MISSOULA, MONTANA, March 8, 2023 - The Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued a decision today to approve Montana Rail Link’s (MRL) petition to conclude its long-term lease with BNSF Railway (BNSF). MRL announced an agreement in early 2022 for BNSF to resume operations of its mainline rail corridor through southern Montana.
MRL was founded in 1987 by entrepreneur Dennis Washington and is a part of The Washington Companies. MRL and BNSF have had a unique lease arrangement since 1987 in which MRL leases and operates mainline tracks from BNSF between Huntley, Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho. Both companies have a long-held, deep commitment to delivering continued strong outcomes for customers, employees, producers, and local communities.
Last year, more than 95% of the traffic traversing MRL’s leased line was a load moved on behalf of BNSF. The line has become a critical link in BNSF’s northern transcontinental network, delivering grain, consumer and industrial products to the West Coast. Full integration will eliminate the need to interchange freight between the two railroads, strengthening the resiliency of the supply chain and enhancing rail capacity in the Pacific Northwest. This agreement ensures Montanans continue to have access to consistent, reliable, nationwide rail service to effectively compete in global markets.
Under the agreement, BNSF has committed to retain all union and non-union employees of MRL in their current jobs with similar pay, benefits, seniority, and other terms of employment. Customers across MRL’s network will be able to maintain their service arrangements and rates, providing continuity for Montana shippers. The vast majority of rail traffic moving on MRL today is subject to rates already established by BNSF.
With the STB decision, MRL and BNSF will begin the transition which is estimated to be complete by the end of the year.
“Our team is eager and ready for the next chapter in MRL’s history. We have created a strong culture at MRL and BNSF shares our values,” said Joe Racicot, president of MRL, “Our shared commitment to safety and customer service are bedrock values within both companies that will never change.”
“We are excited to welcome the MRL team,” said Katie Farmer, president and CEO, at BNSF. “They know this railroad better than anyone and we’re proud to have them join BNSF. The line will become the MRL Subdivision of our Montana Division in recognition of the shared heritage of BNSF and MRL.”
Farmer continued, “Joining these two great railroads—both with strong ties and rich traditions—opens new opportunities and broader horizons for our collective teams, our families and the customers and communities we’ve worked together to serve for many years.”