MISSOULA -- The Missoula County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to establish the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

Twelve counties, including Missoula, have agreed to adopt the joint resolution as founding partners.

The vote on Thursday made Missoula the second county to make the adoption official.

Missoula County Commissioner David Strohmaier said creating the railway would positively impact rural areas in Montana. 

"It's a piece of infrastructure that absolutely would create options for rural portions of Montana that otherwise might be difficult to realize," Strohmaier said.

Forming the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is just the first step to re-establishing the passenger rail across the southern part of the state, which hasn't seen passenger rail since 1979.

Attempts to restore the service have happened over the years, but without an organized governance structure, they haven't made much progress.

Adopting the authority gives the counties involved the ability to seek funding that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to do.

Missoula County Commissioner, Josh Slotnick, said the passenger rail can boost the economy in south-central Montana. 

"These are areas are losing people and we're gaining people on the west side of the mountains. This kind of connectivity could begin to shift that demographic trend and thereby really change things economically," Slotnick said. 

Strohmaier added that he would love to see Missoulians board a train at the Missoula Train Station once again, but if not, he said not to lose hope.

"If not there, it will be somewhere within our community that we would re-establish an actual station for folks to board and disembark from trains."

He added that this railway could easily compare to the Empire Builder alone the Hi-Line, which brings between 30 and 40 million dollars into the economy.

The public is encouraged to virtually join the Passenger Rail Summit held on Sept. 17, to learn more about what it can do for Montana.

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