When then Burlington Northern announced that it was closing its diesel repair shop in Havre five years ago and eliminating 190 jobs, local officials saw it as part of a trend-the rail industry's presence in the northern Montana town had been decreasing since the 1970s.
So when news came earlier this year that Burlington Northern Santa Fe was reopening the plant and bringing in about 100 new workers, Havre was obviously pleased. "We're delighted they're back," says Mayor Phyllis Leonard. "The shop is up and rolling." The mayor adds that BNSF was offered no incentives to return to Havre, adding that the company simply made the choice out of necessity.
According to a BNSF spokesman, the rail company has purchased a fleet of new locomotives from General Electric Co., and it decided that all 163 units would be maintained in Havre, which already had a facility in place. Regulations require that the engines be serviced every 92 days.
The employees hired for the reopening of the diesel shop will be trained in diesel or mechanical fields and in electronics, and will command salaries up $40,000, according to the rail spokesman. Leonard says Havre's real estate market is already feeling the addition of the new workers, and she is hopeful that activity in the rail industry will continue to help the region.
BNSF, which employs over 1,300 in Montana, has also announced that it will spend $65 million on track improvements throughout Montana this year. Traffic on the "Hi-Line," from Chicago to Seattle, has increased over 10 percent recently, according to company officials, making it one of the busiest lines in the BNSF system. The line typically carries coal, lumber, agricultural and automotive products and piggyback trailers.
In its heyday in the early 1970s, the rail industry employed over 800 in Havre; by the early '90s that level had dropped under 500. "At least we're better now," says Leonard. "We're trying to make big strides."