A Proposal: Stimulus for Passenger Rail in Montana

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we turn to member blog Trains for America, which looks at the idea of using  stimulus funds to bring rail-equipment manufacturing — and expanded passenger rail service — to the state of Montana:

2038458579_25a7a8cb62.jpgPhoto by Katie via Flickr.

[N]ew rail passenger equipment is coming to America and it should be built by Americans. Why not Montana? It may be that there are good reasons why not, but those should also lead us to the better place, if there is one.

Restoring the southern leg of the Empire Builder in Montana and North Dakota is a great idea. As a former resident of Big Sky Country, let me tell you that it is tough to get around up there in winter — which is most of the year. There exists a real social need for transportation service of the type government is obliged to provide. This restored service has numerous points to recommend its consideration.

The post also takes issue with the use of the term "railroad enthusiasts" in an Associated Press story on the rail proposal:

[A] note to the fine folks at the Associated Press. People who promote  ground transportation are not “enthusiasts.”  Such terms are pejorative, bordering on verbal abuse. Many professionals make a living doing this kind of thing, and while they may not quite measure up to the academic rigors of a reporter, they still deserve respect. Your choice of words suggests a serious bias. Suggested alternatives: advocates, railroaders, citizens, taxpayers.

The depiction of advocates of anything but automobile transportation as somehow childish or fanatical is an ongoing problem. Have any recent examples of media outlets that should be called out on this? Leave them in the comments.

Elsewhere around the network, the Orange County Transit Blog details forthcoming service cuts, The Infrastructurist explains how American traffic jams are like Soviet bread lines, and Making Places reports on Seattle’s new "Streets for People" campaign.

  • AlexB

    As much as I’d like to see more rail travel in the US, isn’t the route from Chicago to Seattle via Montana one of the biggest money losers in the country, traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles with very few passengers? I am sure you get a great view on the ride, but maybe spending our subsidies on a puddle-jumper network in Montana would be more effective than a train network. After all, Montana is a lot closer to Alaska than the Northeast Corridor when it comes to density, and railroads work best in dense environments. Please correct me if any of this is incorrect.

    A train to nowhere is just as bad as a bridge to nowhere.

  • Alex: True, but if the national passenger rail network is going to get rebuilt, it’s going to need votes in Congress. That means it has to be a truly national network.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Montana has a population of 902,000 and New York has a population of 19,000,000

    New York has one Senator for each 9,500,000 citizens. Montana has one Senator for each 451,000 citizens. That gives Monatana twenty times the per capita representation in the US Senate as New York.

    I like railroads and think that Montana can have a very nice rail arrangement up there mostly because all the open space generates much less NIMBY opposition when service is created. However, when it comes to the distribution of Federal resources what hope do the large states really have to push something through the Senate? How much do you have to bribe the empty space states to write legislation?

  • Rhywun

    The Senate was designed to be inherently biased toward rural areas. That’s why we have the House.

  • I’m sorry, but I can’t back a train in BFE when the passenger train service in populated areas like Florida is abysmal.

  • anonymous

    Wow, I’m surprised to see hostility toward this idea. I’ll take expanded and revitalized passenger rail anytime, anywhere. It’s crazy to say “no” to Montana just because Florida has no rail. Maybe that’s because folks in Florida don’t have their acts together enough to advocate for it.

    And great to call out the AP on their use of “enthusiasts”.

  • Rhywun

    It’s crazy to say “no” to Montana just because Florida has no rail.

    Not if it’s mostly Federal money paying for it. IMHO it’s crazy to put rail where hardly anyone is going to use it.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Re: Rhywun “That’s why we have the House.”

    Oh, so you are saying that makes it all Democratic. If you have one part equal + one part unequal do you you think that equals an = total. So the House of the People passes legislation, one man one vote, and that gets vetoed by another Senate where it is one state two votes regardless of population and that equals democracy.

    This is why France, Germany and Spain leap ahead of us year after year, their democracies regardless of which party is in power has to answer to the voters or they get thrown out. The Senate was part of the great compromise to the slave owners to bring them into the union. The effects are still with us and this is one of them.

  • yoohoo

    Livingston Montana which is located 50 miles north of Yellowstone National Park has a railroad facility which could be used to build railroad equipment. It would be a wonderful place to build Colorado Railcar equipment. Also the track running through southern Montana is mostly passenger car ready. It would not need to have high speed rail.

  • Galls

    The route through Montana, from Chicago to Seattle/Portland as the train physically splits in Spokane is called the Empire Builder and aside from being the nicest train Amtrak actually runs, the last one with a real Chef on board and some spectacular views, it is also the route closest to turning a profit, including the NEC.

    The train is routinely sold out for months in advanced and there is definitely demand for more capacity along the route.

    I credit the extreme success of this route do to the nature of the area, the train is probably the most reliant form of transportation that close to Canada.

    I reiterate the train through Montana is actually the closest to profit and nicest train in the entire Amtrak system.

  • Galls

    To yoohoo:

    Colorado Railcar has been liquidated.

  • This is why France, Germany and Spain leap ahead of us year after year, their democracies regardless of which party is in power has to answer to the voters or they get thrown out. The Senate was part of the great compromise to the slave owners to bring them into the union.

    You need to go back to high school history class. Slavery was not an issue in 1776 (it was legal everywhere). The desire to give individual colonies (who were basically quasi-independent states) a vote was the issue. Thus, a federation of the states was created.

    Anyway I can’t speak for France or Spain, but Germany is also a federal republic. (In fact, we helped them set it up that way.) The reason their infrastructure is better than ours is largely cultural. After all, if Americans demanded better infrastructure, we’d get it too. The Senate wouldn’t stop it. The fact is, most Americans just don’t care.


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