You don’t see this every day on the tracks of Missoula.
Sometime around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, a special train of 21 vintage, private railroad cars will pull into the Montana Rail Link yards east of the yard office at 1001 Defoe Street.
The train, dubbed The City of Spokane, is enroute to that metropolis in eastern Washington and the annual convention of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) next week. After a three-night stop in Livingston, which included a tour of Yellowstone National Park for the 160 passengers aboard, it’ll head west Saturday and be parked in Missoula until Monday morning.
There’ll be domes and lounges, round-end observation cars and sleeper cars, said Borden Black of Columbus, Georgia, the association’s executive director.
“People haven’t seen cars like this in years and years,” she said. “The older folks are going to have a lot of memories.”
The cars are private and they'll be on MRL property, so train fans, nostalgia buffs and photographers are cautioned not to trespass. The train should be easily viewed from the Northside Pedestrian Overpass and a bike/pedestrian path to the west that runs alongside a chainlink fence paralleling the tracks.
The railroad cars date from 1911 to the late 1950s – the heyday of passenger rail service in the U.S. Missoula hasn’t had regular passenger service since Amtrak discontinued the North Coast Hiawatha in 1979.
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Another rare sight in these parts: The train is pulled by two Amtrak locomotives, of the ilk that usually roam the Hi-Line tracks in Montana.
While in Missoula the passengers will be touring the Lewis and Clark historic site at Travelers’ Rest State Park in Lolo and the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, as well as patronizing eateries and shops in town.
The private cars hail from all over the U.S., Black said. Hers, a green 1925 model, came from West Virginia.
Two trains – one from California, the other from Chicago – merged in Denver last weekend to form The City of Spokane. They headed north Tuesday on a route that took them along the front range of the Rockies, down the center of a street in Fort Collins, Colorado, and into Cheyenne, Wyoming. The train overnighted in Casper, Wyoming, before continuing north through the Wind River Canyon, one of the most scenic rail passes in the U.S. that’s not normally accessible by rail travel.
Then it was on to Laurel to connect to the MRL line, and west to Livingston.
Black said once the AAPRCO conference is over in Spokane, everyone hooks on to regularly scheduled Amtrak trains to head home, so they won’t be coming back this way.
“This is unusual because this is rail we can’t normally travel,” she said. “Every year we go off the Amtrak system and find a real scenic freight railroad that lets us use one of their tracks. This year I think we’ve found a good one.”