Glacier Natl. Park, MT, photo by C. Hamilton
Glacier Natl. Park, MT, photo by C. Hamilton

All Aboard Northwest Participates in FRA Long-Distance Study Workshops

The Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Long-Distance Service Study is evaluating potential restoration of Amtrak Daily long-distance service. The study's advisory group held its third meeting in Seattle on February 8. Among the attendees were Dan Bilka, representing All Aboard Northwest, and Gary Wirt, representing All Aboard Washington. Meeting materials are available online at

The FRA has identified 15 long-distance passenger rail routes for potential restoration/creation as shown on this map. Note that the map is conceptual and is not intended to show all station stops on each route.

Proposed Network of Preferred Routes (national map)

If service is restored, many Greater Northwest US cities would directly benefit from 7 of the 15 routes including Yakima, Boise, Baker City, Rapid City, Casper, Bismarck, Billings, Helena, Pocatello, Rock Springs, Albert Lea, Sioux City, Alliance, and more.

The 7 routes would provide service to what is generally defined as the Greater Northwest Region. Six of these routes are in the “Northwest Region” as defined by FRA. The seventh route, Minneapolis/St. Paul to San Antonio, is within the FRA defined “MidWest” and “Central” regions.

Northwest Region • Denver - Houston • Los Angeles - Denver • Seattle - Denver • Denver - Minneapolis/St. Paul • Seattle - Chicago • El Paso - Billings

What the study is

From the project website:

“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is conducting an Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study to evaluate the restoration of daily long-distance intercity rail passenger service and the potential for new Amtrak long-distance routes. This study will ultimately create a long-term vision for long-distance passenger rail service and identify capital projects and funding needed to implement that vision.”

What we learned

After the study is completed later this year, FRA will present a report to Congress containing recommendations for a “proposed network of preferred routes”. The report will essentially be FRA’s vision for what a restored national long-distance passenger rail network should look like. Implementation of that vision (restoration of routes), will depend on future Congressional appropriations for infrastructure improvements (sidings, platforms, stations, signaling, etc.) equipment (locomotives, coaches, etc.), and ongoing operational support. Just as our national airspace system receives millions of dollars annually in federal support, it is reasonable to expect our federal government to provide funding for an improved national passenger rail system for various economic, social, and environmental reasons.

It is anticipated that the next and final series of regional meetings will include:

FRA has engaged the Class I host railroads in discussion of the 15 routes recommended for restoration/creation. Details of those discussions have not been provided by FRA, however it is anticipated that there will be ongoing discussion & negotiation with the host railroads.

All Aboard Northwest was in the room and at the table with the Federal Railroad Administration and other key stakeholders like state DOTs.

FRA Long-Distance Service Study meeting in Seattle, February 8, 2024

Proposed “preferred route” options

Within the 15 preferred route options, FRA suggested various route alignment options. The proposed preferred routes are not “set in stone”. The various route options suggested by FRA will need further discussion & evaluation.

Here are two examples of proposed routes that have suggested route options worthy of consideration:

Seattle – Denver Selected Proposed Preferred Route and Optional Alignments Considered

Seattle – Chicago Selected Proposed Preferred Route and Optional Alignments Considered

What are the next steps?

The final round of long distance study workshops will be held in Spring 2024, after which the final report will be delivered to Congress later this year. Once delivered, it is imperative that we in the Greater Northwest, and indeed nationally, push our Congressional delegations to act on and implement these nationally-critical essential transportation services to our communities.

We as a nation are spending billions of dollars on the ever-escalating cost of rail projects on the Northeast Corridor. We must also provide similar funding for service to our Greater Northwest communities. The cost to our society is far more in the long term without these essential services.

FRA is asking for public comments regarding the Meeting 3 presentation materials at the link above. Your factual and constructive comments are helpful in developing the final recommendations. Comments are particularly beneficial if they address the following evaluation criteria that FRA is using to determine the preferred routes:

Evaluation Criteria 1 Large and Small Communities Metropolitan Area Travel Flows  Travel Demand: Number of annual trips per mile for all MSA trips pairs on the route option (2021 NextGen NHTS National Passenger Origin- Destination Data) 2 Focus on Rural Rural Accessibility  Transportation Disadvantaged Access: Population per mile (USDOT Justice 40 Disadvantaged areas)  Tribal Access: Population per mile (American Indian, American Indian Tribal Subdivisions, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Areas)  Higher Education Access: Number of higher education institutions (Public and private not-for-profit)  Medical Center Access: Number of medical centers (Level I or II trauma centers, cancer facilities, veteran facilities)  National Park Access: Number NPS lands (National Park Service national parks, recreation areas, and preserves) 3 Enhance Connectivity Geographic Coverage/Network Connectivity  Access for MSAs Unserved by Existing Passenger Rail: Number and population of MSAs (Population of census tracts in MSAs)  Restored Portions of Discontinued Routes: Percent of route miles that include discontinued long-distance routes 4 Reflect Public Engagement Stakeholder Input  Feedback from Stakeholders: Top quartile by volume of comments received supporting markets and segments in route options

We encourage you to explain to FRA how a particular route segment benefits your community, and/or how or a change in a proposed preferred route segment using a suggested route option would provide additional benefits over the currently proposed preferred segment. Comments may be submitted to FRA Long-Distance Service Study via the project website homepage or Email: [email protected].

Comments must be received at FRA by March 8, 2024 in order to be included in their analysis and conclusions.

What are our asks of Congress?

In simple terms:

  1. Fully Authorize the 15 long-distance routes recommended by the FRA.
  2. Fund the infrastructure and equipment required.
  3. Restore the 15 routes ASAP! It took less than 10 years for the US to put a man on the moon, from concept to reality. For the benefit to our environment and society, we must make a commitment to complete the entire route structure recommended by FRA by a date certain; rather than on a piecemeal basis over an indefinite period and over multiple administrations.

While many produce elaborate talk of doing things and commitment to inclusion, we are putting our time and efforts into ensuring that real results are produced!

Pleae donate to keep our work moving forward!

Dan Bilka, All Aboard Northwest

Gary Wirt, All Aboard Washington