Amtrak cwash

An Amtrak commuter train. (AP file)

Central Washington had Amtrak passenger rail service via Stampede Pass (Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks) until October 1981, when service was rerouted over Stevens Pass.

In 2001, the Washington State Department of Transportation conducted a feasibility study to evaluate the possibility of restoring service over the Stampede Pass route. The study concluded that “passenger rail service is physically and operationally feasible along the Stampede Pass route.” That study, however, did not include an estimate of potential demand.

Fast-forward 18 years to 2019. At the urging of All Aboard Washington, a nonprofit organization that supports better passenger rail service in the Pacific Northwest, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation directing the Legislative Joint Transportation Committee to conduct “a feasibility analysis of an east-west intercity passenger rail system for Washington state.” The analysis will look specifically at the Stampede Pass corridor and service to Auburn, Cle Elum, Yakima, Ellensburg, Tri-Cities, Toppenish and Spokane. The analysis, to be completed by June 30, will include projection of ridership and revenues, potential operating scenarios including number and times of departures, assessment of current infrastructure conditions including station stop locations, an assessment of community support through focus groups, and an on-line survey.

The analysis and online survey are underway. The survey is about travel that you have made within this corridor in the past six months. Information about where and how you travel can help transportation agencies plan for future needs, so your careful response to this survey is very important in helping to shape the future of this region.

The survey is available at http://bit.ly/YHR-trainsurvey. Enter the survey code “train.”

Community support is an important element of the analysis. Without community support we will never see passenger rail service in Central Washington. Why? Because we need the support of our elected representatives to convince the Legislature that passenger rail service east of the Cascades is as important as ferry service and rail service are west of the Cascades.

The 2001 study estimated that $350 million in infrastructure improvements would be needed to implement passenger rail service on the Stampede Pass route. If that sounds expensive, consider that the cost to build four Olympic class ferries was $563 million. Community support and legislative support are needed to acquire such large sums. You can show your support by participating in the online survey and attending an upcoming event in Yakima.

To increase awareness, All Aboard Washington and the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring a Passenger Rail Summit from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 14 at the Yakima Convention Center. Speakers from Washington State DOT Rail Division, the Joint Legislative Transportation Committee, and STEER, the joint committee contractor conducting the analysis, will present updates. The general public, business owners, and state/local government officials are invited to attend. Details and registration are at https://www.aawa.us.

Gary Wirt lives in Yakima.