BREAKING: Senate Passes Tester Bill to Restore Full Amtrak Service, Employees to Hi-Line

Senator is only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the bill

Full Amtrak service will soon be heading back to Montana’s Hi-Line after U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s bill to restore service and reinstate furloughed employees cleared the Senate today.

Last week, Tester introduced his legislation to reinstate furloughed Amtrak employees and return complete long-distance service to routes like the Empire Builder, which passed as a part of the Senate’s COVID-19 relief package. Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill.

“Folks on the Hi-Line depend on Amtrak to stay connected, and its full return will boost the economy and create good-paying jobs across the region,” Tester said. “Returning Amtrak service to Northern Montana has been one of my top priorities since the service was cut, and I won’t stop fighting until this bill is signed into law by the President and the Empire Builder is fully restored.”

Tester’s legislation reverses cuts imposed by Amtrak late last year, which furloughed Montana jobs and reduced service on the Empire Builder from seven days per week to three-a move that Tester vehemently opposed. Tester personally secured a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the cuts last year, inviting Havre’s Paul Tuss, Executive Director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, to testify about how critical long-distance rail is to rural and frontier economies in Montana and across the country.

“Restoring daily service to the Empire Builder and returning ticket agents to Havre and Shelby will help northern Montana recover from the economic calamity of the pandemic,” said Paul Tuss of the Montana Economic Developers Association. “Senator Tester has pushed tirelessly on this issue because he knows firsthand how important a well-functioning Amtrak is to the economy of Montana. Senator Tester’s legislation that passed the Senate will help with our state’s recovery, get people back to work and assure a rail transportation system that meets the needs of rural Montana.”

“The Empire Builder keeps families and communities in Montana connected, while supporting good-paying jobs and helping out small businesses,” said Havre Mayor Tim Solomon. “Restoring full service has been a huge priority for us on the Hi-Line, and we are thankful to Senator Tester for defending Northern Montana by bringing full Amtrak service back to the region.”

“Great news today to hear that Senator Tester has been successful in restoring Amtrak service from three days to seven days a week,” said Valley County Commissioner John Fahlgren. “Rail passenger service is a critical economic and social connection for the Hi-Line. We depend on this service to connect us with Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Chicago. Amtrak is one of the many great things about life on the Hi-Line!”

Amtrak operates 15 long-distance routes in 47 states across the country, connecting rural and urban centers and providing inter-state mobility to underserved communities and populations. The Empire Builder Long-Distance Line includes 12 stations along the Montana Hi-Line that served 121,429 passengers who boarded or disembarked in the state in 2019.

As a member of a community serviced by the Empire Builder, Tester knows how critical Amtrak is to Montana’s Hi-Line and has fought tirelessly to defend it. He recently helped secure $1 billion for Amtrak in the most recent COVID relief package, with $345 million reserved for long-distance routes including the Empire Builder. He also led the charge to restore ticket agents in Amtrak stations in Havre and Shelby, and grilled former Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson over how the railroad planned to maintain passenger service in rural America in the face of the previous Administration’s proposal to cut 25 percent of the agency’s funding in Fiscal Year 2020.