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The potential of a Laramie and Cheyenne passenger line gains traction as nationwide commuter rail study continues.

The westbound Pioneer pauses at Laramie Wyo. on July 3, 1996.
Photo taken by Bob Johnson
The westbound Pioneer pauses at Laramie, Wyo. on July 3, 1996.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has been funding massive projects nationwide, including broadband expansion and infrastructure upgrades in Wyoming. Plus, the Federal Transit Administration announced $9.9 billion in federal formula funding for states to develop public transit projects. For Wyoming, that means nearly $10 million in annual transit formula funding to “maintain, operate, trains, upgrade, plan and design” various forms and aspects of transportation.

This came as advocacy and research for the development of a commuter rail grows in southern Wyoming. Last year, Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins announced the formation of a Cheyenne Rail Commission, to evaluate a potential connection between Fort Collins and Cheyenne.

Earlier this February, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) showed officials in Washington a map of potential long-distance routes that should be examined. The map included three commuter rail routes that would run through Wyoming. Billings to Cheyenne would be the north-south line, connecting to Fort Collins, Denver, and farther south. A second line would see a revival of theAmtrak Pioneer I-80 Corridor route, connecting Cheyenne to an eastern route into Rapid City.

The 163-page powerpoint presentation created by the FRA and the subsequent map are part of an ongoing Amtrak Daily Long Distance Service Study. The study plans to end within the calendar year, at which point the results will be presented to Congress. However, officials note in the presentation that this is a “study, focused on Long-Distance Networks” and not “A National Rail Plan”'.

That has nonetheless caused excitement among advocates in rural states. All Aboard NW is a commuter rail advocacy group, focused on bringing transportation to “fly-over” states. After participation in a round of workshops and meeting with transportation officials in Washington D.C., they posted a press release showing support for a “national passenger rail system”.

The organization said, “Just as our national airspace system receives millions of dollars annually in federal support, it is reasonable to expect our federal government to provide funding for an improved national passenger rail system for various economic, social, and environmental reasons.”

This sentiment is shared by locals in Laramie, a town that expanded in part because of an old commuter rail line, now a historical landmark in the town. Laramie Passenger Rail Advocates is an organization that discusses the feasibility of returning passenger rail service to the University town.

Currently, the advocacy group is pushing for Laramie to be included in future rail development, supporting a potential Los Angeles to Denver line that would run on the I-80 corridor between Laramie and Cheyenne. The group recently held a meeting where Laramie Vice Mayor and Ward-1 City Council member Sharon Cumbie made an appearance to show support. Meara Hill, a member of the Laramie Passenger Rail Advocates, said Wyoming is often overlooked for big projects despite the needs of the people living here.

“This would be a complete transformation for Wyoming,” said Hill. “I-80, for example, gets closed all across the state. Even when a hazard is contained to just one singular area so that folks don't get caught in it. Meanwhile, the freight trains that many of us see daily, continue to run.”

Hill said the implementation of such a rail project could combat poverty in Wyoming via job creation for building, the feds providing funding, and the commuter rail making Wyoming an overall more connected state.

Such a project could take decades to fully complete. But concrete steps are being taken that signal legitimate efforts toward new rail networks. Colorado established a special passenger rail district, governed by a board of directors dedicated to building out commuter rail from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico Border. They’ll be holding their first meeting of the year on March 1st, as community pressure for the Front Line Rail Project steps up. The Cheyenne Rail Commission recently held a meeting in which they looked into conducting a study to find an ideal train station site.

Additionally, Jeffery Noffsinger with the Cheyenne Rail Commission said “Cheyenne is well positioned for Amtrak service being restored to Wyoming. The rail infrastructure is mostly in place.” Noffsinger sees the coordination between rail companies as the biggest hurdle for a Cheyenne to Fort Collins line.

“Fortunately, there is federal legislation that requires the railroad companies to work with Amtrak,” Noffsinger said.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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