Amtrak’s Pioneer line used to run 24 hours a day, carrying passengers from Portland, Oregon, to Boise, Idaho, to Salt Lake City, Utah, and back. In 1997, however, the last Amtrak left the Boise Depot and the city hasn’t had a passenger train since.
As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the federal government recently earmarked over $60 billion to improve and restore train systems across the United States. Part of this bill requires that the Federal Railroad Administration conduct studies to assess the feasibility of reopening all discontinued railroad lines in the country.
This includes the Pioneer line running through Boise, and city officials have made it clear they are more than willing to assist the study.
In January, the Boise Metro Chamber hosted a discussion panel on the possibility of using federal dollars to help revive the Pioneer line.
“We have a presidential administration that loves railroads and has dedicated hundreds of billions of dollars to Amtrak, so why not take advantage of this opportunity right now?” said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber. “We’ve talked to mayors of every city from Caldwell to Kuna to Mountain Home to Pocatello to Salt Lake, and everybody is on board with this.”
Applications to the federal government are due in March, after which they will fully fund the study to determine what it would take to reopen the line.
The City of Boise is taking the lead in submitting an application with help from the Boise Metro Chamber who is “coordinating the actual support from up and down the line,” according to Connors.
If the Pioneer line were to be reopened, Connors said that this could also potentially allow for a high-speed transit route to be established in the Treasure Valley, which could replace many people’s current means of commuting.
“We’ve been asking for years and years for some kind of transit in this valley,” Connors said. “We really need it with all this growth that we have, and if we could actually create a transit route, that would be a wonderful result of all of this.”
The addition of a local transit route could be useful to the many off-campus students that have to commute to Boise State from other parts of the Treasure Valley.
The federal study is expected to be completed in the next two years. If reopening the Pioneer line is deemed feasible, it could begin operations in the next five to 10 years.
Roughly 34% of Boise State students come from out of state, according to Boise State’s enrollment data, with many students coming from Idaho’s surrounding states such as Oregon and Utah.
Environmental studies major Pia Goodell, who grew up in Portland, is in her second year at Boise State. Goodell said she only makes it home two or three times per school year because “it can be a pain to get back.”
“Over Thanksgiving, I drove and ended up having to get winter tires for the way back because the roads were sketchy up in the (mountains),” Goodell said. “I would definitely use the Amtrak if we had one because you don’t have to worry. You have WiFi, comfortable space, a bathroom and you can do homework on the way.”
Reopening the Pioneer line would give students an alternative option to driving or flying from out of state, which could be especially useful during the winter months when road conditions are often poor.