BISMARCK, N.D. - Transportation officials say a study to be completed next year may help determine if cities along Interstate 90 in Montana will again get railroad passenger service.
Federal legislation signed by President Bush last month requires Amtrak to look into the possibility of reinstating the North Coast Hiawatha route, or sections of it, if the route does not hurt existing Amtrak routes.
The North Coast Hiawatha route paralleled Interstate Highways 90 and 94 through Billings, Bozeman, Butte and Missoula. It was discontinued in 1979 because of federal budget cuts.
The Montana Department of Transportation is doing its own study of the possibility of reinstating a southern route, said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman. "In neither case is the return of service imminent," Magliari said.
The Seattle-bound Empire Builder route runs from Chicago through Minneapolis and along the Montana Hi-Line, with one train traveling in each direction daily.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who helped Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., push for the Hiawatha study, said it has been difficult to generate support for a national network of passenger rail under the Bush administration.
"President Bush was a strong opponent, believing that it should be unsubsidized," Dorgan said. "If you had no subsidy, you'd only have passenger service from Boston down through Florida."