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BNSF is to take back the operation of the former Northern Pacific main line through southern Montana, which was leased to Montana Rail Link in 1987.
The east–west route between Huntley, Montana, and Sandpoint, Idaho, had been leased to MRL for 60 years by predecessor Burlington Northern, which concentrated its operations on the former Great Northern main line further north.
However, BN and later BNSF continued to send traffic via the southern route, and in recently years this has accounted for more than 90% of the business using the line.
Missoula-based MRL is a subsidiary of the Washington Companies, and is designated as a Class II railway. As well as leasing the main line, the company also purchased various branches outright, some of which have since been closed. Today it operates a network of around 1 500 route-km with 1 200 employees.
MRL announced on January 10 that it intended to terminate the lease and had agreed to hand back the network to BNSF. It said this would ensure that freight traffic could move ‘more efficiently’ through the region, providing long-term sustainability, predictability and opportunity for employees and customers.
Subject to agreement by the Surface Transportation Board, the lines would be incorporated into BNSF’s Montana Division and designated as the MRL Subdivision. The two companies confirmed that all employees would retain their jobs ‘with similar pay, benefits, seniority, and other terms of employment’, and freight rates for the majority of shippers would not change.
‘There have been many changes in the rail industry since this long-term lease was signed, and given the need to be competitive in the current environment, we believe that this was the right time to revisit our long-standing agreement with BNSF’, MRL President Derek Ollmann explained. ‘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.’
‘We welcome the MRL team and customers back into the BNSF family’, added BNSF President & CEO Katie Farmer. ‘We will continue to invest in this business, provide great service and maintain the highest level of safety just as we have for over a century in Montana. This will best position employees, customers and the communities we serve for future success.’
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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