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FRA will host rail meeting in Missoula before recommendation

Missoula Railroad Depot
Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority
Posted at 2:25 PM, Mar 21, 2024

MISSOULA — With an eye on expanding and restoring long-distance passenger rail service across the West, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has held meetings with stakeholders in Denver, Boise and Seattle.

In June, Missoula will join the list in what will be the FRA's last meeting before handing its recommendations off to Congress.

Dave Strohmaier, chair of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority and a Missoula County commissioner, said Thursday that the meeting will detail plans for the Northwest rail region, including restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha, which was discontinued in the 1970s.

“This will be a capstone event,” Strohmaier said. “They would not be holding an event in Missoula unless they're committed to restoring this route.”

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority was formed two years ago to advocate for restoring passenger rail service across Montana's populated southern tier.

While many saw success as a long shot, the authority has notched a number of achievements over the past year.

Among them, it has grown to include most counties and tribal nations along the route while also bolstering the Empire Builder route.

The authority was also boosted by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which, under the direction of Sen. Jon Tester, called for a study of rural routes to be restored.

In anticipation of the FRA report to Congress, the National Passenger Rail Association has also announced the benefits of restoring the North Coast Hiawatha.

The FRA's decision to host a key meeting in Missoula is also promising, Strohmaier said.

“It's part of the long-distance passenger rail study that will help come up with recommendations that will go to Congress later this year, recommending which discontinued Amtrak routes or new long-distance routes might be restored,” he said.

Strohmaier said the meeting will include representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the FRA, Amtrak and other officials.

It will also mark the roll-out of the FRA's final recommendations to Congress.

“Up until now they've been refining those recommendations, which routes ought to be restored, what the service ought to look like,” Strohmaier said. “This will be a first peak at what the recommendations that will be delivered to Congress will look like.”

The meeting is slated for June 6. The following day, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority will also hold a meeting in Missoula.