News & Reviews News Wire FRA releases long-distance study interim report, invites comments

FRA releases long-distance study interim report, invites comments

By Bob Johnston | February 19, 2024

| Last updated on March 22, 2024

Fifteen new or previously discontinued routes under consideration

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Map providing breakdown of new or restored service on 15 proposed Amtrak routes
A PowerPoint slide shows how proposed long-distance routes would restore discontinued service, introduce new routes, or increase service on a “baseline network.” Federal Railroad Administration

WASHINGTON — Fifteen new or revived long-distance routes are presented in a new Federal Railroad Administration presentation to accompany the next round of meetings for its ongoing Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study.

The 163-page PowerPoint presentation was issued prior to the third round of six regional workshops for stakeholders including Amtrak and state transportation officials, as well as passenger rail advocates. It provides the rational for pursuing those 15 routes from possibilities suggested in previous workshop sessions that began last year [see “FRA look at Amtrak long-distance service yields wealth of data,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 28, 2023].

The planning exercise, mandated by a provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 to evaluate potential Amtrak long-distance routes for areas not currently served, will culminate with a final report of recommendations to Congress after another round of meetings this spring. More details on the process are available at the study website, introduced in 2022 [see “FRA launches passenger long-distance study site,” News Wire, Nov. 1, 2022].

This long-distance study is independent from the FRA’s selection of 69 routes for its Corridor Identification and Development Program, which included $500,000 in initial planning money for sponsoring organizations [see “Full list of passenger routes …,” News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023]. There is one notable overlap between the two: revival of the North Coast Hiawatha on its former ex-Northern Pacific routing west of Fargo, N.D., through Montana and Yakima, Wash., to Seattle.

Passenger train with blue freight locomotives crossing bridge in mountains
A Montana Rockies Daylight excursion with Montana Rail Link power heads east across the Austin Creek trestle at Mullan Pass west of Helena, Mont., on Aug. 18, 2001. The daytime summer excursions from Spokane to Billings, Mont., on portions of the route used by Amtrak’s North Coast Hiawatha operated for several years with heritage coaches and private cars. Bob Johnston

The report lists the criteria for developing an interconnected “conceptual enhanced network” that links rural and metropolitan areas where there has been significant public engagement. The idea was to build on the current “baseline” of long-distance service routes.

This was not followed west of Phoenix, Ariz., because the chosen city pairs were San Francisco and Dallas-Ft. Worth. The route chosen was through the San Joaquin Valley over Tehachapi Pass to Barstow, utilizing 160 miles of a short line between BNSF’s Transcon at Cadiz, Calif., and Wickenburg, Ariz., that hadn’t seen a passenger train since the 1950s.

Left in the lurch by both the Corridor ID and Long Distance study programs is the 136-mile former Southern Pacific route west of Phoenix that would allow the Sunset Limited to begin serving that urban center directly. The train was rerouted through Maricopa, Ariz., in 1996 when Union Pacific demanded that Amtrak pay for maintenance. The proposal also suggests reactivating the former route once used by Missouri Pacific’s Texas Eagle between El Paso and Fort Worth.

Also requiring substantial upgrading is Minneapolis-St. Paul to Denver via Sioux Falls and Pierre, South Dakota.

Each detailed route description lists the disclaimer, “Further analysis after completion of this study would be necessary to advance the preferred routes through project planning and project development activities prior to implementation.” There is currently no funding attached to the initiative.

Public comment on all of the proposals is encouraged; a comment form is at the bottom of the front page of the study website. Comments must be received by March 8.

— Updated Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. CT with new information on how to comment.

Map showing 15 proposed new Amtrak long-distance routes
The 15 new routes in the latest FRA study presentation. FRA

5 thoughts on “FRA releases long-distance study interim report, invites comments

  1. This is my fourth submission to the FRA New Long Distance Routes Study. This will concentrate on services which in my view should be capable of an early start-up.

    The fifteen suggested routes all provide interesting options, but several are great candidates for early implementation, as they will require (relatively) less track and infrastructure investment and either restore lines that ran earlier in the Amtrak era or were cut shortly before Amtrak services began. In addition, several of these can benefit from efforts already underway to establish new regional services under the Corridor ID effort associated with Amtrak’s Connect US proposals. This might facilitate cost-sharing.

    The interim FRA report does not adequately address certain fundamental problems which, if left unfixed, could preclude most of this from moving forward.

    A fundamental flaw of this study is its very extended timetable for project design and completion—extending out potentially into the 2040s or even later. If nothing can be accomplished to get services running in less than 10-20 years the remarkable work being done here will be in vain. Like it or not the American political system will only sustain a long-term project like this if things happen soon and then continuously. That was the case with the Interstate Highway system. Construction stretched out from 1956 to 1992, but segments opened almost continuously in each succeeding year. Success fed upon itself.

    Key was the assured funding stream. For multi-state long haul routes, the funding stream must be Federal and must be dedicated to the rail mode. Amtrak’s National Network would collapse if one state on a route like Chicago to Seattle is allowed to torpedo service to everyone else by cutting its fiscal support. If this effort is to succeed the FRA and Amtrak must begin implementation work for at least a few new routes as soon as this study is finalized.

    New car orders already in the “pipeline” must be dramatically increased to assure new services would not be stalled for lack of cars. Amtrak’s plans to dispose of much the existing long-haul fleet should be differed until an entire new fleet is on hand—including for added routes. Until then existing cars should be refurbished to kick-start new routes as soon as enough new equipment is on-hand to meet the new car needs of a current route. Ultimately the best older cars should still survive even then to meet seasonal demand peaks and possibly increased frequencies. If Amtrak sincerely means to double its ridership it can not do so with a too-small car fleet.

    For example, if the EMPIRE BUILDER received its full compliment of new cars its existing fleet could be redeployed for a few years to provide the cars needed for a restored NORTH COST HIAWATHA. Of course, eventually every train needs all-new equipment, but new services must not be shoved decades out because Amtrak failed to retain a reserve of equipment as new cars were delivered.

    This makes heavy overhauls of the Superliner, Viewliner and Amfleet II fleets essential. The light maintenance being done to the existing long-distance fleet is unsatisfactory to meet this need. These cars will need major overhauls to serve at least 15-20 more years until an all-new fleet is on hand. Ultimately new is best, but in the interim, existing assets must be used.

    Seven desirable “Early Start” routes are discussed below. All follow promising corridors and will benefit from multiple connections both at terminals and enroute with other Amtrak trains—thus reinforcing the entire network. And several of these new routes adapt well to phased openings over several years.


    Dallas/Fort Worth to Miami (via Baton Rouge, Tallahassee and Jacksonville is a good example of a promising line for early restart. At least from the Dallas Metroplex to Flomaton, AL and Baldwin, FL to Miami it is well-kept mainline territory. The portion across north Florida will require more work—but it was Amtrak served until 2005. While the projected route sees no current passenger service from Marshall, TX to Florida, much of it is already under development for regional operations and/or formerly hosted Amtrak service.

    Efforts are well advanced to put a daily regional train on the CP/KC line from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, LA, and for this new train, the CP/KC can be accessed at Shreveport, LA—only 43 miles from Marshall. This is significant because CP/KCS serves central Baton Rouge and CP/KC has a fine record of cooperation with Amtrak. Of course, track and signal installation/upgrades will be needed, and stations reconstructed but no entirely new mileage needs to be built. The Dallas-Shreveport portion of the route may also host a new Dallas-Atlanta service—thus further sharing costs. The Dallas-Marshall segment also hosts the TEXAS EAGLE.

    More issues arise east of New Orleans, but the Fort Worth to New Orleans segment might open before the tracks east of New Orleans.

    From New Orleans to Mobile this route will share the tracks with the new Gulf Coast Regional line—if it is successful in gaining support from all three states it will serve. If not, this new long-haul service would also restore passenger service over that section and might resolve some of the (odd) objections currently floated to starting the new regional trains. Money from Federal grants is already on hand to do critical upgrades, including lengthened sidings and creating expanded capacity through the New Orleans freight yards.

    East of Mobile the most direct route would diverge from the CSX mainline at Flomaton, AL to serve Pensacola and the Florida capital Tallahassee enroute to Jacksonville. CSX has assigned the 430 miles of one-time L&N/SAL tracks from Pensacola to Baldwin in north Florida to the Florida, Gulf and Atlantic RR short line. Speeds there are relatively slow. Portions of this line historically were “dark territory” and will need to be properly signaled. Some major bridge work, as well as tie/rail replacement, should be done, but until the hurricane damaged in 2005 the line hosted the Amtrak SUNSET LIMITED.

    The FRA map sensibly shows this train routed directly via the Florida East Coast Line (FEC) from Jacksonville to Miami, with the other new Amtrak Florida Miami train from Chicago going via Orlando. There is no need for three Amtrak trains to Miami to run via Orlando. Given the dominance of the new hourly Brightline service in the Orlando-Miami market, I would strongly urge that both new trains between Jacksonville and south Florida be routed over the FEC via St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, returning to the regular Amtrak line using the cut-off from the FEC to the Tri Rail/ Amtrak CSX route at West Palm Beach.

    A section of these train(s) could be detached at Jacksonville via Orlando to provide additional service to Tampa. Tampa remains for now a viable Amtrak destination. This service will connect to other Amtrak routes at Fort Worth/Dallas, Marshall, Shreveport, New Orleans, and Jacksonville.


    Denver to Houston via Trinidad, Amarillo and Dallas uses almost exclusively freight-only lines (exception Fort Worth to Dallas), but it would use lines that are less busy today with freights than they were 15-20 years ago. This is particularly true over the once badly congested Colorado “Joint Line” between Denver and Pueblo. Coal, once ubiquitous and slow-moving coal trains are now fewer on this BNSF mainline, as power-plant demand for coal declines. There will still be problems to solve to keep traffic fluid, especially to lengthen sidings in this era of very long freights. But fast, well-used Burlington “Zephyr” streamliners served this route until the late 1960s.

    Going south from Denver this line serves significant tourist and business markets—particularly at Colorado Springs, and in Texas from Fort Worth/Dallas to Houston. The Denver to Pueblo segment is part of the Colorado Front Range Regional Rail plan and Dallas-Houston is also under regional service Corridor ID review. Trinity Rail Express commuter trains already run between Fort Worth and Dallas as well. Eventually the El Paso to Billings line might share the Trinidad to Denver tracks. There will be immediate connections to the existing CZ, SW CHIEF, TEXAS EAGLE, HEARTLAND FLYER, and SUNSET LIMITED.

    There will be a need for new signal work, particularly in sections of “dark territory” south of Pueblo, CO and over the entire route for ballast, rail, and siding enhancement. New stations will be required, although it may be possible to share the former station in Colorado Springs and the intact Pueblo Union Station, and certainly the current depots in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston.

    The Dallas-Houston corridor may be served in the future by the Texas Central TC) High-Speed line, although its prospects now seem dicey. But there are two other routes between those cities which could be used. The 264-mile-long former SP/now UP line once hosted a Dallas-Houston stub off the Amtrak TEXAS EAGLE. Important stops could include Corsicana and College Station/Bryan (Texas A&M University). The 249-mile former Rock Island/Burlington line (now run by BNSF) is also a possible way from Dallas to Houston. Work will be needed over either line on signals, tracks, and sidings. Approaching Houston measures may be needed to bypass yard congestion.

    As I noted earlier, when I ran my rail specialist travel/tour service this was the second most requested route not served by Amtrak when we asked our clients where “new” they wanted to go. It should proceed to operation early in the cycle of new routes!


    Los Angeles to Denver via Salt Lake City and Cheyenne is also a route that should be relatively “easy” to restart. Despite the vast desert region enroute, this train would serve major population centers in the LA Basin, Las Vegas, NV, the “Wasatch Front” in Utah (Salt Lake City and Provo) and restores service in Wyoming gone since 1997, before connecting to the CZ for Chicago at Denver, the largest city in the Rocky Mountain west. Other connections will be made at Los Angeles, Barstow, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Cheyenne. The new Front Regional service will connect to this train at Fort Collins and Denver. This service, with its many connections, incarnates the old Burlington Route slogan that bragged passengers could go “Everywhere West”!

    All this track is maintained by the Union Pacific and the BNSF to a high standard and many of the former stations on the UP portion of the route still exist. Of course, UP and BNSF will want infrastructure upgrades, particularly along the single-track “Los Angeles and Salt Lake” line across Nevada and Utah and on the single-track BNSF Cheyenne to Denver. The connecting track at Cheyenne, WY from the UP “Overland” mainline to the BNSF and the line from there through to Denver will require upgrading. The Front Range Regional service will extend at least to Fort Collins and possibly to Cheyenne and much of the needed work on the BNSF north of Denver may be done before for this regional route before the California-Denver train begins.

    In the future ridership may be impacted between the LA Basin and Las Vegas by the new Brightline High-Speed service, but those High-Speed trains will not serve Los Angeles directly, with a terminus an hour east at Rancho Cucamonga. Only a through train like this renewed Amtrak service would serve intermediate points like Barstow and San Bernardino. If Brightline is ultimately brought to Los Angeles Union Terminal this train might connect at Las Vegas, but that is many years away now. This inter-west route is a prime candidate to restart as possible.


    Seattle-Denver via Portland, Boise, Salt Lake City and Grand Junction was formerly served by the Amtrak PIONEER—a casualty of the 1997 long haul cuts. Passenger trains serve only the Seattle to Portland and Ogden, Salt Lake-Denver outer ends of this route. The core “Oregon Shortline” UP mainline Portland to Ogden is currently a long freight-only district.

    Restoring this line for passengers will be more complicated than LA/Denver, as some of the route is out of service. However, all but a short stretch of track east of Boise remains a high-quality mainline and the Salt Lake City to Denver section already hosts the Amtrak CZ. Should the LA/Denver route also return it will share the tracks between Salt Lake City and Ogden.

    The train could be combined with the CZ east of Salt Lake City, but I applaud the idea of running it as an added frequency and suggest using a different timeslot, particularly from Salt Lake City to Denver—possibly serving an overnight dusk to dawn pattern. This would tap the business traveler market there—not served since the demise of the PROSPECTOR in 1967. It would also permit daylight travel from the Boise region to the Salt Lake basin. This is a very busy auto route.

    There will be two major track challenges to fix. A direct connection at Portland needs to be restored to the UP mainline going directly east at the Willamette River bridge, to avoid a directional reverse and miles of very slow track through the Portland freight yards. The 26 miles of the line east of Boise to Orchard, ID needs to be taken out of mothballs and completely rebuilt. Freight trains take a by-pass here. Boise is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

    Since 1997 the UP route through Oregon, and Idaho has become busier with freight trains and sometimes less fluid, because of delays for (overly) long freights to pass each other. UP will insist on siding enhancements if passenger trains are to return northwest of Salt Lake/Ogden to Portland.

    But this was an active Amtrak line only 27 years ago. The population enroute has grown dramatically since and that makes this a very promising choice for restoration. As with most of these possible “early start” proposals this train makes possible multiple useful connections at Seattle, Portland, Ogden, Salt Lake City and Denver. Both Amtrak and regional services will be accessed by this line. It is also noteworthy how strong local support is to restart this route.


    Dallas/Fort Worth to Atlanta via Marshall and Meridian is also a route with few overwhelming hurdles to cross. It will be a true example of establishing a new “through route”, as no direct trains have ever covered this entire line. But it unites very important markets—particularly Dallas/Fort Worth, Birmingham, AL and Atlanta.

    It is already Amtrak served on both ends, from Fort Worth/Dallas to Marshall, TX by the TEXAS EAGLE and from Meridian, MS to Atlanta by the CRESCENT. The UP segment from Marshall to Shreveport would be a part of the Dallas-Miami route as well as this service. The 313 mile “Meridian Speedway” from Shreveport to Meridian is operated by the generally passenger friendly CP/KC. The pre-CP merger Kansas City Southern management had expressed openness to allowing Amtrak access if it came with line upgrades including signals and passing track enhancements. CP/KC seems to have the same view.

    This project might also permit through service from Dallas to Washington and New York, if through cars were handed off to the CRESCENT. This routing would take far less time to accomplish than the separate proposal for a new through train Dallas/Fort Worth to New York via Tulsa, St. Louis and Columbus also included in this FRA new route list. That will require over 1000 miles of tracks to be returned to passenger standards. By contrast this has just under 400 miles of track to improve. This route breaks the historic East/West rail barrier at the Mississippi River and helps to unite the national network. The train will have connections to other passenger routes at Dallas/Fort Worth, Marshall, Shreveport, Jackson, Meridian and Atlanta.


    The proposed new direct Chicago to Seattle service, primarily over the BNSF’s former Northern Pacific Ry, route via Bismarck, Billings, and Missoula, requires less major track-upgrades than several other proposed new routes, as the entire line is already a signaled and well-maintained mainline. Here we have a route that hosted Amtrak until 1979, is still in very good condition, will tap stunningly beautiful country in the more populous south of Montana and North Dakota, restores train connections to Yellowstone–our first National Park, and enjoys strong, and vocal advocate support– and yet it may not be possible for this to become the first route reinstatement. There are so many miles and cars to address.

    BNSF now runs the entire line west of St. Paul, since it reacquired the tracks from Billings, MT to Sandpoint, ID previously leased to Montana Railink. An added regional passenger train is set to start later this year over the east end of this line run by CP/KC, between Chicago and St. Paul, and might become a part of this longer service. Capacity enhancements are being completed there now.

    These 1892 miles west of St. Paul to Seattle have current passenger service only between St. Paul, MN and Fargo, ND and from Sandpoint, ID to Pasco, WA, so there will be long stretches here needing new/rebuilt stations. BNSF will almost certainly want signal and track improvements as well. And six sets of equipment will be needed to implement this route—and these cars are not available now. Realistically new long-distance trainsets won’t be on hand before the end of the decade, but much can be done now.

    It was the supporters of restarting the NORTH COAST HIAWATHA who did much of the advocacy to get the entire new long haul route analysis underway. This route was a proven ridership success right up to Amtrak’s start in 1971, was quickly reinstated later in 1971 and was to put it mildly a controversial Amtrak “Carter Cut” in 1979, as the trains were well filled then as well.

    I recommend that all needed planning be done now, so it can be a very early service restoration when refurbished equipment becomes available as new cars are delivered for Amtrak’s current routes. Of course it should eventually get new coaches, but it is more important to run service even with refurbished train-sets than to wait possibly 15-20 years for enough all-new cars.


    Finally, the El Paso-Billings route via Albuquerque, Denver and Casper is a somewhat different case. This route faces uncommon circumstances, but that may work to its advantage—at least between El Paso and Denver.

    Track along this corridor is used by freight service only on the El Paso-Belen, NM and Trinidad, CO-Denver-Billings, MT ends. Only Amtrak runs over Raton Pass between Lamy, NM and Trinidad, CO. That stretch is a truly rare passenger-only rural mainline. There is strong population to tap at El Paso, Albuquerque, Lamy, NM (for Santa Fe) Pueblo, CO, Colorado Springs, and Denver, and up the “Front Range” as far as Fort Collins, CO.

    Albuquerque to Trinidad, CO this will be a second frequency on the SW CHIEF route. From Pueblo through Denver to Fort Collins this service would be in common with the Colorado Front Range Regional Rail plan and from Trinidad to Pueblo, CO (and onward to Denver) is shared with the Denver-Houston proposed new long-haul route (if built).

    Major track upgrades will be required, particularly to install signals, as over half this line is “dark territory”. But there is significant proof in the traffic jams that taunt drivers along the parallel I25 south of Denver that this is a soon-needed project–at least from Texas to Colorado.

    This route will make possible connections to other Amtrak services at El Paso, Albuquerque, Trinidad, CO, and Denver. The line will also connect to the Denver RTD regional electric commuter/light rail network in the Albuquerque area with the New Mexico Rail Runner service, which reaches Santa Fe as well.

    I would urge early Implementation of El Paso to Denver/Fort Collins portion of this line in the early stages of this effort. A full service (coaches, diner-lounge and sleepers) train will be needed.

    But north of the Denver Metro region to Billings, MT there are only Cheyenne and Casper, WY as major stops before the end point at Billings. As I suggested in my first submission, perhaps this segment could proceed after completion of the El Paso-Denver section. This will allow further population growth in Wyoming. The Wyoming/Montana segment could be served by less costly new DMUs—possibly offering lie-flat bed seating.

    The foolish 750-mile standard defining long-haul services would have to be exempted if these two trains (consists) could not be counted as a serving a single route, as it is only 728 miles from El Paso to Denver. But that arbitrary standard makes several of these new routes very hard to sensibly implement. It should be redefined as 300-350 miles or less.


    Next, I will visit the remaining routes in this plan. These share good intentions with difficult challenges and suggest in several cases division into shorter sections as suggested with the northern part of the El Paso to Billings line reviewed above.

    Carl H. Fowler

    1. This is the fifth installment of my analysis of the FRA New Long Distance Routes Study. These final seven routes are interesting, but possibly some are a bit overly ambitious or complex. Others may work better if at least partially rerouted.

      In the US political reality it may prove an impossible challenge to make a case for a Denver-Rapid City-Pierre, Sioux Falls-Minneapolis route, not least because the Denver to Rapid City segment has never hosted a through passenger train. This is an example of the Study seeking to create a remarkable new route for which there quite probably is insufficient passenger demand. Yet there might be a very good case to be made for a passenger train from Rapid City to Chicago (and/or St. Paul). More below. And better ways exist to go from Phoenix to the Twin Cities.

      I will look at each potential route directly. But it is again critical to note that the arbitrary designation of a Federally funded long-distance route as being longer than 750 miles is both unreasonable and a real detriment to getting several of these suggested services going over at least parts of their projected line(s). I would suggest that a long-haul service be defined as a train serving at least 300-350 miles of track and operating in two or more states.

      And this project only works with dedicated and on-going funding that would not be re-litigated every year. Long distance must be understood to take time. A long-term approach is the only way to do this.


      Phoenix, AZ to Minneapolis/St Paul, MN, via Flagstaff, AZ Newton, KS Omaha, NE and Sioux City/Sioux Falls, SD.

      This suggested service connects significant end points but will require complex work to renovate and upgrade multiple route segments. Has adequate research been done to advance this project now? Or is there a more practical option?

      The first line segment will require the upgrading of the 209-mile BNSF/former Santa Fe “Peavine” branch from Phoenix to its mainline connection at Williams Jct. near Flagstaff, AZ. The line last saw a passenger train in 1969. This is a rugged, curvaceous mountain route. It would reopen a local market from Phoenix to Flagstaff (and possibly Albuquerque), but as a local service it will not be time competitive with going by car. A similarly extended slow routing impacts the east-end of the suggested route across eastern South Dakota and Minnesota.

      Once on the fast BNSF “Transcontinental” mainline east of Flagstaff the plan calls for routing this train on the BNSF’s “South Line” east of Dalies, NM via Belen, and Clovis, NM, Amarillo, TX, and Wichita, KS to Newton, KS. This section is the BNSF’s busiest freight line. It is almost entirely double track railroad, but there are still challenges to meet. Except for not directly going through Albuquerque it serves more population than the shorter SW CHIEF line east of Albuquerque over (the steeply graded) Raton Pass.

      But to reach Albuquerque from Dalies the train either must be turned around on a wye there or backed up on departure for over the 30 miles from Albuquerque to Belen. The other option would be to establish a transfer at Belen to the “New Mexico Rail Runner” regional rail service for Albuquerque (and Santa Fe). Amtrak tickets would be honored on the regional line.

      The proposed route is very well-maintained east of Belen, NM to Newton, KS and would support 79 to 89 mph passenger speeds. But new (or heavily rebuilt) stations will be needed over the full 718 miles of the Belen-Clovis-Newton route. Because this is such a busy freight corridor, BNSF will legitimately want added passing track capacity to keep the route fluid. The last passenger service on this route west of Wichita, KS was in 1971.

      Running this train via Albuquerque, Lamy, NM, Raton Pass and La Junta, CO enroute to Newton, KS (the route of the SW CHIEF) would avoid these costs and would probably be faster. Millions have been invested in upgrading this line for Amtrak in the last decade and surprisingly much of it is used today only by passenger trains. The El Paso-Denver-Billings line is also projected to go this way as far east as Trinidad, CO.

      Except for possible capacity adjustments, the BNSF Newton, KS-Kansas City, MO should present no great challenges. This too is a fast mainline. Ideally this train would run in a time slot all the way from Flagstaff to Kansas City that did not effectively duplicate that of the SW CHIEF. This would enhance ridership by serving different travel needs.

      But Kansas City, MO-Omaha, NE-Sioux City, SD-Sioux Falls, SD-St. Paul, MN this route as proposed is a complex combination of lines which have not had passenger service in some cases going back to the 1950s and nowhere since 1971. Extensive track upgrades (indeed some virtually new infrastructure), including several rebuilt junctions, new/rebuilt stations, and new signal work will be required on this entire segment.

      Passenger trains ran from KC to Omaha on the then Bulrlington Northern until 1970—although at the end they started in North Kansas City, not at KC Union Station. But the most direct Omaha-St. Paul line—the former C&NW route, lost passenger service in 1959 and is now partially abandoned. The proposed service will have to reverse direction in Omaha to go west on the UP to Freemont, NE and then follow a route on BNSF freight lines, none of which have seen a passenger train for over 70 years. There are much better ways to restore passenger rail from Kansas City to St. Paul.

      Omaha-Kansas City is a good Corridor ID regional project. If there is a case for a Omaha-Sioux Falls-Twin Cities train, it too better fits as a Corridor ID regional train-service.

      It would be preferable for the new long-distance Arizona to Minnesota train to use UP’s former Rock Island Line Kansas City-Des Moines, IA-Twin Cities. This alignment puts the major city of Des Moines back on the passenger train service map. The usual capacity improvements would be needed, particularly to lengthen passing tracks, but this remains a well-maintained mainline railroad and had passenger service until 1969. This option will be several hours faster than the complex route via Omaha and Sioux Falls.

      Could Phoenix to the Midwest be better served with a more direct/faster route, such as an added frequency over the UP’s former Golden State/Sunset route? This train could start in Los Angeles and serve Phoenix enroute, as was true until Amtrak foolishly allowed the Yuma-Phoenix segment to be closed in 1996.

      The money to rebuild the remote “Peavine” branch might better be invested in restoring direct Los Angeles-Phoenix service, by reopening this dormant Yuma-Phoenix route. Multiple long distance and regional trains would use this line, which rejoins the UP’s main freight route at Tucson. Several options exist east of El Paso. My personal preference would be the UP’s former Texas and Pacific to Ft Worth and then the BNSF/former Santa Fe to Kansas City and the UP ex-Rock Island from KC to the Twin Cities.

      My overall reaction to this entire route plan is that it tries to be too many things to too many destinations. While from Flagstaff, AZ to Kansas City it will be a fast service, both ends of the line will be circuitous and slow even after very extensive infrastructure renewals. Omaha to St. Paul via South Dakota will require particularly costly rebuilding. This route requires more study and the consideration of other options.


      Denver, CO to St. Paul/Minneapolis via Cheyenne, WY, Rapid City, SD, Pierre, SD, and Sioux Falls, SD.

      This route is so complex and requires so much reconstruction that it simply has almost no chance of being built—at least for decades past the timeline of this Study. Indeed, the combination of low demand and high costs would be a lightning rod for critics of Amtrak running long haul routes at all. But recast South Dakota could regain passenger trains over the portions of this line with real population.

      Problems begin on the Denver to Rapid City end. No passenger train has ever run between directly these points and no truly direct line exists. This would be very expensive to fix, as the best solution would be to build an almost entirely new alignment through rugged country north of Cheyenne. Apart from steadily declining coal trains there isn’t even much freight traffic on these lonely tracks. There is also very little on-line population. As it stands multiple direction reverses, or rebuilt junctions are needed, as well as very extensive roadbed, rail, tie and signal work.

      From Rapid City to the Twin Cities via Sioux Falls is impossible without a very circuitous 100 mile + detour south from the cross-South Dakota mainline to reach Sioux Falls. The result would be several hours added to an already slow running time. And there has never been a fast through service from the Twin Cities to Rapid City. Indeed, all passenger service to Rapid City itself was gone by 1960.

      I understand the desire to have passenger trains again serve South Dakota and support it. Amtrak should serve all over the “Lower 48” states. But the best option to meet the 750-mile rule to be considered a long-distance route would be a Rapid City to Chicago train via Pierre, SD, Rochester, MN (for the Mayo Clinic) and La Crosse, WI., continuing La Crosse to Chicago on the existing Amtrak line. This was the way, west of La Crosse, that. at the “Dakota 400” ran. It was the final passenger train to serve the Black Hills. This train would travel over 900 miles.

      It would also be possible to split the train going into Minnesota from Rapid City, SD into Chicago and St. Paul sections. The Twin Cities portion would take the BNSF from just east of Tyler, MN via Wilmer to the Twin Cities. But run as a separate train all the way from Rapid City to St. Paul this would not meet the minimum 750-mile plateau to be considered a long-distance service. We have visited this potential trap earlier in this series of comments.

      Since 1960 much of Rapid City to Chicago route west of La Crosse, WI has been sold/leased to short line operators, and recently some of it has been significantly refurbished with new ballast, ties, and heavier rail. More upgrades will be required to restart passenger service, including the addition of some sort of signal system, sections of road-bed stabilization (or relocation) in sections prone to land-slipping and new station construction, but this Rapid City-Chicago train might get going in our time.

      This line could use new DMUs (possibly with lie-flat bed seats), which are less expensive to operate than full-service loco hauled trains. The one South Dakota market that did support passenger service, at least until 1960, was Chicago to Rapid City. With the draw of the great tourist areas of the Bad Lands, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore so close to Rapid City, and the Mayo Clinic at Rochester, MN enroute, restarting service could work.

      The best Denver to St. Paul rail connection was offered by the Rock Island Line, with a change of trains at Des Moines, IA, but even that expired by 1967. The “Rock” is gone from Denver to Omaha, but by using the BNSF/CZ route from Denver to Omaha, and then proceeding on the still intact ex Rock Island (now run by the Iowa Interstate RR and the UP), this could produce a Denver-St. Paul train over a reasonably direct and fast alignment with good on-line population.

      But as projected this full Denver-St. Paul line via South Dakota line provides a service for which there never was a passenger rail market and which under the best of circumstances would not generate the ridership needed to justify the huge rebuilding costs required.


      Dallas/Ft Worth to New York via Oklahoma City, OK, Tulsa, OK, St Louis, MO, Indianapolis, IN, Cincinnati, OH, Columbus, OH and Pittsburgh, PA.

      This is a creative and outstanding route selection. It restores a service Amtrak should never have dropped in the 1979 “Carter Cuts”, from New York to St. Louis and brings passenger service back to Tulsa, the Ozark Mountains and Springfield, MO on the BNSF’s former Frisco mainline. This routing is logical and serves multiple markets that have grown dramatically in recent years.

      No passenger trains have run on most of this route east of Oklahoma City to Pittsburgh since the 1970s, but except for the segment from Oklahoma City to Tulsa it is all mainline caliber track. Issues to address include restoring Oklahoma City to Tulsa to Class Four standards, and doing the usual passing track lengthening, station construction and possible signal improvements.

      There may need to see a wye installed at Cincinnati to avoid a directional reverse and a second platform track will be needed there—especially if the Corridor ID effort succeeds in getting local “3 C’s” service going from Cleveland through Columbus to Cincinnati. The former Pennsylvania RR mainline from Columbus to Pittsburgh (now partially a short line operation) will require upgrades to tracks and signals, but it would also be possible to send the train from Columbus to Pittsburgh via Cleveland, using mainline tracks included for overhaul in the “3 C’s” Corridor ID Plan referenced above.

      If cost/time were too much of a hurtle between Indianapolis and Columbus via Cincinnati, the train could go even more directly from Indianapolis on the well-kept former Conrail/NYC system mainline to Cleveland, and then over NS to Pittsburgh and the east coast.

      This route beautifully breaks the “Mississippi River Wall” traditional to East/West passenger operations, by going though St. Louis without a change of trains and should be very successful when implemented.


      Houston to New York via New Orleans, LA, Montgomery, AL, Atlanta, GA, Chattanooga, TN, Roanoke, VA and Washington, DC.

      This should be a fine service and will restore/enhance some traditional travel markets. The entire route is over mainline caliber tracks. From Houston to New Orleans this will provide a second frequency over the SUNSET LIMITED route. New Orleans to Mobile this supplements the proposed Gulf Coast corridor service if it starts, as well as the Detroit-New Orleans and Dallas-Miami long-distance services included elsewhere in this study—which would share the line from New Orleans to Mobile and Flomaton, AL. From Mobile through Montgomery to Atlanta this reinstates the once vital original “Crescent” line.

      A new station location will be required in Atlanta. The route between Atlanta and Washington via Chattanooga is longer than the current Amtrak CRESCENT line through Charlotte, NC, but it will serve sizable communities and, if properly timed, much of it will be very scenic, as it traverses the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.

      There is heavy freight, including coal trains, on portions of this line north of Atlanta and it is likely that the host railroads will negotiate for considerable capacity improvements in this section. If necessary, the Houston-Atlanta portion of the route might open first. Although not ideal this train could run as a second frequency over the CRESCENT route northeast from Atlanta.

      Because there have been no passenger trains over the Montgomery to Roanoke portion of this route since the 1970s new stations will be needed. Although good track is in place, the freight railroads will need more passing track options as well. But as with the Dallas-New York route above, this is a very fine east/west Mississippi River barrier-breaking proposal that meets the study goals of serving both long-haul and significant rural/regional markets. I look forward to its full development!


      San Antonio-Twin Cities via Tulsa, Kansas City and Des Moines.

      From San Antonio to Fort Worth this uses the existing TEXAS EAGLE route. One issue is that the best way to continue north from Fort Worth by-passes Dallas, but hourly regional “Trinity Rail Express” connections can patch that short gap. This route is mostly new after the DFW Metroplex.

      It will require significant track upgrades to go directly from Dallas to Tulsa and on to Kansas City as proposed over essentially the UP’s long-freight only ex “Katy” route. Passenger trains there have been gone since the 1960s The route from the Metroplex to Tulsa via Oklahoma City is slightly longer, but adds Oklahoma City’s major population to the route.

      Truthfully little is gained by trying to restore a north/south line to KC via Tulsa. Massive infrastructure work will be needed, and there is little population enroute. In my view it would be both faster and far less expensive to use the BNSF route through Oklahoma City, Wichita, Newton and Topeka, KS to Kansas City.

      This line is already under active consideration for an extension of the HEARTLAND FLYER from Oklahoma City to Newton, KS, where connections would be made via a middle of the night train change to the SW CHIEF for KC and Chicago. Why not make this part of a through long-distance route? All the way this line offers fine fast track, more population and much less station work will be needed, as only the Newton to Oklahoma City section has been without passenger service (since the 1979 “Carter Cuts” to Amtrak).

      From Kansas City to St. Paul/Minneapolis this plan would correctly use the UP’s former Rock Island route. More work will be needed here to build new stations and add capacity—particularly by lengthening sidings, but this too is a good mainline route. Des Moines will regain passenger service (also needed in the future Des Moines-Chicago).

      This route should be modified from Fort Worth to Kansas City but is basically sound.


      Detroit, Mi to New Orleans, LA via Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati, OH, Louisville, KY, Nashville, TN, Montgomery and Mobile, AL.

      This is a deceptively simple route. It provides both a revived north-south mainline with many good population centers enroute and a vehicle to interconnect many other existing and/or revived services.

      At Detroit this route can make connections with existing WOLVERINE corridor trains from most cities across southern Michigan. At Toledo this train would connect to Washington, DC via the CAPITOL LIMITED and to New York via the LAKESHORE LIMITED. Through cars could easily be exchanged there. At Columbus, OH this train would connect to the new east/west Texas/DFW Metroplex-New York route via Tulsa and St. Louis. At Cincinnati connections would be made to the CARDINAL.

      Further south the train would share the line between Louisville and Nashville with the revived Chicago-Florida via Atlanta line, and south of Montgomery it will be in common with the proposed Houston-New Orleans-Atlanta-Roanoke-New York route, as well as the DFW-Florida new service and the new Gulf Coast regional trains. Enroute this service would connect at Birmingham to the existing CRESCENT and the proposed DFW-Atlanta route, while at New Orleans the train will intersect routes like new New Orleans-Baton Rouge, LA Corridor, the DFW/Florida new route, the SUNSET LIMITED to California and the CITY OF NEW ORLEANS.

      Most of the tracks along this line are well maintained mainlines. Capacity improvements including longer sidings and new/upgraded signals will be needed—particularly on the long single track sections which predominate on much of this route. At Cincinnati more track/platform space will be essential. Other new stations must also be built. But this is a creative route that beautifully integrates mid western and south-central states. This Study Group has a superb idea here!


      San Francisco to Dallas/Fort Worth, via Bakersfield, and Barstow, CA, Phoenix, AZ and El Paso, TX.

      This proposal seeks to revive much of the one-time Santa Fe “San Francisco Chief” route, but to reroute it across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas east of remote Cadiz, CA, via much more populous cities than the traditional AT&SF line via Clovis, NM. This is obviously commendable, but there will be very significant infrastructure challenges to go this way. I believe a better route exists, which would generate greater ridership.

      The first potential roadblock is the rugged crossing of the desert mountains between Bakersfield and Barstow, CA over the Tehachapi Loop. Not only is this line very steeply graded (and accordingly slow), but it hosts a very strong volume of both BNSF and UP freights. No regular passenger trains have gone this way since Amtrak began in 1971 and there will be extremely expensive measures required here to reach an agreement with BNSF/UP to permit this train to use the line. At a minimum full double-tracking is certain to be required and even a base tunnel under the Loop could be part of the price of such access. And there is good reason here for their insistence on such measures, given their legitimate need to keep this route fluid. Can all of this work possibly be justified for a single train?

      The San Joaquin Valley today is already well-served by passenger trains, (and coordinated bus extensions), including Amtrak’s frequent SAN JOAQUINS as far south as Bakersfield, ACE commuter rail service (soon expanding) in the Stockton region and also the coming California High Speed Rail project, which will initially end in Bakersfield, but will ultimately reach the Los Angeles Basin via a long-new base tunnel. It is politically unlikely that two tunnel projects under the Coast Ranges would be Federally funded. Given the billions already invested in the (flawed/controversial) HSR route, it must be the winner of any such competition.

      East of Barstow this route would divert over what now is a BNSF spin-off of trackage to a shortline, the Arizona and California RR, from Cadiz, CA enroute across the Mojave Desert to Phoenix. This line will require major infrastructure/signal upgrades to host regular passenger service—although it is reasonably well kept compared to some other lines discarded by the Class One railroads. Of course, the needed work could be done—but there is a better way to get from the Bay Area to Phoenix and to serve much larger markets.

      For years California has sought to have a second train on the UP’s “Coast Route” from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. East of LA Arizona advocates have long-supported reopening the UP’s not quite mothballed direct route from Yuma, AZ to Phoenix, closed in a short-sighted cost cutting move by the UP in 1996—a move which Amtrak management at the time foolishly blessed. Although long out of service this right of way is basically intact. A complete rebuild will be required, but when completed the route can again host long-distance trains like the SUNSET LIMITED and this new service too. It also makes possible a very needed regional corridor service between Tucson, Phoenix, and Yuma in Arizona and the booming areas in California in the Coachella Valley, around Palm Springs and Riverside enroute to Los Angeles.

      This train could even begin its run in San Francisco itself, rather than running from Oakland/Emeryville, before proceeding to Los Angeles through San Jose, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. At last, here is the long-needed second train on this route (and hopefully in a different time slot than the COAST STARLIGHT).

      The train would also double service on the SUNSET LIMITED route from Los Angeles directly through Phoenix and Tucson, AZ to El Paso, TX . There it would diverge over the UP’s former Texas and Pacific line via Midland, Big Spring and Abilene, TX to Fort Worth and Dallas. This route serves millions more potential riders than going via Barstow and the essential work between Yuma and Phoenix is also needed for the daily SUNSET LIMITED project and for the AZ/CA corridor to proceed.


      In closing I reaffirm my admiration and appreciation of this remarkable effort. Given the decades since Amtrak last started an entirely new long-distance route, there will be obvious cause for skepticism about what may ultimately emerge. Elections, funding cycles, regional divisions, lack of equipment and a myriad of other barriers may sink this project.

      But I chose to hope for a fine result. Amtrak has always been a federal project that enjoys bi-partisan support. If even a few of these services can be started in the next few years momentum will build on those successes to do more.

      The role of long-haul service is far from just taking passengers from one endpoint to a far-distant other terminus. Rather these trains serve countless regional and area markets enroute. They provide connections and in the best sense help to unite our too often fractious country. They deserve dedicated and on-going funding and, if given a renewed mandate, will ultimately provide great benefits to us all.

      It is easy to smirk and say, “nothing will come of this”. But seeing the remarkable nationwide effort put into developing these plans I chose to believe we will see positive results. I hope to hear “All Aboard” to a better, larger, and much-needed passenger train revival and that it will come soon. At 76 I don’t want to wait much longer!

      Carl H. Fowler

  2. Further commentary on the FRA Long Distance Passenger New Routes Study follows. This is my third submission. Again, in the hope that the Study Group will have time to review these submissions, more will follow.

    Once again, also, please submit your own responses–of whatever length–and feel free to take any of my material as well.

    The link to comment is at the bottom of the page at:

    This is my third submission to the Long Haul New Routes Study group. I will comment on one proposed new route in this post, Chicago-Miami via Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville and Atlanta.

    Amtrak ran its FLORIDIAN over portions of this line in the 1970s, but the train was cancelled because of poor ridership, caused in large measure by deteriorated track and many slow-orders, which caused endemic late-running of the train. Since 1979 the situation has improved, but much still needs to be done.

    Class Four–79mph speeds must be available over tangent (straight) track segments for this route in particular to succeed. With the hills and mountains to be crested in the central sections decent speed is essential over the more open sections of the route.

    NB: When I ran my rail specialist travel and tour business, Rail Travel Center from 1983 to 2017, Chicago to Florida via Atlanta was the single most requested route from our customers that no longer had passenger service. FYI Denver to Dallas was number two. Understand ym concerns about the challenges facing this project do not reflect a desire to see it abandoned.

    I am sure the Study Group understands that this proposal requires substantial track upgrades if it is to be implemented. The current Amtrak route (served by the CARDINAL) from Chicago to Indianapolis is operationally impacted by the decision by CSX a few years ago to remove the signal system on the former Monon RR route to be used, which holds top speeds over this segment to no more than 59mph, when they had been 79mph on tangent sections. In addition there is a very complicated routing, with many junctions and lines crossing, which needs to be followed from Chicago to the first passenger stop at Dyer, IN, further slowing the train.

    This situation should be addressed in the work recently authorized to bring the CARDINAL from tri-weekly to daily status, but it is vital to this new route as well. All of the other traditional passenger routes from Chicago to Indianapolis are gone. The repairs along this corridor are likely to take several years to complete.

    Amtrak briefly ran a split of the CARDINAL from Indianapolis to Louisville and encountered very poor track conditions over this one-time secondary mainline of the Pennsylvania RR south of “Indy”. Some upgrades have been done, but a restoration of signals, welded rail, and roadbed restoration will be essential to get speeds to the 79mph level essential in this relatively flat territory. The balance of this line from Louisville south to Atlanta ranges from hilly to seriously mountainous, which will restrain overall speed.

    From Louisville to Nashville the former L&N/now CSX line is busy with freight traffic. There will need to be additional sidings added to keep the line fluid and although track conditions are generally good, this route traverses hilly country and was never particularly fast. From Nashville to Atlanta via Chattanooga the CSX tracks must cross the outer ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Here too the need for added track capacity will have to be addressed.

    It also may not be possible to access the former Southern Ry terminal in Chattanooga, which now functions as a unique rail-themed hotel. If so a new city station will obviously be required and because of complex routes here a backup might also be needed.

    Both NS and CSX offer possible routes from Chattanooga to Atlanta, but neither makes an ideal passage for a passenger train due to the location of Amtrak’s Peachtree Road Station on the northside of Atlanta. To avoid a fairly lengthy back-up move a new Atlanta Station site is essential. This also impacts the choice of routes to continue south to Florida. This issue will be costly to solve, but must be acknowledged for any new service through Atlanta not confined to the existing CRESCENT route.

    Between Atlanta and Florida the likely route should be on the NS line via Macon. But there the choice exists to go to Florida via Savannah on the former Central of Georgia route, now run by NS (connecting to the fine CSX Florida mainline to Jacksonville which already hosts three daily Amtrak trains) or directly via Valdosta to Jacksonville on the NS. The Savannah route is also a part of the current Corridor ID program, which might make funding easier to share, but it is not today a major mainline. The Valdosta route is busy with freights and will need siding/capacity upgrades.

    The Study map shows the train routed on the former Florida East Coast Line from Jacksonville to Miami. This would be very welcome, restoring passenger service to St. Augustine and Daytoma Beach. South of Coco Beach the FEC now hosts hourly Brightline passenger trains running (at least as far as West Palm Beach) at 110mph speeds. It will not be impossible to add an Amtrak train here, but the FEC may well insist on added sidings on the northern portion of the line that is mostly single track. Also getting to the Amtrak stations between West Palm Beach and Miami will require rehabilitation of a freight connection between the FEC and the TriRail/CSX line about a mile to the west.

    I list these difficulties not to kill consideration of this route, but to admit that there are complex issues to be resolved. This may be an example of a new long-haul route that grows out of the emerging new Corridors process. All of this line except the segment between Louisville and Nashville was mentioned by Amtrak as a desirable new regional line for Corridor development.

    Also there are other route options that may face fewer delays for heavy rebuilding. If routed from Chicago to Nashville on CSX line through Terre Haute, and Evansville the train would follow a still busy freight route which might require more siding capacity, but perhaps not have to face quite the level of rebuilding needed to go via Indianapolis.

    But most likely will be that this line will be developed in segments. Operated as an overlay to new Corridor ID services this route might be able to open for example between Atlanta and Florida before work was complete on the mountainous north end. Key to this strategy is to make clear that the new Corridor segments will gain by being overlaid with a critical new north-south long distance route.

    To return to a point made in the first of these posts the congress must provide a reliable, predictable and dedicated funding stream for Amtrak for any complex projects like those proposed in this report to be actually built. An annual revisit to each of these plans is certain to result in their failure.

  3. Here is the next installment of my comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on the Long Distance New Passenger Route Study. More to come! As before please send your own comments to the FRA and feel free to use anything here as you feel would help.
    Because I have fairly extensive observations on this matter, I am going to submit a series of comments. I have already sent you an earlier message expressing my overall support for this effort and praise for your forward looking ideas. This comment will focus on what I feel are omissions from your work.

    Several of the 15 proposed new routes have the effect of reinstating portions of lines formerly served by Amtrak–for example New Orleans-Mobile-Jacksonville as part of the new Dallas-Florida route and St Louis to New York as part of the new Dallas-Tulsa-St. Louis route. These and other examples within your 15 possible new routes are sensible, but there should be another level of route enhancement.

    Existing Amtrak long haul routes cry out for more service–at least over heavily used segments. Such services should not be subject to the existing requirements for (multi)-state subsidies.

    For example, true overnight (dusk one day to dawn the next) trains should be added to segments such as Denver to Chicago on the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR line, (this would be a reborn “Denver Zephyr”–a train that never lost its pre-Amtrak popularity) and Chicago-New York on the LAKESHORE route (a revived “Century”) and the Chicago-New York service should also include a second added overnight frequency via Pittsburgh (the return of the “Broadway Limited”). There are countless other added frequency opportunities on the existing routes. Think Washington to Atlanta, a service Amtrak actually provided on the CRESCENT in both directions until shortly before the COVID crisis. Existing Amtrak trains over such segments generally do not fit into the dusk to dawn model, as they must also make connections at such “hubs” as Chicago.

    Recent experience in Europe has shown conclusively that “sleeper trains” aimed at business travelers have regained their historic popularity. The “Night Jet” sleeper service that the Austrian State Railway (OBB) operates in multiple countries across Europe has literally dozens of new entire trains under construction to supplement its existing (and already growing) fleet. And multiple private operators are also entering the revived overnight market. Unlike in this country, these trains adhere faithfully to the true overnight running model, which assures riders of the ability to do a day’s work or to sight-see promptly upon arrival and avoids (often costly) hotel expense.

    Obviously shorter segments of existing routes will also profit from added frequencies, but until the 750 mile rule for defining long haul routes is rescinded those must come with legislation (long needed) to set the Regional/Long Haul boundary at a far more sensible 300-350 miles.

    Then interstate and regional night trains as well as added daylight services, would become practical for routes like Chicago to St. Paul and New York to Buffalo/Toronto and/or Montreal and San Francisco to Los Angeles (which cries out for both a direct–not via Oakland–daylight and an overnight train). Think also of Chicago to Kansas City on the SOUTHWEST CHIEF route, or New York to Pittsburgh, or one Amtrak train that still runs but without sleepers–which should return–overnight between Boston to Washington (and thru to Richmond and Newport News). None of these additions will require the sort of infrastructure investment needed for entirely new routes.

    These trains would build demand and help make the case for truly visionary new long haul trains and routes. The basic station-track infrastructure will already be in place as a result of the already existing trains over current long-haul lines. As new cars are delivered they could be used on such services prior to the completion of new routes–indeed if properly refurbished many of Amtrak’s existing National Network cars could be deployed there as well.

    A huge fleet expansion will be required to grow the Amtrak network. These new car orders must be placed now and not merely in sufficient numbers to replace existing capacity, which seems to be Amtrak’s current intention. Amtrak must have spares for seasonal demand (about which they now no-longer seem to be concerned) and with an expressed goal of doubling ridership, to meet/serve that expansion as well.

    Obviously the Superliner, Amfleet II and Viewliner cars will not run forever, but if properly maintained and given in the relatively near-term heavy overhauls, they will certainly be usable for another decade or more. It is also worth noting that nothing precludes Amtrak ordering more of the Viewliner cars–a design that would be useful for potentially several decades on intermediate distance added frequencies. Indeed these cars could still serve even when new cars finally arrive for the truly long distance services.

    Amtrak has many virtually new Viewliner diners (and some sleepers) in storage. Further it would be quite possible to renovate some of the soon to be retired Amfleet I coaches with long haul leg-rest seats (this was done by Amtrak in the past). It would even be practical to renovate some Amfleet cars as “lie-flat bed” economy sleepers of the sort in service already in Norway and Australia/Queensland.

    I would also strongly urge consideration of purchasing “off the shelf” equipment designs if decent special needs accessibility is met. Siemens “Night Jet” overnight train’s design is based on the same underlying car “platform” as the Venture/Airo cars already being delivered for Amtrak regional/corridor trains. Siemens “Night Train” designs have accessible coach and sleeper cars that might be delivered in far less than 8-10 years–even if these cars were only intended ultimately for such trains as Chicago-Denver or San Francisco to Los Angeles.

    Finally, consideration should be made to implement portions of proposed new routes before everything might be ready. This would eliminate the need to have all the equipment on hand for say Chicago to Seattle via Billings if enough cars were available to run Chicago-St. Paul. Or perhaps if the track-work upgrades were completed for Chicago-Indianapolis-Louisville on the proposed new Florida route before the section from there to Florida, why not provide an “interim/starter” train(s)?

    In my next Comments submission I will begin a review of specific suggested new routes. Again my thanks to you for this remarkable effort!

    Carl H. Fowler
    President (Retired) Rail Travel Center/Rail Travel Adventures
    Past Vice Chair: Rail Passengers Association
    Past-President: Champlain Valley Chapter National Railway Historical Society
    President: CHF Rail Consulting LLC
    Member: Vermont Rail Advisory Council
    (All opinions expressed are my own)

  4. I am submitting a series of comments to the FRA on this process. Obviously it is very ambitious, but in terms of new long haul routes we have nothing new in decades. If even one of these ideas is built it will completely change the game for the National Network. And like it or not we are past the days when James J. Hill could call his superintendents and order a new train service to begin ASAP. Now–like it or not–we must plan.

    Here is the first of my submissions. I urge you to send your thoughts to the FRA as well–as much or as little as you feel apt. The link is at the bottom of the page at


    This report is both hopeful and creative. You have done far more than to simply draw lines on a map. Without getting into the full details of individual routes here are a few observations.

    Somewhere in the report you should note that some of the more remote segments such as Denver to Billings might be served by less costly equipment such as new DMUs. In such cases equipment could change at a hub. El Paso–Albuquerque–Denver might support a full consist with sleepers and diners, while on-going Denver–Cheyenne–Casper–Billings might best be a route with new DMU equipment. Key would be guaranteed connections at Denver.

    You should emphasize how many of these routes will support Amtrak’s regional “Amtrak Connects US” new lines as well. For example, the new Denver-Florida route would share the tracks of the Gulf Coast Regional Corridor between New Orleans and Mobile, enroute to Florida. This would better allocate costs by better utilizing stations and staff and by offering more choices to all users over those segments. You offer countless other examples.

    Most importantly of all, none of this will be possible without a predictable and routine method for the funding to accomplish such an obviously long-term plan. The Interstate Highways were 90% Federally funded and built over 25-30 years. At least for construction and equipment acquisition, this rail plan needs 100% Federal funding.

    This project will only work if it can accomplish the creation of new multi-state services without one enroute state being able to torpedo an entire new service by with-holding their investments. We may–sadly–be seeing this play-out right now, with Alabama/Mobile refusing to come to an agreement for their share of the start-up costs for the Gulf Coast Regional Line.

    Predictable funding does not have to mean allocating for every route at once–but it must be from a dedicated and on-going source and it must be free of local veto authority. We have a Federal government in this country because there are issues that transcend local and individual state borders. Building out a much enlarged Amtrak is a perfect example.

    Again I applaud your work and will reserve comment on specific route proposals until I’ve had more time to review your plans. But thanks for changing the passenger rail discussion from one of endless reliance on cost cutting and institutionalized pessimism to one of opportunity and growth!

    Carl Fowler

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