Twelve Montana counties have officially founded the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to advocate for the return of passenger rail service across southern Montana. The finalized joint resolution, fully executed this week, seals the commissioner actions and provides for the appointment of one representative from each county to serve on the authority. Gallatin County was the first to act on July 28, and Powell County the last on Nov. 18.
“Counties in Montana have done what has never been done before: establish the first regional passenger rail authority in the state. This will set the stage for re-establishing regular passenger rail service through the southern tier of the state — a transformational project for Montana that will add to and complement the Empire Builder along the Hi-Line,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “We hope to schedule our first board meeting of the authority in December or January and get this train moving!”
Per MCA 7-14-16, ”the purpose of the authority is to provide for the preservation and improvement of abandoned rail service for agriculture, industry or passenger traffic and to provide for the preservation of abandoned railroad right-of-way for future transportation uses, when determined to be practicable and necessary for the public welfare.” The authority constitutes the governance structure to investigate, analyze, seek funding for and develop long-distance, inter-city rail service to further the health, safety, welfare and economic prosperity throughout Montana.
The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority board comprises commissioner-appointed representatives from each of the following counties:
- Butte-Silver Bow
“The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority will foster a more connected Montana,” Butte-Silver Bow Commissioner Shawn Fredrickson said. “Butte-Silver Bow is looking forward to working with the rest of the state to make it become a reality.”
“Glendive/Dawson County stands to benefit greatly both economically and socially through the restoration of passenger rail service,” Dawson County Economic Development Executive Director Jason Stuart said. “Economically, having passenger rail service and restoring the use of our historic passenger rail depot will draw more visitors and tourists through and to Glendive, creating greater economic opportunity for our Main Street businesses. With Makoshika State Park topping 100,000 visitors for the first time in its history in 2020, we have no doubt that providing passenger rail service to the gates of Montana’s largest and most spectacular state park will help drive visitation to Makoshika and Glendive even higher. Socially, having passenger rail service will be a great boon to our residents’ travel options, in particular for travel to the western side of the state. Dawson County could not be more pleased to be a founding member of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and we look forward to lending our voice to this important effort.”
Strohmaier and partner counties began working on the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority in the spring of 2020. In September, nearly 400 people across the nation attended the virtual Montana Passenger Rail Summit hosted by Missoula County. The summit featured passenger rail experts from Washington, D.C., to Washington state and received support from Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Gov. Steve Bullock. A recording of the summit is available online at https://montanapassengerrailsummit.org/summit.