February 29, 2024

AAWA's Comments to the FRA Long-Distance Study

February 29, 2024

Dear FRA Long Distance Study Team,

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the FRA Long-Distance Study Northwest Regional Working Group Meeting 3, held at Seattle, WA February 8, 2024.

This comment relates to the Denver - Seattle “Proposed Preferred Route” presented on slides 76 and 77 of the meeting materials, and more specifically to the segment between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

The segment between Portland and Seattle is the “proposed preferred route” for Denver – Seattle service as shown on slide 77.  Slide 76 suggests that a route alternative is to provide service to Seattle via Central Washington (Kennewick and Yakima).  The intent of this comment is to provide additional detail, rationale, and discussion of the advantages of selecting the Central Washington segment as the “proposed preferred route” rather than the Portland to Seattle segment.

Discussion of the Portland - Seattle segment

At the time the Pioneer route was discontinued in 1997, the route between Portland and Seattle was served by the Pioneer and the Coast Starlight.  Amtrak Cascades service between Portland and Seattle was added starting in 1994.  Over the years, service between Portland and Seattle has been expanded so that today 7 round-trip trains operate daily between Portland and Seattle (6 Cascades, 1 Coast Starlight).  Washington State Department of Transportation has plans to eventually expand Cascades service between Seattle and Portland to 13 daily round-trip trains.  This route segment is also used for significant freight traffic including grain trains from the midwest heading to seaports along that route at Kalama, WA, Kelso, WA, and Longview, WA which can create congestion-related delays.

Discussion of Kennewick - Yakima - Seattle - segment (Slide 76)

This segment is more completely and accurately described as Hermiston (Hinkle), OR - Pasco (Kennewick) - Yakima - Seattle.

The Union Pacific (UP) mainline at Hermiston/Hinkle, OR links with a UP branch line to Pasco/Kennewick, WA.  At Pasco the UP tracks connect with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to Yakima and Seattle.  The route from Hermiston - Pasco - Yakima - Seattle is used for freight rail only.  This route is significantly less congested than the Portland - Seattle segment.

Advantages of splitting/joining at Hermiston, OR

It is possible, and reasonable, that a Denver - Seattle train could/should be divided into two sections at Hermiston with one section of the train continuing to Pasco - Yakima - terminating at Seattle; the other section continuing to Hood River, OR - terminating at Portland.  There is precedent for dividing Amtrak trains to serve two endpoints.  One example is Amtrak’s Empire Builder which is divided into two sections at Spokane, one section continues to Seattle, the other continues to Portland.  This operating arrangement is suggested on slide 37 as an alternative means of connecting major markets while providing the following benefits not provided by the Portland – Seattle segment:

1.       The congested route between Portland and Seattle is avoided.

2.       New or restored passenger rail service to the Yakima, WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) provides public transportation for a US DOT Justice 40 disadvantaged area that today has few transportation options.  The Yakima MSA has had no passenger rail since service was discontinued in 1981.

3.       Service to Central Washington provides passenger rail service for The Confederated Tribes and Bands of The Yakama Nation.  BNSF tracks cross the Yakama reservation for a distance of 30± miles.

4.       Service through Central Washington provides a means for Central Washington residents including The Yakama Nation to access various opportunities for higher education and specialty medical care services, many of which are not available in rural cities of Central Washington.

Additional Considerations

The Central Washington/Yakima Valley route is a segment of Amtrak’s discontinued North Coast Hiawatha service and is a portion of the “Proposed Preferred Route” for restoration of Chicago - Seattle service.  As has been said, whether or not Denver - Seattle service or Chicago - Seattle service is restored will be a matter of funding, infrastructure considerations, and priorities.

Given the numerous factors to be addressed in establishing each of the 15 enhanced network routes, it is possible that only one of these two Pacific Northwest routes might be established.  And, if both are established, the introduction of the two routes could be many years apart.  Therefore, it is important that the Central Washington segment be included in the Selected Proposed Preferred Route for both the Denver - Seattle and Chicago - Seattle routes to ensure that the benefits described are provided to Central Washington by at least one of these two routes.


Revise the Selected Preferred Route for Seattle - Denver service on slides 76 and 77 to show Hermiston/Hinkle, OR – Pasco/Kennewick – Yakima – Seattle as the preferred route.

Revise the note on slide 76 to state “Other routes identified in this study could provide access between Portland and Seattle”.

Revise slides 76 and 77 to show the segment Hermiston/Hinkle, OR - Pasco/Kennewick - Yakima - Seattle in dark green, and Portland - Seattle segment in light green.

Revise slide 77 to delete the green line between Portland and Seattle; add a green line from Hermiston/Hinkle, OR - Pasco/Kennewick - Yakima - Seattle.


Considering the evaluation criteria on slide 48, the Portland - Seattle segment provides little or no additional benefit compared to the significant benefits provided by the Central Washington segment described in this comment.

During the February 8, 2024, Seattle meeting it was stated that the Selected Proposed Preferred Routes were “not set in stone”.  The Portland to Seattle segment is an example where revision to the proposed preferred route provides additional benefits by shifting the emphasis away from an additional Portland to Seattle train to providing service to rural communities, Tribes, and cities in Central Washington that lost service in 1981 and currently have no service.

Attached is a copy of a January 19, 2024 letter signed by several Washington State legislators supporting restoration of service through the Yakima Valley.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

All Aboard Washington is 501(c)(3) organization promoting better passenger rail in the Pacific Northwest for more than 40 years.

Gary Wirt
Vice President
All Aboard Washington