Train, railroad crossing - U.S. Department of Transportation

HELENA, Mont. - The Rail Passengers Association says restoring the North Coast Hiawatha as a daily Amtrak service could generate $271 million each year in economic benefits to the states it serves.

In an assessment of a restoration plan proposed by the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, the Rail Passengers Association found that it could generate $271 million each year in economic benefits to the seven states served, which includes Montana, while costing Amtrak roughly $68 million per year to operate.

“The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is excited to share the results of the Rail Passenger Association’s Research Note,” said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, who chairs the Rail Authority. “With some of the best long-distance route ridership numbers in the nation and projected economic benefits of over $270 million annually between Chicago and Seattle, this route would be economically and socially transformational for urban, rural, and tribal communities in Montana and throughout the Greater Northwest Region.”

With the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, also known as the Investment n Infrastructure and Jobs Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation is authorized to evaluate all options for restoring service to several discontinued long-distance routes.

Among the options is a route that goes through southern Montana.

The Rail Passengers Association was asked by the Authority this summer to re-examine a 2009 North Coast restoration study, and Big Sky asked the Association to assess the scale of economic benefits from restored passenger service.

“Passenger rail is an economic engine in the communities it serves, thanks to two factors: additional spending from riders and businesses which that spending supports, and savings to the traveling public and municipal authorities,”said Rail PassengersPresident and CEO Jim Mathews.“Additional spending from riders in local economies comes as passengers board and alight in different places, opening their wallets along the way. And because they spend, workers at hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and retail outlets in turn recycle their earnings into the local economy, while the businesses for whom they work spend on services and supplies to keep their businesses running. Savings come from reduced road construction and maintenance costs, lower road deaths and pollution emissions, and savings to riders themselves in the form of lower overall trip costs.”

According to the Rail Passengers Association, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is on the brink of final passage and includes at least $66 billion in funding to upgrade and expand America’s passenger train network.

“With the Rail Passengers’ economic impact study in hand, the Big Sky Rail Authority has an inside track to securing funding for projects that will reestablish passenger rail across the southern tier of the state,” the Rail Passengers Association said.

You can read the full media release from the Rail Passengers Association here.

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