Gilbert B Norman wrote:It appears that the BNSF is quite the Grinch with regards to the short line offering a more favorable rate for handling grain by truck to an on-line elevator rather than having an interline shipment originate on the Central Montana.
If he was still alive, this would be one of those Paul Harvey " The Rest of the Story" type things.
The article makes it sound like a deliberate attempt to shaft the smaller railroad. All this really is is that BNSF offers better rates to farmers/shippers when grain is shipped in Shuttle (110-car) movements. There are no shuttle facilities on the Central Montana Railroad, so the farmers are trucking their grain to the nearest places where there are shuttle facilities: Moccasin(Grove), Moore, and Carter. Offering a better rate for shuttle grain trains is true all over the country, not just in Central Montana.
The history of this shortline starts after March 1980 when the Milwaukee Road discontinued operations west of Miles City, Montana, and much of its track was abandoned. Some lines were kept in operation, and the biggest chunk in Montana to remain was around Lewistown, Montana. Burlington Northtern took over the operation of routes from Lewistown to Heath, Moore, and Geraldine. The longest was the Geraldine segment about 80 miles. I have always wondered why BN took over these lines, but I imagine it had to do with politics as many were complaining about the BN's "monopoly" in the state after the pullout of the Milwaukee Road, Perhaps this was a way to somewhat appease the state.
In the mid-1980s, BN shortlined the Geraldine line and it became the Central Montana Railroad. In addition, BN also spun off a branch line from Moccasin to Spring Creek Jct. This allowed the Central Montana to interchange with BN on its main line at Moccasin. (Due to an unsafe bridge east of Spring Creek Jct., the Central Montana never operated to Lewistown, and its operations headquarters was established at Denton, Montana.
Evidently, according to a similar article in the Billings Gazette, BN agreed to pay the Central Montana for every car it handled to interchange at Moccasin. This, in effect, resulted in the rate being the same for cars on the Central Montana as on nearby Burlington Northern, it's just that part of what BN would receive was returned to Central Montana to finance their moving the cars from Geraldine and or Denton (the two grain-loading points on the Central Montana) to Moccasin. The article in the Gazette states that BNSF was granted relief from paying the Central Montana by an arbitration panel. There is no other information about this arbitration panel and its authority. The State of Montana wants to appeal in a local, district court, while BNSF says it needs to be heard in a federal court. My question is why the state doesn't accept the ruling of the arbitration panel. The article does not elaborate.
Almost all the grain shipped from the Central Montana railroad goes through Great Falls and then to the west coast, usually to the Portland/Vancouver area. On the Milwaukee Road, Geraldine was only 62 rail miles from Great Falls. But due to the instability of the route, this section was abandoned in 1980. Cars now must move from Geraldine southeast on the Central Montana about 85 miles to Moccasin before moving a similar distance back west to Great Falls. In effect, BN was subsidizing the farmers who used the Central Montana to make up for the circuity of their shipments.
The circuity of the route is probably why, for instance, there is no shuttle train facility on the Central Montana Railroad. Another thing is track condition....good only for mostly 10 MPH, and also a horrible 1.5 percent grade for loaded cars near Arrow Creek, Montana (between Geraldine and Denton), which is a stiffer grade than anywhere on BNSF between Moccasin and Portland! And it's not like BNSF would have a problem if an grain company wanted to put in a shuttle facility off its line. BNSF interchanges shuttle trains for loading on shortlines like the Red River Valley and Western (mostly in North Dakota), the Minnesota Northern, and to other Class I railroads like CN and CP. Again, given the curcuity of the route, the grade, and the poor track condition on the Central Montana, it's easy to see why shuttle facilities are on BNSF.
So, that's a bit more background on this story. My question to the State of Montana, which owns the Central Montana: What were your long term plans for the line? It's still not in very good shape. Were you ever going to upgrade it so it COULD accept shuttle trains, or was your sole strategy banking on a subsidy from BNSF in perpetuity? I think the state's court action answers that, so even if the state prevails, for now, it's obvious that it's probably not going to be enough to save this railroad.