Efforts to restore passenger rail across Montana's southern tier of counties has been included in Wyoming's own statewide rail plan for 2021, which could include southern links to Denver or Salt Lake City if fully established.

Mineral County may also look to join the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, with a public hearing set for Thursday.

“This is a big deal, as it continues to block up western Montana in the Authority and continues to validate the widespread and bipartisan support for restoring passenger rail service to the southern tier of the state,” said rail authority president Dave Strohmaier. “They would be county number 17.”

Since its inception last year, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority has grown from a handful of founding counties to all but a few counties across Montana's southern stretch. It's there where the North Coast Hiawatha ran up until 1979.

Now, with a firm base of support and an infrastructure bill sitting before Congress, the rail authority's efforts to restore passenger service are moving closer to reality. Those efforts have caught the attention of other authorities - such as the Southern Rail Commission - and other states, including Idaho and Wyoming.

“BSPRA would partner with other states in any future multi-state compact or regional rail authority established to support regional passenger rail networks in the Intermountain West,” the Wyoming Statewide Rail Plan notes. “It is willing to explore a range of potential new passenger rail route options, including cross-state services through the southern part of Montana as well as north-south links connecting Montana with Denver and Salt Lake City.”

Wyoming isn't the first state to recognize the efforts taking place in Montana. As earlier as last year, Boise city officials also expressed support for the regional rail plan and noted the potential economic impact passenger rail service could have on the Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest.

The infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. Senate and is pending a vote in the House includes funding to restore passenger rail, particularly that in rural parts of the country. The bill includes $12 billion for passenger rail and notes that 20% of that must go to long-distance routes.

“Wyoming state or local officials will partner with Montana agencies as appropriate to create a regional base of support for expanding passenger rail service on corridors that serve Wyoming and Montana,” the Wyoming Statewide Rail Plan suggests.