BNSF to Spend $124 Million on Montana Infrastructure Improvements

Investment to expand capacity and help railroad meet federal mandate for positive train control

By Justin Franz
A BNSF Railway employee guides an engine into a connection with other train cars at the yard in Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

BNSF Railway plans on spending more than $124 million on infrastructure improvements in Montana in 2015, the Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad announced on Feb. 24.

The investment is part of more than $6 billion the company is spending this year on improving its 32,000-mile rail system that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest.

“This year’s substantial investments in Montana are a clear reflection of how important our operations in the state are to our overall network and our unwavering commitment to always operating safely – for our people and the communities in which we operate,” said Dan Fransen, BNSF general manager of operations for the railroad’s Montana Division.

In the last few years, BNSF has made big investments in its rail lines across the northern part of the country, partially in response to huge traffic gains in and out of North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. In 2014, the railroad spent $1 billion on its northern corridor, including $400 million in North Dakota, $235 million in Washington and $160 million in Montana.

This year’s improvements will go toward surfacing and maintaining 1,227 miles of track, replacing 52 miles of rail and 345,000 crossties. The railroad will also spend money implementing a positive train control system on its rail lines in Montana.

In 2008, Congress mandated that large freight railroads install positive train control, which is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions; derailments caused by excessive speed; and trains going down the wrong track. Positive train control was supposed to be implemented across the national freight rail network by late 2015, but the Association of American Railroads says it will take longer to complete the upgrade because outfitting 60,000 miles of track with new technology is such a massive undertaking. Since 2008, freight railroads have spent more than $5 billion on positive train control installation.

In a press release, Fransen said the improvements made by BNSF this year would help the railroad haul even more freight in the future.

“We know our customers are competing in a fast-paced, global economy where a smooth, efficient supply chain can be the difference between winning and losing in the marketplace,” Fransen said. “This year’s planned expansion and maintenance projects will give BNSF the capacity flexibility it needs to support our customers’ growing demands and connect Montana products to key markets.”

Railroad officials also say the improvements would ensure the safe operation of trains through the state. Railroad safety has come under scrutiny in recent years following a series of explosive oil train derailments in the last two years. In mid-February, two oil trains derailed and exploded in Ontario and West Virginia.

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