North Coast Hiawatha (NCH) Passenger Rail Study, Amtrak route report – Sandpoint Train Station (Sandpoint Train Depot)
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North Coast Hiawatha (NCH) Passenger Rail Study, Amtrak route report

Sorry for the slight delay in getting this posted, it has been a busy ten days. I wanted to be sure that I provided access on the Sandpoint Depot site to the North Coast Hiawatha report that Amtrak just released. I encourage everyone to download the entire report and explore all the details.

If you prefer a short summary rather than reading through the 53 page document yourself, I will attempt to summarize the report with a couple graphics to help illustrate the items I feel are important.

The North Coast Hiawatha route would run from Chicago to Seattle through southern Montana. The route was discontinued on October 6, 1979, to follow is a map that details the Empire Builder route, the old North Coast Hiawatha (1979) route and the proposed route (click image for a larger version).

The proposed North Coast Hiawatha route generally follows the route over which the North Coast Hiawatha previously operated.

The proposed North Coast Hiawatha route map generally follows the route over which the North Coast Hiawatha previously operated. Click image for a larger view.

The infrastructure to accomplish this route is costly. The total estimated cost to implement this route according to the report is just over 1 billion dollars. Annual passenger revenue is estimated at $43 million. This route is expected to cost $74 million to run each year and estimated to loose $31 million a year. Farebox recovery would be 58.0% which is fairly high compared to other long distance Amtrak routes. It would actually rank number four out of sixteen routes if the numbers prove true. Total annual ridership is estimated at 359,800.

Amtrak Long distance Fairbox Recovery showing placement of North Coast Hiawatha

Amtrak Long distance fairbox recovery showing placement of North Coast Hiawatha

I have mixed feelings about the report, perhaps I was expecting too much. One thing that seems to jump out again and again is the table showing the annual costs for the potentially reinstated stations on the route. Only four stations have cost estimates listed for “Fuel, Power & Utilities” and it can get VERY cold along the route. Perhaps Amtrak is thinking that unheated platform enclosures would be adequate, but my guess is that most riders would not be unsatisfied with them. Besides, why not restore some of the historic stations instead. After all Amtrak has developed a site dedicated to Revitalizing America’s Train Stations.

Here is a graphic of the table showing the estimated operating costs for the additional potential stations.

Potential additional North Coast Hiawatha Stations annual cost estimates

Potential additional North Coast Hiawatha Stations annual cost estimates

It seems to me that there are many places that the cost to implement this route can be trimmed (annual station costs not being one of them). I realize that many of the parties involved want the platinum version of the North Coast Hiawatha and many of the costs estimates reflect this, but I prefer to take a more frugal approach and would certainly settle for the bronze version of the route. In order for this route to have a chance of being brought back, people need to get involved and let their local, state and federal representatives know that it is important to them.

There is a lot more that could said about the lengthy document, so I encourage everyone to check out the entire North Coast Hiawatha report for themselves.

In closing, I participated in a conference call this week with more than 20 people from five different states along the proposed North Coast Hiawatha (NCH) route. Most participants were encouraged by Amtrak’s report and ready to help get things moving in a forward direction. If you want to get involved, here is a great place to start. Look for more information to be posted soon.

Be sure to check out the recent post: North Coast Hiawatha Report, thoughts from a Railroad Veteran for some thoughtful comments on the NCH route.

Regards,
Aric Spence
208-263-3278
spt@sandpointtrainstation.com
http://www.sandpointtrainstation.com

Posted in Amtrak, Historic, Support.

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