Monday, September 21, 2009

Amtrak study reviews Oregon, Idaho routes

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A preliminary report on restoring service on the Amtrak Pioneer route included four options with rail passenger service to Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mike Crapo of Idaho said the report is an important step toward bringing back a passenger rail line that should never have been closed in the first place.

The senators 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 about restoring passenger service in Idaho and Oregon. It 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 annual operating costs for the Pioneer could run between $30 million-$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.

Amtrak officials say interested stakeholders have until Oct. 1 to offer comment on the preliminary study. The final report must be presented to Congress by Oct. 15. Congress may have the final say in restoring Pioneer service.
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