It would be great if Amtrak’s much anticipated preliminary report recommended restoring the Pioneer route from Salt Lake City to Portland. It has been 12 years since the passenger trains stopped to pick up passengers in
La Grande. For many people the train travel option was very popular. The route should be revived if it can be made more financially feasible and gain a higher passenger and freight usage.
It seems appropriate that the Pioneer Route be revived. This is an important piece of the national transportation infrastructure. Any federal stimulus package should also invest in reviving the Pioneer route.
If Amtrak gives the thumb’s-up with the preliminary report, and its final report due to Congress in October, that would put the ball in Congress’ court to see that this important leg on the national train system is restored.
Since 1997 the dynamics have changed. Last year’s $4.50 a gallon gasoline fueled much discussion on the need for long-range public transportation in the region. And with gas prices still yo-yoing near national highs, the region does need transportation options.
What’s more, the recent federal stimulus package was designed to revamp important infrastructure. Anyone who looks at the big picture knows the Pioneer route is an important part of a long-range plan to move people and goods across the country.
The Amtrak route passes through some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, and that alone should increase ridership. The route goes from the Rocky Mountains to the Blue Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge. Those who love trains talk about the passage through the Blue Mountains as being incredibly scenic.
Sure, Congress must look at the cost effectiveness of the system and the demand for ridership and freight systemwide before it commits to bringing back the Pioneer route. And especially now with the recession on, local communities are in no position to contribute significant subsidies to make Amtrak cost effective. It’s also true, La Grande’s depot is no longer in great shape and needs refurbishing.
But the local area should get a piece of the national budget pie. Congress has approved spending $13 billion over the next five years on Amtrak, and that spending should include some investment in the Pioneer route. What’s more, part of the $1.3 billion in federal stimulus cash should be invested in the Pioneer. Local residents who want Amtrak back should write to their congressional delegation and keep the pressure up to get the Pioneer route back on track.