BREAKING: Following Tester’s Efforts, Amtrak Reinstates Furloughed Employees, Returns Full Daily Service to Montana’s Hi-Line Today
Senator passed legislation to reverse “unacceptable” cuts; was only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill
(U.S. Senate) – Full, daily Amtrak service returned to the Hi-Line today, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Jon Tester.
Tester’s bill reinstating furloughed Amtrak employees and returning complete long-distance service to the Empire Builder route was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan in March. Tester was the only member of Montana’s Congressional delegation to vote for the bill. The legislation mandated a full return to service 90 days after the bill’s March 11 signing.
“Montanans from Wolf Point to Libby rely on the Empire Builder to visit family and friends, conduct business, and stay connected with the rest of the country, and these cuts were an unacceptable attack on our frontier communities,” Tester said. “Today is a great day for thousands who live and work on the Hi-Line. I was proud to lead this fight to return full, daily Amtrak service to Montana, which will reinstate furloughed employees, boost the local economy, and get folks back to work across our state.”
Tester introduced his bill to reverse the cuts—which were imposed late last year and furloughed Montana jobs and reduced service on the Empire Builder from seven days per week to three—in February. Tester personally secured a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the cuts last year, inviting Havre’s Paul Tuss, Executive Director of Bear Paw Development Corporation, to testify about how crucial long-distance rail is to rural and frontier economies in Montana and across the country.
Elected leaders and economic leaders along the Hi-Line praised Tester for reversing the harmful service cuts:
“The Empire Builder is a part of life here in Northern Montana, and the return of daily service is a welcome relief for the folks who rely on it,” said Wolf Point’s Tori Matejovsky, Executive Director of Great Northern Development Corporation. “This news will boost our economy, create jobs, and help folks from Wolf Point to Glasgow get back on their feet as we recover from the COVID crisis and get Montana back to work. We’re grateful to Senator Tester for making it happen.”
“Amtrak’s Empire Builder route through northern Montana is to return to daily, from current tri-weekly, operations in each direction beginning on May 24, 2021,” said Glendive resident Barry E. Green of the Rail Passengers Association. “Members of the Rail Passengers Association thank Senator Jon Tester for his involvement and efforts in ensuring that Amtrak operates a daily long-distance passenger rail service to serve the many Montana communities and other routes across the country that have limited to no other public transportation options. None of us were foreseeing a pandemic crisis in this country which altered all modes of transportation. Daily Amtrak service will bring back a level of normalcy to residents and visitors in our state and to their final destinations.”
“Restoring daily service to the Empire Builder and returning ticket agents to Havre and Shelby will help Northern Montana recover from the economic calamity of the pandemic,” said Paul Tuss of Bear Paw Development Corporation. “Senator Tester has pushed tirelessly on this issue because he knows firsthand how important reliable train service is to the economy of rural Montana, and we are grateful for his work to bring it back.”
“On behalf of the City of Havre I want to thank Senator Jon Tester for all his hard work restoring daily service to the Empire Builder,” said Havre Mayor Tim Solomon. “Daily service will help our Main Street businesses that have depended on Amtrak for decades get back on their feet, provide a boost to our local economy, and create jobs for folks here in Havre and across the Hi-Line.”
“Whitefish depends on the reliable service – and economic boost – that the Empire Builder route brings, and we are thrilled that service is returning to seven days a week,” said Whitefish Mayor John Muhfeld. “With travel season right around the corner, this is just the shot in the arm our economy needed as we work to build back after the pandemic. Senator Tester fought hard to get this done, and on behalf of the City of Whitefish, I want to thank him for his hard work.”
“The Empire Builder has played an important role in our community’s development as an internationally-known destination resort, and – in fact – the Great Northern Railroad is the reason that our town was founded nearly 120 years ago,” said Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland. “Folks outside of Montana may scoff at the value of a long-haul passenger rail line that serves rural communities like ours, but we are fortunate that Senator Tester understands just how important the railroad is to Montana, and that he’s willing to go to bat for us and to keep this vital transportation link intact. We appreciate Senator Tester’s efforts, and that we’re excited to have the Empire Builder back up and running full steam ahead!”
Amtrak operates 15 long-distance routes in 46 states across the country, connecting rural and urban centers and providing inter-state mobility to underserved communities and populations. The Empire Builder Long-Distance Line includes 12 stations along the Montana Hi-Line that served 121,429 passengers who boarded or disembarked in the state in 2019.
As a member of a community serviced by the Empire Builder, Tester knows how critical Amtrak is to Montana’s Hi-Line and has fought tirelessly to defend it. He recently helped secure $1 billion for Amtrak in the most recent COVID relief package, with $345 million reserved for long-distance routes including the Empire Builder. He also led the charge to restore ticket agents in Amtrak stations in Havre and Shelby, and grilled former Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson over how the railroad planned to maintain passenger service in rural America in the face of the previous Administration’s proposal to cut 25 percent of the agency’s funding in Fiscal Year 2020.
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