By Tim Leeds
Havre community leaders cancelled a rally for Amtrak when the network news crew it was designed to impress didn't show up on the eastbound Empire Builder. But a gathering occurred Thursday afternoon just the same.
"We just wanted to rally anyway," Jean Butler of Box Elder said.
Mark Good's CBS news team has been in Montana to talk about the local impact if Amtrak eliminates the Empire Builder, and had planned to arrive here Thursday by train. Mayor Bob Rice and Debbie Vandeberg, Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, planned the rally to show Havre's support for the passenger train.
The news team cancelled that part of its trip after road closures caused by Wednesday's snow had stranded the team in Cut Bank.
Rice had asked that people come to the station at 12:45 p.m.
When Vandeberg called the station at 11 a.m. to say the news team wasn't coming and the rally was off, Amtrak agent Merlin Blevins told her people were already waiting.
Some people left, but about 30 people stayed to meet the 1:15 p.m. train.
Ruth Erickson was one of them.
"I don't care if CBS is here or not," she said.
Inga Goebel also stayed.
Goebel moved to Havre 50 years ago shortly after her family moved to the United States from Europe. Her father had a job with the Great Northern Railway in Havre.
Goebel and her husband, John, use the train several times a year. They visit their daughter in Minnesota at least three times a year. She returned home from Seattle on the train last fall the day before the Sept. 11 airline hijackings.
"Public rail is what made me happy in Havre after I moved here. That is my connection to the world," she said. "If the train wasn't here, I would have left."
Rice tried to let everyone know the rally had been cancelled, including broadcasting announcements on KOJM/KPQX radio. If he had known so many people were going to be there, he would have shown up, he added.
"My frustration was with CBS it was on again, then it was off," he said. "Havre to me is the most important part of the Hi-Line. I think they should have been here. But the weather wasn't there to do that."
Rice said he will consider whether to hold another rally.
"That's something that might bring us together on this issue," he said.
Amtrak said in February that unless it receives the full $1.2 billion it requested for next year, it may have to cut some or all of its long-distance passenger train service, including the Empire Builder. The Empire Builder stops in Montana on its route from Chicago to the West Coast.