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BN Trains on Northern Pacific line in Montana Picture Gallery

BN train on the old Northern Pacific line in Montana

For this series we follow former Northern Pacific across Idaho and Montana. We will also catch a few shots of the Butte, Anaconda, & Pacific, Milwaukee Road, and Rarus Railway. The Northern Pacific began in Duluth in 1870 and built west. Operations began in Washington near Seattle in 1876 and built south toward Portland. In 1881 construction started at Wallula and built northeast to Sandpoint, then east along the Clark Fork River. These segments were joined together at Gold Creek, Montana in September 1883. There was much work remaining. The Mullan Tunnel (west of Helena) was completed in November 1883, Bozeman Tunnel (west of Livingston) was completed in January 1884, and Stampede Tunnel was completed in 1888.

The Northern Pacific added block signals to its transcontinental route between 1909 and 1924. To be more specific, it installed automatic block signals Billings to Livingston (115 miles) in 1910, Garrison and Missoula, MT in late 1910, Sandpoint, ID to Athol, plus Cheney through Spokane, WA to Hauser in 1913. In 1914, it installed automatic block signals Livingston to Toston, MT (54 miles), Paradise to Sandpoint, ID (133 miles), aned Athol to Hauser (13 miles). Much further east it bagan installing automatic block signals Mandan, ND to Glendive, MT (216 miles) in 1916. In late 1917 NP began installing automatic block signals Toston to Garrison, MT (92 miles), Missoula to DeSmet on double track (7 miles), and DeSmet to Paradise (93 miles). This signal work was finished in the Fall of 1918. During 1919 NP installed upper quadrant automatic block signals Glendive to Terry, MT 40 miles and Forsyth to Huntley, MT 90 miles. It began installing upper quadrant automatic block signals from Terry to Forsyth, MT 83 miles in 1920. In 1922 NP ordered GRS automatic block signals for Fargo to Mandan, ND. This was the last unsignaled segment between St. Paul and the Puget Sound. In 1925 it was second to the Southern Pacific with the number of miles of main line protected by automatic block signals at 2,225 miles.

The NP installed 10 train order delivery machines between Spokane and Kootenai, ID in April 1921. The system used a metal frame to hold a sash cord with a waterproof bag to hold the orders. A 38 inch metal rod on the engine and caboose snagged the cord. This system replaced wooden hoops and hooping up train orders manually. Previously there had been 33 stops made due to missed orders over a 90 day period. The NP figured they had to replace 20,000 hoops per year due to breakage of loss.

The NP installed its first GRS CTC from Helena west to Garrison, MT in 1947. In 1956 it installed CTC on 122.7 miles between Helena and Livingston. Between 1958 and 1960, it converted the double track to CTC single tack west of Garrison to Missoula. It added CTC between Billings and Huntley, MT in 1964. It added CTC between Yardley (Spokane) and Sandpoint in 1963, extended it to Noxon in 1966, and to Paradise in 1967.

Montana Rail Link took over control of the former Northern Pacific line from Sandpoint, ID to Jones Junction, MT from the BN in October 1987. Most of the traffic on the MRL is bridge traffic from the BN operating between Spokane and Laurel, MT. But MRL also handles local traffic using a fleet of 176 locomotives and 2,100 freight cars.

All pictures in this series are on disks 11 and 12. You can purchase a disk and printout any of the pictures for your own use to dress up your train room or add color to a house that just cries out for more train pictures.

Boardman Coal Train
Evaro Hill
Warm Springs
Silver Bow
Butte, Anaconda, & Pacific