County Commissioners Talk Passenger Rail Service in Missoula
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - On the County Talk edition of KGVO’s Talk Back show on Wednesday, Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier provided an update on the effort to return passenger rail service to Montana.
Commissioners want Passenger Rail to Return to Missoula
Strohmaier said it was a constituent who asked him to look into the possibility of resuming the service after a 47-year hiatus.
“One of my constituents here in Missoula reached out with the idea of what about passenger rail and he told me about the benefits,” began Strohmaier. “I actually was one of those folks who did not realize that we had Amtrak service back in 1979. So there are those vestiges of the past where passenger rail did play a prominent role in our community and certainly at the north end of Higgins Avenue, there is a train station. It's currently being used for other things right now, but we are in discussions with community leaders about what would it take to bring that back into service.”
Strohmaier touted the creation of the Passenger Rail Authority.
Strohmaier said the Montana Passenger Rail Authority is Growing
“I think one of the best examples of why we’re talking about the rail authority is that we created the Rail Authority in the year 2020,” he said. “We're currently the largest transportation district in the state of Montana, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. We began with 12 counties. We're now up to 20 counties as Treasure County became our 20th county last week. Why are these counties, many of which are pretty small, sparsely populated, rural, deeply conservative counties in eastern Montana interested in this?”
Strohmaier provided one example of a remote Montana county where passenger rail would solve a multitude of problems.
“County Commissioner constituents there in Prairie County have to travel 175 miles to catch a plane to seek medical services,” he said. “And from a transportation standpoint, many of these folks who need air travel, medical services or other services are either unable to drive and find it extremely inconvenient. So just from the standpoint of providing transportation options, rail fills a gap we currently do not have.”
Strohmaier said Passenger Rail will Enhance the State's Economy
Strohmaier closed by stating that passenger rail combined with freight would enhance the state’s economy, but additional infrastructure would be necessary.
“We are not contemplating cramming additional train sets and passenger rail sets onto the existing infrastructure without infrastructure upgrades,” he said. “BNSF Railway is on our board of directors they are with us in this undertaking as is Amtrak and the Montana Department of Transportation. We all recognize that what benefits passenger rail also benefits freight and vice versa. We have under-invested in our rail system in this country compared to other places around the globe and safety is something that is first and foremost in our thinking. So when we are restoring passenger rail, we recognize those enhancements are going to benefit the safety of freight rail operations also.”
Find out more about the Passenger Rail Authority by clicking here.