N.D. lawmaker asks for rail service study

BISMARCK—A Jamestown lawmaker wants to see passenger rail service in North Dakota that serves cities along Interstate 94.

Rep. Joe Kroeber, D-Jamestown, is sponsoring a resolution asking the Legislature to study passenger rail service in the state, including options to implement a route in the southern part of the state.

There is new interest in restoring the North Coast Hiawatha Line in North Dakota, Kroeber said.

From 1971 to 1979, the line served Portland, Ore., Spokane, Wash., Missoula, Mont., Billings, Mont., Dickinson, Bismarck, Jamestown, Valley City, Fargo, Minneapolis and Chicago.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder now serves the northern part of the state from Fargo to Williston, and it’s difficult to get a reservation in North Dakota, Kroeber said.

Restoring the North Coast Hiawatha Line would improve rail service by connecting more cities and providing more options for people who cannot fly or drive, Kroeber said.

The proposal isn’t new as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 required Amtrak to study expanded service, including the North Coast Hiawatha Line, he said.

The study would be an opportunity for lawmakers to see if they can improve the state’s chances of restoring the line, Kroeber said.

Veronica Zietz supported the bill on behalf of The Arc of Bismarck and The Arc of Cass County. Lack of transportation is a huge problem for individuals with a disability, she said.

“North Dakota’s public transportation system is seriously lacking in both urban and rural areas,” she said. “This is especially apparent in the areas of interstate and intercity travel, which is a big challenge for individuals with disabilities.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said the potential rail line wouldn’t serve every town and asked Zietz if beefing up busing would be more beneficial.

Zietz said any improvements in transportation would help. She thinks the rail study could help make those determinations.

Ron Huff of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said he personally thought the study should go forward. It would “put to rest one way or another” the feasibility of bringing back the service, he said.

A few legislators wondered if upgrades would be needed to the rail track if passenger service returned. Huff said that may depend on what speed Amtrak would run the train.

No one opposed the study. The House Transportation Committee gave the study a do-pass recommendation.

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