Speaking of Trains...
Posted by Joe Whalen (+184) 17 years ago
Montana Rockies Rail Tours is offering round-trip service from Billings to Livingston. The day-trip is part of a larger schedule of tours throughout the northern Rockies operated over Montana Rail Link tracks.

Adult passengers pay $99 for the fare that includes passage on an authentically-restored coach and a box lunch. They off-load in Livingston for a few hours of shopping, dining, and siteseeing before starting back for Billings.

Learn more at: http://www.purewest.com/montana/steam.html

These tours echo a very successful effort in the Napa Valley. The Wine Train serves local wines and gourmet dinners during afternoon train tours of Napa Valley vineyards. Tickets are booked months in-advance for a trip on the Wine Train.

Learn more about the Wine Train at: http://www.winetrain.com/

Miles City should prepare itself be added to the tour schedule, don't you think?

Imagine this:

- Passengers depart Billings for Miles City along the Yellowstone river in the morning.

- Each passenger is handed a four-color siteseeing brochure that highlights landmarks along the way as well as activities and points of interest in Miles City.

-Passengers over 21 are served pints from a chilled keg Milestown Pale Ale en route.

- The train pulls into the restored train depot in Miles City where passengers offload for a couple of hours of fresh air, exercise, shopping, photography, and dining.

- At the "All Aboard!" call passengers reload at the prescribed hour for a sunset trip back to Billings.

Here's what we can offer our tourists:
- Farmer's Market, plays, or music in Riverside Park
- Short walk to the Range Rider's Museum
- Shuttles to the Custer County Art Center
- River walks along the levee of the Tongue to the confluence of the Yellowstone. Ditto: Spotted Eagle Park
- Guided historical tours of downtown.
- Photography tours of downtown Miles City.
- Guided tours of Ft. Keogh.
- Hey! They could even buy books at Miles City Books & News!

We can start preparing for this right away. I hope that those who are active in the forum will give this idea some careful thought and follow-through with responses.

If this post gets enough interest either on or off list I'll schedule the first of a series of planning meetings at the bookstore prior to approaching the tour company. We need input from citizens, travel agents, restaurant owners, retailers, Economic Development, the Chamber, and the Preservation Office.

What do you say? :-)

Posted by Dave Roberts (+1389) 17 years ago
I thought carefully about this for almost 10 seconds. I want it!

The only way that I know of that would make the trip even better (besides re-laying the Milwaukee rails and running on them) would be to get 261 ( http://www.261.com/index.ihtml ) to pull the train.
Posted by Amorette Allison (+10505) 17 years ago
This has been tossed around by Kathy Doeden and I along with restoring the Depot. We'd obviously LOVE to see it happen. (Of course, bringing back Amtrak would be even better but since our current gov't doesn't approve of saving energy or investing in infrastructure or doing anything to perk up the economy, it isn't likely to happen.)

There is a tiny amount of progress on the Depot and a chance that, by this summer, we can have some firm numbers and a chance to see if Miles City really does support the rehab of the Depot. It seems that way so far. . .

Posted by Chad (+1761) 17 years ago
I would also love to see some form of passenger rail service on the Southern route through Montana. I used to ride from Monterey to San Francisco to go to ball games and sight seeing when I was a kid. I also used to hop on the back of the sand trains that went through the Monterey Peninsula with loads of white sand bound for golf courses- it was a quick way across town. I took a long Amtrak trip in October, and I got the impression that their days were numbered- though I haven't heard anything lately, with the attack on Iraq taking up all the news time.

Getting one of the old depots (how about both?) back to a passenger depot, or even something else, would be great. Competing with BNSF and freight will be one of the biggest difficulties. My Amtrak experience reinforced my observations that the passenger trains no longer have priority on the rails- we spent a lot of time on sidings waiting for freights. Hence the long trips and less than competitive travel times.

A seasonal tourist train might make a go at it. The Charlie Russell Chew? Choo? is hanging on in Lewistown, but barely. The schedule needs to be reliable, interesting, and consistent. PR needs to be at a maximum because there are already several of these short line railroads operating all over the U.S. The price and ammenities need to be attractive and competitive with other trains and day-trip activities.

I really feel that re-creating the Wild West or at least 20's, 30's period feel would be better than more modern streamline and diesel era train trips. I've ridden several short lines in California, Colorado, West Virgina, Montana and a few other places. The most fun... open top cars through the redwoods above Santa Cruz down to the beach/ocean; sitting over the front coupler on the locomotive while traversing bridges, tunnels and apple orchards in West Virgina (you will not get this opportunity!); ascending the Sierra Madres in a 20's Pullman car out of Sacramento behind a steam engine. All were very unique; most were also run or partially funded by the State. Getting Government support might be critical to operation.

So.... get the ball rolling and let's organize a company, financiers and lawyers, buy up some trains, lease some sidings, rebuild a depot (or two), start the PR campaign and make some steam...or maybe exhaust.
Posted by Joe Whalen (+184) 17 years ago
Great feedback, Chad!

Your enthusiasm for short line rail trips is contagious. And your advisory regarding the reliability, consistency, and interest of any future rail tour is a point well-taken. The buzz is beginning to spread about the value of a train to (and from) Miles City and the response has thus far been very positive.

There are at least four possible partners who are in a position to help us give this idea some legs:

BNSF - The rail between Billings and Miles City is owned by BNSF. Any traffic over their rail would need to be coordinated by BNSF agents. It makes sense that, if they're willing and able to help us develop the idea, BNSF is in the best position to package the train.

Montana Rail Link - The MRL owns the rail between Billings and Sandpoint, ID. They own locomotives, they may own the railcars used for the "Montana Daylight", and they employ their own engineers. There's a rail section that links up the MRL with the BNSF in Billings and it's possible for them to lease BNSF railtime to Miles City. They'd need to pay BNSF so it drives up the cost of the enterprise if they are to be used.

Pure West Adventures - This organization packages recreational experience throughout the northern Rockies with rail and motorcoach tours, car rentals, and lodging. As managers of the Montana Daylight tour they could leverage their existing relationship with MRL to package a turnkey tour to Miles City from Billings.

Other Investor Groups - Either a private investor group or a public/private partnership is another option for putting a train together. Locomotives, engineers, and track time may be leased. Railcars can be leased or purchased. Ticketing and concessions can all be contracted. A strong business plan for off-rail activities from Miles City coupled with the right train program would attract outside investors much as the right stadium package attracts a sports franchise.

To date, I've contacted BNSF and Pure West. BNSF has responded with more contact information and Pure West hasn't returned either e-mail or telephone inquiries, for whatever reason.

As soon as there's a hint of open-mindedness toward the idea from either of those mentioned above I'll call the first meeting of interested parties to begin work on a business plan for use in approaching a rail partner.

Thanks for your support, Chad.
Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+14867) 17 years ago
I like the part about being served pints of Old Milestown. Where do I sign up?