Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Amtrak studying Pioneer route return

Here’s some brighter news from Oregon.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that political leaders in eastern Oregon have convinced Amtrak to study the feasibility of a return to the Pioneer  running from Salt Lake City to Portland. The route was closed in 1997.

Warner says Amtrak would either have to build more tracks or negotiate a better deal with freight shippers.

Still, Warner hopes with enough political will, even that problem could be solved.

Fred Warner: “If it was easy, people would use it now, $4 a gallon gas makes it a real viable option now.”

That’s why Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Earl Blumenauer teamed with Republican Greg Walden.

The bipartisan delegation pushed Amtrak to study what it would take to reopen the Pioneer Route.

Amtrak says it’ll publish the report later this year.

And from there, lawmakers will  decide whether to put the Pioneer Route back on track.

Sounds like a bit of a longshot in our familiar anti-rail political climate, but this is the kind of smart infrastructure that should be a key part of the federal stimulus package. Too bad it isn’t. Some smart “steel on the ground” investments today would provide for stimulus well into tomorrow.

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Filed under: Amtrak, ,

Surprise! Amtrak isn’t recession proof

Here’s a few snippets of recent rail events before you all head home for the weekend. First, some bad news. Amtrak ridership for the first quarter of 2009 is below expectations. This is a slight dip from the same period last year and 5% percent below expectations, according to the Associated Press. CEO Joseph Boardman told a House transportation subcommittee that lower fuel costs were leading some riders to return to their automobiles.

Surely our experienced Amtrak naysayers are going to jump all over this, giving the usual spiel about how the system is a waste of money and should be privatized AKA closed. Forget that Amtrak has seen unprecedented ridership growth in the past couple of years, provides green jobs, and stimulates the economy. Here’s a very specific case in point from Vermont’s ongoing battle to save its popular Ethan Allen Express route:

Rutland City Republican Peter Fagan said even the specter of the proposed Amtrak cut has had an impact on economic development. A condominium project slated for the old Sunshine food store lot has been placed on hold, pending the outcome of the Amtrak negotiations, according to Fagan.

“That’s an economic driver the city would like to take advantage of,” Fagan told the House Transportation Committee. “If the train is funded, they’ll continue on. If the train is not funded, that project is in doubt.”

Seems like the private sector is willing to embrace smart growth, if the public will provide the means for it.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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