Restore Passenger Service to Southern Montana?

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bretton88

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I hope the contract for the Superliner replacement/fleet addition/refurbishment is put on hold until Amtrak has semi competent forward thinking adult supervision at the helm. Right now we just have to hope maintenance isn’t being deferred on the Superliners and LD locomotives in the name of breaking even. That’s one easy way to sabotage the network.
Actually they have thought about it. It's in one of the congressional hearings that they are waiting on the reauthorization to get further direction from Congress (preferably some form of funding) on the future of the LD network before they proceed on the bilevel equipment process. So until that happens this year, we're in a holding pattern.
 

Palmetto

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The only other alternative for Seattle-Spokane train is the GN Stevens Pass line, and that route is at capacity (it's why BNSF reactivated the NP Stampede Pass line), being that there's numerous single-track sections. Perhaps one way to alleviate capacity constraints is to construct a second (actually third) Cascade Tunnel, one that can reliably carry double-stacks.

Alternatively, a new dedicated passenger line built off from the Stampede Pass rail and following I-90 could be built, connecting Ellensburg to the GN route at the east of Quincy. If not then it can continue following I-90 before connecting to the SP&S line that Amtrak uses for the Empire Builder Portland trains at Ritzville. https://www.cascadiahighspeedrail.com/new-stampede-pass-route.html
The map I have seen shows the service using the BNSF's track from Auburn to Pasco via Ellensburg, then on up to Spokane. The westbound train will be like a salmon swimming upstream, because the railroad uses its Stampede Subdivision for eastbound emty grain trains from Kalama/Longview, and other trains.
 

Siegmund

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Nov 19, 2018
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I keep forgetting to answer this question:

Not sure about the track class of the line, but if it is less than practical for passenger service, the upgrade costs could be substantial.
The last official information I have is 10 years old and shows most the route at 45mph for freight. That is already FRA Class 4, so no legal obstacle to running a passenger train up to 80 if the track is good for it. Driving alongside the line I'm quite sure I have paced freights going closer to 60 than 45 several times. The whole line is signaled and most of it has been upgraded from 115 pound rail to 140. I would guess there would be more problems with track speeds in North Dakota than in Montana.

If coal exports stay down there might not be capacity issues, but Mullan Pass is a bit of a chokepoint, with a long westbound grade that freights crawl up at 10mph.

The obvious solution to the chokepoint is to reopen Homestake, and run eastbound empties over it (that way you don't have to open a new helper base or lengthen sidings) - and there WOULD be temptation to put the passenger train on the line less suitable for freight just like there was 40 years ago - but it would be a biiiiiig job to bring Homestake and Butte-Garrison back up to passenger-train speeds (one is out of service the other is only good for 25 now).

Homestake received some semi-serious attention several years ago but it's not even being talked about now - nor will it unless Powder River freight traffic picks back up dramatically.
 

Willbridge

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Mar 30, 2019
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The only other alternative for Seattle-Spokane train is the GN Stevens Pass line, and that route is at capacity (it's why BNSF reactivated the NP Stampede Pass line), being that there's numerous single-track sections. Perhaps one way to alleviate capacity constraints is to construct a second (actually third) Cascade Tunnel, one that can reliably carry double-stacks.

Alternatively, a new dedicated passenger line built off from the Stampede Pass rail and following I-90 could be built, connecting Ellensburg to the GN route at the east of Quincy. If not then it can continue following I-90 before connecting to the SP&S line that Amtrak uses for the Empire Builder Portland trains at Ritzville. https://www.cascadiahighspeedrail.com/new-stampede-pass-route.html
Ritzville is on the former NP main line. The superior Pasco - Spokane alignment of the SP&S was abandoned by BN because it had several steel viaducts that needed to be replaced. During the early years of the BN merger the two lines were used for directional running, including the Empire Builder. As most SP&S and later Amtrak passengers traveled this segment in the dark, few people were aware of it.

Decisions to abandon the Milwaukee Road main line and the SP&S Pasco - Spokane and the disposal of the Pasco - Auburn NP segments were all made just before the traffic boomed.
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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Ritzville is on the former NP main line. The superior Pasco - Spokane alignment of the SP&S was abandoned by BN because it had several steel viaducts that needed to be replaced. During the early years of the BN merger the two lines were used for directional running, including the Empire Builder. As most SP&S and later Amtrak passengers traveled this segment in the dark, few people were aware of it.
I see. How did the SP&S and NP Pasco-Spokane lines compare, like which towns did they stop at (cant seem to find an exact alignment of the former)
 

Siegmund

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Nov 19, 2018
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I see. How did the SP&S and NP Pasco-Spokane lines compare, like which towns did they stop at (cant seem to find an exact alignment of the former)
An old GN timetable shows the Western Star calling (mostly flag stops) at South Cheney, Amber, Rodna, Lamont, Macall, Benge, Hooper, Washtucna, Sperry, Kahlotus, Farrington, Snake River, Redd, and Levey. By 1970 only Washtucna was still a passenger stop.

It followed the north bank of the Columbia River for 30+ miles east of Pasco, climbing higher and higher on the clifs and then turning north up a side canyon. It survives today as the Columbia Plateau Trail.
 

Willbridge

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An old GN timetable shows the Western Star calling (mostly flag stops) at South Cheney, Amber, Rodna, Lamont, Macall, Benge, Hooper, Washtucna, Sperry, Kahlotus, Farrington, Snake River, Redd, and Levey. By 1970 only Washtucna was still a passenger stop.

It followed the north bank of the Columbia River for 30+ miles east of Pasco, climbing higher and higher on the clifs and then turning north up a side canyon. It survives today as the Columbia Plateau Trail.
Washtucna was an important stop for the RPO. For trivia fans, the Portland - Pasco - Spokane RPO survived the September 1967 elimination of most RPO's due to serving points that were awkward by truck.
 

Matthew H Fish

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May 28, 2019
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I lived in Montana for a long time, south of Missoula, and would have to go to Whitefish to take the train.

Personally, I see the advantage of this route. I also think it would be a beautiful train ride, and great for tourism.

But I also have to think realistically about how big of a passenger base such a train would have. Montana has a population of around 1.1 million people, and maybe 500,000 of them live between Billings and Missoula (and maybe 300,000 more might live close enough to still take advantage of the train). That is a small number of people. For comparison, Pierce County and Thurston County (Tacoma and Olympia) in Washington have a combined population of 1.2 million people, equal or more than the population of Montana. Amtrak adding a train between Tacoma and Olympia would arguable serve more people than Billings to Missoula.

Of course, if Montana was paying totally for the train, then it makes sense, but there are a lot more locations in the West that would be better candidates for train service. Las Vegas-> Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City -> Boise or Portland, Denver -> Albuquerque, Fort Collins-> Pueblo...these would all serve more people, and would make the Amtrak system map make more sense, then Billings -> Missoula.

So even though I think it is a cool idea, I don't think it should be a priority.
 

F900ElCapitan

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I lived in Montana for a long time, south of Missoula, and would have to go to Whitefish to take the train.

Personally, I see the advantage of this route. I also think it would be a beautiful train ride, and great for tourism.

But I also have to think realistically about how big of a passenger base such a train would have. Montana has a population of around 1.1 million people, and maybe 500,000 of them live between Billings and Missoula (and maybe 300,000 more might live close enough to still take advantage of the train). That is a small number of people. For comparison, Pierce County and Thurston County (Tacoma and Olympia) in Washington have a combined population of 1.2 million people, equal or more than the population of Montana. Amtrak adding a train between Tacoma and Olympia would arguable serve more people than Billings to Missoula.

Of course, if Montana was paying totally for the train, then it makes sense, but there are a lot more locations in the West that would be better candidates for train service. Las Vegas-> Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City -> Boise or Portland, Denver -> Albuquerque, Fort Collins-> Pueblo...these would all serve more people, and would make the Amtrak system map make more sense, then Billings -> Missoula.

So even though I think it is a cool idea, I don't think it should be a priority.
I agree. Even though it would be a beautiful train to ride, there just isn’t the population base to make it work when there is already a train through the state, just a little further north.

Personally, I don’t see how re-instating a Chicago to Florida train via Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, etc. isn’t the most desired train at nearly any cost. It would connect at least 6 large population bases on a very popular route. But hey, it’s not a 400mi “corridor” train so what do I know...?o_O
 

NeueAmtrakCalifornia

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Oct 25, 2019
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Personally, I don’t see how re-instating a Chicago to Florida train via Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, etc. isn’t the most desired train at nearly any cost. It would connect at least 6 large population bases on a very popular route. But hey, it’s not a 400mi “corridor” train so what do I know...?o_O
At the very least, Amtrak is looking at reviving train services from Atlanta to Chattanooga to Nashville. At the same time they can tackle a Nashville-Memphis rail line as part of the Atlanta-Nashville line (we can also add a DFW-Little Rock-Memphis intercity train). These two would help link the Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, and Crescent.
 

west point

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Nashville - Memphis is not likely. There just is not much interest in that service. A much better option is the Nashville population is ore interested in NVL - CHI service just ahead of ATL - NVL. If NVL to a CNO connection ( maybe Fulton ? ) that would be much of an improvement not going backwards to MEM.
 

Willbridge

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Nashville - Memphis is not likely. There just is not much interest in that service. A much better option is the Nashville population is ore interested in NVL - CHI service just ahead of ATL - NVL. If NVL to a CNO connection ( maybe Fulton ? ) that would be much of an improvement not going backwards to MEM.
Routes radiating from Chicago automatically get advantages: more traffic connections, maintenance facilities, spare equipment, etc. It's the same reason (at Seattle) that Oregon cooperates with Washington for state sponsored service.
 
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me_little_me

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Jul 16, 2010
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Put a cattle car on the train. Amtrak has plenty of barely full baggage cars that can be converted as so few stations have baggage service any more. That would justify it if the number of people doesn't.
 

MARC Rider

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Actually, the southern Montana route serves Billings, Bozemen, Butte, and Missoula, which are among the largest population centers in the state. If the state isn't interested in service to its largest cities, perhaps it might make more sense to have the Empire Builder routed through Southern Montana rather than the High Line.
 

jis

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The proposed restored route will not serve Butte. It will serve Helena instead. Butte cannot be reached from the east anymore due to trackage out of service through Homestake Pass.
 

MARC Rider

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The proposed restored route will not serve Butte. It will serve Helena instead. Butte cannot be reached from the east anymore due to trackage out of service through Homestake Pass.
OK, but that's even better if they switch, as Helena is the State capital.
 

Ziv

OBS Chief
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Oct 25, 2011
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Jim, your reply went right over my head the first two or three times I read it. Then I was like, EXACTLY! Montana is a middle class state but there are 9 counties out of the 56 that are just hard hit in nearly every way. 8 of them are predominately made up of Indian Reservations, and then there is Butte. Somehow Butte is just always getting the worst of everything.

The "Butte-end"?;)
 

CAQuail

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Dec 3, 2015
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The county that Helena is in has almost twice the population of Butte. In fact I am surprised that back in the 70s they routed the North Coast Hiawatha via Butte instead of following the route of The Mainstreeter through Helena.
 

Siegmund

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Nov 19, 2018
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The county that Helena is in has almost twice the population of Butte. In fact I am surprised that back in the 70s they routed the North Coast Hiawatha via Butte instead of following the route of The Mainstreeter through Helena.
Butte was the larger, and politically more powerful, city, until the late 70s or early 80s. (The census shows Silver Bow County shrinking steadily since 1920 -- as mining became more mechanized, I expect -- and Lewis and Clark County only catching up in 1980.) Interstate 15 goes through Butte, instead of Dillon-Twin Bridges-Whitehall-Boulder where a 4-lane road for truckers belongs, entirely because of 60s and 70s political influence.

But from a railroad operation standpoint, the big factor is that Homestake is the more difficult pass (~400 feet higher, curvier, and with a serious shortage of long passing sidings) and very undesirable for heavy freight trains. I think it was mostly an operations decision, much like routing passenger traffic from Missoula to Paradise via Evaro Hill and freight traffic along the water-level route via St. Regis.

As I mentioned upthread, if Homestake were open today there would be serious pressure to put the hypothetical passenger trains through Butte, along with eastbound empties, to keep Mullan Pass freight capacity open, and avoid needing helper bases in Butte. Same issue as we hear about at the Cascade Tunnel and Tehachapi Loop in miniature.
 

Qapla

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I have not counted them - I wonder how many State Capitals do not have passenger service. I know Tallahassee in Florida does not have passenger service.
 

west point

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No state capitol service ? Tallahassee, Montgomery, Nashville, Frankford, Columbus, Dover, Concord, Augusta just to cover east of Mississippi river ?
 

Siegmund

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Nov 19, 2018
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I have not counted them - I wonder how many State Capitals do not have passenger service. I know Tallahassee in Florida does NOT have passenger service.
I count 20. Currently not served are the following:

Juneau, AK - obviously impossible
Phoenix, AZ - formerly served, now bypassed due to track abandonment
Dover, DE - Delmarva Peninsula service looks unlikely at least by Amtrak
Tallahassee, FL - served 1993-2005
Honolulu, HI - obviously impossible
Boise, ID - served 1979-1997, restoring service has a Phoenix-esque track abandonment issue
Des Moines, IA - not served since before Amtrak
Frankfort, KY - infeasible, not on any reasonable route
Baton Rouge, LA - not served since before Amtrak
Augusta, ME - not served since before Amtrak, but a plausible future extension of the Downeaster beyond Brunswick
Annapolis, MD - not on any reasonable route (Baltimore-Annapolis commuter service maybe)
Helena, MT - as discussed in this thread.
Carson City, NV - not feasible (bus from Reno to CZ has often been provided)
Concord, NH - not served since before Amtrak (anyone for Boston-Montreal service?)
Santa Fe, NM - infeasible for long distance, but the Rail Runner has been added
Bismarck, ND - lost service 1979
Columbus, OH - lost service 1979
Pierre, SD - not served since before Amtrak. The tracks are still there but sort of a dead end
Madison, WI - if it happens it'll be a northwestward expansion of Chicago commuter service
Cheyenne, WY - served intermittently by San Francisco Zephyr and later Pioneer.

I assume you'd count Olympia WA and Montpelier VT as "served" since nearby junctions are served and the main lines don't go through the capitals.
 

railiner

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Actually, the southern Montana route serves Billings, Bozemen, Butte, and Missoula, which are among the largest population centers in the state. If the state isn't interested in service to its largest cities, perhaps it might make more sense to have the Empire Builder routed through Southern Montana rather than the High Line.
You would think the southern route would have been chosen by Amtrak’s original incorporators for the Chicago/Seattle train in 1971...but IIRC, they thought that since the southern route was served well by the Interstate highways, along with 3 to 4 times per day Greyhound service, they would give a break to the “hi-line”.
The NC Hiawatha was an added “experimental service”, a short time later.
 
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