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Ronan railway crossing gets upgrade

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RONAN — As many residents know, the railway crossing on Round Butte Road near Westland Seed is rough, to put it mildly.

The speed limit drops from 65 miles per hour to 35 in a matter of a few hundred yards. Should a driver fail to slow down in time to cross the road, a violent, suspension-rattling shock rises up from the disused tracks and cracked asphalt to greet passers-by. 

However, thanks to a collaborative effort between the railway company Montana Rail Link, the City of Ronan, the Montana Department of Transportation, the Lake County Roads Department — specifically the bridge crew — and Treasure State Endowment Program, the tracks have been resurfaced and the crossing is safe once again. 

“We work very well with other entities,” said Montana Department of Transportation Section Supervisor Mark Trim. “We work very well with the county and city, so when you know everyone it’s not hard to put together a plan for something.”

Trim said while he was working, several residents made a point of stopping to offer their thanks during the 10-hour project. 

“One guy said, ‘My wife is going to make you guys cookies for doing this.’ We never did get the cookies, but there’s always tomorrow,” Trim said. 

Montana Rail Link Public Works Engineer Steve Warner said the company has nearly 1,000 miles of working railways in Montana. The main line travels from Billings to Sandpoint, Idaho, and is part of the Burlington-Northern Santa-Fe Trans-Continental railroad running from Chicago, Ill., to Seattle, Wash. The route moves 20 trains per day. 

The unused branch line passing through Ronan and over Round Butte Road begins in Dixon and runs to Polson. It was built around 1917. 

During its time of service, the line was used to transport asphalt, propane, decorative rock from the Polson area, agricultural products, passenger trains and service a lumber mill in Pablo. 

“When the mill closed, it really took a lot of traffic off the line,” Warner said. 

Even so, Warner said the rail company is retaining the rights to the track in the event that someone would want service on the 26-mile track between Polson and Dixon.

The company retains two out-of-service lines beside the tracks running through Ronan. One is in Philipsburg and totals nearly 30 miles of unused tracks. The other runs through Livingston and is nearly 20 miles long. Montana Rail Link is negotiating with a trail group that wants to turn the line into a bike trail in the next few years. 

 

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