Montana Rail Link creation

Ask Trains from the April 2014 issue
On Sept. 26, 2013, Montana Rail Link’s eastbound Gas Local passes a westbound BNSF coal train in Plains, Mont., bound for Roberts Bank, British Columbia.
Tom Danneman
Q What was the reason BNSF sold off trackage to Montana Rail Link? As an observer, it appears most trains on the railroad are of BNSF origin. – Richard Kelliher, Victoria, Australia

A Montana Rail Link’s main line was leased, not purchased, for 60 years from Burlington Northern in 1987.

During the early 1980s, Burlington Northern faced rising expenses from a large local workforce compared to the former Great Northern line to the north, as well as the increased competition for traffic as a result of loosening of government oversight of railroads in the 1980s.

Burlington Northern regarded the line from Jones Junction, Mont. (east of Billings), to Sandpoint, Idaho, as surplus. With the lease of the main line, Montana Rail Link acquired trackage rights over Burlington Northern (now BNSF Railway) between Sandpoint, and Spokane, Wash. Montana Rail Link also purchased outright the branch lines that radiate from the main line. In the terms of the lease, BNSF is required to route a certain number of carloads of freight over the railroad each year.

The railroad does run its own manifest freight each way between Laurel and Missoula, Mont., as well as the “Gas Local,” that hauls gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet or aviation fuel between Missoula and Thompson Falls, Mont. Montana Rail Link also operates locals throughout its system. For more information about Montana Rail Link and its traffic, see “Survivor,” in the June 2013 issue. – Tom Danneman
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