Sunday, April 11, 2021

Time to resume full Amtrak service

by Daily Inter Lake
| March 4, 2021 12:00 AM

Amtrak ridership was down some 80% during the throes of the pandemic-induced shutdown last year. That steep decline forced the passenger train service to cut back most of its long-distance trains to just three days a week — including the route across Montana’s rural Hi-Line.

Those cuts, Amtrak president and CEO William Flynn testified in October, were intended to be temporary.

Now, with much of the country returning to full business operations, it’s time for the Empire Builder to return to full-time service as well.

Sen. Jon Tester introduced a bill last week that will do just that. His proposed legislation would provide up to $166 million to reinstate furloughed Amtrak employees and restore daily service on the carrier’s long-distance routes. The Democrat hopes the bill will be included in the next pandemic relief package making its way through Congress.

Tester points out that Montana’s Amtrak service is vital to frontier communities — creating good-paying jobs and connecting families across the Northern Tier.

“These cuts were an unacceptable attack on rural America, and my legislation will right that wrong,” Tester said.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines has also denounced the long-distance service cuts, and worked last fall to have funding including in a relief package.

Our senators need to keep pushing for adequate funding and a guarantee on returning staff and daily service to the Hi-Line. Too many Montanans depend on Amtrak to let this reduction in service drag on.

Kudos to Montana West Economic Development for its efforts in facilitating the relocation of Oregon tech firm GL Solutions to Kalispell.

The Bend, Oregon, software company plans to create 40 full-time jobs here over the next three months and perhaps more jobs as time goes on. Tech jobs are generally good-paying positions and we hope Flathead economic development leaders continue to tap into the tech industry that is finding more and more opportunities in Montana.

GL Solutions co-founder Bill Moseley told the Inter Lake he was impressed by the spirit of the local business community and especially the efforts of MWED, which helped with the relocation in myriad ways.

The Flathead’s outdoor recreation amenities and quality of life, along with the state’s lower regulatory burden on employers also played into GL Solutions’ decision to relocate, but it is economic development drivers like MWED that can seal the deal. We hope more tech companies will see the Flathead Valley for the bastion of economic opportunity that it is.