Coal trains stored on tracks

Empty coal trains are stored on tracks near the town of Colstrip.

HAMILTON – Following a slow-down in coal shipments, Montana Rail Link has announced that it will store about 550 empty coal cars on the Bitterroot Branch line between Florence and Missoula.

The cars will be placed over the next few weeks, said MRL’s Chief Information Officer Jim Lewis.

Plans call for placing the cars with 500-foot gaps at all the railroad crossings, as well as large gaps between Florence and Lolo and also between Lolo and Missoula, Lewis said.

Railroad car volume in the U.S. has dropped 14.3 percent year-to-date as compared to 2015. The volume of coal carloads is down 34.1 percent.

That reduction has resulted in about 1,800 miles of railroad cars nationwide that need to find a place to be stored.

In a statement, MRL said it gave considerable thought to the placement of the cars on the Bitterroot Branch line to limit the potential impact to residents and wildlife in the Bitterroot Valley.

MRL officials spoke with representatives of Missoula County, Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Lolo School District regarding this project.

None of the representatives from those organizations were available Friday for comment.

At this time, it is unclear how long the empty cars will remain in storage.

“It is MRL’s hope that these markets recover soon and we do what we do best; providing safe and reliable transportation service to Montana businesses and regional rail shippers,” the company’s statement read.

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