Stampede Pass and Pioneer Service–One Step Closer?
The regional working groups providing the Federal Railroad Administration with feedback on the FRA Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study have just published a map of a “Conceptual Enhanced Network” that would include restored service to several routes in the Northwest, including the former North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer Amtrak routes.
The North Coast Hiawatha and North Coast Limited traveled several routes over the years, including some stations currently served by the Seattle leg of the Empire Builder. In order to serve the most population, tribal nations, and geographic diversity, a restored NCH would likely serve some or all of these stations: Seattle, Auburn, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima, Toppenish, Pasco (Tri-Cities), Ritzville, Cheney and Spokane, before continuing east through southern Montana, southern North Dakota, and on to Chicago. Once the needed infrastructure improvements are in place, additional frequencies could be added. All Aboard Washington is not currently recommending specific routes, stops and services.
Several options are being considered for the Pioneer, including a westbound split in eastern Oregon, with one leg going to Portland, and the other going to the Tri-Cities, Yakima and Seattle. The eastbound Pioneer could also be extended from Salt Lake City through Las Vegas to southern California on a route similar to the former Desert Wind, which our friends in Boise propose to call the Desert Rose. Also included on the map are services that haven’t existed since before Amtrak was created, like Billings to Cheyenne, Denver and beyond. Service to Sioux Falls is also being considered, thus providing service to Wyoming and South Dakota, states that have no Amtrak service at present.
Our friends who attended the Northwest and Midwest meetings caution that there are two more meetings yet to do. And of course, whatever is recommended must be funded! But it is encouraging to see serious consideration being given to routes that have been top priorities in the Greater Northwest.
We encourage you to submit your comments to the FRA (with copies to AAWA) as soon as possible, no later than Monday, August 21. Enter them into the comment box at the bottom of the study home page using this link, or send your input via email to [email protected]. (We’ve heard that the email address is sometimes busy, so make a local copy before you submit comments and try again if needed.)
Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit
AAWA’s Co-Executive Director Charlie Hamilton and Government Affairs Director Luis Moscoso took to the roads and the skies (no trains available to southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, alas!) to participate in the 2nd Annual Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit in Boise, ID on July 19th and 20th, 2023. It brought together passenger rail experts and advocates to continue working toward restoring a true national network for passenger rail that includes service to the largely underserved Greater Northwest.
Despite the 105-degree heat in Idaho, the Summit was well worth the travel. The summit sessions featured outstanding keynote speakers such as Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, Surface Transportation Board member Karen Hedlund, and many others. AAWA’s Charlie Hamilton introduced keynote speaker John Robert Smith, board chair of Transportation for America, who used our Vision Map to emphasize the importance of a truly robust national passenger rail network.
Just as useful were the informal discussions we were able to have with half a dozen members of the Washington State Legislature, including Rep. Jake Fey, House Transportation Committee Chair, and his Oregon counterpart Sen. Chris Gorsek, Joint Transportation Committee Co-Chair, and elected officials from throughout the region. We also had extensive discussions with environmental activists Bill Moyer and Tim Gould, who wrote:
“Rep. Fey said that the state needs to decide what the priority is for rail…He still has energy and enthusiasm for making the choice of favoring near-term investment in existing corridors. Whether you're concerned about the environment, job creation or ease of travel, expansion of rail will bring significant benefits to the Pacific NW. We can take advantage of the current massive investment from the Federal Government into passenger rail to build a seamless region-wide rail service.”
We are planning our 2024 legislative priorities now, and will be discussing them at the joint Washington-Oregon Legislative Rail Caucus meeting in Vancouver, WA September 26-27. Stay tuned for more details.
AAWA and its partners AANW and AORTA were extremely visible throughout the Summit, with our display shown prominently, and used as a backdrop for television interviews of Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean enthusiastically embraced our reminder that “People Live Here!” AANW President Dan Bilka discussed our work at length with the mayor.
Mayor McLean wrote in the City of Boise’s e-Newsletter:
“This week was rail week in Boise!…I feel the significance of restoring passenger rail service in Boise in every conversation I have with folks who almost always share a personal story of connection with loved ones.… our commitment to advancing rail connectivity remains steadfast.”
2023 Train Trek
We also received great support from communities in Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon. The 2023 Train Trek, co-sponsored by AANW, AORTA and AAWA, were warmly (105 degrees!) welcomed in Rawlins, Weiser, Ontario, Baker City, and Hood River. This series of outreach and engagement meetings held in local communities was again focused along the route of the former Pioneer. Local citizens were unanimous that renewed passenger rail service would be a boon to their communities. We explained that now is the time for communities to take advantage of the unprecedented funds available for transportation improvements under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Presentation "Why Passenger Rail -- Train Trek 2023" (PDF, 11 MB)
A preview of the Rawlins event from KTGA Bigfoot 99 Radio
Tonight, Discover Carbon County, formerly known as the Carbon County Visitor’s Council, and the AANW are hosting a meeting in Rawlins titled Returning Passenger Trains to a Station Near You: Why and How.…Hamilton said the meeting in Rawlins will address the lack of passenger train travel available in Wyoming.
A preview of the Weiser event from Philip A. Janquart of the Weiser Signal American
Hosted by the nonprofit Weiser Architectural Preservation Committee (WAPC), representatives of the passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Northwest (AANW) and the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA) are bringing their 2023 “Train Trek” to Weiser.…The presentation is intended to share the status of the groups’ efforts in helping to revive passenger rail service and, more specifically, what it would mean for Weiser.
“We’ll have a discussion about what the current situation is in terms of bringing back passenger rail and then we want feedback, to have a discussion with the folks in Weiser so they can tell us what their priorities are,” AANW’s Charles Hamilton told the Signal American on Thursday.…“Since passenger rail service through Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho was discontinued in 1997, several studies confirm that there is a significant need for, and interest in, passenger trains that would offer local and regional connections,” the AANW stated in a press release issued last week.
From front page of the Baker City Herald:
A nonprofit group is urging federal officials to resume Amtrak passenger train service to a route that includes Baker City.…All Aboard Northwest believes the campaign has gained momentum due to the passage of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill in 2021.…Charles Hamilton, communications manager for All Aboard Northwest, said the infrastructure bill, which includes $66 billion for a repair backlog for Amtrak’s existing routes, creates an opportunity for rail advocates. “There is money available from the federal government to do rail, specifically to bring back rail services that hasn’t been for a long time, there’s a lot of interest in bringing that back,” Hamilton said.
On Friday, the Weiser Train Depot served as the venue for Train Trek, a series of outreach and engagement meetings aimed at gathering support for the resumption of rail service between Colorado and the Pacific Coast. The events are organized by All Aboard Northwest, an advocacy group which is pushing for use of available federal funds to re-establish rail service in the Greater Northwest region of the U.S., from eastern Oregon to South Dakota.
The Weiser event was conducted by group co-founders Dan Bilka and Charles Hamilton, in an effort to gauge support for bringing back the Pioneer Line, which last operated in 1997. The group’s message is summed up on its website by these three words: “People live here.”
“It’s been many years and you may be aware … there is now, for the first time, an extraordinarily large amount of money available to return passenger rail service to places all over,” said Hamilton to the crowd. “We want to take advantage of that and with the help of communities like yours, that will be possible.”
Last week’s All Aboard Northwest organization’s Train Trek meeting was presented to nearly 50 gathered residents on July 22, in the bottom floor of the Carnegie Art Center.
“What is the largest set of railroads in the world?” Charles Hamilton, communications director at All Aboard Northwest, asked the group.
Guesses included China and India, but Hamilton was quick to clarify, “the United States has the largest, of anywhere in the world, so why aren’t we using it for passenger rail?”
“30% of the American population does not drive. Too young, too old, too poor, or disabled, like myself,” adding that it was why he didn’t stand for the presentation, “or they are in a place where there aren’t many options to drive, or are just concerned about the planet.”
“We want people to be able to get wherever they need to go,” he said, “People take trains because they have to, for a lot of people it’s the only option they have.”
“We’re talking about a return in investment,” he said, going on to describe the scale of impacts the trains have had. A main example coming from Virginia, where a 12 billion dollar interstate lanes expansion instead turned into a roughly 4 million dollar passenger rail service that ultimately reduced interstate traffic.
Our great thanks to Dan McFarling of AORTA and Luis Moscoso of AAWA for their help in making the Train Trek a success, and to our sponsors for making it possible.
Survey on Using Trains to Access Health Care
AAWA, in cooperation with Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, is conducting a survey of medical professionals. The purpose of this study is to ask referring primary care physicians how their patients that reside along the I-90 / I-82 corridor between Seattle and the Tri-Cities, WA get to specialty medical care farther away than 1 hour by car; for outpatient office visits, tests, procedures or treatments, or for planned (non-urgent) inpatient care. The Federal Railroad Administration is considering restoring the North Coast Hiawatha train along the I-90 / I-82 route. We want to know whether train transport along this corridor will facilitate non-urgent medical care. We hope to have results available from this survey in September.
Annual Picnic and Other Upcoming Events
Please join us for our annual picnic at Rainier Vista Park in Lacey this coming Saturday, August 12, at noon. We’ll arrange transportation if you’d like to arrive by train. Information and registration is available on our website at https://aawa.us/events/aawa-annual-picnic-august-2023/
Please save the dates for these other upcoming events..
- Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority Annual Conference, August 8-9, Butte, Montana
- Presentation from Stephen Sadis, Director/Editor, Great Northern Filmworks, October 14, 2023, online
- Annual Holiday Party, Saturday, December 9, Location TBA
Save Salmon, Ride Trains–Again
KUOW public radio reports that “three Northwest tribes have petitioned the federal government to ban a salmon-killing chemical found in tires and urban streams worldwide.” As All Aboard Washington said in 2021, “Save Our Salmon: Ride the Train!” You can support AAWA’s efforts with a "Save Salmon, Ride Trains" hoodie or T-shirt.
Connect and Donate to AAWA!
Would you like to have AAWA conduct a Train Trek outreach and engagement meeting in your town? We can make it happen with your support. Please contact us and donate online at https://www.aawa.us/donate or by mail to:
All Aboard Washington
P.O. Box 70381
Seattle, WA 98127-0381
We thank you for your support, and look forward to seeing you soon!