Of all the boneheaded and totally wrong ideas ever matched at Amtrak, axing the Pioneer is way up the top of the list. Now, rightly, some Congressmen are getting after Amtrak management to correct a decade old error. The Idaho Mountain Express has the entire story, which we highlight here.
Five members of the Idaho and Oregon congressional delegations have written the president and CEO of Amtrak to request he expedite a study on the return of passenger rail service though Oregon, Idaho and points east. The study, inserted into an Amtrak spending bill by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was the focal point of the letter signed by Crapo, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and Greg Walden, R-Oregon.
“We have heard from families in our states who have been waiting more than a decade for rail service to return,” the delegation members wrote in the letter sent today to Amtrak’s Alex Kummant. “Recent sharp increases in Amtrak ridership show that more and more people are turning to intercity rail for transportation. We believe that there is substantial interest in reinstating the Pioneer Route in our states and returning this economic and transportation network to our communities and neighborhoods.”
Nationally, Amtrak ridership is up this year compared with last year. The increases were 13.9 percent in July, 10.5 percent in August and 9.7 percent for September. For the fiscal year, ridership is up 11.1 percent over last year. Crapo and Wyden originally requested that Amtrak begin studying the return of the Pioneer Route back in 1999.
The Pioneer Route served cities in Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming before it was discontinued in 1997. In Idaho, it passed through Shoshone, south of the Wood River Valley.
This is not nuclear physics either. There have been some new obstacles introduced. Union Pacific has ripped out the trackage from Portland Union Station that would lead directly to the river bridge and the Pioneer route. These are relatively insignificant and should be addressed immediately, and that includes putting downtown Boise back on the nap too.
Amtrak provides essential service to small town America and this would be an inexpensive but vital link in the national system.
The Pioneer, at one time, was an essential link between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest as an alternative to the Empire Builder.