The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Rep. Bridget Smith
Legislative Dems 

The Hi-Line Needs Amtrak

 


Of all the misguided items in the current proposed federal budget, the threat to end Amtrak’s long-distance routes, including the venerable Empire Builder line across Montana, could have the roughest immediate impact on the people, businesses and communities of the Hi-Line.

Yes, the President’s proposed budget includes cuts to the nation’s passenger rail system that would probably mean the end of the line in Montana, after more than a century of service.

This is a terrible thing for the Hi-Line. We all benefit from the route, which runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest -- whether or not we take it ourselves.

For many who cannot or do not wish to drive, the train is essentially the only transport to the West Coast or to Minnesota and points east.

Decades ago, Montana had multiple rail lines hauling people across the state. When these rail lines died, so did many of the towns along the way. The highway system and automobiles replaced trains for most travellers, but trains continue to play a huge role for our region. In fact, these cuts come just as Amtrak is experiencing record ridership and revenues.

In Montana, the Empire Builder experiences nearly 60,000 boardings annually. Nearly half of all riders are visiting family and friends. Some take the train to see medical specialists across the state or out of state. Some go to or from jobs in the oil patch. About 12 percent are on business. Another third or so are tourists. Many of these would never come to Montana, or the Hi-Line, without the train.

The trains are how many of us, or our grandparents, first came to the state.

And of course the trains brings jobs, with millions of dollars in payroll and a big boost to county tax rolls along the way. It serves Indian reservations, Glacier National Park and a dozen towns with small populations and limited transportation options, winter and summer. Cutting off this steady flow of passengers would hurt families and businesses all along the route.

Yes, there is some air service to the region. But the proposed federal budget would also devastate the program that has kept those air fares low enough to keep the routes running. The Essential Air Service program has boosted rural America’s air travel for decades, and kept us connected with bigger cities. But it too is now under the knife.

If this budget goes through as written and we lose the Empire Builder, we might never get it back, and our region will lose a valuable human and economic lifeline.

Our Senators, Jon Tester and Steve Daines, need to remember this as the budget enters the Senate, and will work to make passenger rail better, for Montanans -- not end it. The Empire Builder serves us well and will continue to do so for decades to come. The Hi-Line and all of Montana need it.

Rep. Bridget Smith (D) represents House District 31, including Poplar, Wolf Point and Fort Peck

 

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