October 01, 2008

Crapo: Amtrak Study, Funding Passes

Senator's amendment means passenger rail gets new look in Idaho

Washington, DC - Plans to restore passenger rail service to southern Idaho will get a new look following a vote by the U.S. Senate. Idaho Senator Mike Crapo's amendment requiring Amtrak to fund a new study on restoring the former Pioneer Route that ran through Nampa, Shoshone and Pocatello was approved tonight in a larger bill authorizing new rail spending and implementing improved safety requirements. The final vote was 74 to 24 in favor of the measure.

"When President Bush signs the legislation, the next step will be to arrange Amtrak meetings here in Idaho and prepare for the visit that Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant has agreed to related to the passage of this legislation," Crapo said. Crapo penned the requirement for the study in the legislation and won Kummant's promise to come to Idaho to hold meetings about restoring the passenger rail service. Amtrak discontinued service to all Idaho cities but Sandpoint in May of 1997.

Kummant sent a letter to Crapo last year that reads in part: "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."

The Amtrak reauthorization legislation was merged with new rail safety issues in a comprehensive rail package that has cleared both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill authorizes $13 billion over five years for passenger rail with a new emphasis on intercity and high speed rail programs. The rail safety elements of the bill mandate train control technology on passenger and some hazardous rail routes, limits the amount of hours workers must spend in "limbo time," and examines the use of cell phones on the job. The legislation also address the cleanup of rail sites on the state level.

"When I entered the Senate in 1999, I worked with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to initiate actions to return Amtrak service to southern Idaho," Crapo added. "I thought we had made a compelling case about the Pioneer Line but even I was surprised by how many Idahoans feel so passionately about restoring passenger rail to Idaho.

"Funding shortfalls caused us to put the study on the shelf then, but we never gave up on the idea," Crapo added. "Now, Amtrak ridership is up by 12% to 13% around the country. If Idahoans get the opportunity to ride the rails again, I'm confident we can see similar increases in ridership. Let's hope we can rekindle the interest and follow through on these commitments from Amtrak to make passenger service to Idaho cities a reality again."