By Tim Leeds
National attention is focusing on the possible loss of Amtrak on the Hi-Line, and community leaders want to take advantage of that.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said a CBS news team will be the Empire Builder when it arrives in town on Thursday, and he wants local people to meet the train.
"I need 2,000 people on the platform," he said.
Rice has been working with Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, and others to plan a rally when the news team comes in. The team will arrive from Shelby, where it was to interview residents about the potential loss of the Empire Builder.
The train is scheduled to leave Shelby at 11:20 a.m. Thursday and arrive in Havre at 1:12 p.m.
Rice started a phone tree Tuesday night to alert people about the rally.
Amtrak said earlier this year that unless it receives the entire $1.2 billion it requested, it may have to cut some or all of its long distance passenger service, including the Empire Builder. The train stops in Havre twice a day and ferries passengers from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Bills being considered in Congress range from President Bush's request, which is half of what Amtrak is seeking, to a bill by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., that would provide $4.6 billion.
The rally has two purposes, Rice said a show of support for Amtrak and an opportunity for local people to be interviewed about what Amtrak means to the community.
"I want the people that utilize Amtrak for any reason to be available," he said.
People around the country, including members of Congress, don't realize how important the passenger train system is to Montana and need to be shown, he said.
Rice said an example is the case of his friend Karen Paronto, who recently died of cancer. Her medication was made daily and shipped from Kalispell on Amtrak, he said. If that service hadn't been available, someone would have had to drive to Kalispell a couple of times a week, pick up the medication and drive back.
The passenger service provides customers for local businesses. Also, Boxcars Restaurant and Casino provides meals for the trains, and owner Craig Anderson said he would have to cut four or five jobs if the service was eliminated.
The CBS team plans to interview people in Shelby, where many Amtrak personnel live, and then ride the train to Havre for more interviews, Rice said. He is considering going to Shelby to board the train and said others should as well.
Rice would like people to begin gathering at the Amtrak station at 12:45 p.m. so the rally can be organized.
"We don't want just a mob down there. Maybe an organized mob," he said.
The CBS Los Angeles bureau said it would confirm that it has a news team in Montana but could not say what it is working on. Rice said he's talked to representatives of the network.