September 18, 2009

Senators Wyden and Crapo Say Amtrak Study Options Include Pioneer Route Through Oregon and Idaho

Portland, OR - Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho announced today that all of the four options contained in a long-awaited preliminary report on restoring the Pioneer Route include restarting rail passenger service to Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho.

"While this is a preliminary report, it is an important step toward bringing back a passenger rail line that should never have been closed in the first place and that I have been working for over a decade to restore," Wyden said. "It is important to remember that this preliminary report by no means guarantees the return of the Pioneer Route. There are some significant cost, ridership and service level issues that still need to be worked out. Nevertheless, this report moves things a little further down the line toward giving Eastern Oregon residents the type of rail passenger service available in other parts of the United States."

"As part of the Amtrak reauthorization, I worked to include a requirement for a one time evaluation of the former Pioneer Route to determine whether a level of passenger demand exists that would warrant considering of reinstating the entire Pioneer Route service or segments of that service," Crapo said. "To make sure that all Idahoans have the opportunity to participate into this process, my website is posting Amtrak's draft Pioneer restoration feasibility study. The next step in this process is for Members of Congress and others to comment on the report as soon as possible."

Wyden and Crapo Wyden obtained a Congressional mandate forcing Amtrak to study restoring the former Pioneer Line that ran from Portland, along the Columbia River Gorge and on to Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City, Ontario, Boise, Shoshone and Pocatello to Utah. It was discontinued in 1997.

The preliminary study contains four scenarios detailing restoration of passenger service in Idaho and Oregon. The report says "Restoration of the Pioneer would enhance Amtrak's route network and produce public benefits, but would require significant expenditures for initial capital costs and ongoing operation costs not covered by farebox revenues."

A private consultant has estimated that annual operating costs for the Pioneer Line could run between $30 million and $40 million annually, with a third of those costs paid by passengers. Capital and startup costs, including those for locomotives, passenger cars, sleeping and food service cars could exceed $400 million. According to Amtrak, interested stakeholders have until October 1 to offer comment on the preliminary study. The final report must be presented to Congress by October 15. Congress may have the final say in restoring Pioneer service.