Feds decline to fund Boise-SLC and Las Vegas-SLC passenger rail proposals

Photo of the California Zephyr leaving Salt Lake City by Isaac Madsen.

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The Federal Railroad Administration awarded 69 proposals with funding intended to jump start the planning process for passenger rail routes and other improvements this week.

In advance of the official announcement by the FRA, the Utah Rail Passengers Association has learned that the two applications for funding to further study passenger rail connecting Boise and Salt Lake City and connecting Las Vegas and Salt Lake City did not make the cut.

The proposals were highlighted during an early November in a luncheon hosted by the Utah Transit Authority, when the Utah Transit Authority and other partners unveiled plans to reconnect cities in the intermountain west by passenger rail as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Various transportation entities submitted to the Corridor Identification and Development program a request for $500,000 each in funding to jump start the planning process for the passenger rail routes and improvements. The requests were for $34.5 million in total.

While the Federal Railroad Administration didn’t release an official critique of the proposals, the rejection could be due to an apparent lack of enthusiasm by the applicants.

One criteria valued by the FRA is a strong showing of local community support. The vast majority of proposals receiving funding have been preceded by years of grass roots organizing that ultimately culminated in the proposal.

While cities in Idaho — especially Boise and Pocatello — have shown enthusiasm for returning trains to their communities, support from officials in Utah and Nevada has been lukewarm at best.

Many of the successful applicants were quick to publicly announce their proposals when they submitted them in March 2023.

In contrast, the first substantial public acknowledgement made in Utah of the Boise-SLC and Las Vegas-SLC proposals didn’t come until UTA’s luncheon in November, eight months delayed.

It appears the federal government decided to fund planning in communities whose elected officials actually want more passenger rail, rather than in Utah.

Salt Lake City to Las Vegas proposal, left, and Boise to SLC, right.

Email Mike Christensen

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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.

The official announcement from the Federal Railroad Administration is available below.

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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.