The Gillette News-Record has a major story on transportation alternatives in the region. It is a rather complete report, although one must wonder how Wyoming has spent the $23 million it gets by having no Amtrak service.
TRAVEL BY TRAIN
– What we have: BNSF Railway and Union Pacific recently completed a 100-mile joint line that added a third track to rails coming serving Campbell County.
– What we’re missing: That new rail is all for freight — mainly Powder River Basin coal. Wyoming hasn’t had a major passenger line since 1997 when Amtrak closed the Pioneer route through the southern part of the state, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Like other states without Amtrak service, Wyoming received $23 million in 1998 and 1999 under a taxpayer relief act. States like Oklahoma and Maine used the money to start their own railroads that were still operated by Amtrak, but it wasn’t clear how Wyoming used it’s share of the money. Gillette, though, hasn’t had passenger service at least since Amtrak started operations in 1971, and all the coal traffic means there probably wouldn’t be room for passenger trains without laying new tracks.
– What’s happening now: The Senate has passed a bill that will require Amtrak to study restoring all or part of routes it closed, including the Pioneer route, Magliari said. The bill, which could become law in 2008, includes matching money so state and local governments can partner with the federal government on projects the entities couldn’t do alone.
– Cost to you: Without details about the line, it’s hard to say how train tickets would compare to plane flights. But round-trip train tickets between Boston and New York on Friday were running about half the price of equivalent plane tickets. Of course, any train line would first have to have a substantial investment that taxpayers probably would have to pay.
– Moving forward: Wyoming would first need to ask Amtrak to study how much it would cost to bring rail service to Gillette. Soaring demand for these studies means it would be about a year before Amtrak would have an answer. If the idea appeared feasible and the Amtrak bill becomes law, the groups could then partner together to pay for any infrastructure — tracks, stations and trains — that the project would need.