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Posted: May 01, 2009

State of the state: Revival of Amtrak’s Pioneer would link Denver with Cheyenne and Seattle

Snapshots of issues affecting Colorado business

Eric Peterson

Catering to the coasts, Amtrak for the most part ignores the Rockies. But that could soon change: The Pioneer route that ran from 1977 to 1997, connecting Chicago to Seattle via Denver and Cheyenne, could soon be revived and boost the region’s passenger rail service.

The last Pioneer train that left Seattle 12 years ago was the last passenger line to cross the heart of the Rocky Mountain West, traversing Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado on its way east. Since then, Amtrak’s California Zephyr has been the only route offering true intrastate passenger rail service that includes Colorado; Wyoming has been left without. And other than the California Zephyr, the only other Amtrak route in the Rockies is the Empire Builder, cutting across northern Montana, also running from Chicago to Seattle.


The Passenger Rail Improvement Act, passed by the U.S. Congress last fall, ordered Amtrak to investigate the restoration of the Pioneer route. Amtrak subsequently hired Orange, Calif.-based consultants Patterson & Associates to
conduct an analysis that’s due this fall. While the original Pioneer stopped only in Denver and Longmont before Cheyenne, one proposed route now under review also includes stops in Boulder and Fort Collins.

“There are a couple different routes they could take, but we think this one is the best,” says Susan Graf, CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. “It would be great for Amtrak and all of the communities along the route. It was a very popular route at one time.”

The Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has developed a website,, to showcase the effort. As Cheyenne’s history as a railroad town has been sabotaged by the cutback in Amtrak service in recent decades, the city’s leaders are especially enthusiastic about getting passenger rail back into Wyoming.

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at

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