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Entries in Bitterroot Branch Line (6)

Wednesday
May232012

Bitterroot residents warned to watch out for trains

(MISSOULA)- Since it’s been nearly a year since trains operated in the Bitterroot Valley, Montana Rail Link is reminding residents to use precautions to stay safe.

MRL restarted service on the Bitterroot Branch Line Saturday, sending a single train south to serve customers in the Stevensville and Corvallis areas. It’s the first time a train has been on the line since MRL suspended operations because of a lack of business. But now the railroad has contracts through the end of the year.

And MRL wants to be sure people start using caution, especially on the dozens of smaller crossings that don’t have complete signalization.

In addition to signals at busy places like the Stevensville siding, crews were on the ground Saturday making sure all of the lights and switches were working properly. But at other side roads drivers must be sure to look both ways and be cautious when crossing the tracks.

MRL spokeswoman Linda Frost says there will be about 2 to 3 trains per month running on the Bitterroot line, and those won’t be on a specific schedule. So she says drivers need to be alert for trains at all times. 

Friday
May182012

Bitterroot trains roll again this weekend 

MRL was ready to close line for good last winter, but line was saved through weeks of negotiations(STEVENSVILLE)- Trains return to the Bitterroot Valley this weekend, as Montana Rail Link restarts its Bitterroot branch line.

The line, which has been out of service for about a year, is going back into operation after months of work and negotiations between MRL, local government leaders and the Ravalli County businesses who can use the line for shipping products. Funding for the new business comes from commitments with the businesses, plus several thousand dollars in matching funds from the county and the cities of Stevensville and Hamilton.

Crews spent the past several weeks repairing the line and MRL spokeswoman Linda Frost says the first train is set to roll Saturday.

Frost says that train will consist of 9 or 10 railcars, with most going to Selway Manufacturing in Stevensville and one car to Lakeland Feeds in Victor.

She says future shipments will be on an “as needed” basis but trains are expecting to run through the valley about “2-to-3” times per month for the rest of the year.

Because there’s no fixed schedule, MRL is reminding Bitterroot residents to be sure that they use extra caution again at crossings throughout the valley between Hamilton and Missoula. 

Monday
Apr232012

Work underway to re-open Bitterroot rail line

(MISSOULA)- Montana Rail Link tells shippers it’s aiming to have the Bitterroot Branch line re-open and ready for trains to resume service by the middle of May.

MRL hasn’t used the line into the Bitterroot Valley for almost a year, and had planned to permanently shut down service altogether. But a coalition of local business and government leaders combined to come up with enough money to make it feasible for MRL to re-start the branch and provide service for the rest of the year.

The company has already started making repairs and completing maintenance. MRL spokeswoman Linda Frost says Rail Link told its shippers during a meeting last week that it hopes to have that work done and the trains re-started on May 19th.

Furthermore, Frost says MRL is committing to provide $100,000 to cover half of the $200,000 local match that will be needed if Ravalli County is successful with an application to the federal TIGER program. The county has already applied for $1-million that would be used to make permanent repairs and upgrades to the Bitterroot Branch, keeping it in service beyond this year. 

Thursday
Apr052012

Stevensville chips in to save Bitterroot rail line

Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack says use of tax increment funds will allow money to be paid back over time(STEVENSVILLE)- The Stevensville Town Council will dig into tax increment funds to come up with the money to help keep freight rail service running up the Bitterroot Valley.

Local governments in Ravalli County have been working to assemble funding to help make up the difference of what shippers are able to spend using the Montana Rail Link line this year. MRL is agreeing to keep the line in place if it has the combination of business and government commitments.

Ravalli County and Hamilton already agreed to fund the shortfall, putting all the attention on the Stevensville Town Council.

Wednesday night the council initially discussed contributing 15-thousand dollars, which is half what county commissioners had been hoping for. But after hearing expressions of support for the plan, and the importance of rail service to the town’s economy, the council voted to up the contribution to 20-thousand dollars.

“But basically those funds are going to come from our tax increment finance district, which will benefit directly from the use of the rail line," explains Mayor Gene Mim Mack. "So it’s basically the users of the district paying back these funds, over a probably 10-year period out of their tax revenues that they pay. So it’s a really good way to allow the funds to be spent. But the direct beneficiaries of those will pay them back.”  

Ravalli County commissioners will meet Thursday morning to discuss Stevensville’s contribution and whether they can finalize the county’s share of the 62-thousand dollar package. 

Tuesday
Apr032012

Bitterroot rail funding still alive

(HAMILTON)- Both Montana Rail Link and Ravalli County have a “tentative” agreement to fund continued operations of the Bitterroot Branch Line for the rest of the year.

The local governments are trying make up any shortfall in shipping commitments from local businesses agreeing to use the line this season. MRL says that money is absolutely necessary to get the line back in operation and keep it from being closed entirely. 

Now, everyone is waiting on Stevensville to come up with its share of the money.

Last week it appeared plan had gone “off the rails”, with Ravalli County commissioners expressing serious reservations about the timing and amount of money to be spent on the operation scheme.

Ravalli County commissioners on news that Stevensville might not chip in a full 30-thousand dollars, and also objected to paying money “up front”. Commissioner Greg Chilcoot said MRL had been a good partner and the rail line's future was critical for the county's future economic growth. 

“We can not philosophically, in good consciousness in my mind, subsidize a profit. And it is our hope that we can rebuild or maintain this infrastructure until the economy, the timber industry, something changes so it can, once again be a profitable spur for Montana Rail Link.”

“I know I’ve talk to a lot of businesses that they’re just watching to see what happens here," said Commissioner Suzy Foss. "Because then they can start thinking about, well if we have another year and the economy is slowly turning around than I can focus my business a little differently than what I would be thinking if I only had the option of trucking.”

Chilcott says a county delegation had a very productive meeting with MRL late last week and has come up with a "baseline" agreement that details how government money would be credited against what the shippers spend.   

MRL spokeswoman Lynda Frost says once the commissioners give their final approval, the company will set the timeline for getting the rail line re-opened, saying MRL is “pleased” a tentative agreement has been worked out.

The Stevensville Town Council has a special meeting Wednesday to discuss its funding. Depending on the amount, commissioners could finalize the entire deal by the end of the week.