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Study: New Amtrak route has potential for economic impact

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The Rail Passengers Association found in a new assessment of a Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority plan that restoring the North Coast Hiawatha rail line could generate $271 million annually in economic benefits to seven states it would serve.

It would cost Amtrak roughly $68 million to operate, according to a Thursday news release announcing the results of the study. As many as 426,000 passengers could be expected to use the rail line yearly, according to a research note on the project published this week.

The North Coast Hiawatha ran from 1971 to 1979 between Chicago, Illinois and Seattle, passing through Missoula in between.

“The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is excited to share the results of the Rail Passenger Association’s research note,” Missoula County Commissioner and BSPRA chair Dave Strohmaier said in the release.

“With some of the best long-distance route ridership numbers in the nation and projected economic benefits of over $270 million annually between Chicago and Seattle, this route would be economically and socially transformational for urban, rural, and tribal communities in Montana and throughout the Greater Northwest Region,” he added.

The federal bipartisan infrastructure bill includes at least $66 billion to upgrade and expand American passenger rail, according to the release. Extra weight is given to projects that would benefit rural communities.

“Passenger rail creates jobs and grows the economy across Montana and is critical to keeping families and businesses across our state connected,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in the release. “The benefits of passenger rail are clear, and as we work to meet the infrastructure needs of the 21st century, I will continue fighting to expand affordable and accessible passenger rail service throughout the Treasure State.”

Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or send him an email at

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