KYFR: Return of daily service to Empire Builder a win for Montana, Northwestern North Dakota

by Michael Anthony

The Amtrak station in Williston provided opportunity for travel. Whether it be to the east toward Chicago or the west through Montana’s Hi-Line, many oilfield workers and people looking to travel relied on the rails to get them across America.

Things became more challenging last year due to the pandemic, but with government assistance, Amtrak has returned to daily service, and passengers couldn’t be happier.

The railway plays a major part of Williston’s history. The city gained its footing when the Great Northern Railway arrived in the late 1800s. Today, it helps people explore the central and western parts of the nation.

“It’s slow, but I love it because I love to take my time to do things,” said Baye Kouyate, a traveler from the Williston station.

After failing to secure funds from the government last year, Amtrak decided to limit services to the Empire Builder in October. What was daily service turned into only three days a week.

“You had to rearrange your travel plans, but now since they are going back to every day, it makes it a lot easier,” said Candace Vanwhy, who is travelling for a family member’s graduation.

With passage of the American Rescue plan, it was announced that Amtrak would return to full service. Montana Senator Jon Tester pushed to restore the service and most importantly, bring back employees who were furloughed due to cuts.

“I’m very proud to have been successful in getting daily service back up for Amtrak and Montana,” said Tester

For the Company, they are excited to see the return, and know how important it is to the Bakken.

“Amtrak and the Empire Builder have played a big part in enabling some of the bakken oil boom to actually take place. When I ride the train, I still see workers from the field who are rotating in and out of the Williston Area,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

As with all forms of public transportation, masks are required at all stations and when riding the train.

Ridership numbers at Williston’s station dropped significantly in 2020 due to the pandemic. Magliari says he expects it to improve but it may be a while until Amtrak returns to pre-pandemic levels.