Amtrak to Reduce Service on Long-Distance Routes

Beginning in October passenger trains will stop in Whitefish only three times a week instead of daily

By Micah Drew
Passengers prepare to board the Empire Builder at West Glacier. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Citing declines in ridership and the long-term effects of COVID-19, Amtrak will reduce service on most long-distance routes beginning in October, including its Empire Builder line that runs through Whitefish and northern Montana.

Service on the Empire Builder will be cut from daily down to three days a week.

The Empire Builder operates between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. Whitefish is the most popular stop between St. Paul and Seattle, averaging around 55,000 passengers a year since 2016. Only Chicago, St. Paul, Seattle and Portland have higher ridership numbers. The train also makes stops in other small northern Montana towns, including Havre, Cut Bank, East Glacier and Libby.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said in a statement that cuts will remain in place until at least summer of 2021, and return to daily service will be based on demand.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, said the cuts were unsurprising but misguided.

“The long-distance services declined the least among Amtrak’s three business lines during the coronavirus-induced slowdown, and its services remain essential to the hundreds of small communities across the United States,” he said.

The Empire Builder contributes nearly $14 million to Montana’s economy, according to an economic analysis completed by the Montana Department of Transportation.

Amtrak will also cut daily service along nine other long distance routes across the country.

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