When Fran Fitzgerald visits family in Washington state, she packs a suitcase instead of her car and hops on Amtrak. And these days the Shelby woman has more company than ever when riding the only public transportation available in this Hi-Line town. The number of people getting on and off Amtrak’s Empire Builder trains at the 12 stations in Montana increased more than 6. 7 percent in 2006 compared with 2005 and 39 percent from the 2002 totals. In Shelby, 16,849 people boarded or got off the train in 2006, compared with 14,962 in 2005. “We’re isolated out here, we need this train,” said Fitzgerald, who owns the Totem Motel. “There’s more riders, so I don’t know why they’d cut this line,” she told the Great Falls Tribune in a story published Saturday. Fitzgerald shares the Montana’s congressional delegation’s disappointment about the level of federal funding proposed in President Bush’s budget released last week. It would give Amtrak an $800 million subsidy, $500 million less than the federal government spent on the passenger rail service in 2006. “Amtrak is getting the short end of the stick once again,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “Every year we have to fight tooth and nail to keep Amtrak service in Montana.” Rep. Dennis Rehberg, Rmont., called the proposal disappointing. “Amtrak is critical to the economy of northern Montana, from Wolf Point to Whitefish,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “This only magnifies the disconnect between the administration and rural America.” Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said federal subsidies are necessary for Amtrak in rural states such as Montana and North Dakota. “Our states don’t have the population numbers to subsidize this service,” he said. “Many of the communities Amtrak serves in Montana don’t have bus service. The train is their connection.” Fitzgerald said most of the passengers she meets on Amtrak are visiting family or traveling for vacations. “But I also have a tenant here who rides out to Seattle for cancer treatment once a year,” she said.