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John Miller, a journeyman machinist with Montana Rail Link, checks the front of a locomotive while machinist apprentice John Dunning, right, does a visual inspection of the running parts during a daily inspection and service at the company’s railyard in Missoula on Tuesday. Montana Rail Link was named 2013 Regional Railroad of the Year by Railway Age magazine, the industry’s oldest trade publication.

Montana Rail Link’s 957-mile system from Huntley to Sandpoint, Idaho, has been named BNSF Railway’s 2013 Shortline of the Year.

The award was announced Oct. 21 at the larger company’s annual shortline conference in Irving, Texas. The announcement from BNSF said the award is for the short line’s “significant growth and continued emphasis on a strong safety award.”

“MRL has been handling record volumes of ‘overhead’ traffic in 2013 through a 2012 agreement that ensures adequate capacity on the MRL route to meet future demand,” a news release from BNSF said.

The Missoula-based company serves three oil refineries, an electric utility and a large woodchip facility; intermodal and automotive terminals; agriculture producers; and producers of finished lumber and particleboard, talc, lime and cement.

“MRL is an important BNSF business partner committed to enhance service to customers by focusing on network and terminal velocity initiatives, responding to changes in traffic volume, and investing in infrastructure while always emphasizing the safety of employees,” BNSF vice president Dean Wise said in the announcement.

It’s the second award in 2013 for Montana Rail Link. In March, it was named Regional Railroad of the Year by Railway Age magazine.

“Our vision is to be the ‘Best of the Best’ in safety, customer satisfaction and ingenuity,” MRL president Tom Walsh said in the news release. “On behalf of our nearly 1,100 employees, we are honored to receive this prestigious award from our valued partner, BNSF.”

Bighorn Divide and Wyoming Railroad received the Special Recognition Award, the other big prize at the convention. The line that interchanges with BNSF at Bonneville and Bishop in Wyoming has nearly quadrupled its volume in the past 10 years, growing at an annual rate of 14 percent.

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​Reach the Missoulian newsroom at @missoulian, at newsdesk@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5240

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