Fed plan contains more passenger trains for Utah

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The third round of four rounds of meetings of the Federal Railroad Administration‘s Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study took place over the past two weeks, and it’s got news for passenger rail in Utah.

The purpose of this study is “to evaluate the restoration of daily long-distance intercity rail passenger service and the potential for new Amtrak long-distance routes.” Amtrak’s existing long-distance network is comprised of 15 routes, including the California Zephyr, which crosses Utah on its 2,438-mile journey between Chicago and San Francisco.

Drag the slider left or right to see a before and after comparison of Amtrak’s Existing Network and the additional routes included in the Proposed Network of Preferred Routes.

Contained within the 163-slide presentation are maps detailing an additional 15 long-distance passenger rail routes, which are intended to fill gaps within Amtrak’s existing system and bring passenger rail to all of the 48-contiguous states.

Under the plan, two new long-distance passenger rail routes would serve Utah, both of which would stop in Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo. A new Los Angeles to Denver route would serve Las Vegas before passing through Utah and the continuing across southern Wyoming through Cheyenne. A new Seattle to Denver route would serve Portland, Boise, and Pocatello before passing through Utah and continuing through Colorado on the route of the California Zephyr.

In addition to making it far easier to travel around the country by rail, the proposed improvements would greatly increase access to passenger rail, especially by historically disadvantaged communities. Some of the highlighted metrics include:

  • An 18% increase in total population served (45 million more people).
  • A 10% increase in the population of the 100 most populous MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) served (19 million more people).
  • A 51% increase in the rural population served (9 million more people).
  • A 43% increase in the population of rural “transportation disadvantaged” areas served (6 million more people).
  • A 66% increase in the population of rural “health disadvantaged” areas served (5 million more people).
  • A 59% increase in the rural population living below the poverty threshold served (1 million more people).
  • A 112% increase in the population living on tribal lands served (2 million more people).
Timeframes of implementation of operations.

The only bad news in the presentation was the implementation timeline. It is anticipated to take at least 15 years of work before new services will start running. When confronted with the 15-year timeline, Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the national Rail Passengers Association, pointed out that it took less than a decade (8 years, 1 month, 25 days to be exact) to put a man on the moon and hoped that Congress could be persuaded to provide the resources necessary to speed up implementation.

The study is set to wrap up later in 2024. The Utah Rail Passengers Association continues to serve as a study participant as part of both the northwest and southwest working groups. All 163 presentation slides are available below.

Email Mike Christensen

Mike Christensen is a long-time transit expert and executive director of the Utah Rail Passengers Association. He also serves on the Salt Lake City Planning Commission.

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Posted by Mike Christensen

Mike Christensen recently graduated from the University of Utah with a Master of City and Metropolitan Planning, is employed as the Executive Director of the Utah Rail Passengers Association, and serves on the Board of Directors of the national Rail Passengers Association.