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New details of ongoing study add to hopes for restored Amtrak service in Ogden

By Rob Nielsen - | Feb 24, 2024

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

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

OGDEN — A month ago, the prospect of returning intercity passenger rail service to Ogden seemed almost as distant as the ever-increasing amount of time since it last had such services.

However, there may be a light at the end of that tunnel, and it is an oncoming train — perhaps more than one of them.

This week, the Federal Railroad Administration released the results of its third Regional Working Group Meeting for the ongoing Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study. In the slideshow presentation, there is a map labeled “Proposed Network of Proposed Routes” and breakdowns of each route.

One route, intended to connect Los Angeles and Denver, includes a preferred route that would largely restore the former Desert Wind route, linking Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. The preferred route then continues through Ogden and traverses southern Wyoming before dropping into Denver.

A second route, intended to link Seattle to Denver, largely restores the Pioneer route from Seattle to Ogden by way of Portland and Boise. From Ogden, the preferred routing takes the train on to Salt Lake City and then Denver, passing over the current route of the California Zephyr.

In each case, alternate routings also are offered for the proposals that would bypass Ogden. Both the Pioneer and Desert Wind were eliminated from Amtrak’s network in 1997.

Initiated as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, according to the study’s website, the study aims to explore restoration of previously abandoned services and a host of other factors.

The study includes several other proposed connections between cities and metropolitan areas that don’t currently have direct rail service between each other, including Houston-New York City, San Antonio-Minneapolis/St. Paul and the San Francisco Bay area-Dallas/Fort Worth. There’s also a handful of unique routes, such as Denver-Minneapolis/St. Paul by way of Rapid City and Sioux Falls in South Dakota — a state that has never had Amtrak service since it took over the bulk of intercity passenger rail traffic in 1971. Another long-distance proposal would link Phoenix and Minneapolis/St. Paul by way of Albuquerque, Kansas City and Omaha.

This news comes two months after it was announced that two proposed passenger rail corridors in Utah — Boise-Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City-Las Vegas — would not receive funds from the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development Program.

Jordan Backman, urban planning manager with the Utah Department of Transportation, told the Standard-Examiner that there is a major difference between these two programs.

“This is a study that’s being conducted by FRA specifically looking at Amtrak long-distance service — 750 miles or more,” he said. “The Corridor ID does have some overlap with that, but the routes that we were looking at — the Salt Lake to Vegas and Salt Lake to Boise that Idaho submitted — those are shorter than the long-distance routes. And a long-distance route would be Amtrak-run and supported financially. These shorter routes — Salt Lake to Vegas and Salt Lake to Boise — would be state-supported routes.”

Backman said the state has received feedback from the FRA regarding the Corridor ID program.

“We had a followup with the FRA,” he said. “We got some feedback on our application and they pointed out a couple of areas for potential improvement. That’s something we’re looking at over the next while before the next NOFO (notice of funding opportunity) comes out.”

He said highlighted points about what hindered the initial bids included a lack of quantitative info and a need to better identify funding sources, and added that UDOT is considering reapplying the next time the Corridor ID program is offered.

Backman said UDOT is among those stakeholders participating in the FRA’s long-distance study.

“We have been involved in attending the workshops and providing input,” he said.

The long-distance study’s stakeholders are set to hold one more meeting this spring and will announce the results of the study afterward. Implementation largely will be driven by Amtrak and its priorities.

Backman said UDOT will continue to explore the potential for expanding passenger rail service in the region.

“There has definitely been some interest expressed in it,” he said. “This is something we can look into as we participate in these studies for FRA and through Corridor ID.”


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