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Freight derailment on BNSF mainline in Montana affects 3,000 Amtrak passengers

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Holiday travel for more than 3,000 Amtrak rail passengers was disrupted when 16 rail cars carrying new automobiles derailed over the weekend in northwestern Montana.

Crews were still working Monday night to rerail the cars and reopen the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line.

The derailment caused Amtrak to cancel its eastbound Empire Builder passenger train between Seattle and Minneapolis on Sunday and the westbound train between those cities Monday, said Vernae Graham, an Amtrak spokeswoman in Oakland, Calif.

She said other Empire Builder trains along the route were delayed, including one that was 22 hours late and another that was delayed 16 hours.

"We're talking in the ballpark between 3,000 and 4,000 passengers" who were affected by the cancellations and delays, Graham said Monday night.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, in Seattle, said seven rail cars ended up on their sides in about three feet of snow when the 16 rail cars derailed at midafternoon Saturday. He said the condition of the automobiles is still being assessed and said he could not give a dollar estimate of the damage.

"Wrecking equipment and 35 people are on site," Melonas said in a telephone interview. "Dozers, Cats, front-end loaders, excavators were brought in to rerail the cars.

As of early Monday seven cars had been rerailed, Melonas said.

The 16 cars derailed near Essex, just outside the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. They were part of a 47-car BNSF freight train loaded with autos en route from Chicago to Seattle.