18 September 2001
Here is a list and brief descriptions of some issues that will have to be address concerning this proposal. This list shows the issues in the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.
Currently there are many sections of track that lack any type of signaling system. Although signals are not required for rail passenger service, passenger trains are limited to 59mph on sections of track without signals, and there are also the safety issues of not having signals.
Among the sections of track with out signals are:
Issues will have to be worked out with the freight railroads concerning the problems of freight congestion. This is especially true east of Billings, Montana and south of Douglas, Wyoming on routes that see heavy usage by slow moving coal trains.
There are several sections of track that will have to be worked on before any rail passenger service is started. Among those sections:
Although once part of the Northern Pacific main passenger line, this route was sold off by the Burlington Northern to a short line railroad. Currently the route is restricted to 25mph and would need work to get it up to passenger train standards.
This section of track is currently out of service because of a sinkhole north of Helena. Although the BNSF has stated that it is going to repair the tracks, as of September 2001 no work has been done. In addition, this section of track is also restricted to 25mph and would need upgrades to handle passenger trains.
Many of the stations along the routes will either have to be refurbished or replaced. In addition, several stations have been converted to non-rail use and agreements will have to be worked out with the new owners of these facilities or alternative sites will have to be found.
As can be seen from the schedules, quick and efficient switching will have to be done. Currently Amtrak has a serious issue with switching, and at one point tried to avoid it completely. We see this as an issue that is solvable and should have been some time ago.
Due to track issues, the Northern Lights will require a back up move from Butte to Helena. Putting the locomotives on the back of the trains between those two points would do this. Not serving Butte and having a Cheyenne/Borie type bus connection could eliminate the back up move. However the train would be backwards when it arrived in Helena, so the back up move does serve a purpose.
There are several long-term solutions to this but all of them will be expensive. This would require the rebuilding the former Northern Pacific line along Homestake pass and building a connection from the Butte line to the Helena line near the area Three Forks. Another alternative would be to put back a couple of miles of former Milwaukee route north of Three Forks to connect the two lines. The third alternative would be to put back the longer portion of the Milwaukee Road, however a portion of the line through Three Forks has had buildings put on it. The last and most expensive alternative would be to put back the former Great Northern Butte to Helena branch for passenger trains.
Equipment has been a big issue for our rail passenger system for many years, but has become a critical situation in the last few years. The rail passenger network desperately needs new rail cars for existing services and for expansion.
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