All aboard? With Crapo & Boise’s support, congress takes first step to bring Amtrak back to Idaho

Boise Depot
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 18:00:20-04

This article was written by Margaret Carmel of BoiseDev.

Boise is one small step closer to getting back on track for passenger rail service.

After the urging of the City of Boise and Senator Mike Crapo, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation put an amendment on a passenger rail package to study reopening a discontinued Amtrak route through southern Idaho.

Boisepassed a resolution earlier this month signaling support for the route.

One small step for passenger rail

A 1977 map of the Amtrak Pioneer line, which once provided train service across Oregon and Idaho.

The Pioneer route once traveled through Seattle, Portland, Ontario, Boise, Pocatello, and Salt Lake City, starting in the early 1970s. In 1997 the last train on the route rolled out of Boise. Once again, Idaho officials hope the federal government will take a serious look at reinstating the northwestern route as the Biden administration eyes a nationwide expansion of rail service.

This process still has a long way to go. It has been approved by the Senate committee, but it still needs the green light from the full Senate, a House committee, and then the full House. If it passes that process, it will go to a conference committee where members of both parties in both houses will hash out the differences between the rail bills each chamber agreed upon.

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If it passes all of those hurdles, the federal government is authorized to spend funds toward reopening the route, but it doesn’t mean the funding is guaranteed. Whether the Pioneer route is included in the government’s priorities for rail or not, this process should be completed by the end of September.

Amtrak would provide more options

City Council President Elaine Clegg is over the moon about this development. She told BoiseDev it would help open the door for once again using the tracks through Boise for passenger use, which could be used for commuter rail in the Treasure Valley as it grows.

Clegg said it would also boost economic development in the region, as well as provide a new way for people to reach Idaho’s capital.

“We know that people in eastern Oregon and across southern Idaho want to get to Boise for various services like healthcare, financial reasons and various government services and we know that the weather in this region isn’t really conducive to driving year round,” Clegg said.

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“For me, the first important reason (Amtrak service matters) is that it connects this region which is a culturally similar region in a way that allows people to get to the services they need even if they can’t drive, which lots of people can’t do anymore.”

Crapo was part of an effort to ask the federal government to study reopening the Pioneer route in 2008. In a statement this week, he said that study, which he thought under projected ridership, should be updated now that the Treasure Valley has boomed.

“The (2008) study projected the ridership at a level nearly 30 percent below the historic high in 1992 while the population growth in the states along the route increased by 41 percent,” Crapo said. “Even taking into account increased direct flights between major cities along the route, this projection seemed highly pessimistic. Amtrak should review and update the ridership projections and follow through on promises it made to meet directly with Idahoans on the issue.”