CRAPO QUESTIONS AMTRAK’S NUMBERS
Will also forward comments from Idahoans in response to Pioneer Route study
Washington, DC – Idaho Senator Mike Crapo is questioning the cost figures cited in a preliminary report Amtrak commissioned on the feasibility of restoring passenger rail service to Idaho along the former Pioneer Route. Tomorrow is the deadline for interested parties to comment on the preliminary study released by Amtrak. The final report on the feasibility of restoring the Pioneer Route is due to Congress on October 15th.
While noting the comments from Idahoans coming into his offices remain positive (81% in favor), Crapo said higher than expected startup costs remain a concern. Amtrak’s initial report indicated returning the Pioneer could cost $400 million for track upgrades, new equipment and other concerns, while annual operating costs could reach $40 million.
In his letter, Crapo asked Amtrak to review figures for both cost and ridership. He noted ridership estimates fall behind numbers from 17 years ago despite population gains in Idaho, Oregon and Utah.
“Unfortunately, the draft report appears to understate the ridership levels by using projections at a level nearly 30 percent below the historic high in 1992 and overstates the capital investment requirements and annual costs,” Crapo wrote. “Even under these questionable assumptions, it is important to note that in terms of total subsidy to long-distance routes, the Pioneer would be the sixth smallest out of sixteen.
“The passenger rail experts I have contacted say that there are many more creative and less expensive ways to start and operate the Pioneer Train,” Crapo added. “The report needs to be reworked so that its assumptions can withstand scrutiny and comparison with the other fifteen long-distance trains that Amtrak operates. The goal for the study should be to develop a blueprint to reinstate the Pioneer Train at the lowest capital investment cost that supports safe and efficient operation and to quickly grow the ridership to a level that will bring a farebox recovery and the net cost per passenger mile to the median for Amtrak long-distance trains.”
Crapo said the draft report contains too many “unanswered questions, broad assumptions and rough cost estimates” to stand as is and should be updated. He points to language from the report that suggests capital improvement figures are subject to “significant uncertainty.” He said an independent analysis from the Cascadia Center in Washington State noted that $100 million or more could be saved by the use of existing rolling stock and refurbished cars.
Crapo will also submit more than 200 comments from Idahoans to Amtrak. He has asked Amtrak for a written response to his concerns. Crapo said he also plans to reiterate his invitation for Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman to visit Idaho.
“Idahoans favor reinstating the Pioneer Train at a reasonable cost. I pledge to work with Amtrak to determine how to make this important intercity route feasible and sustainable and look forward to your responses to my questions and the completed study,” Crapo’s letter concluded.