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Montana Rail Link will keep Bitterroot tracks open

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: May 24 2013 06:47:37 PM MDT
Updated On: May 24 2013 10:15:17 PM MDT

Five shippers and local governments hashed out a financial deal to keep the tracks open for a year, one year ago.

Now, after another shipper has come aboard, MRL says the tracks will remain open indefinitely.

STEVENSVILLE, Mont. -

Montana Rail Link will keep rolling in the Bitterroot.

We've covered the Missoula to Victor line, and the debate over whether it made enough money to keep the trains rolling. Turns out, there's a new customer on board.

Montana Rail Link said service will continue "due to new business." The railroad said the customer's identity is confidential. But outside sources said the new customer hauls logs.

There are cars loaded with logs on the tracks near Stevensville.

"And they're utilizing the Rail Link to ship their logs out of the Bitterroot," said Stevensville mayor Gene Mim Mack. "But again, the reason that person was able to do something is because the line was kept open. So our efforts were rewarded by another shipper coming in and we're hoping that will continue to grow."

Mim Mack joined the City of Hamilton, Ravalli County and a handful of shippers to offset a shortfall for one year.

The shortfall at $25,000 is now less than expected.

Ravalli County uses the rail line too. In a letter, it asked MRL for a shipping credit in the amount of the county's shortfall payment.

Scott Kurfman owns Pfau Feeds. He has a hefty bill to make up for his own volume shortfall. He's happy the rail remains open. It's good news, he said, but there is a "tinge."

"If there aren't any cars in a particular week the logging company needs picked up," said Kurfman, "then the rail line won't come down even if me or the other shippers do have cars in Missoula, waiting to come down, so it's a two edged sword."

MRL said service is scheduled once a week, although the schedule is subject to change based on available shipments.