The Pioneer stops in Wyoming on its way west.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Western United States|
|First service||7 June 1977|
|Last service||10 May 1997|
|Distance travelled||2,662 miles (4,284 km)|
|Service frequency||Three days per week|
|Observation facilities||Sightseer lounge|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Pioneer was a passenger train run by Amtrak from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois via Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; and other intermediate points.
In the 1960s two Union Pacific Railroad streamliners provided to Portland, Oregon via Boise, Idaho: the City of Portland (from Chicago) and the Portland Rose (from Kansas City, Missouri). The City of Portland had an illustrious pedigree: the first streamlined train with sleeping cars and the first streamliner in service between Chicago and the West Coast. Amtrak did not retain either train in 1971, preferring the Empire Builder for Chicago-Pacific Northwest service. Train travel between the Pacific Northwest and Denver now required going either west to California or east to Chicago.
Amtrak sought to fill this gap in 1977 with the introduction of the Pioneer between Seattle and Salt Lake City. The all-coach train operated on a daily 24-hour schedule with connections available in Ogden, Utah with the San Francisco Zephyr (Chicago–San Francisco). Meal service was provided in an on-board cafe, one of the then-new Amfleet "Am-dinettes." Coaches were all-reserved except between Portland and Seattle, where the Pioneer supplemented existing corridor service. Regular service began on June 7.
The Pioneer began exchanging a Seattle–Chicago through coach with the San Francisco Zephyr on April 26, 1981; this was supplemented by a through sleeping car on October 31, 1982. The decision in 1983 by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to join Amtrak shifted the Zephyr south to the Moffat Tunnel Route. Amtrak renamed that train the California Zephyr; the interchange point shifted to the Pioneer's terminus in Salt Lake City. Also operating with the two trains was the Desert Wind, which served Los Angeles.:143-144
On June 17, 1991, the Pioneer began splitting from the California Zephyr in Denver, Colorado and proceeding over the Union Pacific's Overland Route in Wyoming, which had last seen service in 1983. A bus at Ogden provided a connection to Salt Lake City. Two considerations prompted this change. The combined California Zephyr/Desert Wind/Pioneer consisted of 16 Superliner cars, the longest such train Amtrak had ever operated. It required no fewer than four EMD F40PH diesel locomotives to haul the combined train through the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Salt Lake City. Having the Pioneer separate earlier reduced the load. Further, the faster running time over the Overlound Route allowed a more reasonable departure time from Seattle. The Pioneer began running thrice-weekly west of Denver on November 4, 1993. Funding challenges led Amtrak to discontinue the Pioneer on May 10, 1997, after Oregon declined to provide financial support. The Desert Wind ended at the same time.:148-150
The original all-coach Pioneer had Amfleet coaches and a lounge. Amtrak added a Heritage Fleet sleeping car in 1978. With the start of through service with the San Francisco Zephyr in 1981 the Pioneer received bi-level Superliner coaches, but the single-level sleeping car and lounge remained until 1982, when the train went all-Superliner.:155
In accordance with the Passenger Rail Improvement Act of 2008 Amtrak evaluated the possibility of restoring service to the Pioneer and other discontinued long-distance routes.[dead link] Amtrak considered four options for a restored Pioneer, all of which would have through service to Chicago via the California Zephyr:
|Endpoints||Route||Estimated ridership||Revenues||Operating costs||Operating loss||Farebox recovery||Capital costs|
|Salt Lake City||Seattle||Rio Grande Route||102,000||$11.6m||$36.6m||$25.0m||31.7%||$373.9m|
|Salt Lake City||Portland||Rio Grande Route||82,000||$7.6m||$35.9m||$28.3m||21.2%||$370.5m|
According to the study the projected farebox recovery ratio was "significantly lower than the average fare box recovery for Amtrak long distance trains in FY2008 (51.8%). Fare box recovery for the two Seattle options (Options 1 and 2) is lower than all but one of Amtrak's 15 existing long distance routes, and the Portland options have a lower fare box recovery than any Amtrak long distance route." Amtrak projected lower ridership than in the mid-1990s owing to the proliferation of low-cost air travel between Seattle and Salt Lake City (particularly Southwest Airlines).
There are a least two caveats-differences--that would have to be made if the train were reinstated. One: Union Pacific has realigned the tracks at East Portland, at the east end of the Steel Bridge, so that there is no longer a direct connection between Union Station and UP's Sullivan's Gulch line, the Graham line along I-84. The train would have to do some extra switching and make a back-up move to access the route. Two: The track east of the Boise, Idaho, depot is out of service. Trains would have to bypass Boise, perhaps stopping at Nampa (for Boise passengers) and continuing on the present freight-only bypass.
- "Inaugural Run Introduces Pioneer To Boise Route Cities". Amtrak NEWS 4 (10): 1. June 1977. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
- Amtrak (June 22, 1977). "National Train Timetables".
- Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34705-X. OCLC 61499942.
- "Amtrak Fact Sheet, Fiscal Year 2008, State of Oregon" (PDF). National Railroad Passenger Corporation. Nov 2008. Retrieved 9 Jan 2009.
- Amtrak (16 Oct 2009). "Pioneer Route Passenger Rail Study". Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- Video presents background on the Pioneer and tries to explain continued interest in the route.
- Advocacy website proposes restoration with routing via Cheyenne, Wyoming, Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado.