BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- BNSF Railway and state officials are engaged in a legal skirmish over whether a shipping lawsuit should be heard in federal or state court -- a disagreement that could have far-reaching consequences for grain farmers in central Montana's Golden Triangle.

The dispute centers on the 87-mile Geraldine rail line near Lewistown. For years, Central Montana Railroad has battled in federal court to force Texas-based BNSF to make payments for the line under a 1984 agreement.

After Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock last month stepped in and tried to move the matter to state District Court, BNSF balked. The railway is now accusing the state of "shopping" for a favorable venue.

A decision from U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong is pending. State attorneys say that if BNSF wins, Central Montana could go out of business and farmers would have to drive long distances to unload their grain.

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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