Could passenger rail service return to Weiser?

Philip A. Janquart

After 26-year absence, All Aboard Northwest says it could happen

In 1997, Amtrak discontinued its passenger rail line through southern Idaho.

 As quickly as it had stopped, however, the push to bring it back started. Today, after 26 years, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel.
 Hosted by the nonprofit Weiser Architectural Preservation Committee (WAPC), representatives of the passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Northwest (AANW) and the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA) are bringing their 2023 “Train Trek” to Weiser. 
 Scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday, July 21 at the Weiser Train Depot, which is owned by the WAPC, the presentation is intended to share the status of the groups’ efforts in helping to revive passenger rail service and, more specifically, what it would mean for Weiser.
 “We’ll have a discussion about what the current situation is in terms of bringing back passenger rail and then we want feedback, to have a discussion with the folks in Weiser so they can tell us what their priorities are,” AANW’s Charles Hamilton told the Signal American on Thursday.
 Dan Bilka, of AORTA, will also be in attendance, as well as additional representatives of All Aboard Washington, an affiliate of AANW.
 “Since passenger rail service through Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho was discontinued in 1997, several studies confirm that there is a significant need for, and interest in, passenger trains that would offer local and regional connections,” the AANW stated in a press release issued last week.
 Dubbed, “The Pioneer,” the discontinued line once linked Salt Lake City, Utah with Seattle, Wash., via Pocatello, Boise, eastern Oregon, and Portland, Ore. There were several additional stops along the way, including Weiser.
 When the line was shut down, it left rural communities with fewer transportation alternatives.
 The staunch effort to revive the country’s passenger rail lines received a tremendous boost in 2021 through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which set aside $66 billion for passenger and freight rail infrastructure throughout the U.S. 
 It also earmarked funds for a long list of other infrastructure necessities across America such as roads and bridges, highway and pedestrian safety, public transit, broadband, ports and waterways, airports, and more.
 Before their arrival in Weiser, the delegates will be attending the second annual Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit taking place in Boise July 19 and 20. Amtrak CEO, Stephen Gardner, is the keynote speaker. 
 The summit features joint programming with the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region annual summit that takes place July 16-20, with 550 legislators, business leaders, academics, and policymakers discussing regional economic best practices and trade concerns. 
 Hamilton said reviving rail lines will be mutually beneficial for rail line companies and the communities they serve.
 “We talk about the benefits in terms of the economy because, obviously, if you have a train, then you are going to have more tourism and people will be able to get to medical appointments, and so on, more easily,” he said. “Then there is the environment: while we are certainly not recommending people get rid of their cars, the advantage of having something other than automobiles is a good one.”
 The rail lines don’t seem opposed to the idea, especially considering they stand to make some money out of the deal while receiving upgrades to their infrastructure.
 “I can’t speak for them but, basically, they’ll tell you that as long as what we are proposing does not adversely impact their freight service and as long as they get compensated fairly, they’re Ok with it,” Hamilton said, noting that Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail company, runs on track owned by private railroad companies.
 “The way it would work is that Union Pacific would need to be cooperative and they would need to be compensated for their line being used … and while the track does exist, it would probably need to be upgraded for safety purposes and there would be signage, some double tracking, and station improvements because they have to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but there is money to do that.”
 Hamilton said part of the $66 billion earmarked for rail service will be allotted to communities through grants to update or refurbish existing depots that now serve as tourist attractions, museums, or have been repurposed in other ways.
 “Absolutely, yes; that would be the sort of thing that would happen,” Hamilton said when asked if the Weiser Depot could potentially receive funds. “Generally, it is a cooperative venture between the federal government, the state and local governments and, again, there would be funding for that.”
 Tony Edmondson, chairman of the WAPC, is cautious about whether the Weiser depot could once again become an active station.
 “I am sure hoping that they could shed some light on that,” he told the Signal American. “It’s not something any of us explored in the past because the possibility, or the reality, of that … well, the planets haven’t been aligned for that outcome. This is, perhaps, the first step down a road that will lead to that, so we are open to learning with everyone else.”
 Edmondson said the Weiser depot had already been retired when the line was discontinued, Union Pacific installing a plexiglass-type enclosure on depot property in its place.
 The Federal Rail Association is currently conducting its Daily Long-Distance Service Study to evaluate the feasibility of restoring services. 
 “The study will be coming out this fall and then Congress will have to decide what they want to put the money into,” Hamilton said. “It will certainly happen, but I don’t have a timeline because we just don’t know.”
 To register for Friday’s event in Weiser, visit
 Community members, civic leaders, and all interested parties are welcome to attend the event, sharing their thoughts and asking questions about the return of passenger rail service in Weiser.


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

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