Work is underway to remove the final locomotive from the Kootenai River after the January 1 derailment, caused by a rock slide in a canyon about three miles west of the Montana State line. The attempt is tentatively slated for Sunday, January 26.

Six rail cars that went off the tracks in the BNSF train derailment on the evening of the first day of 2020 are now on a siding in Troy, two of the train's three locomotives are on the tracks at Crossport and heavy equipment is being placed for the monumental task of pulling the lead engine from the Kootenai River.

And if you've wondered about the dearth of trains on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line, it's not because of the derailment; according to BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, it's the winter storms that shut down the railway on Stephens Pass, Washington.

"We've not seen anything like it," he said. "Hundreds of trees down and crews have been working for two days to clear trees and reopen the line, but as they clear one tree, two or three more fall."

Here in Boundary County, work is underway to situate two huge ground hoists and eight Caterpillar bulldozers that will be used to remove the lead engine from the river. While the timing may change, at present, Melonas said, plans are to attempt the removal on Sunday, January 26.

Using air bags placed by a salvage dive team coming in from Portland, Oregon, the plan is to lift the 200-ton locomotive off the bottom and float/drag it to the north shore and onto an area prepared for the in-place scrapping of the beast.

Once the engine is on the north shore, the divers will scour the river bottom to ensure nothing from the derailment remains in the river.

"We're working with all the appropriate agencies to make sure all environmental protections are in place," Melonas said. 

One the locomotive is scrapped and removed, he said, a team will come in for shore restoration work.

The six cars in Troy are being thoroughly inspected for damage and those deemed road worthy will be re-railed, those repairable will be moved to a shop and any too badly damaged will be scrapped.

The two now re-coupled engines on the siding at Crossport are to be towed to Spokane for initial repairs, and then taken to Portland for thorough overhauls before being returned to service.

If all goes well, Melonas said, the task of bringing the lead engine out of the river will be finished in a day.

It is hoped that work will be finished and the river cleared well before the emergency civilian watercraft ban currently in effect expires February 8.

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