It's probably not a change you'll notice right away. But the next time you're driving along a railroad in Montana

you may realize it's been a while since you've seen the familiar livery of a Montana Rail Link locomotive.

That's because MRL is now on the long list of railroad companies that have disappeared over the decades, due to mergers, buyouts, or simply going out of business.

Happily, with MRL, it's NOT a case of trains dropping service in Montana, but the closure of a long-term Montana company turning over service to a larger railroad operator.

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It was a bit of a shock when Montana Rail Link announced it was terminating operations two years ago this month, saying in January 2022 it had reached an agreement to turnover its 60-year long-term lease early giving Burlington Northern Santa Fe control of all freight operations across Montana.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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Although there were some bumps in the transition focused on employee changes, for the most part, the change happened smoothly. And January 1st, MRL ceased operations with BNSF assuming all traffic in the new "MRL Subdivision". The name is a way of paying tribute to the Washington Companies division which had operated across the state between Billings and Sandpoint, Idaho since 1987.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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Combining forces for the future

Luke Johnson, the new General Manager of the BSNF Montana Division, says the change will allow the line to combine employees, resources and equipment to serve customers as a single team.

"We're excited about the years ahead working together as one team," Johnson said in a statement. "Our combined forces will have a unique opportunity to build upon best-in-class service our customers throughout the Montana region have come to expect."

MRL's "tribute engine"; Dennis Bragg photo
MRL's "tribute engine"; Dennis Bragg photo
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What will it look like?

MRL had already started to phase out its familiar SD45 locomotives over the past couple of years, ending an era where the company had used more than 70 of the legendary engines at one point.

The companies haven't specified whether every one of the remaining blue and black engines will be sidelined immediately. But if you're a railroad fan and you see an MRL engine working, you might want to get a picture for the kids.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo
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Gallery Credit: Chris Wolfe

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