Montana Public Radio

Amtrak Pledges Support For Southern Montana Passenger Rail Initiative

Jan 25, 2021

Amtrak says it will work with the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in an effort to bring a rail line back to Southern Montana.

Amtrak offered its support to the new project at the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority’s second-ever meeting last week. The group is made of a dozen local governments that are proposing a passenger rail line stretching across southern Montana from Wibaux to Sanders counties. 

Amtrak Director of Government Affairs Rob Eaton told the group to have patience with the project. 

"It’s going to be a worthwhile journey, but it’s going to take some time, so don't get frustrated."

Jordan Hess is the director of transportation at the University of Montana and a Missoula city councilman. He says as a national player, Amtrak’s involvement is critical to the project, which would connect cities across state lines. It would also establish relationships with local railroads groups to build out the project. 

Hess says Montana should be ready if significant infrastructure funding becomes available, which could be a possibility under President Biden, whose love for trains has earned him the nickname “Amtrak Joe.” 

"We need to be able to stand up in Montana with our hands up, saying we're interested and we're ready."

Hess also says more trains in Montana could mean a lighter economic burden on some Montana families, whether it makes it possible for a family to downsize from two cars to one, or help college students rely solely on public transportation. 

He also says it could help reduce emissions in the state because it’s the most energy efficient way to travel. It’s also safer than driving in a car, especially when the drive includes windy Montana highways. 

"It's a safety benefit, but it's also just a benefit of being able to think about just relaxing with your family and playing cards or something instead of having to drive white knuckle to a holiday gathering."

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority board is scheduled to meet again in early February.