Spokane train passengers may have daily service once again - and may even wave goodbye during daylight - if Amtrak officials approve an assortment of route changes this fall.
Faced with a potential $258 million deficit for 1997, officials of the national passenger railroad said Thursday they will make sweeping changes in service, closing some routes, effective Nov. 10.
But some cities will see increased traffic.
In effect, Spokane’s gain comes at the expense of Denver. Amtrak plans to eliminate the Pioneer - a three-times-weekly service between the Mile High City and Seattle.
Once that route is gone, the only Amtrak service from the Midwest to Seattle will run through Spokane. The train that now stops here four days a week would become a daily visitor.
“For you in Spokane, this would restore passenger service back to what it was before last year, when it was cut to four days a week,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Dawn Soper.
The train running through Spokane now starts in Portland, goes to Seattle, then arrives in Spokane between 1 and 3 a.m. The return trip from Chicago and Minneapolis, also a four-day service, comes in around the same time.
With the increase from four- to seven-day service, Amtrak might revise its arrival schedule “to near-normal hours,” Soper said.
“It’s hard to say what those new times would be. It might be several hours different. It might be just 15 minutes,” she said.
Those late hours have chafed area riders, especially those eager to see scenic mountain views while crossing the Continental Divide.
Instead, the Empire Builder now takes Amtrak passengers through pristine sections of Glacier National Park and Montana during the darkest hours before dawn.
“If they’d get the trains coming through that section of the mountains in better hours, they’d make more people much happier,” said Dorian Carlson, a Seattle travel agent.
The changes affecting Spokane are part of Amtrak’s emergency effort to save money.
Some 130 rail stations, including Spokane, will see increased service as a result of the changes. Another 350 stations will lose passengers, while 42 cities are expected to lose Amtrak service altogether.
In annual passenger volume, Spokane’s station ranks 135th out of 540. More than 31,000 passengers either climbed aboard or got off trains in Spokane last year, records show. During the same period in Seattle, 394,000 passengers were counted.
A year ago, Amtrak officials decided the Empire Builder was losing too much money, prompting the reduction to four-day-per-week service. Now officials say that was a mistake, based on what passengers have told them.
Among the loudest: skiers and outdoor recreation buffs looking to travel West by rail. Another factor in changing the arrival times of the Empire Builder in Spokane are freight train schedules. Amtrak uses rail lines operated by the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern railroads.
“We have to coordinate with their schedules,” said Soper.
In addition to closing the Pioneer service between Denver and Seattle, other Amtrak routes scheduled to end are:
The Desert Wind, running three days a week between Chicago and Los Angeles, through Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
The Boston-to-Albany, N.Y., section of the Lake Shore Limited that runs between Chicago and Boston.
The Texas Eagle, which runs three times a week between Chicago and San Antonio, Texas.
Congress has tentatively appropriated $200 million in operating subsidies to Amtrak for fiscal 1996-97 - $50 million less than the railroad wanted.
It’s too early to predict the impact on local jobs, Soper said.
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