Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The coalition working to restore passenger rail service to southern Montana gained another member this month and in doing so, it secured a continuous block of counties stretching across the state.

Big Horn County became the rail authority's 19th member late last week, according to authority chairman and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

“With the addition of Big Horn County, the Big Sky Rail Authority now includes contiguous counties from Idaho to North Dakota, and it includes counties that overlap with all tribal nations,” Strohmaier said.

The addition of Big Horn County as a board members comes at a key point, as U.S. transportation officials and the Federal Railroad Administration prepare to begin a nationwide study discontinued long-distance routes.

The North Coast Hiawatha Route, which crossed southern Montana until 1979, and the Pioneer route, which once connected Salt Lake City and Seattle with stops in Pocatello, Boise and Portland, are expected to be included in the study.

Sens. Tester and John Wicker, R-Mississippi, sponsored the language directing the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete the analysis. They also included $15 million in the recent infrastructure bill to pay for it.

“Big Horn County is an important anchor along the Montana-Wyoming border,” Strohmaier said. “As the Amtrak daily long-distance service study kicks off, there is power in numbers, and Big Horn County's involvement will further bolster the rail authority's clout in this nationwide analysis.”