Engineeringa Fast Train

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Engineeringa Fast Train


Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Correction (published Jan. 26, 2013): Cascadia High Speed Rail is an advocacy group based in Portland. An article on Page One on Jan. 21 about efforts to develop high-speed rail between Eugene and the Portland area incorrectly stated that the group was based in Seattle.

Picture this in 20 years: You step onto a train on tracks between the north- and southbound Interstate 5 lanes in Eugene and rocket to Portland in less than an hour. Or maybe you board a train in west Eugene that stops at the Eugene Airport before winding along the west Willamette Valley to Corvallis and on north.

These are some of the scenarios under consideration by the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council, a 21-member group that includes five big-city mayors, six legislators and transit officials from the state, Portland and Lane County.

The council is airing four "corridor concepts" under consideration for the future route of passenger rail in the Willamette Valley.

The routes would be hugely expensive to create - and the obstacles, including securing money, are so many that the new line might never be built.

Still, officials are pushing ahead with their visioning process.

The four proposed routes for a new line are:

The I-5 right of way.

A westerly route made of pieced-together short haul lines that includes a stop at Corvallis.

The old, unused Oregon Electric Railway right of way that runs through the valley, merging with the existing Union Pacific line near Canby.

The existing Union Pacific lines that carry Amtrak long-haul and commuter passenger trains, as well as freight trains, today.

The leadership council is set to choose one of the four, as part of a National Environmental Policy Act evaluation, by fall of 2014.

Hundreds of people have turned out to see maps of the proposed routes at a half-dozen state Department of Transportation open houses this month throughout the valley. That includes 61 who participated at Transportation Department offices in Springfield earlier in January.

Additionally, 424 people have attended a virtual open house - with maps and comment forms - on the department's website. (See at rgne.ws/U2fGRk)

In Eugene-Springfield, "there's a very high interest in rail," said Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, co-chairwoman of the statewide leadership council.

Ridership on the Amtrak Cascades line has increased 22 percent since 2009 and by 238 percent since 1995, according to the state.

The route provided 845,099 rides in 2012 to people who bought $30 million worth of tickets, according to Amtrak.

In the next 25 years, the Willamette Valley population is expected to grow by about 35 percent, reaching about 3.6 million by 2035, meaning increased congestion and increased demand for transportation in all forms.

The leadership council is supposed to decide the speed, frequency, fuel type, stops and routes for future Willamette Valley passenger rail.

But first things first. "At this point, we're just trying to figure out where it ought to go," said David Knowles, CH2M Hill consultant and project manager for the Oregon Passenger Rail Project.

Freeway route

Advocates such as the Seattle-based Cascadia High Speed Rail group are pushing for true high-speed rail in the Willamette Valley achieving speeds in excess of 150 mph.

Existing tracks have too many street crossings, downtowns and curves for trains to go fast, according to Cascadia.

"You really need a dedicated line for passenger service, so you are not mixing the slow- moving freights with fast-moving passenger trains. You don't want to be going 150 mph while trying to make sure a freight train isn't in your way," said James Cox, Department of Transportation project manager for the Oregon Passenger Rail Project.

Additionally, high-speed trains are powered by electricity - instead of diesel - so they need a different track setup. …

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