In a dramatic statement on the downturn in fossil fuel markets, Montana Rail Link announced on Wednesday that over 500 of it's coal cars would be stored indefinitely on railroad tracks between Florence and Missoula.

Public Relations Director for Montana Rail Link Jim Lewis said the process of storing the coal cars was completed on Wednesday.

"We just finished moving an additional 250 coal cars into storage between Florence and Missoula, which brings the total cars in storage to just over 550," Lewis said. "Primarily the cars are stored between Florence and Lolo, and between Lolo and Missoula. The footprint that we're in we could actually fit over 1,000 cars, but we only placed 550 because we want to leave enough space between the cars so that for wildlife to cross, and at railroad crossings we left 500 feet, so we could leave lots of room in between the cuts of cars."

Montana Rail Link has also notified and spoken with many agencies and groups including representatives of Missoula County, Fish Wildlife & Parks and the Lolo School District regarding this project.

Lewis said how long the coal cars would remain in storage depends upon the market for fossil fuels.

"That depends on the markets in the U.S and right now, it's not a pretty picture for coal," he said. "Total U.S. railroad carload volume is down 14.3% year-to-date as compared to 2015. Coal shipments on Montana Rail Link are down almost 42 percent year-to-date, and nationwide, coal shipments are down over 30 percent. The variables are the strength of the U.S. dollar, all the way to cheap natural gas. It's all impacting coal."

Lewis said there are thousands of cars in storage throughout the state at this time.

"Right now at Montana Rail Link, we have almost 3,000 cars in storage between Laurel, Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho," Lewis continued. "I'd say about half of those are coal cars and half are crude tank cars, because, obviously the oil industry is feeling a lot of the same market conditions as coal, and with crude prices down to under $50 a barrel, it's hard to say when crude will start moving again, as well."

Lewis said there was some good news to report from Montana Rail Link.

"Up to a few weeks ago we had up to 50 employees furloughed, but we have started the process of bringing those employees back because, fortunately, we're seeing a big corn harvest in the Midwest, which led to a lot of corn that was in storage starting to move early, and in anticipation of that large harvest, so we're starting to call some of those guys back."