BNSF Railway taking over Montana Rail Link route
Big Mountain can be seen behind a BNSF train as it sits on the tracks in Whitefish. (Whitefish Pilot file photo)
| January 11, 2022 1:00 PM
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — BNSF Railway has announced plans to resume operation of its mainline rail corridor through southern Montana, ending a lease with Montana Rail Link.
Under the lease that began in 1987, MRL operated the tracks owned by BNSF Railway between Huntley, Montana, and Sandpoint, Idaho. MRL had in-state freight contracts and used its locomotives to haul BNSF freight across southern Montana.
Over the last several years, more than 90% of the traffic on the southern corridor belonged to BNSF Railway, officials said.
Ending the lease will eliminate the need to for BNSF freight to be turned over to Montana Rail Link.
BNSF Railway has committed to hiring all of Montana Rail Link's 1,200 employees in their current jobs with similar pay, and will soon begin negotiations with MRL's labor unions, MRL President Derek Ollman said.
"This agreement protects our workers, our customers and our long-term commitment to safety, and it will ensure a more seamless operation of rail services in Montana," Ollmann said in a statement.
The agreement must be approved by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.
Katie Farmer, president and CEO of Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF, said the line will become the MRL Subdivision of the railroad's Montana Division, "in recognition of the shared heritage of BNSF and MRL."
BNSF's Montana division includes a rail line across the northern part of the state.