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Study to reopen Amtrak service to Boise steaming ahead

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Efforts to reboot the mothballed passenger rail service through Boise are cruising ahead. 

In November 2021, Congress passed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package with $41.5 billion in new funding for Amtrak to expand and upgrade its national network. Some of these funds were allocated for a study examining the potential operation and economic impact of reopening Amtrak’s Pioneer Line, which carried passengers from Portland through Pendleton, Oregon, Boise, Pocatello and south to Salt Lake City through the late 1990s. 

Officials in Boise are hopeful this study is the first step toward reestablishing passenger rail service through the Treasure Valley and southern Idaho. Bringing rail back would give passengers more choices for traveling the region without having the hassle of flying or traversing dangerous roads during the winter months. 

“Economically it’s well proven that rail connections provide a lot of economic benefits, especially in a region like ours where the ability to travel intercity is so limited,” Boise City Council President Elaine Clegg said. “The only way to get to many of the places in our region is by car and so in the winter or if you’re aging or if you have other restrictions that make it difficult for you to use a car, it truncates the ability to travel inter-regionally.”

What will be in the study?

A clause in the bill required the Federal Rail Administration to examine the feasibility of reopening all discontinued lines nationwide, which includes the Pioneer. 

Clegg said the federal government is in the process of finding a contractor to complete the study and she expects it will “move forward quite well” in advance of the deadline for the study to be completed two years from the date of the passage of the infrastructure bill. Boise has signaled the city is willing to help provide any data necessary about the potential impacts of the route and the radius of passengers it could potentially serve. 

The spending package also includes some funding for a more formal organization across the region to support expanding the rail line, but Clegg said she did not yet have details on what this would look like. It could take the form of an advisory council of leaders across the Pioneer’s region or some other form of coalition to support the study and ensure its success. It would also require local funding to match the federal government’s contribution. 

Part of the infrastructure bill also included $12 billion for upgrades to tracks and other infrastructure on long-distance rail lines, which includes $4 billion specifically earmarked for long-distance routes through rural areas. The Pioneer route would qualify for these funds, giving Clegg reason to be optimistic the federal government will be ready to reopen the rails of the Mountain West to passengers. 

“Combined with all of this is an interest to work on establishing a regional rail from Caldwell to Mountain Home that would serve the folks in this region who need to get to the various places for work or whatever else,” Clegg said. “In addition to the bigger picture long-distance benefits, there’s a real potential benefit to the region to get the opportunity to have an option besides driving on the freeway to get around.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected]isedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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