Railroad Stories: Lack of Passenger Train Travel in 1970s

Diminishing passenger train travel forces passenger train service to close.

| Good Old Days

For several weeks in 1971, the Independent Record, the daily newspaper in Helena, Mont., hinted at the demise of the Burlington Northern Railroad passenger service into and out of the town. The focus of the railroad company's problem stemmed from diminishing passenger train travel.

For years I had conveniently used the rails for round-trip transportation from Billings to Helena and back. I had enjoyed riding the train to visit family and friends. But now I lived in Helena with my husband and our 8-year-old son, and there wasn't a need for me to ride the train.

While reading about the plight of the Burlington Northern one morning over a cup of coffee, it dawned on me that my son had never ridden a train. He'd never experienced the clickety-clackity bumps as the cars swayed almost rhythmically behind the huge, gleaming steam engine as it picked up speed on the flats.

He'd never heard firsthand, the shrill whistle at cross-roads, and he'd never enjoyed the announcement of dinner by the tinkling of a silver bell as the porter walked through the cars.

When the final days of the passenger train became imminent, I took action. After discussing my plan with my husband, we agreed that our son and I would ride the last scheduled passenger train out of Helena. My husband would meet us with the van at a planned destination and take us back to Helena.

April 24, 1971, was a beautiful spring day. I remember the smell of lilacs in the air and the sun shining warmly as we stepped up to the window to purchase our tickets.

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