Sidney Herald: Amtrak eyes Culbertson stop

Oil and gas may be in a downturn, but communities in the area continue to make positive strides forward when it comes to regional development and infrastructure. One of those strides could include a new Amtrak stop in Culbertson.

Amtrak officials have confirmed they have been evaluating the neighboring community for a stop for about three years now.

“We know that it makes business sense to stop at Culbertson,” said Marc Magliari, a spokesman with Amtrak. “There’s a long distance between Wolf Point and Williston. Where we are now is talking with Culbertson about where the stop would be. It has to be at a place that doesn’t add delay to the empire or the trains that pass through there.”

Magliari said Amtrak can bring the train, but ultimately it’s up to Culbertson to bring the station.

Culbertson Mayor Gordon Oelkers said they are working with legislators to secure funding for an unmanned station that would be maintained and cleaned by the city. The station would cost about $3.5 million.

“The platform is what costs all the money,” Oelkers said. “There’d be a ground source heat pump for heated sidewalks, too. There are a lot of rules and regulations with these.”

A breakdown of the costs shows an estimated $2.244 million for an 850 foot by 12 foot platform, and $376,000 for an engineering and architectural design. Other costs would go for a building, parking lot and flagging costs.

Funding could come through the 2014 Highway bill, labeled FAST for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation. The bill included some funding for development of new stations, as well as language requiring Amtrak to evaluate additional stops that would have a positive financial impact, including a stop in Culbertson.

A feasibility study has shown a station in Culbertson would attract about 7,000 additional riders from north and south, Oelkers said. These could include Regina passengers headed for a ski trip or to Chicago.

“This accounts for us being on Highway 2 and 16 and people coming from the south and Canada from the north,” he said. “It will be a good addition to the community for people from the north and south. It’s a good economic development project for the area.”

Daines said he has pressed Amtrak officials at a recent Senate hearing to arrange a face-to-face with Culbertson officials soon to continue discussion about the potential new stop.

“They already have infrastructure and the train already passes through at ideal times,” Daines told Boardman during the hearing. “My request will be: can we have the Amtrak staff to visit local leaders so they could really hear directly from the leaders there to modernize the existing station or perhaps a new building as you complete the feasibility study? Can we have that commitment to have a face-to-face meeting — I think that will be a positive step forward.”

Daines says Boardman assured him Amtrak staff will be meeting with local leaders soon.

The new stop is an example of positive efforts moving the Bakken forward in spite of the recent downturn in oil and gas prices, Oelkers said.

“Things are still going on,” he said. “It’s quieter around here, but we’re still managing. It’s a mixed bag. Some have lost jobs but been able to move around and still get good jobs. It’s slower but things are still going. There’s still more positive than negative stuff going on.”

The slowdown has returned the Culbertson community to a more normal level of commerce and helped moderate rents, Oelkers added.

“We can handle this better,” the mayor said. “Things are going smoother. We are building up infrastructure like this, and a lot of businesses have made improvements. Because of the boom, things will be better off and because of it, we will be ready for the next wave.”