Amtrak's 20th anniversary means something extra in Wyoming, where the passenger rail service is returning after an eight-year hiatus.
Wyoming lost its passenger train service in 1983 when Amtrak officials decided that the scenery of the southern half of the state, traversed by wagon trains before the first transcontinental railroad snaked its way across Wyoming more than a century ago, was too barren.Passenger service between Denver and Salt Lake City was rerouted to the scenic route operated by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad through the mountain passes of northern Colorado.
But earlier this year, Amtrak decided to return some trains to less mountainous southern Wyoming.
Beginning in June, Amtrak plans to run its Pioneer train between Seattle and Denver through Wyoming via Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
From Denver, the route goes north through Greeley, Colo., to Cheyenne, then west through Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Green River and Evanston - roughly the route of Interstate 80 - to Ogden before reaching Salt Lake City.
The Pioneer now operates as a separate train from Seattle to Salt Lake City, where it joins the California Zephyr and the Desert Wind to run as a combined train through Colorado and on to Chicago.
The Zephyr will continue to serve Colorado on its run between Salt Lake City and Denver, with stops at Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.
The move will leave only South Dakota, Oklahoma, Maine, Alaska and Hawaii without Amtrak service.
Now the Wyoming communities are racing to spruce up depots. The task will be made easier by Amtrak's plan to spend $600,000 for platforms and lighting.
In Cheyenne, the concern is not fixing up the existing depot, used by the Union Pacific Railroad, but an asphalt slab 10 miles southwest of town, at the stop known as the Borie station.
Some Cheyenne-area residents are complaining because the historic downtown depot will not be a train stop. While passengers will be able to purchase tickets and begin their journeys there, Amtrak plans to bus passengers from downtown Cheyenne to Borie, a 10-mile drive that takes about 15 minutes.
"This is the way we did it shortly before Amtrak ceased operations in Wyoming in 1983," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said. "The reason we did that was Cheyenne's downtown train station, which was functioning and operational, required the train to back up at a very slow speed and added approximately one-half hour to the operating time."
The new service through Wyoming will use "superliner, bilevel stainless steel passenger cars. They're relatively new, extremely comfortable and smooth riding. They are considered by many to be the finest long-distance passenger cars," Black said.