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Tester weighs in on passenger rail service possibility


Montana Senator Jon Tester held a monthly rural press call to provide updates on COVID-19 relief, vaccinations, Keystone XL Pipeline, and restoration to Amtrak services for Montana’s Hi-Line.

“Once we get the folks vaccinated, we’re going to need to get our economy back in gear and the quicker, the better,” Tester said. Tester recently introduced legislation that would reinstate Montana’s furloughed Amtrak employees and restore the Empire Builder’s service along the Hi-Line. “I’ve heard over and over from Montanans that the Amtrak service reductions that were put in place because of this pandemic have devastated the communities along the Hi-Line,” Tester stated. “Long-distance Amtrak service does a lot of things for Montana. It brings good paying jobs, it generates revenue for Montana communities, especially along the northern tier but quite frankly for the whole state, and it keeps folks connected with family and friends across this country.” Tester says his colleagues with the Montana delegation will sign onto this legislation because it will restore the Empire Builder to what it was before the pandemic moved in.

When asked about restoring passenger rail service to the southern part of Montana and bringing service to the western part of the state, Tester says he appreciates the efforts of Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and wants the Hiawatha route reestablished. He believes what the northern route has done for Montana can also be done for the southern route. However, Tester does have some concerns with restoring passenger rail to the southern route. “I don’t want to take away one route and add another,” Tester said. “I want it to be added on. The reason I want to restore service to the north is because I don’t think we will get the southern route until service to the north gets reestablished.” Tester says he has met with the Rail Authority and says the work they are doing is great. “I think if they keep at it there’s a much better chance at getting it going than if they don’t. I think they are doing a great job at getting the counties on board along that route, and I think that’s an important component. I support their efforts.”

The senator discussed the need to do a better job with vaccinations. “We need to do a better job at getting shots in the arms, get our economy back on track and get Montana back to work,” he stated. “Bottom line, we won’t get back to normal economically, until we get the majority of the folks in this country vaccinated, and that’s why vaccination distribution is one of my top priorities as we put together the next COVID relief package here in Congress.” Tester has been pushing hard to get more vaccines to the state. His efforts are paying off, this week, Tester says Montana will receive an additional 2,340 doses. “I’m going to keep pushing until every Montanan who wants a shot, is able to get one,” he said. “As chairperson of the Veterans Affairs committee, I’m working to make sure Montana’s veterans aren’t left behind when it comes to getting vaccinated. Particularly those of us who live in rural America and those veterans who live in rural America.”

As of February 24, 9,800 total doses of vaccine have been received by Montana Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. “They have put about 8,600 doses in the arms of veterans and staff in Montana,” Tester said. Another 970 doses have been scheduled to be administered by the VA this month. Tester has pushed further to get additional vaccines into rural communities with a high veteran population. As Montana is home to the second highest population of veterans per capita, he has secured an additional 600,000 doses. “Those are the kind of results I like, and those are the kind of results we need to have in this country,” he said.

Sen. Tester discussed the Keystone pipeline and says his support for the project has been steadfast. “From the beginning I have said I support the responsible development of this pipeline as long as it’s structured with American steel, built to the highest safety standards, respects private property rights, and includes consultation with Native American tribes who are impacted by this pipeline.” Tester continued, “I have told President Biden directly that his decision to cancel the bid on this pipeline was wrong, and I have pushed him to reconsider his decision.”

The senator says energy independence is critical for people who work in businesses that require the use of large amounts of energy, such as agriculture. “On my farm I have seen firsthand what climate change has done and it is a serious issue,” Tester said. “We can’t pretend that we don’t need fuel to power our farm equipment or raise the food to feed the country. We just can’t turn the spigot off at the gas pump and expect folks to adapt.” Tester suggested the president come back to the issue and create a plan that will work for everybody on both sides of the issue. Tester said, “I’m going to continue to defend Montana and push the president to reverse what I think is a bad decision. This is a project that impacts rural America.”


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