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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) in January 1884, and Stampede Tunnel in 1888.

The Northern Pacific added block signals to its transcontinental route between 1909 and 1924. In 1910 the NP installed 202 upper quadrant semaphore signals between Billings and Livingston and built a new yard at Laurel, MT. The average number of trains operating during that time during the heaviest month (October) was 19 trains a day. During 1910 and 1911 it added 177 signals between Laurel, MT and Livingston 100 miles. After the signals were installed, average freight train speed increased from 12.5 to 14.7 miles per hour. In 1911 it added 25 signals from Billings to Laurel and added 84 signals on 69 miles of double track Garrison to Missoula. In 1912, it added 30 signals from Spokane, WA to Chaney on 8 miles of single track 9 miles of double track. In 1913, it added 25 signals from Huntley, MT to Billings on 12 miles of double track, added 55 signals from Sandpoint, ID to Athol, and added 33 signals Spokane, WA to Hauser, ID on 10 miles of single track and 12 miles of double track. In 1914, it installed 153 signals Livingston to Toston, MT on 54 miles of single track and 25 miles of double track, Paradise to Sandpoint 133 miles of single track, 29 signals Athol and Hauser 13 miles of single track and six miles of double track. In 1917, it installed 364 automatic block signals on 216 miles between Mandan, ND and Glendive, MT. In 1918, it added 163 signals from Paradise to Missoula on 93 miles of single track 6 miles of double track. In 1919, it added 364 signals to 213 miles of single track from Glendive to Huntley and added 164 signals from Toston, MT to Garrison on 87 miles of mostly single track. In 1925 the NP was second to the Southern Pacific with the number of miles of main line protected by automatic block signals at 2,225 miles. In 1927 it ordered 86 Chicago Railway Signal & Supply Company color light signals for Whitehall, MT to Logan 38 miles and Butte to Warm Springs 25 miles. The work was completed in 1927. This was the first installation of color light signals on the NP. At the time the line through Butte had six passenger and two freight trains a day.

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 track 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