Amtrak Ridership in Montana Up for Fifth Straight Year

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – Amtrak ridership in Montana is up for the fifth consecutive year, but the pace of growth has slowed, the Montana Department of Transportation said.

The total number of people who got on or off the train at one of the 12 Amtrak stops along the state’s northern tier increased by 1,500 to 153,760 in 2007. Ridership had increased by more than 10,000 people in 2005 and 2006.

The largest increases in 2007 were recorded at the Glacier Park station and Essex, while ridership at Whitefish fell by about 3,000 to 66,507 after two years of rapid growth.

Shelby Mayor Larry Bonderud says as fuel prices increase, the train is becoming more important as an economic form of travel in rural Montana. He said the recent addition of bus service between Great Falls and Shelby could further boost ridership.

Despite the increases, there still aren’t enough riders in northern Montana to make Amtrak profitable in the region. Congress subsidizes Amtrak operations, but those subsidies are often threatened in the annual budgeting process.

The Bush administration has proposed $900 million in subsidies for Amtrak in the 2009 fiscal year, down $500 million from what Amtrak received this year.

Montana’s congressional delegation is working to get that money restored.

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