HELENA — Sleeping Giant Citizens Council, the Helena-based affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, hopes to sway Lewis and Clark County commissioners and residents to “get on board” with statewide efforts to bring back passenger rail to Helena.
The group is holding a virtual Passenger Rail Public Forum on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. The intent of the online forum is to educate residents in Lewis and Clark County and across the state on the potential social, economic, and environmental benefits of restoring the North Coast Hiawatha Route, a train line across southern Montana that has been out of use for forty years.
“Montanans typically have one mode of interstate travel, the automobile,” said Northern Plains member Paul Pacini. “A significant number of Montanans do not have access to a car because of a disability, age, legal restrictions, or income. They find themselves literally stranded in their homes. We desperately need other transportation options.”
For the past few years, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority has been working to restore passenger rail to southern Montana. The only active passenger rail line in Montana is the Empire Builder line that runs across the northern portion of the state.
So far, 16 Montana counties have joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, supporting efforts to restore the North Coast Hiawatha Route. The route had included a stop in Helena.
Five panelists will present at the forum: Mayor Wilmot Collins, Carroll College Professor Dr. Jeremy Johnson, Mike Rooney from Downtown Helena Inc., Lasso The Moon Toys co-owner Savanna Barrett, and Canyon Creek resident Kelly Flaherty-Settle. Dave Strohmaier, the chair of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, will be guest speaking.
There will also be a question and answer session after the panelists speak. A virtual petition is available for attendees to sign, asking the Lewis and Clark County Commissioners to become a part of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.
“Rather than investing in more infrastructure for personally owned vehicles, wouldn’t it make sense to invest in truly modern high-speed rail? This is the first place I’ve lived as an adult that is not equipped with a rail system that connects its towns and cities,” said Northern Plains member and local business owner Savanna Barrett. “Public transportation is affordable and cleaner for the environment. It would also be safer, especially during our MT winters when driving on icy snowy roads is dangerous and unpleasant.”
To register and learn more about the event, visit: NorthernPlains.org/Helena-Passenger-Rail