Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Idea for rail passenger equipment “made in the USA” – and an idea for more service in the far north

This story comes from the Great Falls Tribune, the newspaper of record in the town I called home from 1972 to 1977. Actually there are two stories. Let us, first look at the lead from the AP.

BOZEMAN (AP) — A group of railroad enthusiasts who want to restore a Southern Montana passenger route are pushing for federal stimulus money to be spent on a train assembly plant in Livingston.

Chuck McMillan of Helena is working on the proposal with Warren McGee, a retired railroad conductor from Livingston, Rep. Barry Green of Glendive; and Michael Ackley of Missoula.

Now, a note to the fine folks at the Associated Press. People who promote  ground transportation are not “enthusiasts.”  Such terms are pejorative, bordering on verbal abuse. Many professionals make a living doing this kind of thing, and while they may not quite meausre up to the academic rigors of a reporter, they still deserve respect. Your choice of words suggests a serious bias.Suggested alternatives: advocates, railroaders, citizens, taxpayers.

One should be glad they didn’t call the people “fans” or “buffs.” I am very award that there are some real idiot rail hobbyists out there, and some of them haul off with schemes and proposals that are beyond moronic. Nonetheless, when somebody as a sensible sounding idea, it deserves some kind of fair hearing. The truckers and airline guys won’t like that, but so be it.

Now, on to the real story.

Despite the maze of issues that always seem to arise in an industry so bound up with history, new rail passenger equipment is coming to America and it should be built by Americans. Why not Montana? It may be that there are good reasons why not, but those should also lead us to the better place, if there is one.

Restoring the southern leg of th Empire Builder in Montana and North Dakota is a great idea. As a former resident of Big Sky Country, let me tell you that it is tough to get around up there in winter – which is most of the year. There exists a real social need for transportation service of the type government is obliged to provide. This restored service has numerous points to recommend its consideration.

Essential new service would come to Missoula, Boozeman, Helena, Billings and Livingston in Montana. The trains would also reach Jamestown and Bismarck in North Dakota. Bismarck and Helena are state capitols. The small cities in this region are all transportation deprived by any definition and often isolated in bad weather. This is a ready marker, as demonstrated by the ridership on the Empire Builder, which takes the northern route through Minot and Havre. The southern route actually has the better population centers.

These parallel routes provide possible alternates for days when even rail transport is disrupted.

Restoring service between New Orleans and Jacksonville is the top route priority, if Amtrak is ever to expand its service footprint, which it must do. Considering history and the enormous injustice done Idaho in the discontinuance of the Pioneer, that should be second. One might argue that entering the Nashville or Tulsa regions is also important. The value of the Montana proposal lies in its necessity to the local residents.

Comments? Blast away.


Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

6 Responses

  1. […] on the Streetsblog Network, we turn to member blog Trains for America, which looks at the idea of using  stimulus funds to bring rail-equipment manufacturing — and […]

  2. John says:

    I’m skeptical on the need for more passenger rail service in Montana. The low population density and long distances between urban centers aren’t exactly the best market for passenger rail. And I don’t mind being called an enthusiast.

  3. patlynch says:

    As a former resident of Montana, I think your argument looks good on the surface, John. The same argument could be used for the Empire Builder, which is probably Amtrak’s most successful long distance train.

    It is the relative long distances that make rail a viable alternative, and all of these smaller cities have limited air service.

    Ad I said above, it would probably not be the top choice for a new Amtrak route (if such a thing were ever allowed to happen) but it does make sense.

    And the state governments might be persuaded to chip in. Might.

  4. Warren McGee is a retired NP conductor, and one of the most respected
    people in the land as far as anything NP is concerned. I would not label this fine gentleman as anything other than a fine gentleman.

  5. […] are rumblings toward restoring passenger rail service along the I-94 corridor in North Dakota and Montana — and building a new rolling stock factory in Livingston to help […]

  6. Fritz says:

    What about rewarding the early adopters who already have put blood, sweat,tears and cash into their train ventures? I’m thinking of Colorado Railcar which was liquidated last year because of lack of demand after years of development and testing.

    The big American locomotive manufactures in the US today are Wabtec/Motivepower in Boise; EMD in Cleveland; and General Electric in Erie.

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