Passenger Train

MISSOULA -- Business leaders from around the state were "all aboard" during the Montana Passenger Rail Summit on Thursday.

It comes after 11 counties across Montana signed a resolution forming the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

The online event ran for three hours and drew around 500 viewers.

They covered everything from the current state of passenger rail in the U.S., to the economic benefits that would come if there was this type of connection across Montana.

The summit featured rail advocates from across the country.

President and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association in Washington D.C., Jim Mathews, said people need to think about the economic benefits that passenger rail could bring. 

"I think if we could start to assess the benefits of rail to the community, and start to view this as the investment that it actually is, I think we can change the conversation, and I hope that's really what we're able to do," Mathews said.

In 2019, along the Montana Hi-Line, the Empire Builder brought $3.4 million in visitor spending to Montana, but Mathews said it's much more than that. 

"Let's try real hard not to focus on whether a train makes money, and instead think about who the train makes money for," he added.

Vice President of the Southern Rail Commission, John Spain, said the SRC was established by Congress and is a model for other states. 

"The SRC's ability to operate in partnership with the United States Congress and our three states, gives us the ability to sustain these kind of projects over multiple years, and over multiple political elections," Spain said.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, has been pushing for passenger rail in Montana since the beginning. He ended the event by saying he will continue to fight to bring passenger rail back to Southern Montana. 

"We can still do big things in this country, we can accomplish big goals, we can be bold, and we can accomplish this together," Strohmaier said.

You can watch the full event on the Montana Passenger Rail Summit Facebook page.

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