PROPOSAL TO ROUTE THE PIONEER ON THE UNION PACIFIC COULD
OPEN CENTRAL IOWA PASSENGER CORRIDOR
Efforts to "save" the Pioneer which is Amtrak service from Salt Lake
City, UT to Portland, OR could open the Central Iowa corridor to
passenger rail service. Amtrak has proposed operating the Pioneer as a
fast, limited stops train on the Union Pacific from Chicago to the West
Coast. Through Iowa, the train would operate on the former Chicago &
North Western double-track main line, crossing the Mississippi River into
Clinton and crossing the Missouri either at Council Bluffs, or perhaps at
Blair, NE, just west of Missouri Valley, IA.
A recent article in the Denver Post provides detailed information about
the proposal, as well as the reaction of the Union Pacific to it:
AMTRAK CUTS LOOM
By Kit Miniclier, Denver Post Staff Writer
(thanks to "The Denver Post Online")
March 1, 1997 - Fighting for its economic survival, Amtrak has proposed
that its Pioneer passenger train bypass Greeley, Denver, Fort Morgan and
four Nebraska towns in order to speed mail and freight, as well as
passengers, between Portland and Chicago, The Denver Post has learned.
The proposal has surfaced two weeks before the March 15 deadline for
Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado to come up with cash to keep the
beleaguered thrice-weekly Pioneer running beyond its scheduled May 10
expiration date. The fate of both the Pioneer and the Desert Wind, which
goes through Denver and Salt Lake City to Los Angeles three days a week,
are subject to "a wide range of scenarios" being discussed by Amtrak,
owners of the tracks and several state departments of transportation,
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari acknowledged Friday. Service on both
routes was given a six-month reprieve by Congress last fall, when it
appropriated $22.5 million to keep the trains running from until mid-May
in hopes that the states and Amtrak could find funding alternatives.
Whatever happens to the Pioneer and the Desert Wind, the goal is to have
the California Zephyr run from Chicago to Oakland, via Denver, seven days
a week, instead of the present four days. From Oakland, there would be
connections north to Portland or south to Los Angeles, Magliari added.
In a proposal to Amtrak, Idaho and Oregon have suggested eliminating the
Denver-to-Salt Lake City portion of the Pioneer route and initiating
daily service be tween Salt Lake City and Portland. That would eliminate
service across southern Wyoming.
The two states note that the Pioneer parallels the California Zephyr's
route from Denver through Glenwood Canyon and Grand Junction to Salt Lake
City. Their proposal would connect with the Zephyr in Salt Lake and the
coastal Mount Adams train in Portland. Amtrak, on the other hand, has
proposed renaming the Pioneer and eliminating about one-third of its
stops between Cheyenne and Portland, creating a "hot shot" train that could
rush periodicals and small parcels, as well as passengers and other freight,
from Chicago to the West Coast.
However, Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks over which 40
Amtrak trains run, isn't rejoicing at the idea of competing with Amtrak -
which was created by Congress in 1970 to revive the failing passenger rail
industry - for intercity mail and freight business. And Amtrak's proposal
to use UP's heavily booked main line across Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and
Illinois "raises enormous operational problems," UP spokesman Ed Trandahl
said Friday. That is because there are already more than 120 daily freight
trains running between North Platte and Omaha, making it "the busiest
rail corridor in the world," Trandahl said.
"It has been at least 25 years since there were passenger trains on the
route, and it would require substantial capital investments by Amtrak and
modifications of its schedules to mix with freight traffic" on the direct
Omaha-to-Cheyenne UP route, he said. Currently, Amtrak's eastbound
Pioneer turns south at Borie, 10 miles west of Cheyenne, goes through
Greeley to Denver and then heads east on Burlington Northern Railroad
tracks through Fort Morgan and the Nebraska towns of McCook, Holdredge,
Hastings, Lincoln and on to Omaha.
Under the new proposal, Amtrak would make a beeline from Cheyenne to
Omaha and avoid the southern detour. Meanwhile, Amtrak is reviving the
traditional combination of passengers, mail and freight in hopes of
increasing its revenue base sufficiently to become free of federal
operating subsidies by 2002, as it has promised Congress and the White
House it will do. Historically, mail service contracts kept passenger
railroads alive as passengers switched to automobiles, which became
available to the masses after World War II, and the interstate highway
system was launched in 1956. Many passenger trains had mobile postal
cars in which attendants sorted mail between cities and towns, dropping
off mail and picking up outgoing mail without even stopping. However, in
1967 the U.S. Postal Service made the decision to ship all first-class mail
by air, instead of rail.
"And within just four years, private passenger rail succumbed" and Amtrak
went into service, said Chuck Albi, executive director of the Colorado
Today, the U.S. Postal Service has contracts with 11 railroads, including
Amtrak, to haul about 4 billion pounds of third- and fourth-class mail,
bulk advertisements, catalogs and books, said spokesman Al DeSarro. And
DeSarro was surprised to learn that Amtrak already earns $63 million of
the $254 million annual railroad mail pie, because "it is the primarily
transporter of periodicals." In contrast with the quarter-billion dollars
paid for rail service, the Postal Service pays $1.26 billion to 74
commercial airlines annually to move 2.5 billion pounds of mail and
another $1.54 billion for 15,500 trucking companies to haul an
undetermined amount of mail, he added. Amtrak plans to "very much
expand" its mail and develop its express package business, Magliari said.
He confirmed that Amtrak officials are contemplating buying 500 freight
cars outfitted with high-speed undercarriages and that it has already
acquired several "Road Railers." The latter, already in use between New
York City and Florida and Chicago and St. Louis, allow Amtrak to drop
pre-packaged loads of mail within a couple of minutes at designated cities.
"To laymen they look like the 18-wheel trailers you see on I-70, but they
are designed with rail wheels" and can be pulled directly behind a train
and released without being transferred from a flat car or container car,
Except for aircraft, the fastest transportation between most U.S. cities
remains railroads, and there is a huge competitive market for expedited
small-package delivery and other custom freight services, industry
Kit Miniclier can be reached at email@example.com
The Iowa Association for Railroad Passengers (IARP) has encouraged
development of the Central Iowa rail corridor for passenger service. It
has also advocated that the California Zephyr remain on its traditional
route, the Burlington Northern (former CB&Q) between Burlington and
Pacific Junction, IA.
George F. Davison, Jr.