Bridge collapse triggers hazardous material spill, endangering Montana’s Yellowstone River

A bridge crossing the Yellowstone River in Montana collapsed in the early hours of Saturday, resulting in the release of toxic substances into the rushing waters below.

The incident involved a freight train carrying hazardous materials, including hot asphalt and molten sulfur, according to Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services.

The catastrophic event has prompted immediate response efforts to mitigate the potential environmental and public health risks associated with the toxic spill.

Bridge Collapse and Hazardous Material Spill

picture of the incident and the bridge collapse

picture of the incident and the bridge collapse / Photo: Matthew Brown / AP Photo


The collapse of the bridge over the Yellowstone River caused a portion of the freight train to plunge into the water, resulting in a hazardous material spill.

Preliminary reports indicate that three rail cars carrying hot asphalt and four rail cars containing molten sulfur ended up in the swollen river.

Witnesses, including an Associated Press reporter, observed a yellow substance emanating from some of the tank cars, raising concerns about the extent of the spill and its potential consequences.

Safety Measures and Immediate Actions

Following the accident, authorities swiftly responded by shutting down drinking water intakes downstream and assessing the level of danger posed by the spill.

While evaluating the situation, officials confirmed that the crews working at the site were not in immediate danger.

Additionally, the dilution of the hazardous material by the swollen river offered some mitigation against the immediate threat.

However, the potential long-term impact on the environment and local communities remains a concern.

No Injuries were reported, but Connectivity Issues Arise


picture of the incident and the bridge collapse

Photo: Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Fortunately, the train crew emerged unharmed from the incident, with no injuries reported, according to Montana Rail Link spokesman Andy Garland.

However, the collapse of the bridge also caused significant disruptions beyond the hazardous material spill.

A fiber-optic cable providing internet service to numerous customers in the state was severed, leading to connectivity issues for Global Net customers.

The major fiber route through Montana has been affected, resulting in either complete downtime or severely impaired connectivity.

Emergency Measures and Environmental Impact Assessment

In neighboring Yellowstone County, authorities implemented emergency measures at water treatment plants due to the potential hazmat spill.

They have urged residents to conserve water and initiated precautionary steps to safeguard public health.

The exact cause of the bridge collapse is currently under investigation, and while recent heavy rains contributed to the swelling of the river, it is yet to be determined if they played a role in the incident.

Notably, the Yellowstone River experienced record flooding in 2022, which caused extensive damage to Yellowstone National Park and nearby towns in Montana.

Investigation and Expert Analysis

As experts begin investigating the bridge collapse, questions are arising regarding the structural integrity of the bridge and its maintenance history.

Robert Bea, a retired engineering professor from the University of California Berkeley, suggests that the repeated years of heavy river flows might have played a role in the accident.

The high water flow exerted substantial forces on the bridge’s piers and the river bottom, potentially leading to erosion or scouring that compromised the foundation.

The investigation will also focus on wear, rust, and the maintenance records of the bridge components.

Collaborative Response and Inspection Standards

Federal Railroad Administration officials are working alongside local authorities to address the aftermath of the incident.

In their investigation, they will examine recent bridge inspection reports to ensure compliance with federal Bridge Safety Standards.

Bridge owners bear the responsibility for inspections, and compliance with safety regulations will be thoroughly reviewed to determine the extent of any negligence or shortcomings.

The collaborative effort aims to identify the causes behind the bridge collapse, improve safety measures, and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Protecting Surrounding Areas and Natural Resources

Efforts to mitigate the environmental impact and protect local resources are underway.

Kelly Hitchcock of the Columbus Water Users took immediate action to shut off the flow of river water into an irrigation ditch downstream of the collapsed bridge, preventing the hazardous materials from reaching nearby farmland.

Officials are assessing the impact on natural resources and developing appropriate cleanup, removal, and restoration strategies in coordination with various agencies.


The collapse of the bridge over the Yellowstone River in Montana has resulted in a hazardous material spill, with toxic substances, including hot asphalt and molten sulfur, released into the rushing waters.

Immediate safety measures have been implemented to protect drinking water supplies and assess the potential risks.

Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the collapse, evaluate bridge maintenance practices, and identify any negligence.

The incident highlights the importance of robust infrastructure, rigorous inspections, and prompt response efforts to safeguard the environment and public welfare.