Montana Department of Transportation

Malcolm “Mack” Long, Director


View the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force site for more information.

Rail in Montana


MDT has limited interaction with railroads operating within the state. Generally, MDT’s involvement with rail and rail issues includes:

  • Improvements to highway rail grade crossings.
  • Maintaining an inventory of all public rail/road crossings and prioritization improvements.
  • Managing the Montana Essential Freight Rail Loan Program for rail construction and rehabilitation projects on light density rail lines or related infrastructure.
  • Negotiations with rail owners for right-of-way for construction of state roadway improvements near or across rail lines.
  • Limited rail planning activities such as rail grade separation study, Montana Freight Plan, and Montana Rail Plan.
  • Continual support for the preservation of existing passenger rail service, Amtrak’s Empire Builder, in state.
  • Requests for information (oil & coal trains, Amtrak, rail abandonment).
  • Owns the track between Moccasin and Geraldine and lease to Central Montana Railroad.
  • Participate in the Great Northern Corridor Coalition. MDT applied for and received grants on behalf of stakeholders for a two-phase study for the Great Northern Corridor.

MDT has no jurisdiction over the railroads in Montana or operates any of the rail lines.

Montana Rail Freight Facts

  • There are more than 3,300 miles of rail run by 12 companies. BNSF operates 59% of these rail miles; Montana Rail Link operates 25%.
  • By tonnage, rail carries the most freight followed closely by trucks and pipeline.
  • By value, trucks carry nearly 50% of freight, followed by pipeline at 34% and rail at 8%.
  • Rail carries 48% of freight by weight that originates within the state.
  • In 2015, approximately 50% of rail freight carried within and through the state by BNSF was coal. Farm products made up 20%. Petroleum products were 8%.

Montana Passenger Rail Facts

  • Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs along the High Line and is an essential passenger transportation service for people traveling both in and through the state.
  • There are 12 Amtrak stations. The Whitefish location accounts for approximately 45% of the boardings and alightings.
  • Amtrak provides positive impacts to the state’s economy.
  • In 2008, Congress directed Amtrak to examine the possibility of reinstating passenger rail service on the North Coast Hiawatha route. Amtrak estimated the capital and up-front costs of the NCH route to exceed $1 billion, annual operating cost would exceed $74 million, resulting in a $31 million annual operating loss.
  • In 2010, Amtrak completed an analysis of the restoration of southern route passenger rail from Sandpoint, ID and Williston, ND and a more detailed analysis between Billings and Missoula.