The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority this week welcomed its newest member to the table as it works to restore passenger service to southern Montana.

Burlington Northern Sante Fe joined the authority as an ex officio member, and since it serves as the primary host railroad, its participation is welcome and likely necessary for the smooth restoration of passenger service.

“We frequently get asked, 'Where do the host railroads stand with the efforts of the rail authority and passenger rail?'” said authority chairman Dave Strohmaier. “Any uncertainly is now removed since the primary host railroad associated with the restoration of the North Coast Hiawatha is at the table with us.”

Tensions between host railroads and passenger service have arisen elsewhere in the country. Most recently, Amtrak sought to restore passenger service along the Gulf Coast, but freight operators CSX and Norfolk Southern resisted, leaving it up to the Surface Transportation Board to settle.

Passenger rail advocates in Montana and across the Pacific Northwest currently have a good relationship with the region's host railroads.

“BNSF brings a tremendous amount of experience harmonizing passenger and freight rail operations, and we look forward to working with them as we plan for passenger rail expansion across the region,” Strohmaier said.

Jim Tylick, the assistant vice president of passenger operations at BNSF will serve as the company's board member. Other ex officio members of the Montana rail authority include Amtrak, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Crow Tribe and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

Strohmaier said the authority continues to enjoy forward momentum in its push to restore the old North Coast Hiawatha route, which served the state's south tier until the late 1970s.

“Already, the authority and BNSF have been discussing opportunities to partner on infrastructure investments that will benefit both passenger and freight rail, and the future looks bright for collaboration,” Strohmaier said.