John Speller's Web Pages Marion Branch (GNR)

John Speller's Web Pages - US Railroads
Marion Branch (GNR)
Kalispell was originally on the Great Northern Railway's main line, and indeed the locsation of one of its divisions, when the transcontinental railroad reached Kalispell in 1891. The current Great Northern Railway Depot was built in 1899. Alas for Kalispell, however, when the main line of the Great Northern Railway moved to Whitefish along with division operations. The original main line from Columbia Falls to Kalispell, Batavia, Kila and thence to Marion on the Flathead Lake then became a 26 mile branchline. In 1901, "The Empire Builder" James J. Hill and local businessman John O’Brien joined together and built an 11-mile railroad line to a sawmill at Somers on the north shore of Flathead Lake. From Somers a ferry connected with the other side of the Flathead Lake at Polson. Eventually a further connection was made via the Northern Pacific's Polson to Dixon branch to Missoula. The Northern Pacific's 33-mile Polson Branch opened in August 1918. In 1910 the Somer, Polson & Missoula Electric Railway was chartered to build an inter-urban electric railway round the Flathead Lake from Polson to Somers, which would eventually have formed a link between the Great Northern and Northern Pacific lines, but this line was never built. Apart from the Columbia Falls to Kalispell section, the Great Northern Railway attempted to abandon these branches, and passenger service was withdrawn south of Kalispell on 10 September, but freight service continued until 1985 when withdrawn by the Burlington Northern Railway. The Columbia Falls to Kalispell line remains open for freight traffic as part of the BNSF Railway. The Northern Pacific's Polson Branch is now operated by Montana Rail Link.
Map of the railroads around Flathead Lake
Great Northern freight train on the Marion Branch at Kila, Montana, circa 1920
Postcard view of Kalispell Station in 1912
The "Klondike" steamboat, which operated the ferry service between Somers and Polson, was a woodburning stern-wheeler of the kind that first saw service in the Klondike Gold Rush. By the end it was the last steamboat operating in the State of Montana
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