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Railfan Photographer
It has been awhile since I spent some time out photographing trains. With a few days off I decided Montana was calling. Montana....with huge open spaces, steep mountain grades, and big blue skies. It is on trips like this were I love putting away the long lens and shooting lots of wide angles. With all the scenery in the photo it just makes the trains look small. But enough rambling and on to the pictures.

1. On the way over, I found this meet at Sandpoint, ID on the Union Pacific. The rear DPU of a hopper train pushes slowly south as UP 5501 leads a northbound manifest.

2. I was hoping to catch an early morning eastbound to follow to Missoula. But after waiting for 4 hours without any eastbounds, I decided to just head east. Meanwhile CREX 1312 shoves on the rear of a loaded grain train in Hope, ID.

3. After waiting a couple more hours, I arrived in Thompson Falls around 4:30pm and heard the detector go off. I had just enough time to drive around for a couple minutes and find a hill to stand on. BNSF 5791 leads a westbound coal (C-SXMRBE3-00).

4. I heard a MRL local get a track warrant for the 10th Sub, so I hurried east to try and catch it before the sun was gone. Here it rolls west near Dixon, MT with the mountains at sunset. Funny to see how small the two GP9's look in comparison to the first two SD70ACe's!


Railfan Photographer
5. A final shot of the MRL local as it rolls along the bank of the Flathead River.

6. After staying the night at a campground east of Missoula, I got up early to get out to Jens, MT. There is a barn next to the railroad now made "famous" by the number of really good pictures with early morning eastbounds. I got there before sunrise and watched the sky change colors with the signal at west Jens lined for an eastbound.

7. Unfortunately the train beat the sunlight to the barn so I gave chase to the east. Here it is rolling up the west side of Mullan pass with an SD70ACe in the lead (E-SPBNAM0-31).

8. After getting up to Mullan Pass the eastbound coal went into the siding at Austin. I searched for a high vantage point for the westbound. I found the perfect spot 30 feet up a tree with a spectacular view. It just so happened to be the M-KCKSPO1-15 with a trio of MRL SD45-2s leading! Seen here the head end is passing Skyline, MT as the quartet of helper SD70ACe's pushes on the rear across the valley.


Railfan Photographer
9. Another view of the M-KCKSPO. The trio of MRL SD45-2s are just about to cross Austin Creek Trestle.

10. The westbound met an eastbound at Blossburg siding and I hurried to the east entrance of Mullan Pass tunnel. Here the H-PASKCK9-21 rolls out and heads down the hill with 99 cars in tow.

11. A couple hours later another eastbound rolls downgrade (M-SPOLAU1-21). The locomotives are just passing the west switch of Skyline with the train stretched out behind.

12. A few minutes later and a hill over, the rear DPU of an empty coal train (E-RBESCM1-94) helps slow down its 125 car train. The middle of the train is rolling across the Greenhorn Creek Trestle.


Railfan Photographer
13. After hanging around Helena yard and waiting for some trains things started rolling again in the afternoon. Two new SD70ACe's lead the ML (Missoula-Laurel) as it curves across the Austin Creek Trestle with a short 19 cars.

14. The train now rolls into the siding at Austin to meet an approaching westbound. Unfortunately the westbound got about 30 cars passed the east switch of Austin and stalled. The crew called to inform dispatch of their predicament and found out there were no helpers on duty and wouldn't be for another hour. So taking matters into their own hands the crew from the ML offered to give 1 of their SD70ACe's to the poor stalled westbound.

15. After getting permission they reversed back through the siding and onto the main. Here they are at the west switch of Austin taking off the 2nd locomotive to give to the westbound.

16. The ML again rolls downhill into the siding with only 1 engine now. In the background you can see the westbound stack train stalled at the east switch. The loaned MRL SD70ACe is just now connecting onto the front.


Railfan Photographer
17. The westbound stack (S-DENTAC3-20) finally underway at Austin with a loaned SD70ACe on the point.

18. The same train crossing the Greenhorn Creek Trestle farther up the hill.

19. As the last light fades into night, an eastbound manifest (M-PASLAU1-21) charges through Blossburg siding and over Mullan Pass.

20. The early morning fog drifts through the valley as the edges of the clouds catch the first rays of sun. The quiet is broken by the sounds of SD70ACe's rolling downhill with an LM (Laurel-Missoula) train on the east side of Mullan Pass. A couple minutes later the two locomotives and 35 cars have gone and quiet returns, but the day has started.


Railfan Photographer
21. A little later the early morning sun shines down on a heavy westbound manifest. A CSX sandwhiched by two BNSF units takes the lead as they grind up the hill.

22. With 99 cars in all, four SD70ACe helpers have been cut in about 2/3 of the way back. Here they cross the Austin Creek Trestle pushing hard in the middle of this heavy westbound manifest.

23. After 4 hours of quiet the rails are alive again as a short MOW train rolls downhill around MP 15 between Austin and Skyline.

24. Finally after a couple eastbounds get down the hill the sun is out and the westbounds are lined up to leave Helena. Unfortunately the first train up the hill is an heavy coal train and they broke a knuckle at Austin. With 126 loads of coal 4 SD70ACe helper units had been cut in the middle. The broken knuckle was 7 cars behind the helpers. Thankfully there was a single rear DPU to hold what was left of the train.


Railfan Photographer
25. After fixing the broken knuckle they attempted to take out all the slack in the rear of the train. Somehow with a DPU on the rear the process was more complicated and they ended up with another broken knuckle a car away from the first. By this time it was decided to call for another helper set out of Helena to push from the rear. Here the crew works to fix the 2nd broken knuckle. Finally 3 hours later they were on the move with 3 locomotives up front, a set of 4 helpers in the middle and a DPU along with another set of 4 helpers on the rear. Talk about plenty of power, and an awesome sound pushing uphill. Unfortunately by this time it was dark.

26. With the previous broken knuckle issues all the westbounds leaving Helena didn't get up the hill until dark. Here an eastbound rolls downhill through Austin. At night it is much easier to see how many corners there are just to try to gain elevation.

27. After a short night of sleep, I was up with the sunrise to catch this westbound coal train. Here the head end is just about to MP 15 as the rear DPU can be seen just clearing the west switch of Austin. A set of 4 helpers are out of view to the left in the middle.

28. An early morning eastbound rolls downgrade through Skyline, MT with a long string of empty coal cars bound for the Powder River Basin in WY.


Railfan Photographer
29. I love this spot! Another eastbound rolls downhill at Skyline, MT. The middle section of the train is crossing Austin Creek Trestle as the rear DPU is just exiting Mullan Pass tunnel behind the trees on the left.

30. Another favorite spot! After catching the trio of MRL SD45-2s here, I had to come back with good sunlight. Here a trio of C44-9W's lead another heavy westbound up the steep grade at Skyline. The lead units are just about to cross the Austin Creek Trestle as the set of 4 helpers push hard from the middle of the train.

31. The 4 SD70ACe helper units cut into the middle of the previous train, a westbound manifest at Skyline.

32. An eastbound empty coal train rolls down into the siding at Austin, MT. The thing I love about Mullan Pass is the ability to see both the front and rear of these long trains. The rear DPU can barely be seen in the distance.


Railfan Photographer
33. Another empty coal train rolls downhill through Austin with a trio of SD70MAC's in the lead.

34. The late evening light casts long shadows as another heavy westbound manifest train struggles uphill at Austin, MT. The lead 2 units can be seen on the right with the set of 4 helpers cut into the middle of the train on the left.

35. As the last rays of sun fade, the tireless helpers push yet another heavy westbound uphill. For me it is the end as my regular life calls, but for these helpers and crew members it is just another train in an endless cycle of men and machines against mountains.


Railfan Photographer
Thanks for the kind words! It was a really fun trip to one of my favorite railroad locations. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.

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