September 11, 2018 - Interesting article about funding for the Williston airport, which is to receive at least $112 million in federal funding for its $231 million airport. Here's the article from the Williston Herald: The article gives numerous numerous examples of grants given to airports in North Dakota alone. By the way, the "XWA" reference is to evidently what the airport code will be for the new airport. The current airport, Sloulin Field, is ISN. Sloulin Field currently has 5 commercial passenger flights daily: 2 Delta flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul, and 3 United flights to Denver. Note the reference to the Dickinson airport, which is also getting more money. Before the first Bakken Boom, both Williston and Dickinson were Essential Air Service cities served out of Denver with prop planes. As the boom was taking place, both cities saw an increase in air service in the form of small jets. Dickinson's main service was United to Denver, and for awhile even had Delta service to Minneapolis/St. Paul. As the boom subsided, Williston service diminished somewhat, but Dickinson faced losing its service altogether as it was no longer economically feasible. No problem, however: Essential Air Service was reinstated - to the tune of $4 million per year, which is amazingly not all that unusual in EAS terms! In contrast, there is no such program in place when passenger train service is threatened to a community. Several years ago, EAS was discontinued in places like Lewistown and Miles City in Montana because they were less than 150 miles (the new guideline) from a "major" airport (in their case, Billings). But Dickinson is only 100 miles from the Bismarck airport, which enjoys non-stop service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Chicago, and Dallas/Fort Worth. And while Williston is no longer an EAS airport, Sidney (45 miles from Williston) and Glendive (116 miles from Williston) still each rack up millions in EAS "investment" annually. Just another perspective on "subsidy," "investment," and the perceptions of each. --Mark Meyer
August 30, 2018 - Amtrak officials say Empire Builder service will not change, but some worry about health of national network
August 30, 2018 - Dear Mr. Anderson: I am writing you both as a long-time believer in and user of Amtrak as well as a frequent passenger on our nation’s air transportation system.
August 30, 2018 - A white paper issued by the Rail Passengers Association, “Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong,” contends that Amtrak’s fully allocated cost methodology “grossly exaggerates the cost of operating the national passenger train system. This, in turn, has lead to the conclusion adopted by many elected leaders and other affected stakeholders that abandonment of key long-distance trains will save Amtrak significant sums and lead to a more financially secure national passenger operation.”
August 30, 2018 - In the Someone-had-to-say-it-so-it-might-as-well-be-me department, this happened in New Mexico today.
August 29, 2018 - Empire Builder Service Disruptions Due To Wisconsin Flooding
August 29, 2018 - By Fred Frailey TRAINS magazine
August 14, 2018 - Here is the Amtrak Employee Advisory Memo issued today on the SOUTHWEST CHIEF. MEMO: "We know many of you have concerns about the status of the Southwest Chief. Here’s an update: We are considering changes to the route and operation of the Southwest Chief. No decision has been made yet on our long-term operation of the entire Southwest Chief route, but a portion of the route faces unique challenges because of extensive operational and capital investment costs required to continue the present service. We are considering all options on how to make this route work, given the changing needs of our passengers, our limited resources and the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently. What we want you and our stakeholders to know is that the status quo is not an option – we or others either have to invest more or make changes. We are looking specifically at changes to the Southwest Chief because it requires a lot of capital investment to keep it running “as is.” The Southwest Chief currently loses more than $50M every year, and we will need to invest more than $100M in the next 3-5 years to bring the route to a State of Good Repair and to fully implement Positive Train Control, plus additional operating expenses that will likely add to the train’s annual losses. We are responsible for all maintenance and capital costs for a 219-mile stretch of the route between Colorado and New Mexico. Also, Positive Train Control is not installed on a 348-mile stretch between Dodge City, Kan., and Albuquerque. No other Amtrak route has this combination of operational losses with capital investment needs. And this is an issue for us because we have a clear mandate from Congress, which is stated in the FAST Act, to deliver our services in a cost-effective manner, and we are falling short of this mandate with the Southwest Chief. We have many capital needs at Amtrak, and we have limited resources. We have to balance the needs of the Southwest Chief with the needs of the rest of our National Network, including all of our other Long Distance trains. We know that many of our customers and stakeholders value this route – and we are evaluating all options. We are continuing to have conversations with members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations and state and local leaders about the various options and funding needs. In addition, we will have senior executives onboard the Southwest Chief next week to talk with our stakeholders along the route. We will provide updates as new information becomes available. In the meantime, we ask that everyone continue to provide excellent service and hospitality to our Southwest Chief customers and continue to operate safely and with the high degree of professionalism that defines our employees." ***** For those of you who are following this, the bottom line is: In spite of the previous Amtrak administration agreeing to fund the track maintenance between Trinidad and Lamy ($3 million annually), the current leadership at Amtrak is choosing not to honor that commitment. It is interesting that Amtrak cities the need to meet "the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently" when referring to the Southwest Chief, but when congress has dictated in their past budget resolution that the current long distance network continue, and on-line congresspeople have specifically passed resolutions reiterating this, current Amtrak management just ignores it, and regurgitates its very flawed analysis of the Southwest Chief, including their new claim the route needs Positive Train Control in spite of the Federal Railroad Administration agreeing that this line doesn't. And they never do explain how one of their alternatives - busing passengers around the areas without PTC - could ever be cheaper or safer than the current operation, nor do they explain why a simple point in time can render an operation without PTC unsafe! I, for one, think that Amtrak (and supporters at NARP) erred horribly 15-20 years ago when Amtrak did not reroute the Southwest Chief away from Raton Pass (to a route via Clovis, NM) when BNSF offered it as an option (an option currently not available). But the current Southwest Chief position at Amtrak - basically that they are untrustworthy because they don't honor agreements and are not transparent with regard to accounting of expenses - should be a wake up call to all proponents of rail passenger service outside the Northeast Corridor that indeed Amtrak's intent is to erode the service originating internally. --Mark Meyer
August 5, 2018 - A bill requiring reinstatement of Amtrak ticket agents at Havre and Shelby is stalled in Congress.
July 27, 2018 - Amendment No. 3414 To express the sense of Congress relating to the importance of long-distance passenger rail routes. (Yea 95-4)
July 27, 2018 - Amendment No. 3422 To require the Inspector General to update an audit report concerning on-time performance of Amtrak.
July 26, 2018 - Trains News Wire
July 26, 2018 - Portman and Brown’s amendment would require Amtrak to staff any station that has averaged at least 25 passengers per day in the last five years. In addition to Cincinnati, those stations should include: Hammond, LA, Havre, MT, Lamy, NM, Ottumwa, IA, Shelby, MT, Charleston, WV, Marshall, TX, Meridian, MS, and Topeka, KS, and Tuscaloosa, AL. There are numerous unstaffed Amtrak stations in the Amtrak system that have 25 more passengers daily even before the cuts, so this could be interesting. If you are so inclined to do so, and especially if you're a Montana resident, you can contact U. S. Senators Daines and Tester regarding Senate Amendment No. 3600 as part of H. R. 6147 and ask them to vote for this amendment that, if passed, would restore Amtrak station agents to Havre and Shelby along with the other 6 locations that lost station staffing recently.
July 11, 2018 - Some rail passenger advocates are taking up cuts to Amtrak service in Havre and proposals to reduce service from Kansas to New Mexico as a battle cry to fight any reduction to long-distance passenger rail in the country. (Havre Daily News)
July 10, 2018 - Mark Meyer of Portland, Oregon, a Cut Bank native and a member of the Rail Passengers Association, said he has helped create a website promoting and advocating for Amtrak’s Empire Builder that runs along the Hi-Line, traveling from Chicago to the West Coast and back. (Havre Daily News)