Montana Rail Authority calling for Amtrak route study

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Amtrak25

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Amtrak25

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Co-signers are:
Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT),
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND),
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND),
Sen. James Risch (R-ID),
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID),
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR),
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR),
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Considering where they are from and which side of the political aisle 5 of 8 of them are they are in, while it does not fit in with Connect US's idealistic PRIIA-209 schemes, Amtrak would be wise for its own general Congressional support to take it seriously and not sneer at it.
 
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I have a hard time seeing it just added into the LD route network. - I could be wrong. I have a hard time seeing any route in 2021 added without some measure of state/local support regardless of mileage/distance.
 

Siegmund

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I have a hard time seeing it just added into the LD route network. - I could be wrong. I have a hard time seeing any route in 2021 added without some measure of state/local support regardless of mileage/distance.

So do I.

But powerful senators leaning on Amtrak is one way that some "interesting" additions to the map actually did happen in the past.

Getting Risch and Crapo onboard is big news. Been a long time since anyone in Idaho politics paid attention to Amtrak. (Their predecessors paid no interest whatsoever to the Pioneer, though the gentlemen from Wyoming did - in the form of demanding a budget cut after the Pioneer was deleted.)

Conspicuously absent is a signature from Rosendale, Montana's other senator. Those of us in his adopted home state hear from him so rarely I sometimes think his body is kept in cold storage in DC, and thawed and defibrillated when a party-line vote is needed.
 

west point

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What passengers are there available so what the heck? Now if the Senators want to make a supplemental appropriation to completely cover equipment, ROW upgrades, stations and 5-year above rail operating expenses who can argue?

Would $500M cover it?
 
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Willbridge

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So do I.

But powerful senators leaning on Amtrak is one way that some "interesting" additions to the map actually did happen in the past.

Getting Risch and Crapo onboard is big news. Been a long time since anyone in Idaho politics paid attention to Amtrak. (Their predecessors paid no interest whatsoever to the Pioneer, though the gentlemen from Wyoming did - in the form of demanding a budget cut after the Pioneer was deleted.)

Conspicuously absent is a signature from Rosendale, Montana's other senator. Those of us in his adopted home state hear from him so rarely I sometimes think his body is kept in cold storage in DC, and thawed and defibrillated when a party-line vote is needed.
I agree with you generally, but there are some good exceptions.

Senators Frank Church (D) and Mark Hatfield (R) were key to getting the Pioneer established. Hatfield also saved Portland Union Station when Amtrak planned to replace it with an Amshack out by the oil tank farm at Willbridge (in the only metro ZIP code that showed no rail passengers in an ODOT survey of Portland boardings).

Senator Crapo (R) sponsored inclusion of the Pioneer route in the 2008-9 "studies" with the North Coast Hiawatha and the Sunset. Unfortunately, he seemed to accept the bloated costs and phony equipment issues and lack of public input, and the issue was dropped. Imagine if Amtrak had ordered some more long-distance equipment in 2009 -- it would be going into service right now.

Rynerson1976-Church.jpg
 

Siegmund

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What passengers are there available so what the heck? Now if the Senators want to make a supplemental appropriation...

The Empire Builder does very well at drawing passengers in Montana, and there is already movement toward additional Chicago-St. Paul and Spokane-Seattle service, so it's not entirely crazy from a ridership perspective.

The senators (and the Authority and a good portion of the public) are under the impression that the supplemental appropriation has been made and they are ensuring their fair share of it is spent in their districts. I have not heard anyone from Amtrak express a similar sentiment, about this route or any other long-distance route.

In the absence of a law directing Amtrak to serve every state, having senators apply pressure seems to be the one tool in the box that can maintain the national network.
 

Amtrak25

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As far as law goes, there is Title 49 U.S. Code § 24102

“(C) long-distance routes of more than 750 miles between endpoints operated by Amtrak as of the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008"

www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/24102

More readable form:
www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCODE-2015-title49/pdf/USCODE-2015-title49-subtitleV-partC-chap241-sec24102.pdf

Amtrak’s interpretation is nothing is to be added ad infinitum to the national network from 15 routes of 2008 unless entirely funded by multiple states.

Do note there is no trace of either the North Coast Hiawatha or Pioneer on Amtrak's Connect US Fantasy Map, to say nothing of conspicuous gaps like Louisville- Nashville and Trinidad-Pueblo, which is deliberate.

Stephen Gardner likely had a big hand in writing PRIIA, so absent repealing Title 49 U.S. Code § 24102 (C) and a major attitude adjustment in the execuctive suite given this huge conflict of interest, nothing is going to happen. I hope these Senators understand that.
 
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chrsjrcj

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If you wanted to get real technical it says between endpoints, so the new train would have to run from Chicago to Seattle. I guess it would ultimately be up to the courts to decide though.
 

Mark Meyer

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The real interesting thing about the BSPRA wanting a study for the North Coast Hiawatha is that they already commissioned one earlier this year, performed by the Rail Passengers Association:

https://static1.squarespace.com/sta...50007612/North+Coast+Hiawatha+Restoration.pdf

This study, which they unequivocally stand behind (their words), actually shows that a restored North Coast Hiawatha would have little utility in North Dakota and Montana. While constantly harping that such a train would serve more population centers in those states than the Empire Builder, their own study shows that in pre-Covid FY2019, ridership on the Empire Builder in North Dakota and Montana was 8,276 and 1,720 greater respectively than would be achieved by a North Coast Hiawatha. The study also shows that while North Dakota and Montana have 49% of the route mileage, the two states would produce only 24% of the ridership. Fargo/Moorhead has a metro population about twice that of Bismarck/Mandan, but ridership at the later would be twice that of the former. Sandpoint, Idaho would have much greater ridership than Spokane, and the Tri-Cities would have greater ridership than Seattle. And most amazingly, Bozeman – the stop for Yellowstone National Park, the Big Sky Resort, and Montana’s largest university with by far the largest number of airline boardings in the state because of those factors – would have an annual ridership only 86% that of East Glacier Park along the Empire Builder route, a stop that is only open five months of the year. The study makes no accommodation for tourism or pretty much anything else, it’s all about cherrypicked county population and uniform applied percentages. And the study does not take into account any of these mandatory parameters: Train schedule, station infrastructure, station amenities, additional track infrastructure, crew districts, or infrastructure for mechanical and train inspection requirements.



A more thorough analysis of the RPA “study” is at:

North Coast Hiawatha Restoration Study ridership analysis - Empire Builder Advocates
 
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Senator Frank Church was an very influential member of Congress. He served his State and the Nation well.


Getting Risch and Crapo onboard is big news.

Agree. With "R"s after their name, it's a bit surprising to me. Senator Wyden's support is also important. He is most certainly on the opposite side of political philosophy as Crapo and Risch. And, he is a Senate "heavyweight".

Those of us who support the 3C+D proposal need such Senatorial support.
 

Seaboard92

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It is interesting to see who is in support of this train. I think Romney is the weird one on here as the North Coast Limited (I refuse to call it that Amtrak era name) because it has no effect on his state at all.

Remember the Builder does better on it's route because there are no competitors. I don't believe Greyhound services those northern towns on US2, and the only commercial airports on the Builder are these.

Illinois
ORD
MDW

Wisconsin
MKE
LSE (LaCrosse)

Minnesota (Also pronounced Minnesnowta)
MSP
STC (St. Cloud) Only flights on Allegiant

North Dakota
FAR
GFK
MOT
XWA (Williston)

Montana
GPI (Klassipel/Whitefish)
WYS (West Yellowstone) Only seasonal too.

Idaho
No air service to Sandpoint

Washington
GEG (Spokane)
EAT (Wenatchee)
PSC (Pasco/Tri Cities)
PAE (Everett)
SEA

Oregon
PDX

Now lets look at the North Coast Limited route

I'm going to exclude the states where it shares a route with the Builder.
North Dakota
FAR
JMS (Jamestown)
BIS (Bismark)
DIK (Dickerson)

Montana
BIL (Billings)
BZN (Bozeman)
HLN (Helena)
MSO (Missoula)

Washington
YKM (Yakima)

And it should be noted of all of those the busy airports are all on the North Coast Limited route. So the train will have to fight more for some marketshare. And almost all of those airports service MSP or SLC on Delta, DEN on United.
 

Amtrak25

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During 1978 - 1979, on a per train basis, ridership on both routes we're about the same. That was also when Greyhound ran 4 Chicago - Seattle buses per day. There is now no Greyhound service at all between Minneapolis and Spokane. Jefferson Lines runs a fragmented system of 1 or 2 buses a day instead, with multiple transfers.

Population is far heavier on the North Coast Hiawatha route, and airports are not affordable or useful substitutes for much missing bus and train service. The route can support both. There is also the presence of Yellowstone Park, far more visited than Glacier Park, accessible from Bozeman and Livingston.

Romney is interesting since his 2012 Presidential campaign platform called for killing Amtrak. For whatever reason, he seems to want the Pioneer back, and sees the collaborative political effort with the NCH would enhance its chances. But accessing Boise and getting of the UP line onto Steel Bridge in Portland are major inhibitors in restoring it due to trackage alterations since 1997.
 

Seaboard92

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Actually there would be a way to do it. But UP would balk at it so much they might just restore the one crossover needed to access the Steel Bridge. Run via Albina Yard and it's pass thru track. But that would be something UP would hate so much that they would probably rather install the crossover.
 

jis

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I always get worried when the smaller stations served are elided in discussions of what the train would serve.

Just for a quick refresher, the North Coast Hiawatha stops between Fargo and Spokane were:

Valley City ND
Jamestown ND
Bismarck ND
Mandan ND
Dickinson ND
Glendive MT
Miles City MT
Forsyth MT
Billings MT
Livingston MT
Bozeman MT
Butte MT*
Deer Lodge MT*
Missoula MT
Paradise MT
Sandpoint ID (shared with EB)

*Stations not accessible anymore on the through route. The train would instead be routed via Helena.

Additionally, when the NCH ran, the NCH served the present EB route in these segments and the Empire Builder served:
between Twin Cities and Fargo:

Wilmar MN
Morris MN
Breckenridge MN

and between Pasco and Seattle:

Yakima WA
Ellensburg WA
East Auburn WA

Neither the EB nor the NCH served any station between Pasco WA and Vancouver WA. The south coast of the Columbia river in that segments was served by the Pioneer.
 
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neroden

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The real interesting thing about the BSPRA wanting a study for the North Coast Hiawatha is that they already commissioned one earlier this year, performed by the Rail Passengers Association:

https://static1.squarespace.com/sta...50007612/North+Coast+Hiawatha+Restoration.pdf

This study, which they unequivocally stand behind (their words), actually shows that a restored North Coast Hiawatha would have little utility in North Dakota and Montana. While constantly harping that such a train would serve more population centers in those states than the Empire Builder, their own study shows that in pre-Covid FY2019, ridership on the Empire Builder in North Dakota and Montana was 8,276 and 1,720 greater respectively than would be achieved by a North Coast Hiawatha. The study also shows that while North Dakota and Montana have 49% of the route mileage, the two states would produce only 24% of the ridership. Fargo/Moorhead has a metro population about twice that of Bismarck/Mandan, but ridership at the later would be twice that of the former. Sandpoint, Idaho would have much greater ridership than Spokane, and the Tri-Cities would have greater ridership than Seattle. And most amazingly, Bozeman – the stop for Yellowstone National Park, the Big Sky Resort, and Montana’s largest university with by far the largest number of airline boardings in the state because of those factors – would have an annual ridership only 86% that of East Glacier Park along the Empire Builder route, a stop that is only open five months of the year. The study makes no accommodation for tourism or pretty much anything else, it’s all about cherrypicked county population and uniform applied percentages. And the study does not take into account any of these mandatory parameters: Train schedule, station infrastructure, station amenities, additional track infrastructure, crew districts, or infrastructure for mechanical and train inspection requirements.



A more thorough analysis of the RPA “study” is at:

North Coast Hiawatha Restoration Study ridership analysis - Empire Builder Advocates
I have to point out that RPA does not currently have the tools to do a ridership study, and did not do one. RPA did the economic impact study but it was based on someone else's ridership study. I am not sure who exactly was responsible for the ridership study, which is what you challenged, but I know RPA's tools take the ridership as an input, so someone else gave it to RPA.
 

Willbridge

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Actually, there would be a way to do it. But UP would balk at it so much they might just restore the one crossover needed to access the Steel Bridge. Run via Albina Yard and it's pass thru track. But that would be something UP would hate so much that they would probably rather install the crossover.
That is just one of three Steel Bridge alternatives that we would have brought up for consideration in 2009. [C.B. Hall on behalf of the Washington and Oregon state rail passenger groups and myself on behalf of the Colorado/Wyoming rail passenger group worked on what would have been public input had it been permitted.]

The alternatives include:
  1. Running via Albina and Fir. Yes, the UP would hate that, but it has been clear that they would hate anything.
  2. A back-up move on the north leg of the East Portland wye.
  3. A back-up move on the new south leg of the East Portland wye (which accesses the former SP Brooklyn Yard).
  4. Restoring the Sullivans Gulch connection. This costliest capital alternative provides the best service. The 2009 study chose #4 without saying anything about #1,2,3 and it did not mention that Oregon was considering paying part of the cost to restore that link. $$Ka-ching$$
As #1, 2, and 3 each take 15 to 20 minutes more running time, the choice of routes could be left up to dispatching circumstances.

Running via Fir opens the possibility of a station stop handy to the cluster of hotels around Portland International Airport, but then would work against a move to #4 later on.

Domeliner City of Portland heads east onto the Sullivans Gulch line. This link was removed when the former SP Brooklyn Yard was connected to Sullivans Gulch.
---_0199.jpg

East Portland tower is gone but wye track layout remains. View is looking north from the south leg.
---_0196.jpg

East Portland tower supervised a busy place. SP switcher on the right, coming from Albina Yard, was waiting for SP12 to clear the junction further south, as was the SP&S switcher.
02.jpg
 

Willbridge

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But accessing Boise and getting of the UP line onto Steel Bridge in Portland are major inhibitors in restoring it due to trackage alterations since 1997.
The Boise issue adding to costs in the 2008-2009 "study" was not a surprise, given that opponents of the Pioneer project in 1976 raised the issue of the line between Boise and Orchard as an insurmountable obstacle -- raised by people in DC who had never seen it. Alternatives were not considered in 2008-2009.
  1. On the final Pioneer schedule pattern (2 business days, 1 night, SEA<>DEN), the new service could have been divided into a Talgo daylight SEA<>BOI and a BOI<>DEN section of long-distance equipment continuing to CHI. The late Don Leap of Portland proposed just running Talgos SEA<>BOI, based on the turnover on the former service at the Idaho capital city.
  2. The more C. B. Hall and I looked into issues the more we came to realize that a flip of the SEA<>DEN schedule pattern should be considered (2 nights, 1 business day). With a slower overall running time, the new service could reverse itself back to Nampa.
  3. The new service could stop at Kuna, with the cost of an Omaha-sized new station.
  4. The City of Boise could be asked to pay part of the cost of re-opening the Orchard line.
PIO ID 06 Boise Depot.jpg
 

Mark Meyer

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Remember the Builder does better on it's route because there are no competitors. I don't believe Greyhound services those northern towns on US2, and the only commercial airports on the Builder are these.

Illinois
ORD
MDW

Wisconsin
MKE
LSE (LaCrosse)

Minnesota (Also pronounced Minnesnowta)
MSP
STC (St. Cloud) Only flights on Allegiant

North Dakota
FAR
GFK
MOT
XWA (Williston)

Montana
GPI (Klassipel/Whitefish)
WYS (West Yellowstone) Only seasonal too.

Idaho
No air service to Sandpoint

Washington
GEG (Spokane)
EAT (Wenatchee)
PSC (Pasco/Tri Cities)
PAE (Everett)
SEA

Oregon
PDX

Now lets look at the North Coast Limited route

I'm going to exclude the states where it shares a route with the Builder.
North Dakota
FAR
JMS (Jamestown)
BIS (Bismark)
DIK (Dickerson)

Montana
BIL (Billings)
BZN (Bozeman)
HLN (Helena)
MSO (Missoula)

Washington
YKM (Yakima)

And it should be noted of all of those the busy airports are all on the North Coast Limited route. So the train will have to fight more for some marketshare. And almost all of those airports service MSP or SLC on Delta, DEN on United.

On the Empire Builder route, you omitted DVL (Devils Lake), OLF (Wolf Point), GGW (Glasgow), and HVR (Havre). All Essential Air Service locations to the tune of several million dollars annually in subsidy at each location. Also, Columbus, Wisconsin is the stop for Madison which has commercial air service, and Staples is the stop for Brainerd, which has air service.

FCA (or Glacier Park International) serves Kalispell (the spelling was so off, just had to note it)

WYS is nowhere close to the Empire Builder route. It's at West Yellowstone at the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

For the North Coast Limited route: In Montana Glendive (GDV) has Essential Air Service.

--Mark Meyer
 
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