Chicago - Twin Cities - Fargo - Bismarck - Billings - Seattle/Portland
In 2009, Amtrak evaluated a second Chicago-Seattle/Portland train along the southern route through North Dakota and Montana via Bismarck and Billings. The study determined that such a route would be as successful as the Empire Builder, and in fact would be the third most successful long distance train in the Amtrak system in terms of ridership and financial performance. The study has not moved forward due to lack of equipment and funding to start up the route from scratch. This route was operated as the Northern Pacific Railway's North Coast Limited beginning in 1900, and in 1971 Amtrak assumed operation of the train and renamed it the North Coast Hiawatha. This train was discontinued in 1979 due to the Carter Administration Amtrak funding cuts.
The North Coast Limited on the former Northern Pacific route and the competing Empire Builder on the Great Northern route loaded about equally up until Amtrak assumed operation of the North Coast Limited/Hiawatha. Air and bus service along the route has decreased, and highways today are the only real transportation choice for many in North Dakota and Montana, making rail a needed and viable alternative. We believe that this route would be worth reestablishing if startup funding could be found.
The Big Sky Rail Authority, started in mid 2020, has formed a commission of counties in Montana to re-establish the North Coast Limited/Hiawatha.