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Report pins future numbers to proposal for Montana's "southern rail route"

Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority
Southern Amtrak Route Costs
Posted at 3:04 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 17:04:03-04

MISSOULA — A new report suggests the restoration of Amtrak's "Southern Route" could generate hundreds of millions of dollars of economic benefit for Montana, and the other six states to be crossed by a passenger rail line.

The report is the first economic analysis of the proposal and comes a year after the formation of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. Missoula, Gallatin, and the other counties along the route hope to restore the passenger rail service that ended 42 years ago.

During the groups' regular meeting on Wednesday, the Rail Passengers Association presented the new report suggesting putting trains back on the Southern Route could generate millions of dollars in economic impact for Montana, and the other states lying between Chicago and Washington.

"We think that it would generate about $271 million every year in economic benefit to the seven states served. And we think it would cost Amtrak, very roughly, $68 million a year to operate. And that cost would be partly offset by $41 million or so per year on fares and other customer revenue," noted Jim Mathews with the Passenger Rail Association.

Mathews said the report based some of its findings on a 2009 Amtrak report but said a more detailed analysis will be needed, including capital costs.

The Rail Authority also welcomed four additional counties Wednesday, adding Stillwater, Rosebud, Custer, and Mineral Counties, and changing the framework to make it easier for additional counties to join.