Thursday morning, a BNSF Railway freight train collided with a herd of two dozen elk just east of Cape Horn Lookout, killing them all upon impact.
Operators sounded a whistle and triggered the train’s emergency response but were not able to stop before striking an estimated 24 to 26 elk, according to the rail company. The track passes through a secluded area between state Highway 14 and the Columbia River, roughly 1.5 miles from the lookout.
Lena Kent, BNSF general director of public affairs, said the workers moved the elk bodies off the track to minimize potential hazards for railway traffic and notified officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The animals were not salvageable.
Jeffery Wickersham, Department of Fish and Wildlife captain, said the incident is an anomaly – especially of this magnitude. Year-round, there are minimal reports related to wildlife being struck by trains.
“Sadly, it looks as though this was a wrong place wrong time for the herd,” he wrote in an email to The Columbian.
Based on the location where the elk congregated, they were likely grazing, Wickersham said. Moving along the open tracks would be an easier route to maneuver through the dense vegetation.