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02.27.12 | Trains Historic Role in Missoula Recalled

By Breanna Roy of KPAX News - Missoula's historic Northern Pacific Depot is no longer a functioning train station, it houses office space now. But when it was built more than 100 years ago it transformed Missoula from a minor trade town into an economic hub, especially for lumber. And the station became the grand entrance to Missoula.
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The Northern Pacific Railroad made its way to Montana in the late 1800s, bringing with it passengers aplenty, from the nameless to the famous.

"And on the back [of the train] is the Queen of Romania. 1926. And around her are thousands and thousands of onlookers. And you know, something we would never allow today because of the safety issues that we deal with, but they were just crowded all around that train, all over every rail track that was in the yard at the time," Montana Rail Link President Tom Walsh reminisced while looking at an old black-and-white photo of the day.

"But when you look at the picture, it's so obvious exactly where it is and it's kind of interesting to think that, 85 to 90 years ago that rail was a really big deal back then and we were bringing dignitaries in to little Missoula, Montana back then," Walsh added.

The historic Northern Pacific emblems still adorn the downtown depot as a reminder of those days. But today, Montana Rail Link owns Montana's southern route and while eight to 20 trains still pass by the depot daily, it's no place for passengers.

"I think that we have lost a lot of popularity, but in terms of utilization and what we do for the nation, we actually do way more for the nation now than we ever have. We're a bigger part of transporting goods and services across the nation than I think we've ever been," Walsh said.

The old steam engine that sits by the Red X's is now an antique as trains today are built for the future. And while they still seem heavy and clunky, they're more efficient than you think.

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