Idaho congressmen are organizing a congressional delegation to push for the return of the Amtrak Pioneer passenger train that, from 1977 to 1997, ran through Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as the Jackson Hole Star Tribune reports.
A bill to boost Amtrak funding cleared the U.S. Senate last year. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo included an amendment in the $11.4 billion bill that required Amtrak to study reinstating all or parts of the Pioneer route in the West. The House also approved a version of the bill, and now the two chambers need to reach a compromise.
Over the last couple days the Casper Star Tribune and the Idaho Statesman editorialized on the subject, taking decidedly different views.
The Tribune, in a piece titled, “Don’t hold your breath waiting for Amtrak“, wrote:
It’s hard to be very enthusiastic about a proposal to bring Amtrak passenger rail service back to Wyoming.
“For the past 30 years, Amtrak has not demonstrated any real ability to provide reliable and cost-efficient service in Wyoming,” said Republican Sen. John Barrasso. He’s right, and there’s no indication that the situation has improved. …
Our advice: Go ahead with the study, but don’t expect much to happen. Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi said he would be willing to fully consider the impact of passenger rail service in Wyoming if Amtrak can present a financially viable plan for the Pioneer train in the state.
But Enzi cautioned, “While rail service is good in theory, the reality is that the cost is rarely offset without digging into taxpayers’ wallets to provide heavy government subsidies.”
Amtrak has consistently failed to cover its costs in the most heavily populated areas of the country. How is it going to do so in sparsely populated states like Wyoming? …
We’d much rather see some government investment in infrastructure for the proposed high-speed rail system between Billings, Mont., and Albuquerque, N.M.
The Statesman’s more optimistic outlook, “Necessity joins nostalgia in Amtrak debate“:
Nowadays, railroad advocates don’t need to reach back into yesteryear to sound persuasive. Current events work just fine. …
In the spring of 1997, when the Pioneer line made its last run through Idaho, gas averaged about $1.34 per gallon in the state. On Tuesday, according to AAA Idaho, the average gas price was $3.81 per gallon.
Taking a second look at the feasibility of the Pioneer line isn’t just study for the sake of study. The market conditions are sufficiently different to warrant this feasibility study.
Intuition suggests researchers will find increased demand for passenger rail – driven not by starry-eyed romanticism but by sharp-eyed pragmatism. We would think, given the opportunity, Idaho travelers would be more interested in an option that allows them to avoid the cost and the hassle of driving.
The Pioneer line lost $20 million a year before Amtrak shut down the route. It may not be realistic to expect this route to turn a profit or even break even. Then again, we subsidize all forms of transportation, from rails to roads. It’s certainly worth studying to see if the taxpayer cost of passenger rail is in line with the benefits.
In January 2007, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced S. 294, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, which includes a provision to evaluate the Pioneer Route to determine “whether a level of passenger demand exists that would warrant consideration of reinstating the entire Pioneer Route service or segments of that service.”