Friday, November 2, 2007

Amtrak service may return to southern Idaho

Amendment to funding legislation attached by Sen. Crapo

Mike Crapo

Wood River Valley residents tired of using the airlines or the federal highway system to travel to destinations around the country may soon be able to chose a comfortable and relaxing way of getting about that brings to mind the golden age of United States travel.

Within a year or so, arriving in Tacoma, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver and all points beyond may be as simple as heading to Shoshone and jumping on an Amtrak passenger train.

This all comes thanks to a key amendment inserted into a federal Amtrak funding bill by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

Crapo's amendment to the $8.2 billion funding bill, which the U.S. Senate passed this week on a vote of 70 to 22, seeks to ensure Amtrak fairly considers rural communities not well served by passenger rail transportation. Specifically, his amendment requires the federally subsidized rail line to evaluate resuming its Pioneer passenger route. Until 1997, the route passed through the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Colorado.

Crapo's amendment would reduce from two years to one the time frame under which Amtrak must study returning the former Pioneer route to Idaho, and it requires Amtrak to use the same methodology to make decisions about the Pioneer Route that it uses on all service decisions, a news release from Crapo's office states.

With ridership numbers on Amtrak rising, now is the right time to consider such a move, Crapo said.

"Idahoans are contacting our offices and showing overwhelming support for returning Amtrak service to southern Idaho," Crapo said. "We now have approval by the U.S. Senate and the written commitment by Amtrak's president that he will come to Idaho, hold meetings, and discuss passenger service with Idahoans."

Within Idaho, Amtrak's Pioneer line served Boise, Shoshone, Pocatello, and other cities in the state.

"Now the vote goes to the House, but it appears Idahoans, and communities in Idaho, Oregon, and other Western states will have a chance to make their voices heard regarding passenger rail trains as a transportation alternative in the West," Crapo said.

Last week, Crapo received a letter of support for the plan from Alex Kummant, President and CEO of Amtrak.

"I will make it a personal priority of mine to visit your home state and learn firsthand of the opportunities that exist in Idaho and other western states for expanded intercity passenger rail service," Kummant said.

The Pioneer route was dumped from Amtrak's schedule in 1997 after it lost $20 million. Crapo has said it's unfair to demand that Amtrak should be forced to live without some federal subsidies.

Amtrak continues to provide service to north Idaho through Sandpoint along its Empire Builder route, which also passes through Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin on its way to Chicago, Ill.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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