Tester Secures $500,000 for North Coast Hiawatha Passenger Rail Route Development from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to receive Corridor ID funds, prepare for long-term development of North Coast Hiawatha route as long-term passenger rail development project

As a direct result of his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and as a part of his continued effort to better connect Montana families and small businesses, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured $500,000 in Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) funds for the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to develop a comprehensive passenger rail plan to reinstate the historic North Coast Hiawatha Amtrak route through southern Montana. Selection for Corridor ID funds designates the North Coast Hiawatha route for inclusion in long-term passenger rail project development and marks a significant milestone in bringing passenger rail back to southern Montana. 

Corridor ID funding comes directly from Tester’s bipartisan IIJA. Tester worked with five Republicans and four Democrats to negotiate the IIJA and was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill.

“I’ll always fight to keep rural America connected, and investments in passenger rail will help to Montana’s families and small businesses competitive in the 21st century,” said Tester. “When negotiating my bipartisan infrastructure law with my colleagues, I fought hard to ensure that we invested in renewed Amtrak service, and I can’t think of a better place to explore than the North Coast Hiawatha route. I was proud to help secure this funding and designation that will help fuel the next stage of the project, and I look forward to working with the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to make their vision a reality.”

The North Coast Hiawatha route was an Amtrak route that connected Chicago, Illinois and Seattle, Washington with Montana stops in Glendive, Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena, and Missoula, that ran from 1971-1979. Tester specifically fought for funding in his bipartisan IIJA for the Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study to assess and support the restoration of discontinued essential long-distance routes like the North Coast Hiawatha.

“This effort is the gateway and initial step toward future passenger rail service on the former North Coast Hiawatha route connecting Chicago to Seattle while providing service to cities and communities in Montana and North Dakota that have been without passenger rail for over 44 years,” said BSPRA Chairman Dave Strohmaier. “We appreciate Senator Tester’s bipartisan work to help make this possible.”

“Having the Hiawatha route come through Rosebud County would provide residents another way to travel east and west,” said Rosebud County Commissioner Robert Lee. “It would be very convenient for college students going to and from school for the holidays when they risk bad roads.  I recall going to Bozeman with my older brother when he was in college and riding the train back to Forsyth, and I appreciate Senator Tester working to help bring the Hiawatha route back to southern Montana.”

“We in Glendive/Dawson County are very excited to hear about BSPRA’s award and entry into the Corridor ID program. This is a major step towards building a transformative infrastructure project that will bring new economic opportunity, tourism, accessibility, and an overall improved quality of life to our city, county, state and region,” said Jason Stuart, Executive Director of the Dawson County Economic Development Council and a Glendive City Councilman. “Glendive was born on the rails, and we believe that in restoring passenger rail service, it can, at least in some sense, be reborn on them. A bustling, historic downtown train depot, with twice daily passenger service in each direction, would bring vibrancy back into our community’s historic core, spurring economic development and urban renewal while providing our residents safe, reliable, affordable, all-weather transportation accessibility to healthcare appointments, college campuses, business trips, football games, family vacations and holiday homecomings across the state, region and beyond.”

Tester has been Montana’s leading advocate for passenger rail expansion. He was instrumental in restoring full, daily service to the Empire Builder in May, 2021. Tester’s bill reinstating furloughed Amtrak employees and rolling back previous service reductions to the Empire Builder route was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill.