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Rail summit could be major milestone in efforts to restore Montana passenger service

Posted at 8:06 AM, Aug 22, 2022

MISSOULA - The Chair of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Association (BSPRA) says major meetings this week in Billings could be a big milestone for efforts to restore Amtrak service across Montana's "Southern Route".

It was just short of two years ago the BSPRA held its first virtual summit during the pandemic, a fledgling effort to bring passenger trains back to the "Southern Route" hitting cities like Billings, Bozeman and Missoula for the first time in 40 years.

Since then, the efforts have expanded rapidly. And this coming Monday and Tuesday, the "Great Northwest Passenger Rail Summit" will discuss not only service in Montana but adjoining states.

"This will be the rollout of the nationwide study looking at the restoration of discontinued Amtrak routes," explained Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, who chairs the BSPRA.

"And this was something that came out of the bipartisan infrastructure law last fall. So we'll have the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration," Strohmaier said.

"FRA officials who will be overseeing the study federal, state, local, elected officials and just plain old advocates coming together to figure out what our next steps to both enhance existing passenger rail service and to expand passenger rail service across this region."

Strohmaier says the federal infrastructure funding is rapidly expanding interest in more passenger rail service, beyond what the BSPRA was discussing just two years ago.

The meetings start Monday afternoon in Billings.