If there were trains, would you ride them?

As a poor college student, totally vehicle-less, it’s kind of ridiculous to want to go home for the weekend when you don’t have a car, and none of your friends or acquaintances are going in that direction. Moreover, I refuse to pay over $30 for a bus ticket for what should be a two hour drive but will actually take five hours. With Obama’s infrastructure investment plan, he wants to repave roads and remake bridges. With urban areas, the public transportation section will be revamped too. But what about rural areas, like Montana?

A majority of the Montana’s population lives in the southern half of the state. It’s great that Amtrak actually runs through Montana, but if it doesn’t actually go through any major towns, then no one around here can count on it. A significant amount of money goes into Montanans’ budgets just for traveling anywhere.  I know I’m not the first to want this.

It’s not my idea – I am reiterating it because I think that it’s important. Building a southern rail line would create new jobs. Think: the train conductors, service on the train, train stations being revamped and decked out and turning into the fanciful things they once were. If the trains were electric, then it would help to green-up Montana. There would be fewer drivers on the roads, fewer accidents caused by ice (and drunk driving). People could get a pass and hop on the train any time they wanted, see the beautiful scenery without worrying about the whole driving aspect.

Here’s my vision: the train route would be from Missoula to Miles City. There would be a major stop in Helena (being that it IS the capital) and from Helena, people could switch to another route from Great Falls down to Butte. It would hit virtually all the places in Montana that have PEOPLE – not just the north.   

Anyway, that’s my rant. But more needs to go into it than just dreaming for anything to actually be accomplished.

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i'm from helena, montana. i now go to school at the university of montana and i study russian language as well as arabic language and southwest (middle east) and central asia.


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  • I’d love trains. This time of the year, I head to Helena pretty regularly for the legislative session. If I could get on a train and do some work rather than singing badly along to a car stereo for two hours, I’d be a much happier camper.

    I’d probably travel a lot more and still have less of a carbon footprint. Train + carshare = Matt sells his car.

  • I would certainly use trains for long distance travel (to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, for example, they were located closer to to me but the lack of trains from place-to-place in Montana are a more complex story. I’d like to believe that I’d take a train to Great Falls, for example, but the reality is that public transportation is lacking is most locations in Montana. I love train travel in Europe but ever town the size of Miles City or larger also has a bus, tram or subway system that makes that possible. We have much bigger transportation issues and the West is a particular challenge…

  • Count me in as wishing we had a passenger train running out of Butte. Right now, I’ve got an 8 week old grandson in the Portland area that I have not seen yet, since I hate that winter time 2 day drive over Lookout & 4th of July passes (in an old car I can’t really trust that much–and that gets mediocre mileage).

    With an Amtrak train, I’d have been on that new grandbaby’s doorstep long ago!

    I’ve heard that Jon Tester is interested in routing Amtrak through the SW part of the state. Any hope there?

  • I try to all the time, but logistics always get in the way. You think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to take the train back to Chicago?” But then a Rimrock bus ticket to Whitefish costs 50 bucks, and if its late, you have to pay for lodging to catch the next day’s train. Obviously all the hostels in Whitefish closed these days. You could go to Browning… and risk getting shot. Libby is a good option but its kind of like backtracking.

    Add in food and vitamin water and Sparks for the train ride, and pretty soon its far cheaper to fly out of Spokane or even Missoula.

  • but if our train system were developed, wouldn’t that be awesome? it takes my friend in chicago one hour to commute to class. it would only take a little more than that to get to another city out here.

    the long distance bus system is ridiculous. i took a bus ride back from chicago, and there were ridiculous delays and cancellations. montanans are pretty low on the list of americans with high incomes. trains would save a ton of money over time, and benefit the populated part of the state. that’s why current trains in montana are so expensive – they’re in the middle of nowhere, so you have to pay to actually get there.

  • the great thing is most of the infrastructure for a southern rail route is already in place and in some cases is still being used for freight transport. there has been an ongoing battle in the state legislature for years now about the implementation of a southern passenger route, however, to my knowledge, the legislation has always failed because folks are worried that if funding were to be allocated to the use of a southern passenger rail line, amtrak would pull the funds for the northern line which many montanans rely heavily on for the transportation of both goods and people. because of this fear, legislators are reluctant to act.
    if you ask me, however, i think montana would benefit greatly from a southern passenger rail route, and as liz and others have mentioned, train travel is much more affordable and environmentally sound than automobile transport, especially in a state so large. as a college student myself, i have often found myself wishing there were other travel options available besides taking the greyhound (which has become less cost efficient and increasingly more time consuming) or braving the roads in less than savory driving conditions.
    we can only hope that the 2009 legislative session will produce some form of legislation that provides montanans with better means for eco-friendly travel within our own state. and where better to start than by taking a chance on the southern line? to take a line from the little train engine that could, “i think we can, i think we can…”…

  • I do wonder how much of the concern is the continued viability of the northern line, which might seem even more significant declines in passenger numbers. A new southern route had better not hurt Shelby, MT. 🙂

    The big picture is that the federal government has been bizarrely hostile to rail travel, not proving the same level of subsidy that other forms of transportation receive.

  • I think Jason has a good point- trains are great if you are a college student, and you are used to not using a car. But before people are going to take trains for regular intrastate trips, they need to know that when they get to the other end they aren´t going to be wishing they had a car.

    I wonder though how much could be solved by just having a good bus system? Because I´ll agree that Greyhound is generally not viable, but if we had a relatively efficient bus system that might work at least to start to wean people off cars before we make a big investment in trains, and a bus system would also be more quickly responsive to population shifts.

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