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Locomotives Sent Careening Through Mountains During Wildcat Strike

November 1, 1987

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Three locomotives worth $1 million each were set loose during a wildcat strike Saturday, careening driverless through the mountains for 14 miles at speeds up to 80 mph before plunging into a canyon.

A transient in one of the engines was injured, said Charley Chambers, assistant chief engineer at Montana Rail Link of Missoula, which operates the rail line.

The Burlington Northern Railroad, the locomotives’ owner, said it suspected disgruntled workers because of the technical skill required to send the locomotives on their way.

A union official said he didn’t believe union workers were responsible.

Howard L. Kallio, a Burlington Northern spokesman in Seattle, said the locomotives in the Livingston rail yards in southern Montana were somehow separated from a train and took off on the westbound track.

They traveled through the mountains at speeds reaching 80 mph, passing over 5,700-foot Bozeman Pass before derailing and crashing to the bottom of a canyon, Kallio said. All three were destroyed, he said.

A transient, Allan Eadie, was in stable condition in the intensive care unit of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital, spokeswoman Elizabeth Lewis said.

Some 900 United Transportation Union workers at the railroad’s southern line had begun a wildcat strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday to protest Burlington Northern’s sale of the 900-mile line to Montana Rail Link. Union officials have complained that the sale-lease contract is a union-busting tactic.

U.S. District Judge Dennis J. Stewart in Kansas City issued a restraining order about midnight forbidding a strike. But it took several hours for papers to be served at all strike points. The locomotives were set loose about 3 a.m.

″It seems obvious it was related to the strike,″ Kallio said. ″But we don’t have any idea who did it. It’s no accident.″

″I’m reasonably sure that it wasn’t our people,″ said Gary Blakely, chairman of UTU local 685 in Livingston. ″The strike had been called off, and everyone was home in bed. It was a very stupid thing to do.″

″I sincerely hope that they find out who did that,″ he said.

The FBI, local authorities and railroad personnel were investigating.

The railroad offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the derailment.

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