Until 1979 there was passenger rail service running through Missoula, but now only freight moves through the Missoula train yards.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier is looking into the possibility of restoring passenger rail service to western Montana, especially for commuters who travel daily between the Bitterroot area and Missoula.

“There are certainly those who are keenly interested in utilizing the Bitterroot spur for commuter rail service,” said Strohmaier. “The reality is that a lot of folks do travel up highway 93 to and from the Bitterroot ever day, and rather than adding additional lane to Highway 93, if there was a way to utilize that rail service, so much the better.”

Strohmaier said there may be conflicts for the rail companies that currently use the tracks for freight travel only.

“What we would have to figure out is how can we do so (restore passenger rail service) that doesn’t disrupt freight rail,” he said. “Also, if folks want to ride passenger trains they’re going to want to know that they’re going to be delayed by freight rail, so there would be some infrastructure upgrades necessary, be that double tracking in some locations, additional sidings, and perhaps other infrastructure improvements to accommodate passenger service.

Strohmaier referenced a meeting that occurred in Billings in 2019 dealing with passenger rail service in eastern Montana, and that a similar meeting is in the planning stages here in Missoula.

“We’re going to host something similar in Missoula, hopefully something this spring if the stars align,” he said. “It’s going to be geared towards folks on this side of the state who might not have been able to travel all the way over to Billings. The goals to create a passenger rail authority to get county commissioners along the proposed line to engage in the process and be supportive.”