Rolling to Wilder 

Revival of freight line could spur passenger link

Community leaders, lawmakers and railroad officials were treated to a unique experience last week when a vintage passenger train took them from the Boise Depot to Southeast Boise for a first-hand look at what could become a hot spot for rail transportation.

The trip followed the city's announcements of a new agreement with the newly formed Boise Valley Railroad to provide service and maintenance to all Boise-owned rail. Mayor Dave Bieter and John Brown, CEO of BVRR's parent company, Watco Companies, also signed a letter of intent to explore the development of a new transload and intermodal railroad freight facility south of the Boise Airport. The potential facility would allow goods to be transferred from truck to train and vice versa.

The nearest transload facilities are in Portland, Ore., and Ogden, Utah. City spokesman Adam Park said having one in Boise could make the area an "industrial corridor and an economic driver for the region."

For now, the city and BVRR, which was created in November 2009, will work on a joint feasibility study to judge demand and needs for the $2 million to $5 million facility.

Brown thinks it is the perfect time for the new facility because "the city is looking for opportunities to grow the rail freight business and continue on with what we do today."

Wednesday's event at the Depot also served as a ribbon-cutting ceremony for BVRR, which will provide service to all 18.2 miles of city-owned rail under the new agreement. They will also maintain a testing range for local locomotive builder, MotivePower, which provides nearly 50 percent of the commuter locomotives in service across the country. Upgrades and maintenance to the existing track will enable trains to travel at higher speeds.

Bieter praised the benefits of maintaining a strong freight rail system.

"Freight rail is more efficient and able to operate at a larger scale than other forms of transportation," he said. "We're able to move a ton of freight 450 miles on a single gallon of gas."

This new partnership with BVRR not only has the potential to improve the ability to transport goods throughout the area, but people as well. Bieter, whose plans for a streetcar system have been hindered by lack of funding and support, said the city's new relationship with BVRR could help further plans for a commuter rail system--something Bieter he has already broached with BVRR.

"This kind of relationship really helps give us momentum to be able to accommodate that--we hope--in the near future," Bieter said. "If you have a relationship and the freight is working well, then you can accommodate passengers."

Brown could not comment on any specific plans to use the city-owned rail for passenger service but stated "Boise Valley Railroad and Watco Companies are willing to look at anything that is mutually beneficial."

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