Reader Calls for Gorge Train

This comment showed up on our discussion of a possible Wine Train:

I live in Mt Hood, Oregon and would like to work with folks interested in getting rail transport between Hood River (maybe also the Dalles) and Portland, who is working on this? How can I help?

It seems that a total overhaul of rail rights needs to happen so that passenger trains have priority use of the rails, instead of always having to stop and wait for freight cars. Can’t the freight cars run around a passenger schedule as in other countries? Thanks!

Is this workable?

9 responses to “Reader Calls for Gorge Train”

  1. The proposed solution would not be workable without massive state funding. The rail lines in question are frequently clogged with freight traffic.

    In other countries, the government owns or heavily subsidizes the railroads, including massive infrastructure projects. That just doesn’t happen here, partly because of our traditions, and partly because our country is so much bigger than the countries with high-speed rail systems (Japan, France, UK, Spain, etc).

  2. There is already Amtrak passenger service on the Washington side of the Gorge, i think. There’s an Amtrak station in Bingen just opposite Hood River. Most Oregonians seem to thing the Gorge is purely an Oregon place. But the Washington side has most of the wineries, cheaper property and great support for wind surfing.

  3. A few years ago a number of Mayors – mostly from Eastern Oregon – talked about bringing back Amtrak service, which last ran in 1997.

    In short, it would need local funding, and Oregon isn’t about to put up more money. I do not think UP is opposed to it; their only complaint previously was Amtrak’s attempt in freight (a.k.a. “Mail and Express”), which it no longer is engaged in.

  4. When the Warm Springs casino opens in the Gorge might be a good time to re-open rail on the Oregon side. A “gaming train” every AM from Union Station would run pretty full, and could be extended at least to The Dalles, with a late afternoon return.
    On the WA side there are daily stops at Bingen/White Salmon and Wishram, but the departure is at 4:45pm from Portland, so it does not work for day visitors. I’ve used it to travel down from the Gorge and return, and its very nice.

  5. I have suggested from time to time up here that Sound Transit, WSDOT work with the Tualip, Muckleshoot, and Puyallup Tribes to run midday SOUNDER Trains, with the tribes putting up some of the money to run them, since SOUNDER stops within 1-2 miles of the Emerald Queen and the Muckleshoot Casinos, and the same would apply to Tualip if SOUNDER stopped in Marysville. It seems the Eastern parts of both Oregon and Washington lack viable Amtrak Service. The populated areas of Eastern Washington are along a rail line that has little or now service. The tracks would have to be upgraded on the ex-NP line, to make up for areas that cannot be double-tracked like Yakima River Canyon, but the Stampede Pass route to Pasco and Spokane serves Ellensberg, Yakima, Kennewick, Pasco, Ritzeville, and Cheney.

    It would work for Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to work together as one region on Passenger Rail. It is a regional issue, not an intra-state issue.

    The problem with the Pioneer is the same one now afflicting the Sunset Limited, and that is that it did not run enough. It was only Tri-Weekly, on the hook for a whole week’s costs for only 3 days of service. Would be nice if they had some revenue for the extra costs.

  6. It should be noted that railroads are not in public ownership like highways are. The railroads pay taxes on their infrastructure. Railroads are in business to make a profit and passenger service for them is not profitable.

    Amtrak passenger trains generally have priority over freight trains. The railroads often pay a penalty when Amtrak is delayed. Freight trains also have their own set of freight priorities. Piggyback truck trailers and container trains usually have top freight priority. These trains also often contain auto racks and refrigerated cars containing perishables. There are also freight trains made up of only refrigerated cars with perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables that also have top freight priority. Some unit trains also receive a priority such as unit coal trains for power plants and unit grain trains that connect with ships in port. Many businesses today rely on scheduled shipments rather than maintaining a warehouse full of inventory. A train with a lot of box cars, gondola cars and empty cars is usually known as a drag freight and has the lowest priority.

    However, even with priorities, railroad dispatchers must consider many other factors when trains in both directions share a single track with sidings. These factors include the length of sidings, the length of the different trains, the speed of the different trains and how close the oncoming trains are to various sidings where the trains could pass. Such decisions are not simple and often cause an Amtrak train to wait a short time for a freight to pass.

  7. The biggest delays I had on the Empire Builder last week were often just waiting for the other Empire Builder to pass. We were rarely held for freight trains, and were held outside of the Cascade and Flathead tunnels, as these are long ones, and the ventialtion fans need to clear the exhaust of the trains that had just passed through. Plus the tunnels were also single-tracked.

  8. From an environmental, economics, and cause & effect point of view you do NOT want the freight train companies to give passenger any more priority than they have.

    One of the primary reasons they get delayed though, is even WITH the charges against the freight railraod they still make MORE money putting the freights thru. In the case of trains like the Coast Starlight the Union Pacific has no vested interest of any type of even have a passenger train run south of Eugene and into CAlifornia. It is slow running, hard to maintain trackage. They aren’t going to upgrade it to passenger track needs anytime soon, there is no money for that. If people want to pay full price for tix (to cover operations AND some of the capitol expenses – figure 1.6x as much as the tix are now) and get passenger trains to operate like a real business (instead of a mob run union operation that is horribly inneffecient and NEVER turns a profit) then people would have almost every one of these services they want to all sorts of locations. But instead when one demands this service, doesn’t want to pay for it, and then goes and starts a special interest request with the feds to force Amtrak to stretch itself even thinner…

    …you get what you pay for (almost nothing), and operate the way you demand (slowly), and taxes end up going up to subsidize to keep ridership (ya!). Poorly.

    Be careful what you wish for you might just get it.

  9. Passenger service between Portland and Hood River/The Dalles is not just a good idea, it’s a great idea. I’m not sure how feasible it is as a concept in a vacuum, however. Passenger rail service in this county is in such an awful state right now, the entire system needs to be reformed and upgraded. This corridor, for instance, is double-tracked most of the way and thus would seem to be a natural for passenger service… but that service would need to be both cost- and time- competitive. The trains would need to roll out of the station and reach their top speed relatively quickly, then run at that speed for the duration of the route between stations. Doing so, they could probably offer travel times approaching an hour between Hood River and downtown Portland, even without any kind of high-speed track upgrades.

    However, it is those high-speed track upgrades that will be essential to make the service sustainable in the long term, along with frequent departures. Three morning and three evening round trips would be the ideal for this (or any) new short-haul passenger service, which probably means running two train sets. This doesn’t come cheap.

    As for financing, it likely needs to be a public project. The government built the interstate, so too should it run this service. As such, it could be funded by either a state or federal bond issue, or other federal funding.

    See this editorial for a great opinion piece that deals with the bigger picture, of which this link will be just one small (yet important) part:

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