Welcome to Photo Line! With an eclectic mix of EMD motive power from elderly GP9s to the newest SD70ACes, Montana Rail Link has long been a railfan favorite in the northwest. With sharp locomotives running through dramatic Montana scenery, there is a lot to love about the railroad which rose from the ashes of the Northern Pacific and Burlington Northern. While most visiting railfans head for the big shows at Mullan and Bozeman Pass, there is plenty more to see in and around Missoula. Join photographer Justin Franz as we follow the MRL action on the mainline and off the beaten path.
Funny name for a popular train
One of the most popular targets of visiting railfans in recent years has been the twice daily "gas local" unit gasoline trains between Missoula and Thompson Falls, Mont. With SD70ACe 4308 leading, the "Night Gas" heads up Evaro Hill near Frenchtown in September, 2009.
New paint for old workhorses
The westbound "Night Gas" local grinds up Evaro Hill, just west of the Ladyslipper Road crossing in west of Missoula, on a clear day in May 2010. Leading the way is SD45-2 311 (ex-Santa Fe 5708) wearing the MRL's newest paint variation.
Last of the Dirt Locals
A year and a half later, one of the last Dirt Locals rolls east at Clinton, Mont. in September 2009. A few days later the train would make its final run. These trains carried contaminated dirt from the old mine site at Milltown Dam.
Geeps on a Mission
A pair of MRL GP9s roll through Moiese, Mont. along the Polson Branch in August 2010. In the distance are the Mission Mountains, named for its proximity to the Jesuit St. Ignatius Mission established in the mid-1800s. The Polson Branch splits from MRL's 10th Sub at Dixon and heads north to Polson, located on Flathead Lake.
The industrial side of Missoula
The industrial side of Missoula is often overlooked by photographers, yet offers plenty of visual interest, as seen in this image of the Darby Local heading south in May 2009, lead by a pair of GP35s. The old Ceretana Feeds sign is a landmark of many old feed mills accross the west.
Darby Local in name only
With the Bitterroot Mountains setting the scene a pair of MRL GP35s roll north at Corvallis, Mont. on the Darby Branch in November 2008. This scenic branch runs south out of Missoula, and at one time this local made it all the way to its namesake. Service was cut back to Hamilton in the late 1990s.
Darby Local at Victor
The Darby Local has just spotted a few grain cars at Victor, Mont and continues to head south to Hamilton in May 2010. Lead unit 127 was originally built for Great Northern and passed on to the Burlington Northern fleet before arriving at MRL.
Making a pick up at Hamilton
A pair of GP9s head south at Victor to pick up a covered hopper at Hamilton, in May 2010.