Posts Tagged ‘Montana’

Montana Passenger Group Names President

January 25, 2021

The newly formed Montana Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority has named Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier as its first president.

Strohmaier has played a key role in getting the group organized. To date it has held two meetings.

At its most recent meeting, Authority members heard a report that two more counties may join the group, which would give it 14 members.

Also at that meeting, members heard from Amtrak’s director for governmental affairs for the West, Rob Eaton.

During his presentation, Eaton said Amtrak would help the Authority work with potential host railroads Montana Rail Link and BNSF.

The Authority is seeking to restore inercity rail passenger service in southern Montain over a route once served by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha until early October 1979 when it was discontinued in a route restructuring.

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.

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.

Montana County Endorses Creation of Rail Agency

June 8, 2020

A Montana county has approved a resolution calling for creation of an agency that would push to return Amtrak service to Southern Montana.

The resolution was approved by Missoula County but must be adopted by at least one other county.

The resolution seeks to create the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to work toward restoration of service to cities that have been without intercity rail passenger service since early October 1979 when the Chicago-Seattle North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued.

The authority would need to work to seek funding to create any new service.

The new service would serve Billings and Missoula, the largest cities in Montana. Both were on the route of the North Coast Hiawatha.

Montana officials have discussed the creation of a multistate agency similar to the Southern Rail Commission, which is working to restore Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

News reports indicate that the most likely Montana counties to join the proposed Big Sky Rail Authority are Park, Broadwater and Silver Bow.

Officials say that a feasibility study would likely need to be completed before the service could attract funding.

The last such study was conducted in 2009 and is now obsolete.

Avalanches Halt Empire Builder Again

February 10, 2017

Shortly after it was reopened, the route of Amtrak’s Empire Builder was closed again.

BNSF said that avalanches in Glacier National park closed its Hi Line near Essex.

Amtrak Empire BuilderThe closure came less than 48 hours after the railroad had reopened the line following avalanches that blocks the tracks at Marias Pass.

Railroad officials said warmer temperatures were a factor in causing avalanches because they were creating layers of unstable snow.

Thursday’s westbound Empire Builder was held overnight at St. Paul Union Depot and passengers bound for points between St. Paul and Minot, North Dakota, were taken to their destination buy bus.

Passengers going beyond Minot were to remain on the train. Amtrak said those passengers will be given a refund and taken back to Chicago on Friday.

Two other sections of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland train were to spend the night Thursday in Montana. This includes an eastbound and a westbound section.

Landslides in Washington State resulted in the cancellation of Amtrak’s Cascades service between Seattle and Portland until Saturday.

Also canceled is the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Big Sky Country

October 20, 2016

Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Snow covered mountains loom behind Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder as it heads for Chicago near Browning, Montana.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder passes through Montana during daylight hours in both directions, so Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee went chasing after the Builder during his trip to the Treasure State this past September.

He tracked down No. 8 in various locations including against a backdrop of mountains, open range and grain elevators, making images of the train near Browning, Cut Bank, Shelby, Malta and Havre.

This is the territory of the former Great Northern Railway, which was built by “empire builder” James Hill. For decades the Empire Builder was the premier passenger train on the GN and is now Amtrak’s only train linking Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

Today these tracks are owned by BNSF and Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the only passenger train to use these rails.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

Two views of No. 8 near Browning Montana. Glacier National Park is beyond those mountains.

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Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing an empty crude oil train west of Malta.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Passing a waterway near Shelby.

Making a station stop in Malta.

Making a station stop in Malta.

In the barren countryside between Cut Bank and Shelby.

I like how I could do a broadside of the whole train out there.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Dropping down into the Valley of Cut Bank Creek.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Gliding over Cut Bank Creek on a high trestle.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Passing an old elevator at Ethridge.

Getting fuel in Havre.

Getting fuel in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre.

The heritage of this line is Great Northern as someone wants you to know in Havre. The stained glass shows “Rocky,” the GN mascot.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.

Posing with a relic of the Great Northern in Havre.