Mountain West Rail
Frank Keller's Montana
Anybody who knows me knows that I am a big fan of the Rio Grande.  And when there is no longer a Rio Grande I will be on Mullan Pass with the Montana Rail Link.  MRL reminds me a lot of the Rio Grande.  Below are some pictures from my first ever visit to Mullan Pass on the MRL.  Rest assured I will be back.

In a scene that is getting tough to repeat, three BN SD40-2s, led by 8123, power an eastbound manifest up the western slope of Mullan Pass near the tiny berg of Avon, MT around 10:40 am on September 25, 2000.

As I followed the above train east it met this train at Elliston, MT and I decided to follow it back west.  It had, what I have to believe is, an unusual set of power for Mullan Pass since it included 4 axle power led by BNSF 4733. This is train M-LAUSPO just West of Avon, MT at 11:35 am on September 25, 2000.

On September 25, 2000 at 12:45 pm, MRL 345 heads up a nine unit consist powering the M-PASKCK at Garrison, MT.  Since train ML had been annulled this day, MRL ferried the units back to Laurel on the first available eastbound. The yard trackage in the foreground is used by the Montana Western to interchange with the MRL.
As I headed east to follow the M-PASKCK, I happen to spot what appeared to be the old highway bridge over the tracks at Bradley, MT which made for a great vantage point to photograph this train on September 25, 2000 at 1:08 pm.

I originally saw this train in the dawn at Missoula and decided to head east to find a suitable location for photography.  Unfortunately, because of the deep canyons it was necessary to go all the way to Nimrod, MT before the valley opened up enough to allow for this shot.  MRL 345 East, the ML popping out of the tunnel at Nimrod, MT at 8:05 am on September 26, 2000.

Semaphores are few and far between these days and on my last trip to Western Montana in 1989 I didn't make it past Thompson Falls.  On my return to Western Montana, I wanted to make sure I captured as many of the remaining semaphores as possible.  At 9:30 am on September 27, 2000, MRL 115 East, the Paradise Local, splits the semaphores at St. Regis, MT.  Notice these semaphores are shorter than normal.  That is so westbound trains can see them through the bridge I'm standing on.

The first coal train I have seen on Mullan Pass was one not soon to 
be forgotten.  BN 9747 heads west with a loaded PGEX coal train on September 24, 2000 at 2:35 pm.  I used a 300mm lens to capture this image and if you look closely you can just make out the two sets of helpers shoving this train to the summit. Both sets of helpers were 4 unit SD45 sets....remarkable.

It is still possible to photograph Geeps in the year 2000.  Submitted for your viewing pleasure are Montana Western Geeps 104 & 105 along with two former UP GP38s as they haul the Butte to Garrison freight.  They will set out their cars for the MRL and pickup any left by the MRL and return to Butte.  September 25, 2000 - 2:35 pm.

All images this page are the Copyrighted work of Frank Keller.
Like what you see?  E-mail Frank and let him know.
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