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Oelkers Stresses Importance Of Keeping Amtrak’s Northern Route


As support seems to be gaining for the return of Amtrak service to the southern part of Montana, Roosevelt County Commissioner Gordon Oelkers stresses the importance of maintaining Amtrak’s Empire Builder in the northern part of the state.

A two-day conference was held in Billings last week regarding the southern route. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, created by 12 county governments, organized the meeting.

The North Coast Hiawatha was a victim of budget cuts in the late 1970s. The route featured stops in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Bismarck, N.D.

“It’s partly because there are now federal dollars available to do that,” Oelkers said.

The commissioner explained that officials will undergo a study for the next 14 months regarding the route. He said 80 percent of the population in Montana and North Dakota live on that route.

“That’s why they are pushing it, that’s where the votes are,” Oelkers said.

He is worried about what could happen in about 10 years if Amtrak’s entitlements are decreased. Would the decision then be to cut the northern route in Montana in favor of the southern one?

“I think it’s a huge concern,” Oelkers said.

He hopes the study looks at what’s best for the long term. “I feel it would be better to put more money in the northern route to make it safer and on time,” Oelkers said. “We don’t want to lose Amtrak up north.”

Oelkers will inform residents once contact information is available to comment for the study.

“We want to encourage everybody to give input for the study,” Oelkers said.

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