Bismarck – We all know the weather in North Dakota can change in an instant…and sometimes it shuts down Interstate 94.
But what if there was another option to get you to Fargo or Dickinson?
Would you use it?
2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the last time Amtrak served the Bismarck and Mandan area.
So what would it take to get the National Railroad Passenger Corporation back on these tracks in the capital city.
Turns out, quite a lot.
October 6th 1979, it was just another day, but for those who utilized Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha, it was the day rail service died in Southern North Dakota.
Wes Eisenmann was the conductor.
“I thought it was a tremendous mistake, it inconvenienced a lot of people, thinking that’s the last time gonna work passenger train outta Mandan, a lot of people were upset about it”. Said Eisenmann
The route was eliminated in a series of budget cuts as Amtrak was hemorrhaging money at the time.
Since then the tracks have been utilized by freight traffic only.
10 years ago Amtrak studied reviving the route with mixed results.
It found the route would be a little more profitable that others proposed across the country … but that success would come at a cost.
Because it would steal passengers away from Amtrak’s Empire Builder that services the northern part of the state .. including Minot.
The next question … would people use it.
Steven Trout helps run the Dakota Central & Western Model Railroad Museum and says .. with time … absolutely.
“I think it would take some time to get that back, because it’s been gone for 40 years it’s never been an option for most of these people, and so they don’t think about It that much, we create a society that automobile-centered and nobody thinks about anything…they’re gonna go someplace, let’s just hop in the car and lets go”. Said Trout.
Bismarck resident Terry Lanz says everyone should ride a train at least once in their life…
When you’re driving a car, you have to concentrate on going down the road, when you’re riding in a train you can see the countryside and see it like you’ve seen it before, the trip from North Dakota and into Montana is beautiful.”
The study also showed it would cost about billion dollars to get the line up to date, and that was 10 years ago.
Now I spoke with Amtrak officials and they told me the state would have to lead the way for any potential restoration of service and there was, unfortunately, no mention of that in North Dakota’s latest state rail plan…meaning if you want to ride Amtrak, you’ll have to go to Minot to do it, at least for now.
Just under 30,000 travelers utilized the Minot station last year according to Amtrak, down from a high of over 40,000 in 2013.