Group studies 4 high-speed rail routes in Oregon
EUGENE — A council made up of mayors, legislators and state and local transit officials is considering four routes for high-speed travel in the Willamette Valley.
The routes would be hugely expensive to create, and the obstacles, including securing money, are so many that it's possible the new line might never be built. But the study is under way with the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council set to choose one of the four by fall of 2014, according to the Register-Guard.
The council is airing four “corridor concepts” under consideration for the future route of passenger rail in the valley. The proposed routes for a new line are:
— The I-5 right of way.
— A westerly route made of pieced-together short haul lines that include 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.
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. Additionally, 424 people have attended a virtual open house on the department's website.
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.
Oregon would like to optimize its in-state tracks to approach 90 mph. The top speed today is 79, and the trains can only go that fast on a straightaway near Junction City. The trip between Eugene and Portland averages two hours and 35 minutes, according to the state. That's 40 minutes slower than driving.
Union Pacific, whose main job is moving freight, is upgrading its tracks to reach 79 mph, but it's not keen about higher speeds, Piercy said.
“Union Pacific has been pretty specific in saying to us that you can't go very fast along their line,” Piercy said. “They're thinking no faster than 70-something.”
For most passengers, speed isn't the top priority, Piercy added. “People care about frequency and reliability more than they care about speed. They'd like it to be a little faster; they'd like it to be competitive with cars. But reliability is so important.”
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com