A freight train plowed into a herd of elk just outside of East Helena late Wednesday night, killing at least 23 animals.
Montana Rail Link called state game wardens to the scene early Thursday morning, where as many as 30 elk lay dead. The wardens said they were told the east-bound train was believed to be traveling at 60 mph when it collided with the animals near Spokane Creek Road.
The accident produced gruesome images of mangled carcasses.
A game warden with Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Dave Loewen, was one of the first to respond. He says the animals were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“There’s a lot of the snow in the area and so what happens is the elk will be crossing from one side of the tracks to the other. When they get up on the tracks they kind of take a break because there’s little snow up there," he said.
Montana Rail Link said in a press release Thursday they were finalizing cleanup plans and that no one was injured in the collision. The company notified Fish Wildlife and Parks due to the large number of animals hit
Loewen says that train accidents involving wildlife are expected, but what happened Wednesday night was noteworthy as an isolated incident with a high-death toll
“It’s a hazard for vehicle. It’s a hazard for trains," he said. "Unfortunately, it’s just a product of the environment we live in.”
Loewen says the dead animals were not salvageable and not suitable for a food bank donation.