Federal Railroad Administration
Email: [email protected]
March 14, 2023
Subject: RailPAC comment letter on Amtrak Long Distance Study
To Federal Railroad Administration Amtrak Long Distance Study team:
On behalf of the all-volunteer Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC), I thank the Federal Railroad Administration for conducting the Amtrak Long Distance Service Study. We believe that this study is crucial for the nation’s future mobility. We enthusiastically support its completion and implementation.
RailPAC offers the following recommendation for new or improved routes over 750 miles that would have great benefit to California and Nevada (listed in order of priority):
1. Increase the Sunset Limited to daily frequency and restore service through Phoenix. We urge FRA to help with funding design and environmental studies for refurbishing and reopening the Union Pacific Railroad’s Wellton Branch, and other key capacity projects along the Sunset Route.
2. Restore the Desert Wind:
Los Angeles-Fullerton-Riverside-San Bernardino-Victorville-Barstow-Las Vegas-Salt Lake City-Denver-Chicago.
3. Introduce second trains each day on Amtrak’s long-distance routes, including the four that serve California: the Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle.
4. New El Paso-Dallas section added to Sunset Limited-
Split a Dallas section in El Paso then diverging from the Sunset route at Sierra Blanca (east of El Paso), or a new LA-Dallas through train created utilizing:
El Paso/Sierra Blanca-Odessa-Midland-Big Spring-Sweetwater-Abilene-Fort Worth-Dallas
(This train could continue to Chicago as the Texas Eagle or east to Meridian, MS as a section of the Crescent).
5. Restore the San Francisco Chief/Bay Area section of the Southwest Chief:
Oakland/Richmond-Stockton-Modesto-Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield-Mojave-Barstow, then joining at Barstow the Southwest Chief to Chicago, or new through service via Vaughn-Clovis-Amarillo-Wichita-Newton-Topeka (the route of the San Francisco Chief before its discontinuance in 1971).
6. Oakland – Dallas-
This would follow the same route as the San Francisco Chief described above, between the Bay Area and New Mexico, then would continue as:
7. New version of Golden State-
Another addition on the Sunset route would be a new Chicago-Los Angeles train (paralleling the historical Southern Pacific Golden State route, although taking BNSF east of Vaughn, NM), that would also give the Coachella Valley, Phoenix, Tucson and El Paso a new through service to Chicago:
Los Angeles-Yuma-Phoenix-Tucson-El Paso-Alamogordo-Vaughn-Clovis-Amarillo-Wichita-Newton-Topeka-Kansas City-Fort Madison-Mendota-Chicago.
At the February 2023 Southwest regional working group meeting (according to summary posted recently on the Long Distance Service Study website), there was support voiced for restoring the Desert Wind, San Francisco Chief as well Phoenix service, and for increasing long-distance train frequency to twice a day. It is also hopeful to see that the Desert Wind, the Sunset Limited through Phoenix, San Francisco Chief are some of the discontinued routes being examined by the study team.
All of the routes described require a great increase in size of Amtrak’s long-distance rolling stock fleet. The high priority for Amtrak’s current long-distance trains in the near term is repair and rehabilitation of stored equipment as fast as possible. Only with repair and refurbishment of existing equipment, can all long-distance trains be restored to pre-Covid consists and amenities. With new equipment, the amount of long-distance service to California could easily more than double in size (and ridership) with new routes described above.
New and improved long-distance Amtrak service will bring many benefits to California. One benefit that cannot be overstated is the greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions by shifting some long-distance travel to rail instead of driving or flying. Investments in Amtrak long-distance service will thus help California achieve its climate goals.
The attached map shows RailPAC’s Amtrak long-distance priorities superimposed on a vision map of a future Western North America rail network including new and improved long-distance passenger trains. This background map was compiled by RailPAC member Brandon Champlin, after consultation with passenger rail advocacy groups and railroad experts across the West. The background future vision map is included to show the potential for broad ‘network effect’ connections across North America of new inter-regional and corridor train services.
RailPAC appreciates this opportunity to provide input to the important Amtrak Long Distance Study that your team is doing.
Thank you for your consideration.
Vice President- South and Board Member,
Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)
Founded in 1978, RailPAC is an all-volunteer statewide organization that advocates for the improvement of regional and intercity passenger rail service.