October 05, 2009

Wyden Responds to Amtrak Study of the Pioneer Line

Portland, OR - A preliminary study of the Pioneer Line needs to more fully explore key issues of cost and ridership before Congress can make a decision about restoring passenger rail service to Eastern Oregon, Senator Ron Wyden said in a letter to the president and CEO of Amtrak.

"It is apparent that the Pioneer has the potential to greatly benefit the State of Oregon by providing an alternative means of passenger transportation," Wyden said in the letter to Joseph H. Boardman. "However, the current report does not fully explore several important issues, thus preventing Congress from making an educated decision about the line."

Wyden wrote the letter in response to a preliminary study released last month on restoring the Pioneer line from Portland through Eastern Oregon, Southern Idaho and beyond. The line was closed in 1997 due to budget considerations. The preliminary study said restoring the line would be a benefit to the public, but raised questions concerning cost and ridership.

The private consultant who did the study estimated that annual operating costs for the Pioneer Line could run between $30 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. A final report is due to Congress by October 16, 2009.

"One reason for the high price estimate in the report is that system-wide expenses have been attributed solely to the Pioneer," Wyden wrote. "Amtrak needs to separate equipment costs from operating costs. Furthermore, the current projections for required infrastructure improvement have been provided solely by Union Pacific, which owns most of the track on the proposed route. It is important that price estimates are made by a trusted independent source."