Montana group pushing to bring back Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha route to service

Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 12:10 PM CST
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MISSOULA, M.T. (KUMV) - Could reopening a former Amtrak route covering southern Montana and North Dakota be feasible? One group in Montana believes so.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority says reestablishing the North Coast Hiawatha line would create new jobs as well as provide new options of transportation across the two states. The proposed service would follow along Interstates 90 and 94, making stops in Glendive, Dickinson, Bismarck and Fargo. Authority Chair Dave Strohmaier says he is hopeful a federal study into long-distance passenger routes will show the need for restoring the railway.

“We need to, at this moment in time, make our voices known to the federal railroad administration and to our members of congress that 2023 is the year to get this over the finish line,” said Strohmaier.

The North Coast Hiawatha route was discontinued in 1979. Passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021 secured funding for Amtrak to study its long-distance network. The Federal Railroad Administration will be releasing a short-list of recommendations for restoration later this spring. The full report is expected to be completed by November.

Amtrak Proposed Route
Amtrak Proposed Route(Photo: Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority)

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority welcomed its twentieth county last week, covering most of the proposed route. Strohmaier says it shows that both urban and rural counties across Montana are supportive in a new railway.

“We are on the cusp of realizing something that many have sought for decades, and that is the restoration of passenger rail service to the southern tier of both Montana and North Dakota,” said Strohmaier.

There are six counties along the route that have not joined the authority at this time.

Governor Doug Burgum, R-ND, has expressed support for restoring the route, saying it would have significant economic impacts for state tourism. Senators Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven have also been in favor of improving long-distance passenger rail across rural America.