Boise support for passenger train service to Salt Lake City

Mayor Lauren McLean continues to see support on the concept of returning high-speed rail service to Boise.

BOISE, Idaho – It’s been 25 years since a passenger train left Boise Depot. From 1977 to 1997, Amtrak provided service through Boise on the Seattle-Salt Lake City route. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is working to make this story a new reality.

“We are working hard to bring people together to make sure we can be considered to have a rail route from Boise to Salt Lake City,” Mayor McLean said.

At the Boise City Council on Tuesday night, the mayor’s office will present the support it has in its appeal to the Federal Rail Administration to restore passenger rail service in southern Idaho.

“We submitted a letter to the administration to review the route, got the support of the governor. Mayors from all over this region, from southern Idaho to eastern Idaho. And we also have the support of the (Congress) delegation. So I’m really looking forward to doing everything we can to compete for a Salt Lake connection,” McLean said.

There are definitely ways to get between Boise and SLC. Boise Airport offers at least 5 nonstop flights to and from SLC per day. Greyhound Bus also offers a few daily travel options for the thousands of people who travel between the Utah Capitol and southern Idaho each year.

So why is the McLean administration pushing this?

“We want our residents to have as many opportunities to move from place to place as possible. We want to be able to connect our communities in the region, connect to the Air Force base at Mountain Home, connect to Pocatello, and then, of course, get to Salt Lake. Think of all the students coming and going and the different opportunities that would give people to move more easily from one community to another,” McLean said.

The idea is not new, there have been talks of Amtrak trains returning to Boise for a number of years. The concept, however, has been made more realistic in recent years, with the Biden administration promising major investments in passenger rail service. Mayor McLean says Amtrak has noticed recent community support in Idaho.

“Just a few weeks ago we had about 40 or 50 people here at the depot meeting with Amtrak to discuss this. And what Amtrak told me then was that they hadn’t seen the level of community support that we were able to muster. And that’s a great sign. And of course, we’re going to do our best, try to have this route looked at so that we can be connected to Salt Lake. And if it doesn’t work this time, we’ll try, try again,” McLean said.

It’s early in the process, but there’s an interesting element that Boise and other major cities in southwest Idaho already have to make the idea workable.

“The City of Boise owns this beautiful station. And there will be opportunities if we have this round to invest with the Department of Transportation to make it ready for train travel again. And we have the same luck. In Caldwell, where Caldwell owns the station, and in Nampa, it is owned by a not-for-profit organization. So we already have great bones. We have the track that runs through our city, the city owns it, and a great partnership beyond that to do everything we can to make this happen,” McLean said.

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Jose P. Rogers