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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Montana Rail Link’s BLET employees ratify contract with BNSF Railway

Montana Rail Link’s BLET employees ratify contract with BNSF Railway

By Bill Stephens | October 5, 2022

Timing of BNSF takeover of MRL operations hinges on labor agreements, regulatory approval

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A blue Montana Rail Link train works alongside a river with mountains in the background.
A blue Montana Rail Link train works alongside a river with mountains in the background.
Montana Rail Link’s westbound Gas Local rolls along the Flathead River between Perma and Dixon, Mont. Tom Danneman

Montana Rail Link employees represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have ratified a contract agreement with BNSF Railway, a key step in BNSF taking over operations of the regional railroad.

The union announced Tuesday that “an overwhelming majority of participating BLET members ratified an implementing agreement and Oregon Short Line Protective Agreement with BNSF regarding its resumption of service on the Montana Rail Link.”

The implementing agreement governs BNSF’s hiring of the BLET-represented MRL employees, their seniority, work rules, pay, benefits, and integration into the BNSF system. The implementing agreement and Oregon Short Line Protective Agreement govern approximately 500 BLET members currently working for the MRL.

Among other items, the newly-ratified agreement includes the following provisions:

  • Current MRL TY&E employees will be offered employment with BNSF;
  • Maintain original MRL hire date for prior right seniority (PRME) on the MRL Subdivision;
  • Maintain original MRL hire date for the accrual of vacation and personal leave days;
  • Employees will not be forced assigned off of the MRL subdivision;
  • Maintain current pool runs;
  • Maintain the reverse lodging option for pool crew employees;
  • Maintain the 12-24-36 rest option for pool employees;
  • Maintain 2-hour call times;
  • The engineer extra board will have a rest cycle;
  • The MRL will offer a $5,000 bonus for hiring out with the BNSF;
  • Health and Welfare coverage on Day 1 with BNSF including Dental and Vision; and
  • Maintains a 401K program for employees on Day 1 of their employment with BNSF.

The railroads announced in January that BNSF bought out the remaining years of Montana Rail Link’s 60-year lease on the former Northern Pacific main line between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Jones Junction, Mont., near Billings. The lease of 947 route miles of former NP trackage had been set to expire in 2047.

The next step is for the railroads to seek Surface Transportation Board approval of the deal.

5 thoughts on “Montana Rail Link’s BLET employees ratify contract with BNSF Railway

  1. First thing (w/o knowing details) coming to my mind is: They that “give” can later “take away”. Thus is this a “carrot” to get happy campers on board, until later?
    Just a thought. endmrw1006220947

  2. Much better (well, anything would be) than what the BN employees were offered at the formation of MRL 35 years ago. Options were:

    1. Quit
    2. Exercise your seniority elsewhere
    3. Hire on with an unknown entity with zero seniority.

    And it was a “success” because traffic was GUARANTEED.

  3. It makes sense from the BNSF perspective because it is in an isolated rural area where railroad workers are not found in every town. The workers are also familiar with conditions in Montana, which workers from other areas are not and accept the weather there as a given. (Just imagine a Floridian or Texan assigned there.) It is a working self contained system. Why mess with success?
    Their charge from Buffet is to run the railroad like you are going to for a hundred years. When they do they succeed. When they jump on the PSR craze, they do not.

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