(HELENA) For decades, Helena’s rail yard has played host to coal trains and a variety of other freight traffic, but it hasn’t seen any regularly scheduled passenger rail service. Now, some people in the Helena area want that to change.
At their meeting on Monday, the Helena City Commission will consider a resolution expressing support for any effort to reestablish passenger service through the city.
The resolution comes in response to the Helena Citizens’ Council, which recommeded last year that city leaders weigh in on the issue.
Helena hasn’t had any regular passenger trains since 1979, when Amtrak canceled the North Coast Hiawatha line. That train ran through several of Montana’s largest cities, including Missoula and Billings. Since then, the only long-distance passenger rail service through the state has been the Empire Builder, which runs along the Hi-Line.
Supporters of expanded rail service say the southern route could be more attractive because it passes through larger population centers. If the route were restored, they say people who currently travel on the Empire Builder might instead come through Helena, potentially bringing more tourism and economic growth to the area.
But others have questioned whether it’s realistic that a successful passenger service could start again here, after so many years away.
Even if the resolution passes, it could be difficult to build support on the federal level for expanded rail service through Montana. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s administration proposed a budget that would sharply reduce federal funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains, including the Empire Builder.
The resolution will appear on the commission’s consent agenda during their Monday meeting.