Options for restoring service

As we face yet another round of freight congestion on the route of the Empire Builder, it is more imperative than ever to offer rail alternatives for the Northwest. We recently received this comment from a website visitor, which we’re sharing.

Have you considered a boot-strap approach to restoring service?

I know Amtrak will consider operation by private operators so you might consider the equivalent of a “Farmer’s Coop” approach to purchasing equipment. The equipment that might be suitable is made by US Railcar and is self powered, can have a ‘bistro’ and can pull up to two regular coach and or sleeper cars. I think you would need about 7 such railcars to restore service.

You could purchase the equipment through a coop arrangements where each city with a stop on the route could purchase shares. You could also seek out grants for the new equipment. You can hold fundraisers in the cities involved and give the host city shares based upon the donations of citizens who attend the fundraising event in the named city.

The plan has the advantage of some new equipment, for PR and reliability. The ability to use older equipment on lease from Amtrak to cover your need as ridership grows. As well as the use of modern and cost-effective locomotive power.

If ridership grows to outstrip the Railcar and 2 coach or sleeper model, you can consider further fundraising to purchase additional railcars and run an alternate schedule with two trains a day service.

I hope you give this concept some thought and a little research into the cost involved in securing locomotive power combined with coach capacity as in the US Railcar. This may well prove to be more cost effective than the proposed train from Amtrak and it gives you the added advantage of bringing capital to the table to negotiate the resumption of service.

February 2013 Update

As you notice, we have a new home – www.pioneertrain.org – courtesy of All Aboard Washington, the Evergreen State’s passenger-rail advocacy organization. Our former host, Visit Cheyenne (the Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) has retired from that role, which it fulfilled since the website’s 2009 inauguration. Thanks to their CEO and president, Darren Rudloff, and his staff for their long and able help in getting information about the Pioneer out to you these several years.

And likewise thanks to All Aboard Washington’s Zack Wilhoite and Charles Hamilton for their help with transferring the site, and with its ongoing maintenance. Such matters leave your technically challenged coordinator cowering.

A new and independent study of the feasibility of the Pioneer corridor continues to be our main focus. We have been discussing such a study with the National Center for Intermodal Transportation at Mississippi State University for some time, but our hopes got a major lift recently when Dr. Hugh Medal, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at MSU, expressed interest in performing the study. He has already put together a team from MSU and the University of New Orleans to help him with the work.

This represents major progress, but there remains the usual question: money. Some funds would be available through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers program, but this needs to be matched 50-50 by other sources. Dr. Medal has identified some matching money, but it remains for us to find roughly $50-75,000 to complete the funding.

So….Where do we get that kind of money?

Thus far the Pioneer Restoration Organization has run essentially on volunteer labor. I myself have done little fund-raising in my life, but am learning fast now, as I begin contacting potential backers. The Pioneer effort would benefit greatly from your help right now, as we face this crucial question – a challenge but also and an opportunity to get us to the next crucial stage. Congress, which as ever occupies the key decision-making role, will pay attention to credible academic research. All Congress has had to go on thus far, however, is the Amtrak service feasibility of 2009, which simply restated the old Pioneer’s shortcomings, without the keen eye for opportunities that can turn a good idea into a thriving enterprise.

The future’s Pioneer – or whatever it may be called – would be more than a train. It would from the backbone of an intermodal system that could bring more effective mobility options to an entire swath of the country. The potential public benefit of transportation in the nation’s less populated countryside continues to increase as pressures on the airline industry continue to translate into dismal air service prospects for rural America. As National Association of Railroad Passengers chairman Bob Stewart pointed out recently, more and more smaller communities across the map face a future in which rail could be the only intercity transportation option.

Such is our context, and I hope that we’ll rise to the occasion by renewing our efforts, and focusing them on the potential which an independent study of the Pioneer corridor’s possibilities presents.

All the best,

C.B. Hall, coordinator
[email protected]

June 2011 Update

We have now been assured by Dr. Bethany Stich, assistant professor of public policy and administration in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Mississippi State University, that her services as a researcher are available for performing an independent analysis of the Pioneer’s potential. We feel the prospects are very good for obtaining an analysis that rises above the dismissiveness of the Amtrak-sponsored feasibility study of 2009.

A graduate of Virginia Tech, Dr. Stich has focused her research efforts on “the importance of retaining and revitalizing rail; inland waterway infrastructure; airports as economic drivers; globalization and international trade; freight-based economic development; intermodal development and planning; community development; industry recruitment and retention; sprawl; and citizen involvement,” according to her biography on the MSU website. She recently served as lead author of “An Analysis of the Economic, Workforce and Regional Impacts Associated with the Revitalization of the Columbus & Greenville [MS] Railroad.”

We reached her through the good offices of Gil Carmichael, long-time passenger rail advocate and former federal railroad administrator, of Meridian, MS, whose efforts we very much appreciate.

Next comes the question of funding. We estimate that the study will cost $50,000, and we will be contacting a couple of possible funding sources in the days ahead. Know anyone who wants to contribute $50,000 to a good cause? Please contact me at [email protected]


C.B. Hall