News & Reviews News Wire Federal grant to upgrade Empire Builder route in Montana

Federal grant to upgrade Empire Builder route in Montana

By Trains Staff | December 8, 2023

Money to fund improvements on BNSF in Malta, Mont., area

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BNSF Railway logoWASHINGTON — BNSF Railway will receive a federal grant for $14.9 million toward infrastructure improvements in and around Malta, Mont., U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced Thursday.

The money, from the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, is to improve service on the route of the Empire Builder. Specifically, it will help with final design and construction of track, bridge, signal and other improvements, eliminating a bottleneck in the Malta area.

“As someone who’s spent his entire life in north central Montana, I can tell you firsthand just how critical the Empire Builder is to keeping communities connected and helping Montana small businesses thrive,” Tester said in a press release. “… These funds will help ensure smooth and reliable service along the Empire Builder [route], and I’m proud to have worked across the aisle to make it happen.”

10 thoughts on “Federal grant to upgrade Empire Builder route in Montana

  1. But Charles, Charles, Stephen Gardner and Roger Harris claim the demand for passenger rail is “soaring”!!! And here you come along in these forums and claim ridership is flat. Oh the horror! /s. Well, if the demand is “soaring”, Gardner, Harris, &Co have a very strange way of showing they are trying to meet it outside the NEC and the handful of lines that feed it.

    Now I’d like to think Sen. Tester is an honorable man. Certainly he showed some spine putting a hold on the mostly disgraceful slate of mostly NEC-based nominees the Biden administration put up to re-populate the Amtrak Board. Heck, even the misfits at the NARP/RPA praised him while refusing to admit that the slate was probably hand-picked by Uncle Stevie. But to characterize Nos.7&8 , the one train on the route, as being a “critical” component of Montana life is a bit much. Now if we had the Builder x four, THEN yeah, we got something. But Joe Bidynight and the luminaries in his transportation department haven’t a lick of interest in working with the freight railroads to restore/expand the mainline track ripped out in the 1980s precursor to PSR in an effort to keep the passengers and the freights from stepping on each other (under normal operating conditions). And Obama was no better. Speaking of CREATE, I read Obama came close to trashing the key CREATE project to benefit passenger and freight movements on Chicago’s South Side, the Englewood Flyover. It took a major effort by the rail-minded then Cong. William Lipinski Jr to get it going. And then its critically-needed follow-on, the 75th Street Corridor set of projects languished until recently. Instead, Obama made sure the new, and transitless by then Gov. Cuomo’s(D) decree, Tappan Zee/I-87 Bridge and upgrades at LGA and JFK got full funding. So much for the Democrats caring about building passenger rail and sustaining freight rail.

    As long as President Biden and his transportation department people ignore the back room dynamiting of his railroad that Gardner&Co have been doing especially since early 2020 and continue to gush over that money pit that Obama began, CAHSR, and now a fast train between La La Land and What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas Sen. Tester’s once in 24 hours Empire Builder Route will never become “critical” to Montana’s or any other state it travels through communities and economy.

  2. yea look at Calif high speed rail….spent billions of dollars trying for many years trying to get it built and a lot of it just sits and gets grafffiti on it.

  3. Reading the various replies to my controversial comments of yesterday, I think I made my point. Whether you look at the Long Bridge or the Portal Bridge or the Frederick Douglass Tunnels or CalHSR or the Gateway Tunnels or Chicago CREATE — or some comparatively petty project somewhere in Montana, it’s costing more and more and more to move that train. To be clear I support most of those projects with the exceptions such as projects that benefit the profitable freight railroads. And with ONE BIG EXCEPTION, CalHSR, a project which is a waste of concrete.

    I’m sorry folks if you don’t agree. Buy an Amtrak ticket from Boston to Washington in the Year 2035, you will benefit from one billion-dollar project after another. The bridges over the rivers in Connecticut and Eastern Maryland and New Jersey, the tunnels, the stations — none of which are reflected in the supposed Amtrak subsidy which is only a couple of billion dollars per year for O+M.

    What do we get from this? Flat ridership on Amtrak, dropping ridership on the commuter authorities. The hope among conservatives was that Amtrak would gradually move toward profitability. The hope among liberals was that Amtrak ridership would increase and the railroad would become a true player in American transportation, a well-patronized alternative to the airlines.

    Neither has happened. Instead, the true subsidy per ride which was maybe about $50.00 in the early 1970’s, could soon be measured in the many thousands.

    1. To continue my rant, let me say this: in an honest accounting system, Amtrak and the commuter authorities would be required to pay annually for track space over the new bridges and through the new tunnels. The annal subsidy would be increased accordingly. That way we’d know what the ride on Amtrak REALLY costs.

  4. How about the billions in highway subsidies to heavy trucks which destroy highways because of their weight? How about the billions in subsidies to airlines?

    It is not hidden, it is various budgets for the Federal government and state and local governments. It the job of news organizations and private organizations to lay it all out. Some organizations yammer about taxes, taxes, but they should also talk about subsidies and how they often benefit those who need no subsidy, like private plane owners.

    1. Michael, do you think that people in America know where federal their tax dollars go? Even I don’t know and I worked in infrastructure as a career. I could give myself as an example — until I read comments on these forum pages, even I didn’t know that roads are subsidized from the general fund. I read the newspaper every day, and had countless contacts with people in the highway biusniess, everything from initial budgetting to design to construction. If I didn’t know, how would the general public know.

      The federal budget is one big slush fund. Those of you who think rail and transit are the least of the leakage, probably have a point.

    2. @Charles Landey: $5000 toilet seats on the USAF C-5 Galaxy. There is also an alien ship under the ground at Area 51 we keep maintaining.

      In reality, as for Federal budgets, its not leakage. It’s called buying votes. Politicos betting the next election with tickets to win.

      With regards to infrastructure, look at how much the state and federal governments spent on the canal boom from 1800-1860. Most of them are parks now (or ditches) with bicycle paths instead of towpaths now. Completely no commercial use anymore except as a historical tool. Yet we spent billions (in todays dollars) because we thought it was the most important thing our country needed at the time.

  5. What we need is transparency as too the true amount of subsidy to passenger rail (or any other mode, for that matter). For examples, I’m not at all opposed to tax money going into Chicago CREATE or DeeCee’s Long Bridge. In fact I enthusiastically support those projects. What I’m saying in this: If I but a $30.00 ticket on the Hiawatha or a $25.00 ticket on VRE or a $200.00 ticket on the Empire Builder, inform me how much tax money is backing up my fare.

    Let’s say the Long Bridge costs, I don’t know, say $5 Billion. VRE and Amtrak tickets don’t pay for it – these carriers don’t meet their O+M costs, so tax money pays the annual capital recovery. Disclose how much that comes down to per VRE or Amtrak ticket.

    Yes I know other modes are also subsidized. Roads, Essential Air Services, inland waterways. The Soo Locks, Saint Lawrence Seaway, and other inland waterways cost billions. I really don’t know the amount of tolls or if there are any tolls for that matter. All this should be disclosed.

    1. Let me expand a bit. When Amtrak started we knew the subsidy – roughly a billion dollars a year, which worked out to probably well under $100 per ticket sold. The infrastructure existed. Amtrak was subsidized for O+M.

      Now there are so many infrastructure grants (to both private rail carriers and public passenger authorities) that it’s impossible to know how much a ticket is subsidized.

    2. Does it really matter if the ticket has how much tax dollars supported that route? Then I would expect all airlines to put the same on their tickets, Milwaukee Zoo tickets, Summerfest, Oktoberfest, Harley Homecoming, etc…? People are still going to go and can look up amount of taxes used for such places and events if they really care. How about a per mile breakdown for the Wisconsin freeway system? Local, County, State, Federal dollars used, whether they were property taxes, sales taxes, event taxes, grants, subsidies, plate sales, how long do you want your ticket or list to be.

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