As news crews, federal investigators and contractors swarmed the scene of a Montana bridge collapse in June, a team of Rocky Mountain Contractors employees worked to swiftly restore internet and emergency services for myriad customers across several states.

On Saturday, June 24, a bridge collapsed over the Yellowstone River in Montana, sending several train cars into the water. The bridge also had been supporting a long-haul fiber line owned by Cogent Communications (formerly Sprint). When the bridge collapsed, the fiber line was cut, causing a massive telecommunications outage.


Trucks and crew working near site of bridge collapse with train cars in river
Rocky Mountain Contractors provided emergency service to repair a long-haul fiber line after a bridge collapsed into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Long-haul fiber lines carry telecommunications services across great distances. The Montana bridge collapse cut off internet services as well as emergency services, including 911 capabilities, to commercial and residential customers across several states.

Just minutes after the bridge collapsed, a representative from Cogent Communications contacted Steve Gaskill, a Rocky Mountain Contractors project manager. Cogent needed help. Their system was showing a cut in their fiber line, although they didn’t know the exact location.

Statewide response

After a little research, the line break was pinpointed near Columbus, Montana, roughly halfway between Bozeman and Billings. Gaskill contacted several Rocky Mountain crews from the telecommunications, gas and electrical divisions and headed toward the derailment site.

Fourteen Rocky Mountain employees responded from locations across the state, including the Billings, Bozeman and Helena areas.

Triumph through teamwork

Typically, Rocky Mountain would place a fiber-optic cable under a river using a directional drill. However, this long-haul fiber line provided services to a massive customer base, and it needed to be back in service as quickly as possible.

“We started working early that afternoon,” Gaskill said. “Our underground crews used an excavator to dig back on the fiber. We cut out the damaged section and put in vaults and storages. We drilled from the pole line to the existing damaged fiber to avoid clearance issues.”

The Rocky Mountain team received assistance from rescue jet boats on the scene to run a lead line across the river and then pulled a new fiber line back in place.

Shane Hardy, a Rocky Mountain general foreman, worked with local cooperative Beartooth Electric to obtain permission to attach the fiber line to their nearby distribution power poles as a temporary solution.

Rocky Mountain’s team worked amid a scene that comprised hundreds of people as well as trucks lined up along I-90 bringing in large equipment. People on the scene included officials with the Federal Railroad Administration and Montana Rail Link, and numerous other contractors. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte visited the site on Monday, June 26.

Rocky Mountain restored fiber service at approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday, June 27 – less than three full days after Gaskill received the call from Cogent. Once the railroad bridge is repaired, Rocky Mountain will place a permanent fiber-optic cable under the river.

Rocky Mountain Contractors, part of MDU Construction Services Group, is headquartered in Helena, Montana, and has locations in Belgrade, Billings and Kalispell, and Rapid City, South Dakota.