Central Montana Rail resumes full services with new outlook

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

The Ross Fork Trestle stretches across the Judith River north of Moore Monday. Dan Simpson, owner of the surrounding land, said the 2011 flood severely damaged several of the trestle’s central pillars.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Central Montana Rail has reached a milestone in its flood recovery: Trestle repairs restored the line from Denton to Moccasin, according to General Manager Carla Allen, and the nonprofit has been able to offer full service on that section since last June.

The nonprofit’s line was damaged with the floods of 2011. The Judith River Trestle garnered all the attention, and the funds, with the substantial swerve introduced to tracks. The 138-foot trestle had its $3.5-million repairs completed in 2014, but it was not the only trestle damaged by heavy rains.

“I actually had two trestles damaged in that flood,” Allen said.

The second was the Ross Fork Trestle. Although it, too, crosses the Judith, Allen said the trestle is named for the road it sits near. It connects the Central Montana Rail line with its station in Moccasin, which is the nonprofit’s interchange track.

“We have three tracks there that we use to receive cars and to send cars out,” she said. “BNSF drops cars off to us there, and we return the cars to them there.”

Without the trestle and its connection, the line could not carry any products to a larger railroad company or to market, according to Allen.

“It was a big deal to be able to get back to our interchange track,” she said. “We really couldn’t ship anything without being able to get back to our interchange track and receive cars from the BNSF.”

Allen reported the project’s $1.7 million cost fell completely to the nonprofit, unlike the Judith River Trestle’s repairs, which were funded through state and federal grants.

“The cost of the repairs of that trestle were the Central Montana Rail’s responsibility,” she said. “We had to secure a loan to do that.”

Although the trestle’s repairs allow the nonprofit to haul crops again, Allen does not see Central Montana Rail carrying as much grain as it did before the floods.

“The scope of our business has changed,” Allen said. “At the moment, we’re storing cars and shipping small quantities of other commodities, but I guess that works. The Charlie Russell Chew Choo has been very instrumental [in our business], too.”

Pulse crops such as peas and lentils are filling up some cars, but the bulk of the budget now comes from storage, according to Allen.

“Car storage is our primary revenue right at the moment,” she said.

Central Montana Rail may not have been able to reach its Moccasin tracks since 2011, but other train companies could. Allen explained the nonprofit used its rail lines to store cars other companies were not using, charging a sort of rent to keep them there.

“We’re still storing cars,” she said. “We’re storing quite a few cars.”

Allen understands farmers have created other ways to transport their crops in the years Central Montana Rail was out of service.

“The grain industry of course couldn’t wait five years for us to fix our tracks,” she said. “They had to make other arrangements. We don’t really anticipate we will ship grains in the volumes we did before the trestles were damaged.”

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