Mt. Rainier from Kent, WA, photo by C. Hamilton
Mt. Rainier from Kent, WA, photo by C. Hamilton

Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit

The Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit brings passenger railroad organizations, advocates and enthusiasts together with local, state and federal elected officials and policymakers, host railroads and rail infrastructure experts to educate, innovate and coordinate for the restoration, expansion and enhancement of passenger rail service across the Greater Northwest. The 2nd Annual Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit took place in Boise, ID on July 19th and 20th, 2023, and featured joint programming with the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) Annual Summit.

The passage in late 2021 of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has created the best opportunity in decades to expand and improve passenger rail access, and no region of the country is in more need of that expansion and improvement than the Greater Northwest. Now is the time for rail advocates and policymakers from across the region to start coordinating to ensure the “second rail revolution” doesn’t pass us by.

Legislators in attendance at the Rail Summit included Rep. Fey, Rep. Leavitt, and Rep. Donaghy, Sen Matt Boehnke, and Rep. Cindy Ryu from Washington. The Legislative Panel: Connecting Our States included

From Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

This week was rail week in Boise! We welcomed the Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit to the City of Trees where we had the privilege of hearing from Stephen Gardner, CEO of Amtrak, as the keynote speaker. Amtrak, in collaboration with local and state governments across the nation and supported by the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, is actively working to revitalize passenger rail travel in the United States.

The Federal Railroad Administration was also in town as part of their Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study, evaluating the restoration of daily long-distance intercity rail passenger service and exploring potential new Amtrak routes.

This focus on rail in Boise fills me with hope for the future of transportation in our city and throughout the region. The City of Boise, along with Salt Lake City and other partners, has applied for the transformative Corridor ID Program offered by the Federal Rail Administration. If we are successful, this program will enable us to address crucial questions about the corridor and make significant progress in reconnecting our communities through rail.

I feel the significance of restoring passenger rail service in Boise in every conversation I have with folks who almost always share a personal story of connection with loved ones. The corridor between Caldwell and Salt Lake City is home to 4.4 million people and encompasses six prestigious colleges and universities. By establishing connections between these major metropolitan areas, we unlock incredible opportunities for families, education, recreation, commerce, and more.

I want to assure you that our commitment to advancing rail connectivity remains steadfast. We fully understand the positive impact it will have on our city and the immense opportunities it will create for everyone who lives, works and plays in our city.

Comments from an attendee from Washington state:

Rep. Fey believes UHSR would not pass the Legislature now. He said that the state needs to decide what the priority is for rail; we can't afford or justify doing both Amtrak Cascades upgrades and the ultra HSR program. Rep. Fey considers that rejection of the CID program application for the ultra program would be the end of state funding for it. He wants to take action when the political conditions are more favorable. Yet, he still has energy and enthusiasm for making the choice of favoring near-term investment in existing corridors over the ultra program and its protracted time frame. I emphasized the need for meaningful improvements in a climate-sensitive time frame, and Fey seemed to agree with the course of action. But he might want to use different rationale for justifying such a policy and priority choice, such as mobility equity and traffic safety (mode shift of freight to rail).

Whether you're concerned about the environment, job creation or ease of travel, expansion of rail will bring significant benefits to the Pacific NW. We can take advantage of the current massive investment from the Federal Government into passenger rail to build a seamless region-wide rail service.

Federal funding available for rail transportation can provide:

Previous Summits

2022 Summit

AANW had significant participation in planning and execution of the 2022 Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit in Billings, MT. We conducted several presentations, including “Returning Passenger Trains to a Station Near You: Why and How,” “Passenger Rail/Freight Rail Synchronicity,” and “Environmental Benefits.”

We were also members of the planning committee; created, managed and hosted the Summit website; and managed online registration.

2021 Summit

As the centerpiece of the 2021 Train Treks, Dan Bilka, Patrick Carnahan, and Charlie Hamilton participated in the 30th Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Summit in Big Sky, Montana.

Charlie moderated PNWER’s first-ever Rail Forum; Patrick gave two presentations during the Forum alongside colleagues Dan Bilka, Elaine Clegg, David Strohmaier, Anna Zivarts, and Abe Zumwalt; and AAWA Government Affairs Director Luis Moscoso led a closing discussion with state representative Andrew Barkis of Washington and state senator Chris Gorsek of Oregon.