One of the largest railroads in America has resumed operations on the 13-mile rail line between Columbia Falls and Kalispell.
In March, BNSF Railway decided to not renew the lease of its Kalispell branch to Watco Companies’ Mission Mountain Railroad, which had provided rail service on the line since 2004. Mission Mountain will continue to run trains on another rail line between Eureka and Stryker.
BNSF took the line back on April 1.
“We are always looking to further serve customers as they expand their businesses, and this gives us that ability to do so,” BNSF officials said in a statement to the Beacon. “For the last several years, Watco has been an essential partner to BNSF in operating that line. We will continue to work closely with our longtime customers as we transition the day-to-day operations.”
Officials said the railroad also looks forward to serving the recently opened Glacier Rail Park.
Mission Mountain General Manager Kyle Jeschke said he was disappointed that BNSF decided to take the line back after 15 years. As a result, the Mission Mountain will go from employing seven people to just three needed to run trains on the line out of Eureka. Jeschke said the four people who lost their jobs at Mission Mountain have been able to find employment elsewhere in the valley or at other Watco-owned railroads.
Jeschke said Mission Mountain would still be doing some work at the Glacier Rail Park in Evergreen, including helping repair the track when needed.
“We’re still going to be part of this community,” he said.
The Glacier Rail Park was opened in Evergreen last year and will allow the City of Kalispell to replace two mile of tracks through town with a walking trail.
The Mission Mountain did leave the Flathead Valley with a parting gift. As part of the new trail, city officials have wanted to put an old locomotive on display. Just a few days before BNSF took the line back, Mission Mountain donated and delivered an historic switcher locomotive built in 1955 to Kalispell.