Amtrak at Rise Again

 

Dear Editor,

I attended the Rail Passenger Conference on Saturday [May 18] in Cut Bank.

One takeaway from the meeting that everyone in northern Montana needs to be aware of: the 2019 legislature approved HJ 34 – the Interim Study on Passenger Transportation. Now that may not cause any red flags to emerge, except that it was noted at the Cut Bank meeting, as per HJ 34, there is a renewed push to revive the Hiawatha Passenger Service, Chicago, Billings, Missoula and Spokane.

Here's a bit of history - April 10, 2007, Governor Schweitzer convened a meeting to consider a request to revive the Southern Montana Hiawatha Route (the service was discontinued in 1979 due to budget constraints).

Gov. Schweitzer, Sen. Baucus, Sen. Tester and Congressman Rehberg all climbed aboard in support of the effort. I immediately contacted Montana's Congressional Delegation to state my displeasure, making the point that they were putting Amtrak Service at risk, "If the Hiawatha Route is approved, we will lose Amtrak" because the votes are in southern and western Montana, the Boot. Sen Tester quipped, "Bob, that's where the people are" Congressman Rehberg responded, "Bob, that's where the votes are."


In 2008, Sen. Tester introduced a bill to study reviving the Hiawatha, it was approved and was signed by Pres. Bush. Luckily, I was able to garner enough support, that funding was never considered by the US Senate, Finance and Claims.

However, they never gave up. Bills surfaced in the Montana legislature, every session from 2009. What was disturbing, I was the only one from Northern Montana to show at the hearings to oppose the bills, however each time they were defeated.

So here we are, HJ 34 was approved and now they are going to study it. From what I know, Amtrak supporters have some real challenges. When one review's the Committee Members – Rep. Andrea Olson, (D) Missoula; Sen Carlie Boland, (D) Great Falls; Sen. Diane Sands, (D) Missoula; Sen. Gordon Vance, (R) Belgrade; Sen. Jeff Welborne, (R) Dillon; Rep. Mark Sweeney, (D) Phillipsburg; Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, (R) Fairfield; and Rep. Denley Loge, (R) St Regis; the skids have been pretty well oiled.

The Transportation Committee's first meeting is July 9 in Helena, we best be involved. Here's the rub, folks, if "We the People in northern Montana" don't care, if I'm the only who gives a hoot, please let me know, I will spend my time on other important issues.

I'm sharing this with commissioners, mayors, chambers and people in northern Montana, can I get a response? Will you get involved?

Cordially,

Bob Sivertsen

Hwy 2 Assoc, President

 

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