by Station Aficionado
jstolberg wrote:On October 31st I suggested a long feeder bus through southern Montana connecting to the Empire Builder at Williston, ND. Setting up that bus route would require negotiating a contract with a local bus company (probably Rimrock Stages), adding the bus to the reservations system, printing a few schedules and making a press announcement. It could all be done in a matter of weeks, not years. And the bus would start making money from day one. Amtrak and Rimrock could split the profits on the bus leg and Amtrak would benefit from 30 or more passengers filling the seats and roomettes from Williston to points east (at least on off-peak days when the Empire Builder isn't already full). During peak times, Rimrock would still make money on local travel between Williston and I-90.Interesting idea (I think I missed your earlier post). It would be a long ride. If a bus were to start in Missoula (I think the logical stops would be Missoula, either Helena or Butte, Bozeman an Billings), it would be 10-11 hrs to reach Williston (about 5 hrs from Billings), assuming good weather. If you wanted a bus connection (ie, to connect to the WB Builder to go to Seattle/Portland) in the other direction, you could run Billings-Missoula-Whitefish in about 8 hrs. Those runs (just to connect with a train) might be a bit too long on a bus for a lot of people, but at the very least there could be Missoula-Whitefish and Billings-Williston connections. As you suggest, setting up bus connections ought to be pretty quick and cheap.
Williston is a booming town. Amtrak boardings there surged 22% last year despite the flooding that shut down the Empire Builder for much of the summer. The oil business is booming in the area and many workers are making 6 figure salaries on a schedule that has them working 20 days on and 10 days off. That means many of them are traveling between their home state and work twice every 30 days from a city whose airport has 6 flights per day. If they don't take the train east, they might take a bus west.
This is a slam dunk. It won't take millions to start up. It won't take 4 years or more to implement. It doesn't require an Environmental Impact Study. It doesn't require that Amtrak buy any new equipment or train any new employees. It doesn't require congressional approval. It doesn't require an operating subsidy. It will make money for Amtrak the first month and every month.
Start the bus service now. Then after it gets established, Montana and North Dakota can lobby to get a rail service going.