Frenchtown firefighters have responded to a dozen recent wildfire starts that were sparked by rail line maintenance.
Montana Rail Link has now scaled back its work in response to the fire danger. The fires have all happened within the last eight days as a rail grinder passed through the Frenchtown fire district.
Montana Rail Link says in a statement that while this maintenance is important they will be scaling back their working days from 30 days to nine days across their network, due to the very high fire danger.
A grinder sparked a five acre fire on Tuesday afternoon in Evaro that threatened private property and required a helicopter to extinguish the flames. Frenchtown fire officials say their efforts to respond to the multiple grinder-caused fires stressed their resources.
The fire suppression capabilities of the grinder and other equipment proved unable to prevent embers from lighting rail road ties and other fuels alongside the tracks.
A MRL spokesman says the grinder is accompanied by several other cars equipped to mitigate fire danger and that water cannons on the front and back of the train pre-soak the tracks and then soak them again after grinding. The train also carries water spray nozzles to continuously wet the rail ties while spotters with water tanks also follow the grinder.
MRL says they will be taking additional precautions while grinding the tracks during their upcoming working days by pre-soaking the work area with additional water. Rail company spokesman MRL Jim Lewis says they will continue rail grinding work later this year when fire danger risks go down.
Below is the full statement released by MRL
Each year Montana Rail Link (MRL) contracts with a third party to provide rail grinding maintenance across our network. The grinder profiles the rail and removes any hardened material on the rail. Rail grinding is an important track maintenance process that is commonly performed in the railroad industry. This valuable maintenance process improves rail safety and ensures the railroad can provide reliable rail service to the Montana communities and businesses we serve. The train is equipped with water cannons on the front and back of the train to pre-soak and after-soak the right-of-way while the train is operating. In addition, the train is equipped with water spray nozzles to wet the rail ties continuously. We also have spotters following the train equipped with water tanks.
We are thankful for the Frenchtown Fire Department’s assistance and quick response on Sunday and Tuesday in addressing the issues that arose near Frenchtown and Evaro Hill.
MRL has invested well over a billion dollars in our network in the past 30 years to improve safety, reliability and service to the Montana communities and businesses we partner with. In 2017 our $40 Million annual maintenance program includes:
Installing 135,000 new ties
Installing over 23 miles of new rail
Resurfacing 245 miles of track
Investing nearly $4 Million in bridges and tunnels
Investing nearly $3 Million in rail signal equipment and upgrades
Investing $4.5 Million in new work equipment
Rail grinding is an important component of our maintenance program.
Due to elevated fire danger, MRL has made the decision to significantly decrease the grinding schedule across our network for the remainder of the summer from an estimated 30 days of activity down to 9 days. In addition, we will be presoaking the work area with additional water when grinding is occurring.
Rail grinding will resume later this year when fire danger subsides.