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Volunteers to talk history on Amtrak


Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

A group of park rangers and volunteers Saturday kicked off a new program that runs from Havre to Minot, N.D., setting up at the Amtrak station in Havre during National Train Day to talk to local residents and Amtrak passengers. Judy Gomke of Kremlin, one of the Rails and Trails volunteers at the event in Havre, said part of her desire to join the program was her experiences riding the passenger rail service. “And I love history,” she added. Stephanie Martin, a National Park Se rvi c e range r at Bear Paw Battlefield, said 14 people have volunteered to ride the rail and tell Amtrak passengers about local history and historical sites from Havre to Minot. The volunteers include people from up and down the Hi-Line and as far south as Great Falls and Cascade, she said. Martin and Havre High School history teacher Jim Magera, who also works as a ranger at Bear Paw Battlefield, and a half-a-dozen of the Trails and Rails volunteers were at the Havre station Saturday, one of a nation-wide slate of National Train Day events celebrating 140 years of coast-to-coast passenger rail service in the United States. Interest, ridership, in Amtrak grows The Havre Trails and Rails program, expected to start after Memorial Day, comes as Amtrak sees an increase in popularity nationwide and in support in Washington. Amtrak, a government-owned passenger rail company started in 1971, has seen increased ridership over each of the last few years with the company reporting a record 28.5 million riders in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008. All Amtrak trains saw increased ridership last year, the passenger rail Service reported. The Empire Builder, which runs across the Hi-Line en route from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Ore., is the most-used long-distance train in Amtrak's service. For the fiscal year ending last September, Amtrak reported 554,000 riders on the route, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Increased support also has arisen in the nation's capitol, with higher funding appropriated by Congress and a push by President Barack Obama to spend billions on improved cars, engines and infrastructure and to start offering highspeed rail service. Montana's U.S. Sen. Jon Tester also is pushing for additional service. Tester announced Friday that he is holding a town-hall meeting in Bozeman Tuesday, May 26, to explore the possibility of restoring an Amtrak route in the southern part of the state. Tester in 2007 successfully wrote legislation directing Amtrak to examine restoring the North Coast Hiawatha Route that ran through Montana, passing through Glendive, Miles City, Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula as it ran from Chicago to Seattle. Amtrak discontinued use of that line in 1979. The study requested by Tester, which requires showing that re-establising the North Coast Hiawatha route will not negatively impact the Empire Builder ridership, is expected to be completed this fall. “Bringing the Hiawatha back to Montana isn't a done deal,” Tester, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee which oversees funding for Amtrak, said in a press release. “But a lot of Montanans are interested in the idea and rightly so. This meeting is an opportunity for folks to hear an update on possibility restoring the Hiawatha.” Local history on the train The new Havre Trails and Rails program is an addition to the program. For several years now information from Seattle to Shelby has been provided to passengers by volunteers, said volunteer Chris Collins when he got off in Havre. Collins said the history talks end in Shelby, but the volunteers ride to Havre to get on the train back to Seattle, as there is less of a wait at the Havre station. The new volunteers will do the same for passengers from Havre to Minot. Ray Bergh of Havre said his enjoyment of history and of talking to people led him to volunteer for the Havre to Minot program. He said the large number of volunteers and the rotating schedule to fit them into the program should work well. Collins after talking to some of the Havre-based volunteers about local history said learning about the history on the route is a never-ending process. “You never know it all,” Collins said. “You pick up a little tidbit here and there.”


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