President Bush’s proposal to cease funding for the national passenger railroad system, Amtrak, in fiscal year 2006 went down in flames in the U.S. Senate in March. But until there’s a new president in the White House, Amtrak advocates will likely continue feeling the heat from an administration unwilling to accept the idea of a national rail service running anything but a profit. That heat is felt especially along Montana’s Hi-line, where transportation options are few. Amtrak’s Empire Builder makes stops at Whitefish, Shelby, Havre and other remote locations where recent concern over the Amtrak budget squeeze has found a collective voice that’s slowly but surely growing louder.
On Sunday, May 1, the Montana Association of Railroad Passengers (MARP), a chapter of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, met with MARP President James Green. They then returned to their respective communities with resolutions in hand urging Montana’s congressional delegation and President Bush to support Amtrak with sustainable funding.
One Montana Amtrak employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said Amtrak faces two battles: “One is against the Bush regime, and the other is against the Bush-appointed board members at Amtrak who are trying to do us in or make us Wal-Mart on wheels. We need to throw those Bush appointees out and get people who actually want to see national rail service continue, rather than just taking marching orders from Karl Rove,” the employee said.
Green says it’s important for Montanans to advocate not just for the Empire Builder, but also for making Amtrak service nationwide a priority so that it will be treated like the federally subsidized highway system, a message which already seems to have resonated with Sen. Conrad Burns. Burns issued a statement Thursday, April 28, in which he wrote, “Amtrak was built for all Americans…It is truly America’s rail system, and we need to start treating it that way…”