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Thread: Moving a Mountain

  1. #1

    Default Moving a Mountain

    Moving a Mountain
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    The Montana Rail Link is a regional line that tends to think big. Maybe it's the big skies of the Big Sky State. When you are having issues with a tunnel what do you do? Remove part of the tunnel, of course!

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    It's a long story, I am far from knowing all of the details. Essentially, the narrow smokey hole through the Great Divide west of Helena, known as the Mullan Tunnel needed an upgrade. With the arrival of the newer hi-tech locomotives, the SD 70 ACe to be exact, the narrow confines, high heat and thick carbon laden exhaust was more than the computers and circuitry of the new engines could handle. Unit after unit, the engines assigned to help trains over Mullan Pass were falling victim to the harsh interior of the tunnel.

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    The solution? Remove 400' of the west end of the tunnel and bore the remainder out to a larger size to allow better air flow. Implied in that is removing 400' of mountain! The project began as soon as the weather allowed in the Spring of 2009 with construction halted for the winter.

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    This past September I visited the site, and thanks to the good folks at the MRL was able to document some of the work being done. Here are a few of the photos taken.

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    Early morning has the tunnel crew gathered for the daily meeting and orders.

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    Meanwhile, all the excitement is to the east, where with the popping of the blasting caps, the the deep thud and concussion of the main blast, a portion of the old south tunnel wall is blown apart.

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    Taking one last slurp of coffee, contractor Andy Weaver gathers his crew...

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    ..and climbing into his trackhoe, he starts cleaning away the debris. Speed is important, as the crew working in the tunnel needs the right of way clear before they can begin their day. Moving a mountain implies taking it to someplace else; the tailings pile stretches nearly 1/2 mile west from the contruction site.

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    Looking like some type of pre-historic dinosaur, the drilling rig and grout train make ready head down into the tunnel. The machines and crews will work the day, drilling out and reinforcing the tunnel walls and roof.

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    Hi ho! Hi ho! It's off to work we go!

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    While crews work both inside and outside of the tunnel, MRL project manager Dave Cook, and B&B gang member Fred Fessenden tend to the many details it takes to keep the project running including an update from tunnel crew foreman, Nick Laviolette.

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    Track and time up for another day, the last of the equipment exits the tunnel for the safety of the Blossburg house track.

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    Construciton done for another day, a westbound grain heavy slips through the daylighted west portal. The 5-set ACe helper emerges in a relatively smoke free enviornment as compared to the "old days," but the umanned DPU is taking the full brunt of a Mullan smoke show.

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    Although construction is done for this year, MRL and the contrctors estimate it will be well into next summer before the entire job is complete. Also to be removed is the old east portal of the Mullan Tunnel as well.

    So as they once said in the old days of radio seriels, To Be Continued...

  2. #2


    Another great essay Martin, as usual.

    A couple things really make it work for me...

    1) You have access to areas that most people don't, making it quite interesting and something we don't usually see.
    2) You photograph the people and what they're doing instead of just the trains.
    3) The photos are, of course, in black and white, which works really well for this one.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  3. #3


    BTW - I waited nearly a week for any of the other mods to make a comment on this essay. I'm guessing many of them don't visit often since we don't have a lot of activity, so they've missed this one.

    In any case, that's plenty long enough for folks to respond if they were so inclined, so I'm pulling rank and approving this one with just one vote. I'm not in the mood to beg for more reviews...
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  4. #4


    Nothing wrong with a little dose of compasionate dictatorship, Bob. Looks good. Thanks.


  5. Default

    Sorry - I haven't been doing a regular check of the site.

    I agree with Bob's points. The people aspect brings this alive - not just photos of trains and equipment. I like the 'at work' nature of the coverage and up close look at the project.

    One thing that surprised me is the 'down the hole' shot of the tunnel. It's not as long as I thought it was. Actually about as long as the summit tunnel at Tennessee Pass. That one was a hell hole too.

    Thanks for sharing!!
    Get Out There and Shoot!

  6. #6
    essaywriter101 Guest


    Great essay Martin. What I like most is the color of your pictures.

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    Quote Originally Posted by essaywriter101 View Post
    Great essay Martin. What I like most is the color of your pictures.
    Yea, I like the color, too.
    Dan Schwanz
    POSTCARDS FROM THE GORGE Website update 12.26.09

  8. #8


    I really wished I hadn't lost the mannual for the RB. For the life of me I can't figure out how to program it off gray scale mode.

    Martin Burwash

  9. #9


    What's the RB Martin? Good chance we can find a manual online.
    Bob Harbison
    RailroadPhotoEssays host

  10. #10


    Assuming you're joking...right Bob?

    At least I got a good laugh by your post!

    Martin Burwash

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