The BNSF lead engine that has been submerged on the south side of the Kootenai River in a steep canyon about three miles west of the Montana State line since it derailed at about 9 p.m. January 1 is again on shore and should be removed from the bank forever and without a trace by the end of this week.
In a Herculean effort that began at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, January 26, with divers, salvage specialists, BNSF mechanical teams, eight Cats with cables, two stationary winches and other assorted gear, huge floats were inflated along both sides of the locomotive, the engine floated up off the riverbed and it was eased gently across to a beach on the north bank specially prepared with layers of rock and plastic sheeting and placed for salvage by noon.
The good fortune continued today, as the locomotive is already nearly half disassembled.
"They ran a flawless operation," said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, ill for the first time over a day or two in the 43-years he's been with the railroad. Ill since just before the derailment and through some severe weather events along the line in Washington in the month since, he's ready, he said, to go home, have some soup and crawl into bed. "No, actually, it was amazing to watch how all the different parts came together and meshed just as planned. No setbacks, no spills ... as close to perfect as such a complex operation can get."
The last of the locomotive is expected to be off the river and to the scrap yard by week's end, the protective bed where the engine now sits removed and the area restored to its natural state soon after.
Work track side is expected to continue for as much as three or four weeks to stabilize the sloped that slid, causing the derailment, and to do remediation to bring the area back to normal.
The track was put back in service January 4, and normal traffic of 35 to 40 trains per day continue to go through the slide area, and will continue even as work is finished.
"We expect everything to be back to normal within two or three weeks," Melonas said with a cough.
He and all who responded to the New Years Day derailment well deserve a trip home, some hot soup and a good, long rest.