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Lake County joins Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority as federal study kicks off

Membership map of the growth Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

Lake County this week became the newest member of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, bringing the organization’s membership to 17 counties, three tribes and Amtrak.

The authority’s momentum is well-timed with millions of dollars in federal funding earmarked for increasing long-distance passenger rail, such as the old North Coast Hiawatha that once crossed Montana’s southern tier.

“Lake County’s entrance into the authority further demonstrates how passenger rail transcends typical political and ideological divides,” said rail authority chairman Dave Strohmaier. “It’s something that the Federal Railroad Administration has taken note of as they are poised to kick off a nationwide study of restoring discontinued Amtrak routes.”

Strohmaier, who also serves as a Missoula County commissioner, traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to meet with both Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, along with the Federal Railroad Administration and other transportation officials.

Strohmaier believes the routes of both the North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer will likely be included in the Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study. The study will provide a foundational look at what will be needed to restore specific passenger routes that have been discontinued.

The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority has landed on the FRA’s radar, Strohmaier said, and will continue to expand its reach in partnership with other regional efforts to grow passenger rail service.

“We’re delighted to see Lake County join us as the newest member county of the authority—joining 17 other counties, Amtrak, and three tribal nations on our board,” he said. “We’re poised to add Burlington Northern Santa Fe as an ex officio member at our next board meeting, and we’re looking forward to adding additional counties in the months to come.”