Whitefish Pilot: Tester says return to daily Amtrak service a win for Montana’s Hi-Line

by Senator Jon Tester

This past week brought some much-needed good news for the folks who live and work in Whitefish and across the Hi-Line.

On May 24, full, daily Amtrak service returned to the Northern tier of our state after painful, short-sighted cuts imposed last year furloughed employees and reduced service to just three days a week.

The cuts to Amtrak were a punch in the gut, and an attack on Montana’s frontier communities. Folks from Wolf Point to Libby and everywhere in between depend on reliable, frequent Amtrak service – and the Empire Builder long distance route in particular – to visit family and friends, conduct business, and to stay connected to the rest of the country.

An engine of economic activity, the Empire Builder brings thousands of visitors to our state and its legacy is woven into the very history of Montana, stretching back to the days of the Great Northern Railway. Long distance rail travel is truly a lifeline for rural Montana, and derailing service was simply unacceptable.

So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on finding a way to fix it.

I secured a hearing on the importance of Amtrak to rural America in the Senate Commerce Committee last fall, to educate my colleagues on how Amtrak service benefits our rural state and to show how cutting service would disproportionately harm remote communities. I also introduced legislation to reverse the harmful cuts, restore daily service, and reinstate furloughed employees in the Senate.

That legislation was included in the American Rescue Plan and signed into law in March, and just last week the Empire Builder began running at full strength, seven days a week once again.

As we continue working to get our economy back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic, the much-needed revenue and good-paying jobs Amtrak will bring to the Hi-Line are welcome news indeed.

Make no mistake – this victory is thanks to the many local officials, economic development organizations, and folks who live and work here who fought tirelessly alongside me to restore full Amtrak service and get folks back to work on the Hi-Line. Working together we were able to score this win for rural Montana, and I look forward to Amtrak serving Whitefish for years to come, full steam ahead.