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Geography

CWU Professor, Student Extend Passenger Rail Study

Although passenger rail service disappeared from central Washington in the 1980s, rail fans and citizens are funding studies to determine local interest in restoring services. Central Washington University geography professor and chair John Bowen and alumnus Noah Westbay received support from the rail advocacy group All Aboard Washington (AAWA) to conduct surveys on potential public demand for future rail travel in this area.

"More than a year ago, I was asked by All Aboard Washington to work with CWU students to evaluate the proposed restoration of scheduled passenger rail service between the Tri-Cities and Seattle over the Stampede Pass corridor (right through Ellensburg)," Bowen explained. "This line has not had scheduled service since the last Amtrak train went through in October 1980, but there is hope—and at least a little interest by Amtrak—in a potential resumption of service."

Bowen, who specializes in transportation, worked with Geography Capstone students in fall 2016 and again in spring quarter to do various kinds of background research about the idea. They also conducted an online survey of people in Ellensburg and other nearby communities about what they think and how often they would use the train if service were restored. Additionally, in April, the students conducted face-to-face surveys at the Super 1 in Ellensburg.

"I presented some initial results from the surveys at a rail conference in Seattle in May. The leaders of AAWA liked the work we’ve done and supported having the scope of the survey extended to other communities along the Stampede Pass corridor," Bowen continued. "Our goal is to have responses throughout the planned corridor."

The planned corridor runs from Pasco to Yakima, Ellensburg, Cle Elum, over Stampede Pass to Auburn. In Pasco, the line would join with the Amtrak Empire Builder service linking Portland and Chicago. In Auburn, the line would link with north-south routes including Amtrak Cascades trains between Eugene and Vancouver, BC.

Westbay is working with Bowen to determine if it is economically feasible to restore service to places that haven't had rail service for nearly 40 years. However, over the past few decades, more and more people are working in central Washington, and commuting over the pass to work in the Puget Sound area. And in addition to the growing commuter need, there is also the tourism draw of a passenger train through Washington's booming wine country as well as the many CWU students who might take a train between campus and their homes on the west side of the Cascades.

"There are lots of unknowns at this point," Bowen admitted. "Although the rail line does exist, it would have to accommodate a mix of passenger and freight lines, all with different schedules. There are a lot of unknowns. The goal of the research is replace some of those unknowns with data."

AAWA provided more than $3,000 in funding for the study, Restoring Scheduled Passenger Rail Service to the Stampede Pass Corridor. The CWU Provost's Office also provided $1,300 in financial support.

"I'm pleased that Central sees the value in this research," Bowen said. "There are other stakeholders who we hope will be contributing to the study of restoration as well."

Map of Stampede Pass Corridor by David Cordner, CWU Geography Department

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518, valeriec@cwu.edu
 

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