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FRA RELEASES LONG-DISTANCE STUDY INTERIM REPORT, INVITES COMMENTS

By Bob Johnston | February 19, 2024 | Trains.com


Fifteen new or previously discontinued routes under consideration


WASHINGTON — Fifteen new or revived long-distance routes are presented in a new Federal Railroad Administration presentation to accompany the next round of meetings for its ongoing Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study.


The 163-page PowerPoint presentation was issued prior to the third round of six regional workshops for stakeholders including Amtrak and state transportation officials, as well as passenger rail advocates. It provides the rational for pursuing those 15 routes from possibilities suggested in previous workshop sessions that began last year [see “FRA look at Amtrak long-distance service yields wealth of data,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 28, 2023].


The planning exercise, mandated by a provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 to evaluate potential Amtrak long-distance routes for areas not currently served, will culminate with a final report of recommendations to Congress after another round of meetings this spring. More details on the process are available at the study website, introduced in 2022 [see “FRA launches passenger long-distance study site,” News Wire, Nov. 1, 2022].


This long-distance study is independent from the FRA’s selection of 69 routes for its Corridor Identification and Development Program, which included $500,000 in initial planning money for sponsoring organizations [see “Full list of passenger routes …,” News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023]. There is one notable overlap between the two: revival of the North Coast Hiawatha on its former ex-Northern Pacific routing west of Fargo, N.D., through Montana and Yakima, Wash., to Seattle.


The report lists the criteria for developing an interconnected “conceptual enhanced network” that links rural and metropolitan areas where there has been significant public engagement. The idea was to build on the current “baseline” of long-distance service routes.


This was not followed west of Phoenix, Ariz., because the chosen city pairs were San Francisco and Dallas-Ft. Worth. The route chosen was through the San Joaquin Valley over Tehachapi Pass to Barstow, utilizing 160 miles of a short line between BNSF’s Transcon at Cadiz, Calif., and Wickenburg, Ariz., that hadn’t seen a passenger train since the 1950s.


Left in the lurch by both the Corridor ID and Long Distance study programs is the 136-mile former Southern Pacific route west of Phoenix that would allow the Sunset Limited to begin serving that urban center directly. The train was rerouted through Maricopa, Ariz., in 1996 when Union Pacific demanded that Amtrak pay for maintenance. The proposal also suggests reactivating the former route once used by Missouri Pacific’s Texas Eagle between El Paso and Fort Worth.

Also requiring substantial upgrading is Minneapolis-St. Paul to Denver via Sioux Falls and Pierre, South Dakota.


Each detailed route description lists the disclaimer, “Further analysis after completion of this study would be necessary to advance the preferred routes through project planning and project development activities prior to implementation.” There is currently no funding attached to the initiative.

Public comment on all of the proposals is encouraged; a comment form is at the bottom of the front page of the study website. Comments must be received by March 8.

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