A Utah train to Idaho? Salt Lake, Boise leaders are working to restore old service

Sep 20, 2022, 7:16 AM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 10:44 pm

An undated aerial view of the Boise skyline and Boise Depot. Salt Lake City and Boise are in discus...

An undated aerial view of the Boise skyline and Boise Depot. Salt Lake City and Boise are in discussions over restoring a passenger rail service between the two cities. (City of Boise)

(City of Boise)

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City and Boise leaders are currently working on a plan to restore a large portion of an old passenger rail line, providing new service from Salt Lake City to an area just northwest of Boise in the near future.

The two cities submitted a statement of interest to the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this month, according to Bre Brush, the transportation advisor for the Boise Mayor’s Office, in a presentation to the Boise City Council last week. But there are plenty of stops along the way before the idea comes to fruition.

“This is still very preliminary,” Salt Lake City transportation director Jon Larsen told KSL.com Monday. “It’s exciting to be having these sorts of conversations and it’s exciting that … people are interested in knowing about these conversations, but we still have a long way to go before we’re running passenger rail between Salt Lake and Boise.”

Restoring an old rail connection

The idea emerged from talks between Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean not long after the U.S. Department of Transportation opened billions of dollars for passenger rail projects through an infrastructure bill passed last year, Larsen said. NBC News reported in November 2021 that $66 billion in funds were designated in the bill to go toward advancing passenger rail projects.

Given the billions on the table, Brush said there are a suite of federal funding programs and grant opportunities to make this happen, such as the recently established Corridor Identification and Development Program. It was created to help restore old passenger rail service routes or create new routes less than 750 miles in length.

For this to work, two cities must work together within the defined 750-mile radius, McLean explained during last week’s meeting. In this case, Salt Lake City and Boise leaders submitted a potential route that goes from Salt Lake City to Idaho’s Treasure Valley in southwest Idaho, restoring the old Pioneer Line. Boise’s intent is to have this line go as far as Caldwell, Idaho.

This map shows the proposed passenger train route restoration between Salt Lake City and Idaho’s Treasure Valley. (Boise City Council)

A request for proposal document is expected to be released next month, which will include details of a service development plan and cost estimates, as well as an outline of the next steps to make the idea a reality, Brush said.

A spokesman for Mendenhall’s office told KSL.com that the mayor has been involved in the project discourse all summer and is “in favor” of where the project is headed.

Other government departments like the Utah Transit Authority have also been in the discussions, though a spokesman for the agency deferred to Salt Lake City on the matter. Beth Holbrook, a member of UTA’s board of trustees, tweeted over the weekend that the agency has met with Amtrak over ways to “continue rail connectivity” in Utah.


The project is far from completion. Larsen acknowledges that the Utah and Idaho state legislatures will have to approve an official request and any related funding before service arrives. It’s still too early to know how much each state would have to pony up to get rail service going.

However, given the growing transportation challenges and the need for more alternatives, officials from both cities believe there is a lot to like about the proposal. For example, while Salt Lake City and Boise are spearheading the campaign, Brush said the idea seems to have really strong support from the smaller communities along the route.

“Many communities, particularly those in more rural areas, saw this as a potential to fill the void brought on by (the) loss of air service at smaller airports,” she said.

Federal funding also helps.

Larsen said the level of collaboration between cities, states and the federal government has been “encouraging” so far, largely because of the federal money available. He believes it’s opening up ideas that may have been considered a pipe dream just two or three years ago.

“It’s an absolute game-changer,” he said.

A regional route?

The Salt Lake City to Caldwell service may just be the beginning, too. Boise City Council President Elaine Clegg explained that the future could include a line that connects Portland, Oregon, which would complete the restoration of the former Pioneer Line. That connection would allow for a transfer in Portland to a line that connects up to Seattle.

Any (routes) chosen by (the Federal Railroad Administration) through this and the long-distance study will be eligible for technical assistance. … It’s really exciting stuff.

–President Elaine Clegg, Boise City Council

The route south of Salt Lake City may eventually go as far south as Las Vegas, restoring the old Desert Wind Line. City officials noted that this portion of the route restoration could eventually even reach Arizona — again, with the help of new federal programs.

“It would be a tremendous route if they do end up identifying that,” Clegg said. “But any (routes) chosen by (the Federal Railroad Administration) through this and the long-distance study will be eligible for technical assistance. … It’s really exciting stuff.”

Larsen clarified that Salt Lake City is interested in southern expansions but those discussions are nowhere as strong as the current dialogue with Boise. The same goes for service from Salt Lake City to other Utah places like Moab.

The cities’ proposed project comes at a time when passenger rail advocates are pushing for new services, especially in the mostly blank northwest portion of the continental U.S. Utah’s main out-of-state passenger rail service is Amtrak’s California Zephyr, which runs from Chicago to San Francisco. It has stops in Green River, Helper, Provo and Salt Lake City along the way.

The nonprofit rail advocacy organization All Aboard Northwest held three informational meetings in Utah last month about the possibility of restoring old services throughout the region, including the former Pioneer Line. The group also presented in Idaho and at the Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Summit held in August, although the organization had nothing to do with the Salt Lake City and Boise discussions.

Members of the organization and the Utah Rail Passengers Association argue that passenger rail is a cheaper and more effective alternative to the country’s growing transportation needs. They view it as a companion, not a replacement, for personal vehicle and airline travel.

“Up here in the greater Northwest region, there’s a big void but people actually live out there too,” said Dan Bilka, the co-founder of All Aboard Northwest, during one of the Utah meetings last month. “We say it’s high time that people get on the map, and we see more and better services throughout our region.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

In March, Amariah Jacobs was on a hike with her husband along the Oregon coast when she found a rar...

Paulina Aguilar, CNN

Preschool teacher finds rare fossil along Oregon coast

In March, Amariah Jacobs was on a hike with her husband along the Oregon coast when she found a rare fossil of an extinct animal.

3 hours ago

(Courtesy: Ogden Utah Fire Department) The aftermath of the fire...

Carlysle Price

Ogden mobile home fire claims lives of a cat and dog

A one-story mobile home caught fire Friday night near Wall Avenue, where four people and three pets were affected. 

3 hours ago

A man stands near what was discovered to be a well that opened up in a Spanish Fork man's Driveway....

Brianna Chavez

Spanish Fork homeowner finds old well under his driveway

After years of gradual change in one Spanish Fork homeowner's driveway, a well was discovered after part of the concrete caved in.

15 hours ago

Michael Cook, who was running for the Republican nomination for Spanish Fork's District 25 senate s...

Carlysle Price and Michael Houck, KSL TV

Former Senate candidate charged for refusing to leave a USPS while gathering signatures

Former Republican candidate Michael Cook is facing two charges after allegedly attempting to gather signatures in a federal building on March 29.

17 hours ago

FILE: A Summit County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicle. (KSL TV)...

Alexander Campbell

Multiple Summit County businesses affected by counterfeit scheme, one arrested in connection

After reports of businesses being passed counterfeit money, one man is arrested in Summit County and facing drug and forgery charges.

17 hours ago

Green grass and wildflowers grow as a cyclist rides on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in the foothi...

Carter Williams

Salt Lake City hits 1st 80-degree day of year, ties 88-year-old record

Utah's capital tied an 88-year-old temperature record on Friday as the high temperature at Salt Lake City International Airport surpassed 80 degrees for the first time this year.

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

A Utah train to Idaho? Salt Lake, Boise leaders are working to restore old service