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Friday, January 30, 2009

All Aboard for Baker City, Maybe, But Not Bend

There's some serious talk about bringing passenger rail service back to Baker City, but will Bend ever see the return of passenger trains? That seems

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 1:05 PM

There's some serious talk about bringing passenger rail service back to Baker City, but will Bend ever see the return of passenger trains? That seems about as probable as finding Amelia Earhart alive.

A story on OPB yesterday said Amtrak is considering a proposal to restore passenger service to Baker City. The Pioneer Route used to run from Seattle to Portland and thence to Boise by way of Pendleton and Baker City, but cash-strapped Amtrak discontinued it for financial reasons in 1997.

The locals in Baker City see the restoration of passenger train service as a key to reviving their town. "Tourism has become a very important part of the economic commerce of Baker County," Debbi Bainter, executive director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, told OPB. "Ultimately, I think [rail service] will be another way to link a mode of transportation that's a little historic with the historic town, and we are known very much for the history in our area."

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer joined forces with Republican Rep. Greg Walden to urge Amtrak to study reviving the Pioneer Route, OPB said, and Amtrak is expected to issue a report later this year. Ultimately it would be up to Congress to decide whether to fund restoration of train service.

Bend hasn't had passenger rail service for decades. As far as The Eye can figure out, the last time a passenger train pulled into Bend was in September of 2006, when the Portland Rail Museum organized a steam train excursion from Portland through the Deschutes River gorge to Bend and back. There's an account of that journey, with lots of photos, here.

To get aboard a passenger train now Bendites have to drive to Chemult, 70 miles south of town. And it doesn't look like that will change anytime in the foreseeable future.

According to a report on the City of Bend website: "The feasibility of extending AMTRAK service to the Bend area was analyzed during the development of the 1992 Oregon Rail Passenger Policy Plan. The study concluded it would be impractical to provide passenger service to Bend. ... The Oregon Rail Plan does not currently identify any future plans for passenger rail service serving the Bend Metropolitan planning area."

It'd be nice to be able to board a train in Bend and ride over to the valley and Portland and on up to Seattle, but it looks like that's not going to happen. Still, it also would be fun to drive to Portland and hop a train for a leisurely, scenic jaunt to Baker City and Boise.

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