MISSOULA — Four people, including a prominent Montana writer, were cited with misdemeanors while protesting a coal train that passed through Missoula on Saturday.
They were part of a group of about 60 people who staged a protest at the railroad crossing at the intersection of Madison Street and Greenough Drive. The protests were organized by Blue Skies Campaign, 350-Missoula and Indian People’s Action.
“We’re really here to support the nonviolent direct action that will be taking place today,” said Nick Engelfried, co-founder of Blue Skies Campaign.
This is the second time this year these groups have held a rally and attempted to block the rail lines at the Madison Street crossing. In April, seven people were cited for disorderly conduct in a similar protest, where a small group of the larger crowd sat near the tracks until a train pulling coal cars approached them and they were led away by police.
Before the train came, environmental advocate and author Rick Bass joined the protesters who stood carrying signs on the side of the street. Around him, people held slogans reading “It’s Time to Cut Carbon” and “Clean Energy Good Jobs.”
“Hopefully, we draw people’s attention to how we don’t have to accept our coal shipments leaving Montana,” Bass said.
He added that it wasn’t just an issue of the coal being sent out of the country to places like China, it was that it was being extracted in the first place.
“It’s a moral and fiscal issue. There’s nothing right about this,” he said.
As an empty Burlington Northern Santa Fe train headed east from the station, it blared its horn as it came through the crossing near the rally.
The crowd gathered around to hear an essay Bass had written for the event.
“In the old days, our country could be counted on to make a stand,” he read.
As the train approached from the east, a spotter located outside of town kept Engelfried updated with its location. As the train passed Turah, he moved through the crowd, telling people it was on its way. He also notified Montana Rail Link of their intentions to attempt to stop the train.
Before the westbound train reached the crossing, MRL officials and Missoula police officers arrived on scene. While the rest of the protesters stayed farther back from the crossing, Bass and a group of others stood next to and on the tracks with their signs.
Sgt. Rick Stevenson said the people nearest the tracks were warned multiple times that they would be cited if they did not step away.
Bass was the first to be removed when a police officer handcuffed him and led him away. He was taken over to a patrol car where he was issued a citation for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass, then released. As he was led away, other members of the rally cheered.
Three other protesters were also cited, though none were handcuffed. They followed an officer away from the tracks about 10 minutes before the train came and received their citations for the same charges.
Stevenson said the decisions about whether or not to use handcuffs while a person was being detained came down to the specifics of the situation and “the temperament of each person.”
Engelfried said he received notice the train had slowed down dramatically farther up the tracks, although it had not come to a full stop.