MISSOULA - Montana Rail Link’s (MRL) request to terminate its lease with BNSF Railway was given the green light from the Surface Transportation Board on Wednesday.
The approval means BNSF will regain control of the former Northern Pacific main line between eastern Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho.
MRL announced in January its desire to terminate its 60-year lease with BNSF early. Following the decision, the company becomes the “MRL Subdivision of BNSF’s Montana Division.”
The deal will eliminate the need to interchange freight between the two railroads.
BNSF says it plans to keep all of MRL’s 1,200 union and non-union employees in their current jobs, with similar pay, benefits, and seniority. It has also reached agreements with the labor unions representing MRL employees.
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.
MRL President Joe Racicot shared the following message in a news release on Wednesday:
"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. Our shared commitment to safety and customer service are bedrock values within both companies that will never change."
Montana Rail Link began operations in 1987, under a 60-year lease from Burlington Northern. It was founded by Missoula entrepreneur Dennis Washington and is part of The Washington Companies.
MRL ranks among the largest regional railroads in the United States.