Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Montana’

Montana Rail Agency Has 12 Member Counties

November 27, 2020

The agency seeking a return of Amtrak service to southern Montana now has 12 counties as members.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority could hold its first meeting next July at which it will appoint officers and begin strategic planning.

Half of the 12 counties that comprise the Authority are located along the route of Amtrak’s former North Coast Hiawatha, which operated between Chicago and Seattle until being discontinued in early October 1979.

The agency needed 10 member counties to qualify as a government entity under Montana law.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said the agency will work with Montana State University’s local government center.

Montana Rail Symposium Set for Sept. 17

September 11, 2020

Supporters of restoring Amtrak service to southern Montana plan to hold a virtual event on Sept. 17 to drum up support.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority plans an online symposium to be called the Montana Passenger Rail Summit.

The event will be held between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Speakers will discuss efforts to preserve Empire Builder service across the northern tier of the state as well as revive service on a route last served by Amtrak in 1979.

That service involved the Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha, which was discontinued during an Amtrak route restructuring .

Nine Montana counties have joined the Big Sky agency.

An announcement on the agency’s website said that participants in the symposium will include elected officials, business leaders, students, passenger rail experts, environmental organizations, and transportation enthusiasts.

They will discuss the creation of the Big Sky agency, hear about the economic benefits of rail passenger service and discuss what needs to be done to restore Amtrak service to southern Montana.

Montana County Names Member of Agency

August 24, 2020

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier has been named a member of the Big Sky Rail Passenger Rail Authority.

Strohmaier has been instrumental in leading the efforts to create the agency, which is overseeing efforts to restore Amtrak service to southern Montana.

Five counties have ratified membership on the commission with six others having indicated their intention to join. Each county will appoint one member to the commission.

The region has been without intercity rail passenger service since Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in 1979.

2nd Montana County Signs Onto Agency

August 1, 2020

County commissioners in Missoula, Montana, have approved a resolution to form the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

Earlier this week commissioners of Gallatin County also approved the resolution.

The approval of two counties of a resolution is needed under state law for the agency to become official.

The authority plans to work to restore Amtrak service to southern Montana.

The region last had intercity rail passenger service in early October 1979 when Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued.

The drive to create the authority was initiated a year ago by Missoula County.

Among the cities that are on the proposed route are Billings, Bozeman and Missoula.

The authority will also explore operating the train through Helena.

Officials say as many as 10 additional counties might join the authority, which plans to hold a “rail summit” in Missoula in September to work out details about how the authority will be set up.

Montana’s only intercity rail service is Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which operates across the northern tier of the state.

1st Montana County Formally Joins Big Sky Agency

July 29, 2020

Gallatin County in Montana has formally agreed to the membership terms of the new Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

That makes it the first formal member of the agency with Missoula County expected to join later this week.

Nine other Montana counties have express interest in joining the authority, which was formed to work toward the resumption of Amtrak service to the southern tier of the state.

Currently the only Amtrak service in Montana is the Empire Builder in the northern part of the state.

The southern tier has been without intercity rail passenger service since the Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in early October 1979.

11 Counties Now Part of Montana Passenger Group

July 20, 2020

Eleven counties have now agreed to join the fledgling Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which aims to revive intercity rail passenger service in southern Montana.

That is about half of the counties along the proposed route of the route, which last saw service by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha in 1979.

Joining the authority have been the counties of Big Horn, Broadwater, Butte-Silver Bow, Carbon, Dawson, Gallatin, Park, Prairie, Sanders, and Wibaux.

The next step will be adoption of a joint resolution by each of the counties following public hearings.

The first of those hearings will be held in Missoula County later this month.

Another Montana County Joins Rail Effort

June 23, 2020

Another Montana county has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, which is seeking to restore Amtrak service to the former route of the defunct North Coast Hiawatha.

Dawson County joined with Missoula County in the agency thus enabling it to meet Montana law that provides that at least two counties must join an organization for it to have agency status.

Dawson County, with its county seat in Glendive, voted on June 16 to join the Big Sky agency.

Officials are seeking to entice other counties to join the effort to restore rail passenger service to Montana’s southern tier.

The North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued in early October 1979 as part of a massive Amtrak restructuring effort that resorted in the discontinuance of several long-distance trains.

Amtrak’s only service to Montana is provided by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Empire Builder Derails in Montana on July 29

June 8, 2020

One passenger and three crew members were treated at a hospital and several others suffered minors injured in a May 29 derailment of Amtrak’s westbound Empire near Bainville, Montana.

The derailment occurred after the train struck a tractor at a rural crossing. The driver of the tractor was killed.

The collision caused a fire in the lead P42DC. The trailing unit and most of the eight cars left the rails but did not overturn.

No. 7/27 was traveling an estimated 75 miles per hour at the time of the collision, which closed the BNSF mainline for several hours.

Aboard the North Coast Hiawatha During Its Last Days

January 8, 2020

I made it a point in September 1979 to make a trip from Chicago to Seattle aboard the North Coast Hiawatha.

The train was set to be discontinued on Oct. 1 although a court order kept it running for a few more days before the inevitable occurred.

Shown is the dome car assigned to No. 17. I made this image from an open vestibule door as the train made its way through Montana.

Dome cars on Amtrak’s western trains were becoming an endangered species at the time.

New Superliner equipment was coming and watching the Rocky Mountains from a dome would within another year or two become a thing of the past unless you were traveling in a private car.

No. 17 is on the tracks of the former Northern Pacific, which heavily promoted its use of dome cars on its North Coast Limited.

Senator Presses Amtrak to Restore Ticket Agents

January 3, 2020

Montana Senator Jon Tester has asked Amtrak to restore ticket agents to two stations in his state as soon as possible.

Tester made the request of Amtrak President Richard Anderson in the wake of congressional approval of a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill that included a policy rider that Amtrak restore ticket agents to some stations where they have been removed in recent years.

In Montana that includes Wolf Point, Havre and Shelby, all of which are served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The policy rider directs Amtrak to restore agents to sell tickets and provide customer service to stations that lost agents in 2018 if those stations served an average of 25 or more passengers a day. That would include Havre and Shelby.

In his letter to Anderson, Tester emphasized the importance of ticket agents at rural stations, saying they do more than sell tickets. They also help passengers board, handle baggage and provide information about their communities.

Amtrak policy requires that unaccompanied minors can only board an Amtrak train at stations with a ticket agent.

Amtrak said it removed ticket agents at some stations as a way to cut costs and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

The passenger carrier has said that most of its passengers purchase tickets online.

In place of ticket agents, Amtrak has contracted with people who act as station caretakers who open the waiting room in advance of train time and keep it clean.

Amtrak has been loath to replace caretakers with ticket agents even in the face of a congressional resolution approved earlier.

Instead, Amtrak has argued that caretakers meet the requirements of congressional intent of having someone at a station who provides customer support but not the sale of tickets or the handling of baggage.

In some communities, volunteers provide information to passengers although they are not authorized to sell tickets.