Trains For America

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Oregon high speed rail happenings

Thanks to a friend from the northwest for a nudge on something I had some conscious about, but had neglected. It never hurts to drop a line to the publisher and his associate.

Oregon state is getting serious about improving intercity rail.  Oregon wants to improve service and it will take money to do so.  It announced on July 16th that they were applying for $2.1 billion in federal stimulus funds to improve intercity rail in Oregon.  You can read the Governor’s press release and the pre-application request at:

What’s interesting about the request is they put the actual form on line.  The state wants some money for station improvements, but most is for track improvements and money to help the line reach 110 MPH.  Money for two train sets is also part of the request.  Currently of the Amtrak Cascades trainsets, four are owned by Washington State, and two by Amtrak.

Also on the same webpage is the Draft ODT Intercity Passenger Rail study.  It is about switching the Amtrak Cascade route from the very busy UP mainline to an older Oregon Electric line.  The OE line handles far fewer traffic, but needs upgrades and improvements to make it feasible.  I assume much of the money being requested would support those efforts.

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17 Responses

  1. Woody says:

    Yes, I can think of a reason or two to shift passenger rail off the UP’s tracks wherever possible. The State of Oregon is on the right track to want to do that.

    But they want $2 billion plus out of the $8 billion pot? Gonna take a loaves and fishes level miracle to meet all the requests coming in.

    Of course, some forecasters expect a “W”-shaped recovery, with another dip ahead. So we may need another stimulus bill before things get back to ‘normal.’

  2. dave says:

    i wonder if there’s any interest in expanding service to the other (more conservative) side of the state, perhaps to boise? maybe they’re not interested in sponsoring that since amtrak may restore the pioneer, but it seems like connecting the two halves might add some political support for amtrak service in general. also, bend is a fast-growing city, but in a difficult location.

    continuing south to ashland or southeast along the existing route of the starlight express also seems logical.

  3. Andrew says:

    “they want $2 billion plus out of the $8 billion pot”

    Actually, its looking to be a $12 billion pot given the $4 billion approved by the House, with more to follow in FY 2011 and 2012.

    Might as well ask for everything you want and then build what you get than be parsimonious and miss out on money. Most of the money is a non-descript request for $1.8 billion for electrification and 110 mph upgrades to the whole corridor. They are more likely to get the $300 million in incremental work and two new trainsets (more business for Talgo).

    I’m more concerned with the cost estimates for some of these projects. By which I mean estimates of millions of dollars for a couple of crossovers, a project which should cost under $1 million total.

  4. Avery says:

    It’s nice to see another state thinking big with electrification though, not just modest improvements. I am surprised that nothing in the midwest even mentions electrification anywhere as part of the planned improvements, even with the likelihood of high oil prices in the near future.

  5. NikolasM says:

    They really should add Corvallis to the plan between Albany and Eugene. The college ridership angle would be very beneficial.

  6. Mad Park says:

    Certainly electrification between Everett, WA (and eventually Vancouver, BC) and Eugene, OR must be considered for the NW corridor – US$20/gallon petrol will be here soon, doubtless long before the WA and OR proposals are anywhere near complete. Not to electrify as we move to higher priced petrol and higher speed trains is folly.

  7. Loren Petrich says:

    There’s a certain problem with Corvallis — it’s about 11 mi west southwest of Albany — it’s some miles off of both the Union Pacific and Oregon Electric lines.

  8. NikolasM says:

    So building 11 or 22 miles of new rail is that impossible? That is a potentially sad indictment of what we have become.

  9. MadPark says:

    US$200M+ is not chump change. ROW acquisition, construction and connections to/from OE or SP could easily add 10-15% to the cost of this project, whereas a dedicated express bus to Albany would add virtually no cost at all.

  10. The proposal to move Cascades service to the OE line is NOT credible. The move to the OE would be FAR more expensive than ODOTs guesstimates. The OE right-of-way is very narrow with sharp curves. It includes very unstable geology (Orville), street-running (Salem, Albany, Harrisburg, Junction City) through neighborhoods (it was an interurban line in the 1920’s), proximity to schools, parks, homes (some very expensive neighborhoods) and businesses. Wasting any effort on looking at the OE when we should be improving the exisitng corridor (for much less money) to provide more frequent, reliable service will only DELAY improved rail service in Oregon. The legal costs alone to acquire new right-of-way to realize even moderate speeds on parts of this alignment would be very expensive.

  11. Because the OE alignment into Portland is LONG gone, ODOT’s “proposed OE alignment” for the Cascades leaves trains on the UPRR line Portland-Willsburg Junction. But this part of the UPRR is the most congested part of the Portland-Eugene corridor. That must be improved regardless of whether the UPRR or the “OE alignment” is used. Adding and extending sidings on the UPRR between Willsburg Junction and Eugene in order to improve capacity sufficient for increased passenger and freight service would cost pocket change compared to “fixing” the OE alignment in Salem, let alone the many other hurdles to achieve even moderate speeds on parts of the OE.

  12. The OE includes FAR more public and private at-grade crossings than you can imagine. Many of these at-grade crossings are only protected by warning signs … no train detection circuitry or signals.

    On the other hand, UPRR (and SPRR before them) has been actively engaged in reducing and improving grade crossings throughout the corridor.

    Closing or improving one grade crossings is normally an expensive and time consuming process, sometimes involving extensive legal and PR battles. The differences between the UPRR and the OE in this regard appears to be one of the MANY cost factors ignored in ODOT’s “Rail Study.”

  13. MadPark says:

    Dan @10, 11, and 12. Thanks for clarifying what I “knew” but could not prove: The OE is at least 15 miles longer and a very much more difficult ROW. Given your comments, perhaps it would be wise for OR to buy the ROW from UP, double track it and at the same time pay BNSF to spruce up the OE some to get some daytime UP freight over onto the OE. That would seem a more prudent use of US$2B.

  14. DanCar2009 says:

    Dave at #2-

    The problem with extending the line south from Eugene to Ashland or such is discussed in an earlier 2000 study of the state’s rails. The problem with the line south of Eugene is that it is windy, twistly, steep, and rated for speeds of 25 mph at most. For intercity rail to compete with cars, it has to be able to travel at highway speeds or better, and the line will not accomodate that. Similar problems with routes to the coast, except Astoria.

  15. DanCar2009 is absolutely correct. While the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) includes Eugene-Ashland as a future rail corridor, and it should be, it will not happen until after public opinion begins to fully understand that rail is a very important part of our transportation future. Upgrading the rail line between Eugene and Ashland for passenger rail service will be very expensive. Sometime, in the distant future, we should make that investment. But we must build more grassroots support for rail by improving service and frequency on existing passenger rail corridors for projects like that to move forward.

  16. Last week I had the opportunity to discuss with Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) the June 2009 “ODOT Intercity Passenger Rail Study” which makes the absurd claim that “the OE alternative would cost less than the UP alternative.” The man I talked with is the “senior planner” at PB who helped ODOT prepare the “Study.”

    He said that they “assumed” that Oregon would have to pay 100% of the cost of improving the Union Pacific right-of-way, including 100% of the cost of implementing positive train control (PTC). (UPRR is REQUIRED by the federal government to implement PTC by 2015, with or without passenger trains.)

    He also said they did not include any costs for acquiring new right-of-way for their proposed Oregon Electric alignment, even though the “Study” requires new alignment in Tualatin, Salem, Albany, Harrisburg and Junction City. The “Study” clearly exaggerates the costs of the UP alignment, and ignores MANY very significant costs, and environmental and political hurdles, the state would face on the OE alignment.

  17. chris z says:

    Make surrounding property owner rights a priority!

    For example: there are a lot of homes right along the tracks from Willsburg jct. through Milwaukie. Additionally, this track runs right through the Milwaukie town center, downtown Milwaukie, and next to several elementary schools. There are no fences.

    #1- No one wants a train going 110 MPH next to there house!
    #2- If a train is going that fast, it needs to be put on a line far from homes, stores, and schools.

    I don’t know what the speed limit would be in areas like this?

    If they are going to be changing the areas in and around these high population and residential zones, the public rights need to be considered first.

    Some things to consider:

    There are no fences along most of the tracks. I’m a proponent of highspeed rail, but I live and own a business near the lines also. The authorities should reduce the speed and train whistles near homes, increase the fences around lines (they are non-existent now), and increase the speed in the rural areas.

    Additional money for noise and vibration reduction should be considered. If the number of trains is going to increase, and thus the noise and vibration levels, the authorities should pay to improve noise reduction and vibration reduction around the area by improving the tracks and soil and stabilization around the area. This should focus on residential areas. Commercial areas should be considered second. People want quiet safe homes.

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