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Proposed Utah passenger rail corridors do not receive FRA money, face uncertain paths forward

By Rob Nielsen - | Dec 11, 2023

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

Amtrak's eastbound California Zephyr arrives in Salt Lake City early in the morning of May 27, 2023.

A pair of rail corridors aiming to restore passenger rail service between Boise and Las Vegas via Salt Lake City will not be getting funding.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration announced the recipients of $8.2 billion in funding for several passenger rail projects and corridor studies across the country. This included several proposals as part of the Corridor Identification and Development, or Corridor ID, Program.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to think smart and think big about the future of rail in America, and we are taking full advantage of the resources we have to advance world-class passenger rail services nationwide,” FRA Administrator Amit Bose said in a statement announcing the recipients. “Today’s announcement is another step forward as we advance transformative projects that will carry Americans for decades to come and provide them with convenient, climate-friendly alternatives to congested roads and airports. We’re thinking about the future too with comprehensive and systematic planning efforts to transform the U.S. intercity passenger rail network now and in the years to come.”

Among those applying were several entities in Utah, Idaho and Nevada, including the Utah Department of Transportation, the Idaho Transportation Department and other associated agencies within those states. One plan called for researching the restoration of service between Boise and Salt Lake City — much of which was covered by Amtrak’s Pioneer when service was terminated in 1997. This service included Ogden, though at the time, the service completely bypassed Salt Lake City and turned east at Ogden on its way to Chicago. A second corridor proposal would’ve studied restoration of service from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, a route that was last served by Amtrak’s Desert Wind, which also ended service in 1997.

John Tomlinson, communication manager with the Idaho Transportation Department, told the Standard-Examiner on Monday that officials understood that getting the grant wasn’t a given.

“ITD recognizes that this definitely was a competitive grant,” he said. “We put in the best application that we could knowing that there were no guarantees that our application would be awarded because of the competitive nature of this grant.”

ITD headed up the push for the corridor between Boise and Salt Lake City.

Tomlinson said ITD hasn’t heard anything about why the project was denied funding, but he believes they’ll learn more soon and then make further decisions about moving forward.

“We haven’t heard anything from the FRA or USDOT, but we’re anticipating an official decision letter is going to arrive soon,” he said. “We’re just going to wait for that decision letter, and then in that decision letter, we’re anticipating there’s going to be some instructions on requesting a debrief. That would be the next step.”

John Gleason, UDOT senior communications director, provided a short emailed statement on the matter to the Standard-Examiner.

“We are always looking for transportation solutions to address growth and help people get where they’re going safely and conveniently. Our request for funding an exploratory study of the feasibility of passenger rail between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas was not granted. At this time we have no current plans to move the study forward.”

UDOT headed up the corridor plan between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Tomlinson said while there aren’t concrete plans to pursue corridor grants in the future, he believes the requisite interest is still in place to seek expanded passenger rail service in southern Idaho and the region as a whole.

“There is interest in that,” he said. “It’s something that could really help with connectivity.”

For the moment, the only regular intercity passenger service in Utah is Amtrak’s California Zephyr, with one train in each direction per day serving Salt Lake City, Provo, Helper and Green River.


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