This commemorative painting by J. Craig Thorpe will be debuted at the May 18 meeting of the Rail Passengers Association. Prints will be available to purchase in the near future.

If you understand the value of passenger rail service and want to see it continue well into the future, then you will want to be a part of an upcoming meeting held in Cut Bank on May 18.

The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) is holding its annual Northwest Division Membership Meeting on Saturday, May 18 at the Cut Bank Elks Lodge. The meeting will be held downstairs at the Elks and will run from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. And even though it is a membership meeting, everyone is invited.

The price of attendance is $60, which includes a buffet lunch and the opportunity to listen to a host of guest speakers, be a part of the Empire Builder’s (Amtrak’s passenger service train) 90th birthday celebration, help with some fundraising and find out what it will take to continue passenger rail service along the northern tier of the United States.

To register for the event, go to All Aboard Washington website at https://www. aawa.us and click on the “events” link. From there you can register and print the form. You can only register at this site up to and through May 10. 

After that date, you will need to contact Mark Meyer, the RPA Representative on his cell number at 817-480-5385 and let him know you are coming. You can make your payment at the door. You can also register and pay at the door on the day of the event. 

“Why not have it on the Hi-Line?” asked Mark Meyer, RPA, Representative at Large and former Cut Bank resident. “This meeting has been in other Montana cities, but never before in Cut Bank. 

The Northwest Division of RPA includes the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Because of the geography and distribution of members, RPA rotates this annual meeting between the states of Montana, Oregon and Washington every three years. Given the great population, most RPA members in the division reside in western Washington and western Oregon.”

Meyer’s hope is that many of those attending from other cities and towns will use the Empire Builder to attend this year’s meeting in Cut Bank.

“As we hope Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) and Amtrak will deliver the Empire Builder close to on time on May 18 (the meeting date). Cut Bank has ideal train times to host this event as it is scheduled between the eastbound train at 10:40 a.m. and westbound train at 5:51 p.m. People from Seattle and Portland can arrive in the morning, attend the event and leave the same evening without the added expense of a hotel.”

Even though this event is touted as a membership meeting, Meyer said all are invited and if you have a definite interest in keeping rail passenger service alive and well in our area, attending this meeting is a must.

“Most of the people who are invited (and some who are speaking) are politicians, but we also have representatives from BNSF and RPA planned. Montana’s lone congressman, Greg Gianforte, will speak as will Jacob Bachmeier, the young Montana state representative from Havre,” said Meyer.

Additional speakers include: representatives from U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Sen. Steve Daines offices; Amanda Olsen, Montana State Representative – Missoula; Cindy Stone, Manager Passenger Train Operations in Fort Worth, Texas; Jim Mathews, RPA President and CEO, Washington, D.C.; and two speakers from Friends of Trails and Rails; among others. 

The topics for discussion include:

 •The importance of Amtrak’s intercity network trains to rural America;

•2020 reauthorization of the FAST Act Surface Transportation Bill which includes the American passenger rail system;

•The Empire Builder’s 90th anniversary celebration and the unveiling of a painting showing the eastbound Empire Builder done by artist J. Craig Thorpe;

•State rail advocacy activities report and possibly discussion on what it would take to restore the former north coast Hiawatha route through southern North Dakota and Montana.

The painting, which will be unveiled at the meeting, will have reprints available for purchase, Meyer said. Reprints will be available at local vendors in Cut Bank, all of whom will be named at the meeting. The original, however, will make its debut at the meeting.

“The painting was completely my idea,” said Meyer. “In 2004, Amtrak commissioned well-known artist, J. Craig Thorpe, who resides in the Seattle area, to create a painting for the Empire Builder’s 75th anniversary. It was the train crossing the Two Medicine River Bridge at East Glacier Park. The Empire Builder turns 90 in June of this year and is more threatened than ever. I just couldn’t let an opportunity pass to celebrate the train’s 90 continuous years of service and hopefully send a message to Amtrak that people along the route, especially in America’s outback, still use and value the train.”

The 90th anniversary shows an eastbound Empire Builder near the Camp Disappointment monument between Cut Bank and Browning.

“Mr. Thorpe has done several Empire Builder paintings, but never one with the train on the prairie and the train does traverse the Great Plans for much of its run. The mountains of Glacier National Park loom in the distance.”

Meyer continued, “Those residing on the plains of Montana are often overlooked and I wanted the plains represented with a nod to the grandeur of incomparable Glacier National Park.”

Meyer said, “Amtrak does not market their services anymore, so this will be one small way to remind people that the Empire Builder still runs.”

It is Meyer’s hope to have this original painting on display in Cut Bank for the summer before it travels to Kalispell where it will be displayed at the Hockaday Museum of Art. The Kalispell museum is hosting an art show entitled “Hear the Whistle Blow! Art of the Railways” from Sept. 26 through Dec. 7. Thorpe’s piece will be on display as will other paintings, etching and drawings that show railroads in the United States. 

Along with the painting being on display at the Elks the afternoon of the meeting, Glacier County’s Museum will also have a railroad historical display.

If you are unable to attend the meeting, there is still a way to voice your support of Amtrak service. 

“Keep voicing your support for Amtrak to your elected officials,” reminded Meyer. “Montana’s congressional delegation, regardless of party, is completely on board with supporting it. But, apathy in Washington D.C., doing nothing or not enough, could still kill the service.”

Meyer added, “Get your state involved in supporting Amtrak too. General consensus from state officials is that Amtrak is a responsibility of the Federal Government, yet about half of the states support Amtrak on their own. Montana is a big state with few people and seemingly never enough money to go around. But the state could start small with an investment in stations or sponsoring a dedicated bus service, Amtrak calls them ‘Thruway,’ from Havre to Great Falls connecting with the Empire Builder. Such things would not only boost ridership but show that the state values Amtrak.”

This meeting is important for a number of reasons and the more people in attendance, the better. Make time for Amtrak on Saturday, May 18.

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