Havre Daily News
Jim Green is looking for someone who wouldn't mind spending $600,000 to boost the passenger rail industry in Montana.
Green, president of the Montana/Wyoming Association of Rail Passengers, said in an interview Tuesday that he's learned of three Budd rail diesel cars for sale in Oregon.
The cars will be one subject of conversation at Saturday's National Association of Railroad Passengers Region 8 annual meeting at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. National and regional passenger rail advocates will gather to talk about the future of rail travel and the annual battle on Capitol Hill to fund Amtrak.
Green said the self-propelled units could be used to service southern portions of the state, connecting passengers in Billings, Bozeman and Great Falls with Amtrak's Empire Builder at Shelby.
He said such a service would boost enthusiasm for passenger rail transportation throughout the state. At some point in the future, perhaps, that enthusiasm would lead to the expansion of the Empire Builder and the addition of an Amtrak route through southern Montana.
Talk about the Budd cars - and a presentation by Colorado Railcar about its similar but more expensive product - may take a back seat to discussions on the short- and long-term future of Amtrak.
National Association of Railroad Passengers president George Chilson will be joined by Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, several regional rail passenger association officials, representatives of Montana's congressional delegation and an official from the Montana Department of Transportation. The group will talk Amtrak in two two-hour sessions, beginning at 4 p.m. and at 7 p.m. in the mall's community center.
Amtrak this year requested $1.8 billion from the federal government. The Bush administration's budget allocated $900 million. Last year, the administration initially offered no funding for Amtrak.
Green echoed statements made by Chilson and other officials and said that $1.8 billion is only enough to keep the service running at its current level. He said Amtrak nees to have “a real infusion” of cash to bring the service up to a more satisfactory level.
Green said he knows of about 100 passenger cars awaiting repair at a train yard in Illinois - Amtrak can't mainain its equipment without more money, he said.
He doesn't just want to see Amtrak survive at its current level. Green and others are calling for the expansion of the service in an age of rising fuel costs. Air travel and highways are federally subsidized, and its time the federal government realizes the need for a well-funded national rail passenger service, Green said.
“I think the government at this time, and Bush leading the government, is way off base in not recognizing the fuel savings ... by increasing routes,” Green said. “They've got to start thinking that there is another public transportation system beyond the airlines and the highways.”
The funding fight comes as ridership on Amtrak has increased again. According to a press release, the Empire Builder saw a 9 percent rise in passengers last year.
Registration begins at 3 p.m. The cost of the meeting is $30, and dinner will be served at 6 p.m. Contact Green at (406) 652-1339 or association vice president Michael Ackley at (406) 728-2178 for more information.