BNSF Rail plans to take ownership of Montana Rail Link, the freight railroad company that has leased long stretches of BNSF lines in Montana since the 1980s, MRL President Derek Ollmann told employees in a letter this week.

BNSF, one of two major railroad companies in the U.S., has committed to retain all of MRL’s 1,200 employees, Ollmann said in the letter.

The Missoula-based Montana Rail Link is owned by billionaire Dennis Washington, who founded the company in 1987. The lines leased by MRL covered 900 miles and connected with BNSF at multiple points.

“When MRL was created in 1987, our vision was to become a safe, reliable regional railroad in partnership with BNSF, then Burlington Northern, to provide customers with competitive, consistent service and employees with good, stable jobs,” Ollmann said.

But while MRL remains a “critical link” in the BNSF line, the freight environment has changed, Ollmann wrote, with over 90 percent of the volume on MRL-leased track coming from trains owned by BNSF.

“BNSF operating the line as part of their network will ensure competitive access to global markets while continuing to provide the consistent and reliable service for our customers,” Ollmann said.

If approved, BNSF, part of a duopoly of companies with Union Pacific that controls the vast majority rail lines in the U.S., will own more than 80 percent of Montana’s rail network.

Finalization of the deal pends approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.