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Empire Builder supporters launch new website


Editor’s note: This corrects information on ridership in Havre and Shelby

Mark Meyer of Portland, Oregon, a Cut Bank native and a member of the Rail Passengers Association, said he has helped create a website promoting and advocating for Amtrak’s Empire Builder that runs along the Hi-Line, traveling from Chicago to the West Coast and back.

“I actually have been wanting to do this website for many years … before the current crisis affecting all long-distance Amtrak trains,” Meyer said.

The goal of the website is to get a representative in every community to act as an advocate for the Empire Builder train, where the representative would be in charge of updating the website with local information and also providing names of elected officials along the route and their contact information.

The website, Meyer said, could expand to cover amenities and local attractions around the communities where the Empire Builder has stations, such as rental cars, local transit, hotels, restaurants and museums that might interest those who are riding the train. For that reason, Meyer said, a local person would need to keep the page for those communities as current as possible.

Meyer added that the website will also have links to history-oriented entities, such as the Great Northern Railway Historical Society.

“This is important because the Empire Builder is named after James J. Hill, and, because of his railroad, the northwest was settled and we have Glacier National Park,” Meyer said. “Hill County — as the county with the greatest number of railroad jobs in Montana — is a good example of the ongoing legacy of James J. Hill, the Empire Builder.

“People take things like the Empire Builder passenger train and railroad jobs for granted — this would be a vehicle to remind them and hopefully increase interest and support,” he added.

Meyer said the advocate or activist who volunteers to maintain the Havre page must be someone who has their “finger on the pulse of Havre” and knows some of the history of the railroad in the community as well as local services and attraction.

Although, Meyer said, the website cannot bring the ticket agents back to the Havre station.

Last month Amtrak removed the ticket agent positions from the Havre and Shelby stations. Many in the local community opposed the decision and have brought the topic up in several Havre City Council meetings since the decision was announced. City Council held a special meeting specifically regarding Amtrak May 25, where community members were able to voice their concerns with the decision to the council as well as Amtrak Director of Government Affairs Robert Eaton and Amtrak Union Representative Jack Dinsdale.

The ticket agents’ positions in Havre were still eliminated June 1.

Meyer said the only way to bring back the ticket agents would be to have local people monitor the station daily, assessing the situation and documenting things that aren’t right, then conveying that information to an elected official.

The problem with cutting the ticket agents, Meyer added, is that it will degrade service and drive people away. Things like more baggage inside the passenger cars rather than passengers being able to check them into the baggage car are safety issues Amtrak needs to address, he said.

Meyer said that the last time Havre and Shelby met the criteria Amtrak is using to decide what stations to staff, averaging 40 passengers a day, was 2010.

“Instead of cutting staff to correspond with decreasing ridership, how about trying to grow your ridership to match your staffing?” Meyer said.

He added that he believed Amtrak is planning to remove ticket agents from more stations nationwide.

“Degrading the service to the point people will not ride or cannot ride, in other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Meyer said. “The Hi-Line can’t bear losing this service.”


Online: Empire Builder Advocates website: https://www.ebtrain.net/.


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