BILLING – Business was business as usual at Montana’s busiest rail yard at Laurel on Tuesday after Montana Rail Link announced Monday night that it would be entering into its lease with BNSF.
Today some call it the end of an era.
“All rail fans are going to miss these blue engines with the white stripes on the front,” said train enthusiast Dale Jones.
Jones adoringly called himself Mr. Railroads of Montana on Tuesday, keeping tabs on the whereabouts of all things railroads over the years and creating a website dedicated to photographing trains in the North. western Pacific.
“They are very dear to the hearts of the people who live in Montana,” he said.
But soon that will change, ending some 30 years of Montana Rail Link, which was started in 1987 by Missoula businessman Dennis Washington.
Jones addressed the possible reasons for this decision.
“It’s beneficial,” he says. “For BNSF to overtake MRL, so I can see it. That’s one of the reasons I guess BNSF would like to have full control again, is that they use it really a lot.
Montana Rail Link officials said the freight environment has changed, with 90 percent of the volume carried by BNSF trains.
As of Tuesday, officials had not set a deadline for how long it would take for Montana Rail Link to move operations to Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
The cancellation of his lease must first be approved by the federal government. The announcement came in the form of a letter from President Derek Ollmann telling employees that the decision was made with a lot of thought.
Jones says there will surely be some unease among MRL employees.
“I don’t think this is a unilateral decision,” Jones said. “Of course I think somehow it has worked where both think it is going to benefit them.”
Montana Rail Link employs approximately 1,200 people, of whom approximately 300 work at the Laurel Rail Switch.
MRL’s iconic locomotives stretched some 900 miles from Billings to Sandpoint, Idaho.
“And they’ve improved their infrastructure,” Jones said. “They bought brand new locomotives.
MTN News highlighted these changes in 2019 when we were allowed to take a look behind the scenes of operations at Laurel. That’s when MRL officials announced the largest investment in its history with $ 95 million in technology upgrades.
At the time, company spokesperson Ross Lane spoke ambitiously about the future of the company, saying, “We are looking to the future, and it’s anything but this technology. 1880s. “
The change comes as a shock to railway industry employees and enthusiasts such as Jones.
“It’s unique. MRL is unique in the United States as far as an operating railway is concerned, ”Jones said.
The company has given assurances that the deal is based on the BNSF’s agreement to keep all union and non-union MRL workers in their current jobs with similar pay and benefits.
“We hope that union leaders take full account of the seniority and experience offered by our workforce and agree to allow our employees to do the same job under the same circumstances or under the same circumstances. similar to those they enjoy today, ”Ollmann said in a statement. .
MTN News contacted the Montana Rail Link union representation on Tuesday, but the calls were not returned.