Montana Rail Link, which employs almost 100 people in the Helena area, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with train trips across Montana for current and former employees. 

The trips will run in and around Missoula, Helena, Livingston, Billings and Laurel, according to a letter from MRL president Tom Walsh. Nearly 2,800 current and past employees are expected to take train rides with their families.

“It promises to be a wonderful time to reflect with friends, co-workers and retired co-workers on MRL’s achievements and operations over the past 30 years,” Walsh said.

More than 500 employees from over 30 different railroads launched MRL on Oct. 31, 1987. Montana Rail Link is a Class II regional railroad that employs nearly 1,200 people and operates more than 900 route miles of track in Montana and Idaho, on line owned by partner BNSF Railway, one of seven Class I railroads in North America.

BNSF traces its roots back to the Northern Pacific, which completed a transcontinental railroad across Montana in 1883. Much of MRL’s line follows the original NP route.

In Helena, MRL has been a steady place of employment with nearly 100 employees who make an average annual salary of more than $70,000. The company purchased $11 million in construction materials, fuel, hotels and transportation and mechanical services from Helena area businesses each year. A total of $85 million in Montana goods and services are purchased each year to domestic and international markets.

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MRL paid $550,000 in property taxes to Lewis and Clark County last year and approximately $10 million statewide.

Last year, MRL shipped 62,000 carloads for all Montana shippers. Of all shipments company-wide, 32 percent contained grain, 24 percent coal, 29 percent industrial material, 11 percent vehicles, 2 percent intermodal and 2 percent crude traffic.

Using trains to move freight is on average more efficient than using trucks. According to information provided by MRL, a ton of freight can be moved 457 miles on one gallon of fuel. A freight train can take the load of 350 trucks, which reduces the use of roads and the cost to maintain them.

The Missoulian contributed to this report.

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