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Idaho Wants Amtrak

South Dakota is too cheap and stuck in the ideological mud to work for an Amtrak line, but equally rural and Republican Idaho is making a real effort to restore passenger rail service:

The effort to bring passenger rail service back through Boise hit high gear after the federal government allocated millions of dollars to study where in the US expanding or reviving Amtrak service.

Boise is one of dozens of cities and regions vying for that money in the Corridor Identification Program, which will be awarded this fall by the U.S. Department of Transportation.…

The rail line between Boise and Salt Lake City is heavily used by freight, but would need major upgrades to handle higher-speed passenger service, and longer side-offs where freight can pull off so passenger trains can speed by. Amtrak and freight carriers like BNSF would also have to work out a shared use schedule.

The conversation about reviving rail service here has been going for years, with bipartisan support from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and many other local leaders [Troy Oppie, “Discussion on Bringing Passenger Train Service Back to Boise Hitting High Gear,” Boise State Public Radio, 2023.07.20].

Amtrak, national service map, revised October 2018.
Amtrak, national service map, revised October 2018.

South Dakota and Wyoming are the only lower-48 states with no Amtrak rail station. Boise to Salt Lake City is a 340-mile trip. Sioux Falls to Minneapolis is a 240-mile trip. The Boise metro area has over 810,000 people, while the Sioux Falls metro has a population of only 290,000.


  1. LCJ 2023-07-22 09:06

    Gov. Norm requested Amtrak for SD in one of the big money giveaways from the current administration but was denied.
    Not sure how you can blame anyone else but the democrats.

  2. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 09:11

    The Sioux Falls to Rapid City passenger rail service will never happen but service from Minneapolis to Cheyenne through Rapid City is not impossible.

    Before it was ousted the Trump Organization’s Department of Transportation headed by the wife of Republican former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell awarded more than $5.6 million in grants to upgrade infrastructure and enhance rail safety in the red moocher state that is South Dakota including $2.24 million for the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern mainline. The move comes after catastrophic plunges in commodities prices, numerous wrecks and water breaches on track owned by RCPE, a subsidiary of Genesee and Wyoming operating just north of the former Milwaukee line on a nearly parallel trackbed. Kevin Schieffer knew how impossible it was to maintain track between Fort Pierre and Rapid City and cashed in when Genesee and Wyoming bought the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.

    Recall that in 1997 South Dakota got $23 million for going without Amtrak service so then-Gov. Bill Janklow funneled much of it into the Governor’s Club and in 2007 Gov. Mike Rounds spent some of it on an airplane for his personal use. Now, Gov. Noem is using it to campaign for issues and candidates for the extreme white wing of the Republican Party. So today, South Dakota is the only state where Charles Koch has been able to thwart passenger rail and the only state in the continental United States without a proposed Amtrak station.

    In 2015 I called an RCPE executive who said that the line between Crawford and Dakota Junction, Nebraska connecting to Rapid City is active and hauling bentonite south to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and to Union Pacific. She said that although there is virtually no westbound shipping over the line between Wolsey and Rapid City, South Dakota or Colony, Wyoming the State of South Dakota subsidizes enough siding development, money that the state receives from the federal government through the transportation bill, that shipments of one-way freight allow the railroad to cash flow.

    There is an abandoned track bed between Crawford and Torrington, Wyoming that could serve Cheyenne: a destination on Amtrak’s Front Range expansion timetable.

    The US is not China; we can’t build rail lines anywhere we want to because the state can’t just seize land without due process. The unhinged South Dakota Legislature is largely a product of ALEC because the Koch network has billions stashed tax free in South Dakota banks. To them passenger rail is socialism.

    My home town of Elkton is the first South Dakota town on the east end of the old Chicago and North Western. In 1997 I considered shipping the salvage oak flooring from the Showboat Ballroom in Lake Benton, Minnesota to St. Onge west of Sturgis where there’s a siding. Stamps in the rail there are from 1898. The first town on the south end in South Dakota is Ardmore where I almost bought property that includes a siding on the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe.

  3. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 09:26

    I have since modified my proposal for passenger rail from a Minneapolis to Rapid City through Sioux Falls for a route through Brookings and Pierre to Rapid City and Cheyenne.

  4. grudznick 2023-07-22 09:33

    Let get that done, Lar. You and I could recline in the private lounge car with our feet up and stogies and scotch.

  5. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 09:39

    There is a multimodal proposal to route passenger rail from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls then to Omaha where it would intersect with the California Zephyr. Cheyenne, Wyoming is on board with Front Range passenger rail and All Aboard Arizona says passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson is closer than ever, too.

  6. e platypus onion 2023-07-22 11:06

    ps look at the votes for funding Amtrak to find out which embarrassingly red magat party consistently votes to cut Amtrak funding.

  7. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 11:07

    Hey Porter, the station in Cheyenne is a bus to Denver where it meets the Zephyr.

  8. Nix 2023-07-22 11:41

    The reason that there are no rail lines through South Dakota is that the US Government initially honored the 1868 Ft. Laramie treaty to end Red Clouds war , give the Black Hills to the Lakota and let western expansion continue.
    The rail lines would not go through our state because they would be going through Lakota
    Enter George Armstrong Custer.
    And now, we get to celebrate Gold Discovery Days in Custer , SD.
    Hell, May as well run a railroad right down I-90.
    I’m sure we will bypass all of our 9 Reservations

  9. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 11:45

    There was passenger rail service between Sioux Falls and Rapid City until 1971. President Eisenhower essentially killed passenger rail with the construction of the interstate highway system.

  10. Willy 2023-07-22 12:25

    Only SD (and maybe Wyoming) don’t have Amtrak? Where are stations in Hawaii, I’d like to know.

  11. P. Aitch 2023-07-22 12:49

    @Larry: That’s what I thought. There’re misleading ads on the internet about train service to Cheyenne which made me think it had been started up again.
    A bus is quicker than a train and just as comfortable or uncomfortable depending on your political posture for trips up to 3 to 4 hundred miles.
    Most important are the trains that take people to and from work, sporting events, concerts, and entertainment venues. I ride those trains several times a week. Love ’em. Partly because they piss off the Republicans who hate to be near people who aren’t white.

  12. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 13:12

    Coal is dying but thanks to union members and Joe Biden the infrastructure and rail rights-of-way remain intact.

    “Cheyenne’s economy is inextricably linked to the Front Range,’’ Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said. “It is important for us to keep our efforts aligned and on track. Passenger rail is a major step in building the future of transportation in our region.” Tom Mason, director of the Cheyenne Metropolitan Planning Organization, said his office has been closely involved with the Colorado project from the beginning. Once the Cheyenne leg is established, the rail service could eventually go on to Casper and into Montana, he said.

    [Passenger Rail is On Track between Wyoming and Colorado]

  13. e platypus onion 2023-07-22 13:15

    OT speaking of Custer, it has been n early 150 years since he learned first hand his 7th Cavalry couldn’t defeat the whole Sioux Nation (and it wasn’t even close). I wonder if he has conceded that point.

  14. Cathy B 2023-07-22 13:30

    Look at the route map. I suggest one of the most helpful routes to us in SD and to the whole system would be a North-South route through the middle of the country. It could connect people to the East-West routes as well as move passengers north and south.
    Currently, a route called the Heartland Flyer connects Ft.Worth and Oklahoma City. It should be extended north to Tulsa, Kansas City, Omaha, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Fargo, and Grand Forks. It could even go to Winnipeg. Apparently passenger service already goes south from Ft.Worth to San Antonio, where one can connect to go east or west.
    With such an extension, many routes would connect to move people to a great many more places than we can go now.
    I think if geese and little birds and butterflies can fly this sort of route, surely AMTRAK should be able to also.

  15. Donald Pay 2023-07-22 13:47

    I’m not climbing aboard the trainwagon. Passenger trains were great in the century between 1850-1950. Today they make sense in the heavily traveled corridors on the east coast and west coast. I’m fine with maintaining the cross country Amtrak lines we have now, but I don’t think we need to sink more dollars in new lines, unless they are bullet trains. But that’s not likely to work in the US. If I have to go cross country on train at 50-60 mph, I’m not interested. I’ll fly.

    I think I took a train from Falls to Canton and back sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. We were told it was probably the last year or two that it would run.

  16. e platypus onion 2023-07-22 14:51

    Midwest and points farther west can book capsules in Keystone 1 and go from Canada to the refinery of their choice.since the pipeline has already been foisted on Americuh.

  17. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 15:11

    Denver International Airport is agonizing to fly into and then finding a way back into the city complicated and expensive. If the political will existed the Rail Runner could access the Lamy spur from Santa Fe and go directly into Denver serving Colorado communities along the way.

  18. P. Aitch 2023-07-22 15:18

    @Larry – There’s a beautiful train that runs from DIA to Union Station. It’s been on track for over five years now. I take it every time. It’s even free for July and August to help cut down on air pollution.

  19. larry kurtz 2023-07-22 15:20

    Flying into Delta hub Salt Lake sucks at biblical proportions so does Dallas or O’Hare or LAX.

  20. e platypus onion 2023-07-22 16:17

    I rode the olde Illinois Central passenger train from Aunt’s place in LeMars back to Cherokee hometown when I was 10. About 30 miles, no derailments and no hold ups.

  21. PWK 2023-07-23 09:44

    In the early 60’s my elementary class rode on what (I believe) was the last passenger train service from Sioux Falls to Canton. Through the mid 1950s my Mom remembers taking the trains from Brandon to Sioux Falls for shopping, going to the movies, etc.
    As noted by others, this country threw away the opportunity to modernize an outstanding public access rail system in favor of autos and trucks – but this “either/or choice” for mass transportation was a false one.

  22. jkl 2023-07-23 19:46

    More rails to trails in SD.

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