All aboard for Train Day
Saturday was National Train Day and the event was celebrated at Minot’s Amtrak Depot. The celebration came amidst a major track building project that is under way along the rail line from Grand Forks to Minot used by Amtrak.
While the new rail line is being constructed Amtrak service is being interrupted at Grand Forks, Rugby and Devils Lake. Passengers traveling on Amtrak are being bused from those locations to Minot where they reboard Amtrak and continue to the west. Eastbound service is not being affected. The new rail line is expected to be completed in September.
“We’re going through some growing pains. We don’t like it but we have to expand our capacity so we have that good service for the long term,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, told those gathered at the Minot depot. “People are coming from all over to North Dakota to get jobs. We have to be able to move people.”
Hoeven characterized Amtrak service as “vitally important,” citing the need for additional rail lines. The thought was echoed by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, who also spoke to those attending Train Day festivities in Minot.
“The railroad moves commodities and manufactured goods. Certainly it has the ability to move coal and now, oils. It’s really big stuff,” said Cramer. “But none of it counts for anything if we can’t move the most precious cargo. People are the most precious cargo.”
In referring to the Amtrak westbound closure from Grand Forks to Minot, Cramer explained that inconveniences today will allow for, in the long run, “One of the most robust trail systems we can possibly have.”
Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman made the trip to Minot for Train Day. He spoke of the importance of Amtrak on a national basis.
“We connect the United States together. The people, the communities, the nation from coast to coast and border to border,” said Boardman. “One of the stories I tell in Congress is, if a grandmother in the middle of the country needs to visit her kids on one of the coasts, she can’t drive.”
Boardman grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York, far from the nation’s largest and busiest city. He said he sometimes thought New York City folks didn’t understand rural America, but he has since changed his thinking.
“I think people are about the same everywhere,” said Boardman. “I think it’s a natural feeling in this nation that we don’t understand each other. You really have to think about that because we do help people understand just through communications.”
Boardman explained that Amtrak serves 40 percent of the U.S. rural population. Amtrak has experienced some financial difficulties in recent years and has relied upon support from Congress to cover some expenses. Despite those fiscal woes, Boardman said he sees some growth opportunities for Amtrak.
“I am relating to the fact that there is now service between St. Paul and Chicago,” said Boardman. “There are other folks that want services. We see those as growth opportunities. We don’t see them as growth opportunities to come without investment and the investment that needs to occur has to come partly from government and also from those who will purchase tickets.”
Amtrak’s Empire Builder provides daily service to Fargo, Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Rugby, Minot, Stanley and Williston with overnight eastbound service to St. Paul, Milwaukee and Chicago and westbound to Portland and Seattle.