Is a proposal to restore Southern route Amtrak passenger rail service picking up speed in Montana? Jason Stuart is the vice chair of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. I caught up with him prior to the start of the Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit happening now in Billings.

He says the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority is really picking up steam since they were first formed in November of 2020.

Stuart: We started out with 12 counties, 12 founding counties. My county, Dawson County, was one of those 12 founding counties. And at present, we are now up to 18 counties across the state of Montana and looking like we're probably about to add number 19 with Big Horn county expressing interest in joining the authority. So we have made considerable strides in the approximately close to two years that we've been in existence of building this movement across the State of Montana. And as this summit proves, not just across the state of Montana, but across the entire Greater Northwest region.

Right now, Montana has Amtrak service along the Hi Line of Northern Montana. Stuart says that "Empire Builder" Amtrak line has demonstrated a big economic return, so adding a southern route that would cover from Glendive to Missoula would offer the same return.

Stuart: Congress funds it to the tune of $57 million per year. That's what it costs to run that train. The economic benefit, the economic output of that $57 million is $595 million. $595 million in economic activity generated off of a $57 million investment. That is over 10 times the investment. Don't you wish that everything the federal government spent your taxpayer dollars on created that kind of economic activity and that kind of return on your investment of your taxpayer dollars?

I've been hearing about this topic for 20 years or so. So why does he think they're now actually closer than ever before to making it happen? Here's the full audio of our chat with Jason Stuart, who took a brief break from the summit to join us in studio:



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