused 18 cars of a train carrying wheat to derail in 2011 about 50 miles west of Whitefish in northwest Montana.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Montana alleged that in the clean-up BNSF damaged 30 miles of roads. The company initially spent $223,000 on repairs, according to allegations contained in court documents, but balked at paying a $1.1 million bill from the government.

In 2017 the government brought suit on behalf of the Forest Service, alleging that since 2014, BNSF has refused to pay the costs for road maintenance and permit fees associated with the use of overweight vehicles during seasonal road closures on the Kootenai National Forest. They also alleged that BNSF trespassed on numerous Forest Service roads without obtaining the appropriate permits or authority.

In the settlement, BNSF and the Kootenai National Forest have entered a Commercial Road Use Permit and a Forest Road Operation and Maintenance Agreement, and require BNSF to make annual contributions to Forest Service road maintenance.

“This settlement demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that commercial road users such as BNSF Railway, which utilize public land and roads for their businesses, pay their fair share for the wear and tear they cause to our public resources,” said U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme of the District of Montana. “Our office, in conjunction with the Forest Service, will continue to protect our public resources and ensure that taxpayers are not required to pay for damage caused by a business operating across federal land.”


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