The truth is that I've given Montana Railroads a shot, and they simply don't interest me like the RCPE. Montana is a beautiful state, but 95% of the rail traffic happens on BNSF rails, with Montana Rail Link taking up most of the remaining 5%, and some UP stuff happening in the extreme Northwest and Southwest portions of the state.
The main industries in Montana for railroads is mining/logging, petrol products, wood, and grain products. But to put things in perspective, all of the Flathead valley only produces about 350 carloads of grain in a year. Butte and Anaconda has large copper mines, and there's plenty of timber to go around, but right now it seems that the logging industry is contracting down to a few mills, mostly owned by big corporations like Weyerhaeuser. The copper mines are still active, but not producing near the quantity that they once were, and the smelters have closed. That's great for the environment and state of Montana, I suppose, because then everyone can move on from the old ways. The trouble is that there is very little need for local rail service in Montana, mostly everything just comes in one side of the state and out the other.
Some modelers love to model the large unit trains, and more power to them, but I prefer the smaller branch lines, of which almost every branch in Montana has closed, or is struggling. Simply put, besides beautiful scenery and unit trains, there's not too much out here in Montana to model in the present day. So just like the state, I'm afraid I too must move my interests elsewhere. Enter the Rapid City Pierre and Eastern story:
The RCP&E is a regional railroad that hauls over 52000 carloads per year, bringing fully loaded cars of grain, cement, asphalt, petrol, ethanol, and other goods from facilities primarily in South Dakota to the Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, or Union Pacific railroads at points along it's 628 mile route.
Begun in June of 2014, the railroad has become an instant success. Turns out giving control of day to day operations to local employees is a great way to ensure a smooth running operation.
Starting out in Tracy, MN, the mainline heads west, past Brookings, Huron, Pierre, Ft. Pierre, Wall, and terminating at Rapid City. The Rapid City line runs from Dakota Junction in NW Nebraska to Colony, Wyoming, with Rapid City being in the middle. Not entering the Black Hills, but rather skirting around their outer tree-caped hills.
With Beautiful scenery, local interest, and a rock-solid roster of SD40's and GP38's, the RCP&E has basically everything I could want in a railroad, and so that is what I will model.
Finally, after years of searching, I've found the railroad which I would like to model, and I hope that the prototype lasts just as long as my models, if not longer.
So cheers to the Rapid City and Eastern! I can now move forward!