Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority Engagement Meetings

(Billings, MT) On Wednesday, May 24, the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority (BSPRA) will kick off a series of six rural and tribal community engagement meetings across Montana, gathering public input on restoration of passenger rail service to the southern part of the state. This project is supported by a $25,000 grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation. See http://www.bigskyrail.org/events for full details on the meetings.

Tribal nations represented in the project include the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Crow Tribe, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Non-tribal rural communities involved in the project include Paradise (Sanders County), Forsyth (Rosebud County), and Glendive (Dawson County). Limited transportation options in these and surrounding communities restrict access to social and economic opportunities, which adversely impacts health outcomes. The project will document benefits to these communities from passenger rail service and will be supported by Montana State University Extension.

The report generated from the project is part of BSPRA’s continuing efforts to restore Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha (NCH) route stretching from Chicago to Seattle/Portland via southern Montana, which will provide vital economic and social benefits to rural and tribal communities and markedly advance transportation equity. BSPRA hopes that the Federal Railroad Administration will recommend the renewal of service on the NCH line to Congress this November as an outcome of the Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study, which is currently underway.

“We want to hear the voices of those who will benefit most from renewed passenger rail service in southern Montana,” says BSPRA Chairman Dave Strohmaier. “We’re extremely grateful to the Montana Healthcare Foundation for recognizing transportation as a social determinant of health and investing in this critical community outreach project.” According to Strohmaier, “the findings of these six meetings will directly address two of the review criteria for the FRA long- distance study: advancing the economic and social well-being of rural areas of the United States and reflecting public engagement and local and regional support for restored passenger rail service.”

This Montana Healthcare Foundation-funded project will break new ground in Montana by focusing on how a rail transportation system can reduce a host of serious health disparities in the state including chronic conditions, accidents, and the absence of care.

 

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