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Boise, Salt Lake City partnering to request rail service between cities

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The City of Boise is still aiming to land the Treasure Valley on a long-distance Amtrak route, but they’re also aiming a little smaller too. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Lauren McLean’s Transportation Advisor Bre Brush told Boise City Council the city is working in partnership with the City of Salt Lake City to open up a passenger rail line between Caldwell and Salt Lake City. This would be part of the Federal Rail Administration’s Corridor ID program, which identifies routes previously operated by Amtrak or less than 750 miles for investment. 

This is part of the city’s broader effort alongside other Mountain West partners to reboot the full Pioneer Line stretching Portland to Salt Lake City, which will soon be under study as part of the infrastructure package passed last year. The route ended service in the late 1990s. 

McLean said the program requires two cities within 750 miles of each other to apply for the program as a pair and advocate for rail connections between the two metro areas. 

“The Mayor of Salt Lake City is doing the same work with her team towards Idaho as we’ve been doing with our team towards Utah to build that support and we’re requesting we be paired as cities for that shorter route,” she said during Tuesday’s work session. 

What’s next?

The first big hurdle is for both Boise and SLC to pitch the idea to the FRA. 

The City of Boise submitted an expression of interest letter about the route to the federal government on September 2 and is currently assisting the Utah Transit Authority in putting together their own letter to submit soon. Brush said the development of this letter included meeting with 40 stakeholders about their interest in the route, half of them in Boise and half in Pocatello. 

A map of the full route of the Pioneer Line before it was discontinued in the late 1990s.

Amtrak officials also visited Boise and Pocatello to answer questions about the program and hear from Idahoans about the possibilities the Pioneer Line could bring. Brush said the more rural communities of Eastern Idaho are especially excited about the possibility of another way to move between the two major metro areas. 

“What we heard is that (stakeholders) were excited to take advantage of newly available funding in (the infrastructure package) to meet our transportation needs as a region and many communities in more rural areas saw this as a potential to fill the void brought on by the loss of air service at smaller airports,” she told council. 

After the interest letters are submitted, Brush said the next move is to put out a request for proposals to develop a plan for developing the service, a cost estimate and the “next steps we’d need to take as a state to realize this vision.”

A train trip to the desert

City Council President Elaine Clegg said this route is only a small piece of the work to bring more robust passenger rail service to the Mountain West. 

For the last year, she has been leading the push on including Boise in long-distance rail routes operated by Amtrak, instead of just a shorter route with more frequent trips between Boise and SLC. She said in addition to adding service between Portland and SLC, there is discussion of studying a north-south route called Desert Wind from Utah down to Las Vegas. 

“It would be a tremendous route if they do end up identifying that,” Clegg said.

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] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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