December 12

Advocates Discuss Strengthening Our Communities with Passenger Rail, Part 1

Over fifty people participated in All Aboard Washington’s annual meeting, "Bringing Economic, Environmental and Equity Benefits to Our Communities with Passenger Rail and Seamless Connections," on Saturday, December 11.

A recording, presentations and further information from the participants is available at https://www.aawa.us/events/archives/december-2021-annual-meeting/ 

The event brought together elected and community leaders, as well as rail experts and advocates from throughout the Northwest. Bipartisan support for the economic, environmental and equity benefits of passenger rail was evident.

Dan Bilka of All Aboard Northwest and Missoula (MT) County Commissioner David Strohmaier of the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority explained their vision for re-establishing passenger rail service in communities that have not been served in decades. One such service would be a line connecting Seattle, the Kittitas and Yakima Valleys, Spokane, and southern Montana, with Fargo, Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and Chicago. Another would connect Seattle with eastern Oregon, Boise and Salt Lake City. These lines are planned for inclusion in a study of previous Amtrak lines that is to be conducted by the US Department of Transportation and funded through the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Mayor Patricia Byers of Yakima said, “Having a local rail system would enhance the opportunity for tourism. It’s such a relaxing, enjoyable means of travel. It would enhance every aspect of our valley... It would also enhance local transit connections between the upper and lower valley, and freight options for agriculture.” She also reminded participants of the need for easy access to airports such as SeaTac.

Alan Adolf from the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments agreed. He noted that while local transit serves some areas, including the Yakama Nation, “There has been a renaissance in connectivity. This is a perfect time to bring passenger rail back. There is tremendous interest. In a recent survey, nearly 90 percent said they would ride a train if service was available in Central Washington. And people said that they would use it not only for travel within the valley, but also to the rest of the state, the region, the country, and even internationally. Providing access to the rest of the country is really important.”

Mr. Adolf also said that the estimates for returning service to the Yakima Valley are likely high, since communities such as Toppenish and Ellensburg have existing depots that would require only modest investments to return them to passenger service. He also mentioned the opportunities for transload facilities in the Yakima Valley that would support shipping out of places like the Port of Seattle. “We will bring passenger rail back because Central Washington understands that we are part of a greater effort...This is a greater need, a greater opportunity, and we must look beyond our local borders, our state borders, and truly look at this as a national system.”

Representative Andrew Barkis provided an update on the budget challenges that will be faced in the Washington Legislature’s 2022 session, but he was encouraged that he will be working together with the other leaders of the Legislative Rail Caucus, including Senators Mari Leavitt and Jeff Wilson, on ways to fund rail. He said, “What it’s about is an interconnected network that moves goods and people. All Aboard Washington needs to increase its presence in developing policy.”

Sen. Chris Gorsek of the Oregon Legislature was also positive. “It’s important to restore the Amtrak Pioneer service.” In the newly-formed Oregon Rail Caucus, “We already have eighteen legislators from all parts of the state, Republicans and Democrats. Both states need to work together on freight, passenger rail, bridge and barge issues. Some of the bridges look like they’re being held together with duct tape and chewing gum.”

Senator Gorsek laid out his priorities. “We need to be able to fund Amtrak Cascades, the Pioneer, and infrastructure needs of short-line railroads. Restoration of the Pioneer is important because in the last 20+ years, there has been a lot of development in the cities that line served. We need to move toward environmentally-friendly services, and rail will be a big part of that in the future.”

The second half of the meeting will be covered in the next post. It featured:

Integrated Network Approach to Transportation

Week Without Driving: Lessons Learned

State of the Trains

  • Report on the Bypass, Charlie Hamilton, All Aboard Washington
  • Report on Canada Service, Gary Wirt, All Aboard Washington
  • Report on Infrastructure Funding, Mike Christensen, Rail Passengers Assn.

About AAWA

For over forty years, All Aboard Washington (AAWA) has promoted better passenger and freight rail service in the Pacific Northwest. We champion safe, reliable, frequent, competitive, and convenient passenger rail services that meet the needs of all Washingtonians. We are especially active supporters of intercity passenger rail service and intermodal connections to local transit.

For Immediate Release
December 12, 2021
Contact: Charles Hamilton, (360) 529-5552 x3 or Gary Wirt, (509) 213-0070 x1

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