Morning Update from Montana Rail Link

Trail Creek Derailment Update

 As of 8:00 am Wednesday morning, MRL crews continue to make progress in cleaning up 39 coal cars involved in a derailment that occurred yesterday at 12:50 PM. We do not currently have an estimated time for re-opening the track, but work to clear the derailment is expected to last another 18 hours. MRL environmental contractors are onsite monitoring Rocky Creek water quality and have taken precautionary measures to reduce stream impacts. The general public is urged to stay away from the derailment site so contractors and crews can continue to work safely. Local residents should expect minor traffic delays. We apologize and regret the inconvenience caused to the public and thank them for their patience.

Ross Lane

Chief Communications Officer

101 International Drive

Missoula, MT 59808

Office: (406) 523-1438

Trail Creek Train Derailment

Montana Rail Link Comment
At approximately 12:50 PM, a loaded coal train headed west derailed an estimated 40 cars east of Bozeman. There were no injuries to the crew and the train was not carrying hazardous materials. MRL is continuing to mobilize crews and equipment to assess and cleanup the incident. There is currently no estimated time for reopening the track. The cause of the incident is under investigation. 
About MRL
Based in Missoula, MT, Montana Rail Link (MRL) is a class II regional railroad that operates over 900 route miles of track in Montana and Idaho and employs nearly 1,200 dedicated professionals. MRL services over 150 local Montana businesses and moves their product to domestic and international markets on a daily basis. We are committed to providing transportation services that result in long-term growth and prosperity for our company, customers and employees. We live by our values of fairness, integrity, respect, safety and trust. We are committed to the safety of our employees, the general public and our customers. MRL prides ourselves on being a good neighbor in the communities we serve. As a BNSF partner, our shipments help feed, clothe, supply and power American and international homes and businesses every day. You can learn more about MRL at
Ross Lane
Chief Communications Officer
101 International Drive
Missoula, MT 59808

Snowmobiler Rescued up Olsen Creek

(Gallatin County, MT) At 7:15 pm on January 24th, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue responded to Olsen Creek, off Bridger Canyon Road, for a missing snowmobiler. The reporting party said that he and a friend had been riding up Olsen Creek Rd. when his friend decided to drop into a ravine off the edge of the road. He said his friend seemed to be having trouble getting back up to the road. Eventually the reporting party could no longer hear his friend’s snowmobile and since it was getting dark, decided to ride out and call for help.

Gallatin County Search and Rescue members from the Posse and Alpine teams responded to the area with snowmobiles and skis. They met with the reporting party, who escorted them to the location where his riding partner had dropped into the ravine, 6.5 miles up Olsen Creek near the Canyon Creek drainage. Skiers were able to follow the snowmobile track to the stranded rider, who was uninjured and in good spirits. He had started a campfire and was prepared to spend the night.

The stranded rider was assisted out of the ravine by the team and all parties made it safely back to Bridger Canyon Rd around midnight.

Photos courtesy of Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office.

Two Snowmobilers Rescued near West Yellowstone

Sunday at approximately 2:51 p.m., West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a call from a local snowmobile rental company reporting a snowmobiler who was stuck in a deep narrow canyon somewhere west of West Yellowstone. A Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputy was able to make contact with the stuck snowmobiler, a 20-year-old man from Minnesota, and request that he call 911 to get accurate coordinates of his location. The snowmobiler indicated that he had tried for several hours to escape the narrow canyon but the slope began to slide as he attempted to climb it.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, and the Forest Service responded to assist with the rescue. By 8:30 p.m., rescuers made it to within ½ mile of the snowmobiler’s location but were forced to turn back due to darkness combined with the extremely difficult terrain and snow conditions. The stranded snowmobiler had a fire, food, water and cold weather gear so the decision was made to send another team in the morning.

Monday at 9:55 a.m. rescuers again made contact with the snowmobiler, who was in good health and uninjured. The deep unstable snow conditions and fresh snow made it extremely difficult for the rescuers to reach the stranded snowmobiler but they were successful and the stranded snowmobiler was safely escorted back to West Yellowstone.

Meanwhile, at 10:04 a.m., West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a call about a snowmobile crash that had just occurred on the West Entrance Road approximately 1 mile west of town. The snowmobiler, a 24-year-old man from California, had sustained a leg injury due to being pinned against a tree by snowmobile he was riding.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone, Hebgen Basin Fire Department, and the U.S. Forest Service responded. Rescuers located the injured snowmobiler and quickly loaded him onto a rescue sled before transporting him to a waiting Hebgen Basin Fire Department ambulance. The ambulance then transported the man to the Big Sky Medical Center for evaluation.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers that it is critical to prepare for an unexpected stay outdoors by carrying the proper survival gear, a reliable communication device, and a means to start a fire. Because the Minnesota man had those things, he could spend the night safely. Sometimes nature prevents even SAR from getting where it needs to go, so be prepared to wait.

Photo courtesy of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office

Structure Fire in Fort Ellis FSA

At approximately 7:50 am, Wednesday, January 16th, Fort Ellis Fire/Rescue was dispatched to a reported chimney fire on Blue Grouse Court.  On arrival crews found some smoke from around the chimney with reports that the home was filling with smoke.  All occupants were safely outside.  Crews made an interior attack and found fire in the wall behind the fireplace with flames extending into the attic space.  Crews from Amsterdam, Bozeman and Hyalite fire departments assisted Fort Ellis in extinguishing the stubborn blaze.  The residence had damage to the living room and attic.  The cause is undetermined at this time.

For more information, contact Asst. Chief Buck Taylor, 539-9358

West Yellowstone Snowmobile Accident Fatality

January 14, 2019
10:00 PM

On Monday, January 14, 2019 at 3:27 PM a snowmobile with two riders was traveling southbound on Dunraven Street approaching the intersection with Gibbon Avenue in the Town of West Yellowstone. Gibbon Avenue is a through street and traffic on Dunraven Street is directed to stop by stop signs. The snowmobile failed to stop for the stop sign. At the time, an eastbound sport utility vehicle was approaching the intersection. The sport utility vehicle struck the snowmobile and the riders were knocked off the snowmobile. The impact deflected the snowmobile into a second vehicle that was stopped at the intersection.

One rider was transported by helicopter (Air Methods air medical transport) to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and is in critical condition. The other rider was pronounced deceased at the scene. The riders were on vacation from out of state and were operating a snowmobile rented from a local business. The names are not being released pending notification of next of kin.

The occupants of the two vehicles were not injured.

Assisting agencies included the Hebgen Basin Rural Fire Department, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, the National Forest Service (Gallatin), and the National Park Service

The crash is still under investigation by the West Yellowstone Police Department.

Chief of Police Scott Newell

Stranded Snowmobilers Rescued

(West Yellowstone, Mont.)

Monday at 5:15 p.m., West Yellowstone Police Department Dispatch received a 911 call from two Minnesota snowmobilers who were stranded. Given the steep terrain and low snow levels the two men in their 20’s indicated that they were incapable of getting out by themselves. The coordinates retrieved from the call indicated they were in a steep canyon approximately 9 miles west of West Yellowstone in the Lionshead area.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in West Yellowstone and U.S. Forest Service responded.

Rescuers located the men about 1 hour after the initial call but due to the steep technical terrain were forced to find a alternate way into them.  The men were in good health and assisted by SAR were able to extricate themselves and their snowmobiles and return to town

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind people that snowmobiling can be a challenging sport. It is important that snowmobilers know their limitations and pay attention to changing snow conditions. An area that is ridable one time of the year may be a trap at another. As always, snowmobilers are encouraged to have a reliable means of communications and pertinent survival gear when enjoying Montana’s backcountry.

Gallatin County 911 working through big changes

It has been a year of change at the Gallatin County 911 Dispatch Center, including brand new dispatching, paging and phone systems, among many other improvements.

Couple growing pains from adopting new systems with a shortage of dispatchers, however, and that has made for some struggles. But staff is optimistic, saying they are making big strides in improving service to the community as well as to the agencies the center works with.

“It’s been challenging, but we are moving in the right direction,” said Jim Anderson, interim 911 communications director. “Dispatchers have been fantastic and really working on all cylinders through all of the changes. They’re the backbone of this system and I cannot say enough about how proud I am of their dedication and professionalism.”

Some of the biggest upgrades and changes in the last year include:

  • Gallatin County 911 implemented a new Computer Aided Dispatching, or CAD, which is used to dispatch calls to law enforcement, fire and medical. The new program by Zuercher Technologies was part of a joint project with other agencies, including the Bozeman Police Department, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and area fire departments, which also included a new records management system for law enforcement.
  • A radio system upgrade as the first phase of a comprehensive radio communication improvement plan upgraded the City of Bozeman police and fire departments to an 800 MHz frequency system, the first 800 MHz trunked site in Montana. What that means for those first responders is better radio coverage in places where they couldn’t communicate prior to the upgrade. It also included other special features, like radio ID with the user’s car or badge number showing on portable radios to an emergency button that with one tap alerts dispatchers to a problem. The Montana State University Police Department also opted to join the 800 MHz system.
  • The paging system was also upgraded, converted to an IP system, that has improved reliability in paging, mainly to area fire departments
  • A new phone system was installed for dispatchers.
  • Gallatin County 911 received money from the Big Sky Resort Tax Board for a Big Sky public safety communications upgrade that will improve emergency communications in that area.

This year also saw a number of IT upgrades, like new computers for dispatchers, replacement of outdated servers and a storage cluster, and resolving phone issues.

At the center’s front desk is Lacy Moore, administrative assistant, has picked up new duties to include helping with the department’s budget and cross training to assist dispatchers when needed, among others.

Moore praised Anderson, saying when he came on board as Interim Director in August of 2017, he jumped into changing life in the department for employees for the better.

“He’s an amazing leader. He’s definitely changing the culture here,” she said.

Staff agree that the department is headed in a positive direction, by both implementing new systems to better communicate with emergency services and the public, as well as promoting a healthier and happier environment within the dispatch center.

But those changes don’t come without their issues, they emphasized. There are trainings to do, kinks to work out, and ongoing maintenance that take time.

The center is also dealing with short staffing. The department, which is authorized for 19 full-time dispatchers, is currently down to nine. However, five are currently in training and hiring efforts are continuing.

Michèle Blais, training manager, has been working to build a new training program that cuts down the training time from up to eight months, down to three or four months. Blais also said, while many of the skills dispatchers will need can be taught, they are putting a renewed focus on getting the right personalities for the dispatch center to help with overall culture and retention in the building.

The department is also in the process of hiring an assistant director, as well as a second radio technician. And later this spring, Gallatin County will be taking over dispatch for the MSU Police Department, which will move a number of new dispatchers into the center.

Due to the changes, as well as the short staff, Anderson said the department has struggled, but continues to push forward with what he says are positive steps.

County Administrator Jim Doar said he appreciates all the work and dedication the dispatchers are doing to meet the challenges. He added, “They care deeply about the community and their role in emergency services. They’ve persevered through some difficult transitions and we are asking them to dig even deeper; they’re rising to that challenge.”

Doar also noted that the progress made so far would not have been possible without Anderson’s leadership and is grateful that the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office was able to assign Anderson to 911 to help.

Echoing 911 staff, Doar also cautioned that the transition to new systems is always difficult and people need to be patient with the changes.

“911 is fundamentally changing the way they do business in order to better serve our fast growing county. Nothing will be perfect overnight,” he said.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin acknowledged frustrations with the changes and challenges 911 has been facing, but voiced optimism about the future of the center.

“We have to eat this elephant one bite at a time and focus on the big picture, otherwise we’ll be right back where we were, which no one wants,” Gootkin said. “We have incredible, dedicated people and that’s why I’m confident we will build a system that our first responders and citizens can count on for years to come.”

Gallatin County 911 Communications provides emergency dispatch services to the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Bozeman, Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks police and fire, rural fire districts and areas, Gallatin County Search and Rescue, ambulance services and other emergency response units.

Media contact:
Jim Anderson – interim 911 director

Photo courtesy: Gallatin County 911