June 23, 2005                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

Your Amtrak Experience May Make the Difference An Opinion Editorial by John Morrison


      It is more predictable than afternoon summer thunderstorms in Montana. Every time Amtrak's financial troubles reach a boiling point, politicians in Washington, D.C. propose cutting the Empire Builder which serves twelve of the Montana Hi-Line's most important communities.
      
      Short-sighted East Coast lawmakers ignore the nearly $14 million in annual economic benefit to Montana's economy that Amtrak helps bring to our state, a spectacular return on Amtrak's investment of $3.2 million in Montana annually. Even if they do not "get" the numbers, one would expect them to understand the popularity of the Empire Builder, which Amtrak touts as its "most popular Amtrak long-distance train," with five percent growth in customers last year.
      
      These are easy facts to ignore, however, when crisis at Amtrak snowballs as it has with their recent shut down of the lucrative Acela service between Washington, D.C. and New York. Millions of people are affected. Outraged lawyers, advertising executives, accountants and bankers who relied on Acela are giving the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta an ear-full.
      
      Now, it is up to us to do the same. Montanans need and deserve the same customer service and responsiveness from our elected officials and public servants as Americans living on the East Coast. We need to help them understand our culture, our economy and the important role our state plays in our country's future. The reason their efforts to cut the Empire Builder defy logic is they do not understand our state, our culture and our economy. So, let us help them.
      
      Please write directly to the Bush Administration's Secretary of Transportation. His address is:
      
      Secretary Norman Mineta
      U.S. Department of Transportation
      400 7th Street, S.W.
      Washington, D.C. 20590
      
      His e-mail address is: dot.comments@ost.dot.gov.
      
      If you would prefer to call, the number is: (202) 366-4000.
      
      Tell Secretary Mineta how your business relies on Amtrak for transportation services. Help him understand how your family relies on Amtrak for being able to see each other and participate in each others' lives. Let him know why the tourism that is sparked by Amtrak is important to you and your community. Most importantly, appeal to Secretary Mineta to drop his shortsighted scheme to nix the Empire Builder.
      
      Please also provide me a copy of your letters and e-mails so that I may follow-up directly with him on your behalf. It is important that you let Senator Max Baucus, Senator Conrad Burns and Congressman Dennis Rehberg know your thoughts and ideas as well.
      
      Having grown up in the railroad town of Whitefish I've seen first-hand the impact of Amtrak on Montana's economy. The Empire Builder carries the lifeblood of northern Montana. The train is a way of life for many Hi-Line residents who use it as a means of affordable, public transportation where there are few alternatives. Farmers use its express shipping services, students travel to college, seniors take the train to medical centers and people ride in bad weather when they don't want to drive.
      
      Working together, as individuals and as communities, we can be successful in this fight. Who knows? We just might inspire Secretary Mineta to come out to Montana to enjoy our wonderful hospitality, beautiful sights and the "most popular" Amtrak long-distance train, the Empire Builder.
      
      As State Auditor, John Morrison serves as the state's Securities Commissioner and Insurance Commissioner. As the state regulator of these important financial markets, Morrison is charged with protecting Montana consumers while encouraging capital formation, and economic growth and development in the state.
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