By Tim Leeds
A network television news team wrapped up filming a report about the impact of Amtrak on the Hi-Line today.
After three days in the area, the crew was to leave Havre on the train this afternoon, heading east.
Jim Avila, correspondent from NBC's "Today" show, has been interviewing people for a five-minute segment about the need for Amtrak's Empire Builder in north-central Montana.
Jerry Smith of Save Amtrak said the focus of the piece will probably be Havre, although the crew, headed by independent producer Patrice Fletcher, interviewed people and shot film from Galata to Malta.
"It should be a great piece for the community," he said. "The Hi-Line was the spot to do this story."
Amtrak announced in February that unless it receives the full $1.2 billion it requested the next fiscal year, it might have to cut some or all long-distance passenger service. President Bush's budget request was about half that. Smith said that deadline, Oct. 1, still stands.
"The $1.2 billion is still out there," he said.
In recent days, Smith said, the new Amtrak president, David Gunn, has sent a letter to Amtrak employees stating that unless the national rail service gets a $200 million loan it is seeking, the entire service could temporarily shut down.
The NBC interviews on the Hi-Line went well, Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeberg said today. They illustrated how much the Hi-Line needs the service.
"Rural America shouldn't be punished for the fact that we live here," she said.
Vandeberg and Smith helped Fletcher arrange interviews with people on the Hi-Line who use the Empire Builder to travel to Seattle or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for medical treatment or whose businesses are tied to Amtrak, as well as people who use it for general transportation.
"You take away the rail service and you take away a real lifeline a real connectivity to the outside world," she said.
The date the piece will air is not set.