Federal official ‘very excited’ about Montana’s love of trains

If there was one theme for the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority’s annual conference on Friday, it was one of achievement, with much work still ahead.

However, there were many encouraging messages throughout the day, both from Federal Rail Administration officials and the private sector working on breakthrough technology with hydrogen and hybrid trains.

The conference was the latest milestone for BSPRA, which was formed less than four years ago but already had the restoration of Montana’s “Southern Route” on the list of potential projects.

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Encouraging messages from the FRA

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg opened the day with a recorded message, thanking local leaders for what he learned during a trip to Montana last month and recognizing how the “Route of the Hiawatha” has emerged as the only new service under consideration. a rail corridor study and as a future long-distance route.

Dennis Bragg photo

Dennis Bragg photo

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During the keynote, FRA Deputy Administrator Jennifer Mitchell spoke enthusiastically about the route and the resurgence of interest in passenger rail across the country.

“We are also very excited about the potential for the North Coast Hiawatha Line,” Mitchell said. “We know it would create jobs, generate $271,000,000 in economic impact annually and provide both affordable, safe and clean transportation year-round to promote healthcare, tourism, education and commerce. And to be able to improve those lines for both freight and passenger transport.”

Dennis Bragg photo

Dennis Bragg photo

More work ahead

Mitchell also challenged the Rail Authority to maintain the momentum by ’embracing collaboration’.

The voices from the business community, the tourism community and environmentalists are so important in creating legislation and securing funding streams for passenger transport,” Mitchell explains.

The “Hiawatha Route” is in the first phase of the three-phase study, which will ultimately identify specific infrastructure, services and financing. Amtrak stopped operating the “Southern Route” 45 years ago.

Future ideas

The conference also heard from a panel of experts working on the emerging technology of using hydrogen energy and batteries for locomotives, which is already being rolled out in Europe, with testing here in North America.

Montana has been awarded a small portion of a $1 billion grant for a Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub to study development and costs.

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