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City supports train route

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local Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Local officials have endorsed reinstating a passenger train that hasn't run through the area in 30 years, but the project may not be backed financially.

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The North Coast Hiawatha Amtrak route operated between Chicago and Seattle, with stops at Dickinson, Fargo, Valley City, Jamestown and Bismarck, according to Amtrak's website.

However, it was discontinued in 1979.

Amtrak released a feasibility study of the route in October, but a decision about the North Coast Hiawatha hasn't been made.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson signed a proclamation Tuesday declaring July 6 National Train Day in the city in support of the project.

"Assuming that the study they refer to shows that it's financially feasible, I think that if we had a train service here ... I think it would be very good," Johnson said. "It would be a reliable service and give us an alternative to buses or driving or flying."

Ross Capon, president and CEO of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said the group is in favor of reinstating the route, but that funding to do so does not look good.

"We just had an appropriations mark up by the House Appropriations Subcommittee last week where Amtrak barely got enough money to run the existing system, much less an expansion of it," Capon said.

However, he said the idea is not dead in the water.

"The history of the service, of course, is that if an individual senator makes it their No. 1 cause, great things can happen, but that's hard to predict," Capon said.

Amtrak also supports the idea.

"Of course we're interested in state-supported trains and our national network of trains as we've been doing for, it'll be 40 years next year," Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak said.

However, he too pointed out that an action toward reinstatement rests at the hands of government leaders.

It would take an estimated $619.8 million to upgrade existing tracks, signaling and grade crossing warning devices to make the route operational, according to Amtrak's feasibility study.

Other necessary costs tack on an addition $67.6 million.

A group of interested individuals from Montana are working with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in Washington, D.C., in an effort to reinstate the service, since the route would run through southern Montana. Chuck McMillan, a retired engineer, is one of them.

"There is no question that with our aging population (who are seeking an alternative mode of transportation) the rising price of gasoline and the lack of interest in flying -- because most air routes do not cover all areas that the traveling public wants to go to -- and the crowded conditions on bus lines that a reinstatement of the NCH passenger train ... would be a very much desired and needed alternative mode of transportation," McMillan said in an e-mail. "It is also a very environmentally friendly mode over planes, autos, and buses."

Terri Thiel, executive director of the Dickinson Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said it would be good for the area.

"You don't have to worry about the gas, it's all inclusive, as far as the travel," Thiel said. "Really, that's what people are looking for, is simplicity and ease of travel anymore. I think it would be a great opportunity, I really do."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who has shown interest in the matter in the past, was unavailable for comment.

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