Railway Company’s Negligence Cause Major Pollution in Montana

Montana Railroad

Residents of Livingston, Montana, have witnessed first-hand the damage dealt by the treacherously negligent attitude of Northern Pacific Railway. One resident, named Bill Philips, put it this way in a recent Huffington Post report on the toxic effects of the railway company: “Rip, rape and run,” he said. And perhaps it’s always been that way since the company claimed Livingston as its halfway stop in the late 19th century.

Negligence in Action

For years, the company acted as the economic center of Livingston, offering jobs to the local denizens, many of which dirtied their hands with toxic chemical cleaners and asbestos covered urns before ineffectively disposing of these pollutants. Some workers were instructed to essentially dump hundreds of gallons of oil straight onto the ground.

One man, named Doug Thomson, worked in the paint shop where noxious fumes ran rampant and where trains were repainted resulting in loads of paint and other chemicals being left on the ground. Thompson said, “There is a little bit of shared guilt, because I knew better,” continuing, “But they didn’t really give you any alternatives. … What are you supposed to do with it? Take it home with you?”

Negative Consequences

Where did the chemicals go? Right into the ground water, soil and air of the surrounding community. Eventually, after the major economic changes that occurred in the 1970s, the railway company started to diminish and ultimately ceased its Livingston operation in 1986. The town has relied on tourism for its income, all the while suffering from the harmful effects of that once booming railroad company. According to one report seeking to address the pollution problem in Livingston, failure to remediate the issue could result in “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, safety, and welfare, or the environment.”  

Loads of Pollution

But what exactly is the issue? Well, there are many. The groundwater alone is riddled with eight so-called contaminants of concern (COCs). And many more have been infused into the air and soil of the region. What’s more, Northern Pacific (later known as Burlington Northern Railroad) has dealt this sort of damage in 18 different locations (known as super fund sites) throughout the United States.


By 1977, thanks to the likes of Thomson and Philips, the state’s environmental agency finally pursued action against the company, attempting to obtain $340,000 in penalties. Eventually the company got off with a lower payout, having to decrease its impact on the environment. But in 1988, after the discovery of massive amounts of diesel fuel (around 1 million gallons) in the ground, the company was forced to pay $2 million.

Toxic tort claims attorneys may also be able to pursue damages against polluters when their actions cause harm to humans.

Ongoing Problem

In August the Environmental Protection Agency took Livingston off its list of proposed superfund sites, which are areas deemed extraordinarily toxic and in need of clean up. Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of Park County Environmental Council, still tracks the area’s pollution problem and vehemently disagrees with the EPA’s decision. “As a community, we want all the tools to get to the finish line,” she told the Huffington Post, continuing, “[W]e’re not there yet.”

Broader Phenomenon

Northern Pacific Railway is just one among many major companies responsible for huge pollution-producing projects. According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, a huge majority (70 percent) of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to just 100 companies worldwide. Pedro Faria, a technical director at the CDP, says the report “pinpoints how a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions.” The main contributors, according to the report, are ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron.

Losing Money

What’s worse, these profit seeking conglomerates could be throwing their money away. According to a report by Carbon Tracker, these companies could be wasting nearly $2 trillion – money gained from investors seeking returns on fossil fuel profits – because, in the coming years, fossil fuels will slowly dissipate as the world turns to green energy sources.

At this point, it’s hard to say how the fossil fuel industry will react to the increasing demand for clean energy. In the meantime, cleanup efforts are paramount for those affected by the nasty habits of company’s like Northern Pacific and BP.

Sean Lally About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.