Hanging Our Heads in Shame Over the State of Rail

It’s all about expectations.

A great perspective from Adron over at Transit Sleuth.

50 responses to “Hanging Our Heads in Shame Over the State of Rail”

  1. Huh. Wonder how we can replicate this feeling more broadly, in order to rally support for a change in the system?

    “America: #1 among developed countries for WORST PASSENGER RAIL SYSTEM.”

  2. In the Short Term, Local Picture, WSDOT and Sound Transit are working on a solution to the Pt. Defiance line problems. The Pt. Defiance Bypass will run Passenger Trains, both Amtrak Cascades(and possibly the Coast Starlight), and SOUNDER Commuter Trains via South Tacoma, and Lakewood before rejoining the North-South Main at Nisqually Junction.


    Nationally, it might be more of the same. As for the Empire Builder, I do not know if Senator-elect Tester will have the clout to keep the micro-managers away with it, but unlike the guy he defeated, he lives closer to the Hi-Line.(Senator Burns if from Yellowstone County, i.e. BIllings.)

  3. Hey ETF,

    Got a question for you as an outside observer:

    Probably most people on this discussion board would be favorable to high speed AMTRAK. But, is the present route through Portland a major problem? It does make some crossings that potentially could be eliminated, but not without a considerable reworking of routes and facilities. Is it worth it?

    What about adding a true express train when and if hi speed rail becomes a reality?

  4. I am not sure. I was looking at a WSDOT report on improvements that can get train speeds up to 90-110MPH. The idea of true High Speed Rail is around 125MPH or higher. The report mentioned that the cost of getting to 125 MPH would not be worth the small time savings. Although TALGO makes trains that can get up to 200MPH now. Greyhound and Horizon Air will really be against that. At 200MPH, Greyhound will not be able to compete, with there buses only able to go 60-70MPH, and at 200MPH with City-Center to City-Center travel possible, Horizon could lose buisness.(The I-5 Shuttle as they originally called there Seattle-Portland service, was much better than where there first flight left from. Yakima-Seattle with only 2 paying passengers!)

    I have noticed the suggestions on Portland Transport that perhaps running the trains on the eastside of the Willamette might be a good idea. The river crossings are the hard part. WHy cost the river twice? I would be against it at first because they would not be able to get to Downtown, missing connections with Greyhound at Union Station. Although this could be where the intermodal interface of High Speed Rail and Regional Rail kicks in, with MAX connecting the two.(Is there a connection being planned to plug Union Station into the network. When I rode Greyhound down, and Amtrak Cascades up a few years ago, it was a busride on the Transit Mall to connect with the MAX.)

    As for the true-express train, New York is trying something like that Albany-Rensalear to New York Penn Station, as part of a possible incremental approach to building High Speed Rail. While New York, like other NEC states, does not fund much of the main corridor, they do put some money into branch-lines, like the Empire Corridor between Buffalo, Albany-Rensalaer, and New York CIty(with the Adriondack running New York City-Albany-Montreal). They want a possible non-stop run, and it could happen, as most of the corridor is owned by either the state(through the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority) or Amtrak. Plus, there is not much freight interference on this route, as it is Passenger Heavy, especially on the Southern segment.

  5. As somebody who is a strong supporter of high speed rail, I’d have to say that I have an emotional attachment to having the trains stop at Union Station. And that means using the Steel Bridge. Here’s the thing: Portland would be a major destination for high speed rail. Why not slow the trains down a bit to allow passengers to take in the great view as they arrive/depart Union Station? Those suckers will be flying at 130-200mph soon enough, surely it doesn’t hurt them that much to slow down to 15mph right before/after the station?

    …and save the money that would have been spent constructing a new eastside terminal, use that to upgrade the access to the other bridge so that the trains can take it closer to at-speed.

    BTW, is there an FRA speed restriction on HSR in urban areas, or can they go balls-to-the-wall within city limits if grade crossings are eliminated/signalized?

  6. I bet if it is a sealed corridor, probably not. Although in the land of true HSR(one of them at least, France), there is some arguments over the High Speed Rail being too noisy. Supposedly some LGVs(the name for the dedicated High Speed Corridors, the TGV is the train equipment used on the LGVs) have sound-walls now. As for the FRA, they probably would have some restrictions in urban areas. The 79MPH speed limit is dependent on cab-signals in the Locomotive, because at 90 or above, it would be hard to see trackside signals. The GNER in England inherited BR’s best equipment upon privitization, the Intercity 225, which was capable of speeds around 140MPH, but track conditions make that hard, and BR had added a 5th signal to trackside signal bridges, but it was not enough.

    Here is one interesting fact about the Long-Haul fleet at Amtrak. The Superliners are geared for speeds much higher than what they can currently get, around 100MPH. THey can do 79, at best, with the track conditions and current signal technology. A few years ago, one of Amtrak’s fastest trains outside of the NEC was Train 3/4, the Southwest Chief, there were portions of the route that could sustain 90MPH speeds.

  7. Simply keeping Amtrak trains (or commuter trains in the future) on the east side of the Willamette won’t make a difference in and of itself; there would need to be millions in investment:

    1. Union Pacific tunnel through North Portland. It’s long and it’s single-track. I bet most people in that area don’t even know there’s a railroad tunnel under their feet. At the north end of that tunnel is Columbia Blvd., and a major four-way railroad junction.

    2. UP’s Albina Yard. There isn’t just a straight-through track, so trains would have to navigate through an active, busy freight switching yard.

    3. East Portland. I think a new railroad station could be built here but it’d take a lot of demolition of existing buildings, would have to be squeezed inbetween the Burnside, Morrison and Hawthorne Bridges somehow. Lots of railroad crossings in this area as well; trains generally restricted to 30 MPH.

    4. East Portland-Brooklyn. Curves, and lots more crossings.

    5. Brooklyn Yard. Another switching yard, although it does have a mainline track through it that passenger trains can run at faster speeds.

    6. Milwaukie. More crossings, limited speeds.

    7. Oregon City. The track is partially located on a viaduct through downtown; at the base of a cliff – can’t add more tracks. The paper mill has lots of switching activity, so conflicts with freight trains.

    8. Oregon City-Canby (particularly New Era) – no space for second main track.

    Whereas – Amtrak trains can reach 79 MPH at Lake Yard, slow briefly for the Willbridge river crossing, speed back up to 79 up to Vancouver, then slow down for the Vancouver station stop. The Steel Bridge is a bottleneck, but trains have to go slow anyways to enter or leave the station, so at most only a couple of minutes are lost.

    When Amtrak trains are typically four hours late – what’s a few more minutes?

    In my experience – even Germany’s ICE trains – within the confines of a city, used the regular railroad tracks, and were subject to the same speed limits within cities. Once they got out of the developed areas, they would switch onto the high speed routes, and stretch their legs out.

  8. I don’t see the need to switch AMTRAK completely to the east side. Some people see this as part of an ambitious project to change all major transportation infrastructure and redevelop the East bank.

    Is utilizing AMTRAK as a commuter rail system a sensible option? Lots of regions do. Assuming it is I could see some major stops all the way from Hazel Dell to Oregon City. The biggest problem, I think, is that our population isn’t up to the level of metropolitan areas that do have such commuter service. We’re not New York-Boston, LA, Bay Area or even Seattle-Tacoma. Something like the Sounder, I don’t think, would get enough riders to anywhere near justify the investment.

    I do think a streetcar system from Northwest Portland to Vancouver could be a realistic option. But the capacity nees to be a lot higher than present.

  9. Amtrak can’t even legally own Commuter options (somehow they manage to operate them). But switching to the east side would be a smart idea, but at best a minimally useful idea.

    The simple fact of the matter is the need to speed up the in between areas between the two big cities – Seattle and Portland so the trains can actually go.

    Even with the engines and equipment currently used, if the tracks where upgraded they could hit at LEAST 90mph and most likely 100-105mph. THAT would be a VERY competitive train compared to air travel… with the benifit of stop is Centralia, Kelso/Longview, Olympia, and Tacoma. Something ya can’t get with airplane trips.

  10. If only CentralLINK LRT had a branch being built from the Airport to Tukwilla Station. It could help connect Tacoma with the airport it shares the name of. Sea-Tac is offically known as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. If the Southwest/Alaska proposal to use King County International Airport had gone through, the proximity of that airport to the BNSF Main could have given the region an Airport with main-line rail access.

    The propoenents of regional corridors often propose sacrificing the long-distance fleet to pay for them, when it turns out, the Long-Distance fleet, due to pro-rated fares, may actually provide Amtrak with a good portion of it’s ticket revenue. The average trip on those trains is almost 800 miles. They connect rural communities with the bigger communities, with limited frequencies.

    Amtrak operated commuter trains for some agencies, such as San Diego Coaster, LA Metrolink, Boston MBTA, and others, but many of those have found new operators these days.

  11. I wonder if running freight trains on the same track as a high speeed passenger train would damage the trackbed? Those freight trains weigh a lot: but a passenger train wouln’t need to, so maybe, could use a dedicated track? Not that I have had any complaints about the quality of the ride on AMTRAK now.

  12. There have been some proposals to use dedicated track. I remember reading a Florida Rail Plan for a new passenger route between Orlando and the Space Coast. It would run alongside Florida SR528, aka the Bee Line Expressway. So far, it is not going anywhere. It was just a plan to make the FDOT look nice as the Florida Governor was conspiring to kill High Speed Rail, which had been voter approved.(Florida only does Constitutional Initiatives, but the voters can repeal them after 4 years if they want.)

    The biggest proposal, and so far it is in trouble, is the Trans Texas Corridor. The Rail component has been suggested to have up to 6 tracks, which includes 2 for High Speed Rail.

    I can see the idea of lighter passenger trains, that has been the trend in some cases for years. Like Zephyr 9900.

  13. I don’t understand why we can’t take the incremental step of simply having a commuter rail system between Portland and Salem.

    Two major cities, less than 50 miles apart, with a huge amount of commuting traffic in BOTH directions. A six-lane freeway that carries 100,000 ADT. A railroad that is virtually ready for commuter rail today – as is, with little infrastructure improvements (although a second main track would be almost necessary, and of course intermediate stations in Milwaukie, Canby and Woodburn at least; but Gervais, Hubbard, and somewhere in the north of Salem off of Chemawa Road would be highly desirable).

    A second route could diverge from the existing Union Pacific mainline north of Hubbard, follow the Wilsonville-Hubbard Highway (Oregon Highway 551) to I-5, cross over I-5 to the Oregon Electric route from Wilsonville to Beaverton (the Beaverton-Willsonville Commuter Rail route) – thus allowing Salem residents to commute to the Westside or the Eastside and Portland metro residents to commute to the State Capitol.

    We don’t need high-speed, we don’t need fancy schmancy trains – just existing equipment on mostly existing infrastructure, running at 79 MPH. Combined with enhanced speed enforcement on parallelling I-5 (after all the speed limit is 65 MPH, but who drives that slow?), commuter rail could be a realistic option for the northern Willamette Valley – and not just during “peak rush hours” only.

  14. All I ask for is an AM Cascades to Salem/Eugene with a late afternoon return. One can do a one day trip to Seattle or points in between, but not to the south. Time for a more rail friendly legislature to help ODOT add this train.

  15. The Portland-Seattle segment is the core segment, and could support 4 round trips, but there should be at least 2 daily round trips to Vancouver on the Fraser, and 2 to points South of Portland. THere is one round-trip a day to Canada, and a second round trip NOrth to Bellingham leaving in the afternoon. Portland Eugene is more of a 1.5 trains a day, as the Coast Starlight is unreliable lately, due to UP Trackwork and general hostility to passenger operations by anybody.

    I know the second train to Vancouver on the Fraser will happen in 2010, it is a must with the 2010 Winter Olympics. More Rolling Stock for Amtrak Cascades will be needed, although I admire what Amtrak does for the Thanksgiving Rush, adding extra schedule, even on the Cascades. They do that for the Corridor Trains, the LD Trains, adding an extra coach(for trains that may actually produce more ticket revenue than short-haul runs), may be lucky. I was reading in the most recent TRAINS Magazine about Amtrak and Thanksgiving. For LD Services, they will add coaches that will be cut-out en-route. Such as adding a Chicago-St. Paul coach on the Empire Buileder, or Chicago-Denver coach on the California Zephyr.

  16. We must replace a significant bottle neck that limits rail capacity and that is the swing BNSF rail bridge tht crosses the Columbia River.

    It limits the concurrent flow of passenger and freight rail coming from the north into our region.

    Replacing this RR Bridge with a new multi-mode bridge with 2-decks, with the lower for rail and the upper for trucks, cars, buses, bikes and PED, makes sense.

    A new replacement RR Bridge could double heavy crossing of the Columbia River eliminating costly delays that effect everyone.

    Also on this lower RR deck we could have dedicated commuter/passenger rail capabilities.

    Also again on this lower RR deck we could have a Light Rail tracks that would provide the ability for HCLRT to loop from the EXPO Center to Hayden Island and on to downtown Vancouver Washington.

    Expanding the use of this RR corridor for more passenger uses is smart money.

  17. We may need more rail capacity across the Columbia when we get more passenger rail, but the excellent rail congestion analysis done for the I-5 Task Force demonstrated clearly that the bridge is not the cause of freight rail congestion in the region. Some of these fixes are being done, others need some kind of public/private funding which should result is some additional capacity for passenger rail as well as freight.
    Meanwhile, neither ODOT nor WSDOT has come up with money to even add an extra Talgo or two, as per the above from Rail Transit Fan.

  18. The most recent rail study was done by WSDOT completed a few months ago and it reports that we have real problems in the north/south rail corridor. I-5 Task Force is old information, now out-dated.

    They reported a significant need for greater capacity and improvements throughout the system.

    The Cost of Congestion Report done by Metro and ODOT a year and half ago also talked to the problems of Freight Rail and what Freight Rail experiences should be true to passenger rail too and it was not good.

  19. Their should be one plan for Passenger Rail in the region, including both Amtrak Cascades and Long Distance Service, and it should be updated every few years. In California, because of the success of their state-supported trains, CalTrans updates the California State Rail Plan every 2 years, even though it is a 10 year document.

    Now, as for improvements, we need to look to other countries to see how they have improved local, regional, and overnight Long-Distance services. I am usually against franchising any form of Public Transportation, but I have looked on the Internet to see how others do it. In Europe, there is some franchising of passenger train operations. In Britain it is the law, in Sweeden, they outsourced the Long Distance run to their Northland to a company called Connex. Turns out this company has operations in many countries, including operating Commuter Rail outside of Boston.(They took over from Amtrak). In the case of the Swedish operation, there is still some subsidy.



  20. Here is a case of some more investment by City and State authorities up here. The hub for Amtrak Cascades, Amtrak Long Distance, and SOUNDER Commuter Rail in Seattle, King Street Station will get a $30 million make-over soon. The last obstacle, purchasing it from BNSF. That will be for the paltry sum, of $1. In the 1960s, Northern Pacific and Great Northern renovated the station, putting in the false ceiling, adding (modern) flourescant lighting, and shrunk the waiting area. They were betting on the eventual discontinuance of all passenger rail in the area, and the urban renewal of the run-down buildings next door. Unfortunately for that plan, Skid Row became Pioneer Square, and Chinatown became a much larger International District.


  21. Here on the ground in North Portland, the word is that the most pressing problem on the freight rail side, is the retreat of the major carriers from mixed trains in favor of unit trains. It is becoming increasing difficult (read expensive) for small to mid-sized operations to get rail cars in and out…pushing them to resort to trucks. The majors (UPRR & BNSF) control the tracks that connect port facilities with freight forwarding operations, etc.
    re freight congestion, I expect the WSDOT study focused on the I-5 corridor from Vancouver to Canada, and no question if you want more passenger service it will need more capacity. The I-5 work…some of the best work in that entire study…focused on the metro region, especially the Columbia River bridge, and came up with a pretty modest project list, $100-$200M, that would significantly improve freight rail movement and would allow for some additional passenger rail service. But it showed no immediate need to add a third track across the Columbia. It all boils down to what you want, what you need and what you can afford.

  22. The problem with expanding Cascades service south of Portland is that the market really doesn’t exist. An average of 30-40 passengers on a train designed for over 200 is a waste in terms of labor and fuel economy (a 3,200 horsepower diesel locomotive hauling the same number of passengers that could easily be handled by a 400 horsepower diesel motorcoach).

    If the two EUG-PDX round trips were eliminated, then PDX-SEA service could be increased to six times daily, roughly every two hours (there’d be at least one gap northbound and two gaps southbound in my model), with absolutely no increase in equipment or staffing.

    The Salem market could be complemented with commuter rail service that would easily connect to Cascades service to the north as well as local TriMet service. Albany and Eugene would get bus service, either directly from Portland or to/from Salem.

    Result: Increased rail service where it’s needed, “right-sizing” service where there is too much capacity today and where there has been little if any increase in usage, and cost reductions without a reduction in actual service. The only “loss” would be that Albany and Eugene passengers wouldn’t be able to buy a cup of coffee on-board the train until they got to either Salem or Portland.

  23. One Passenger Rail advocacy group that I observe on the net from time to time has been trying to pit corridors vs. Long Distanhey have done this for 20 years, at least. In the NEC, the Metroliner has been retired, 5 years after being superseded by the Acela Express. There was a short-lived Metroliner to New England in the early 1980s, that was overpowered, with 2 Diesel Locomotives pulling 4 coaches, carrying a grand total of 30-40 passengers.


    The URPA is a proponent of passenger trains as a matrix, with multiple destination-pairs. The Long Distance runs seem to fulfill that. Some corridor runs do get folded into LD Trains, that happened on A-Day. One of the Seattle-Portland Pool Trains was combined with the Southern Pacific Cascade, and the Coast Daylight, to become what is now known as the Coast Starlight. Now Amtrak has done one further. The tri-weekly Cardinal, one of the latest trains on Amtrak outside of UP rails, has been combined with an Acela Regional train. A local example, would be an Amtrak Cascades Train combined with the Coast Starlight.

    Back east, Amtrak is trying to get the state of Vermont to replace the locomotives on the Vermonter with DMUs. It might be a good idea to replace the Portland-Eugene leg of Amtrak Cascades with DMUs. Say, has anybody bought the RDCs used on the Lewis and Clark Explorer?

  24. I think our strategy should be to grow rail links, not shrink them. The market to the south will grow with population and with better, real rail, service…lots of us will ride a train but not a bus for better or worse.
    Commuter rail to Salem…maybe, but not for a long time. Last, I believe that WSDOT picks up most of the tab for the Portland-Seattle service, we get a free ride. Its time for ODOT to enhance rail service in Oregon’s most densely populated corridor.

  25. Plus, WSDOT does not get credit for the type of vehicle they chose for Amtrak Cascades. The TALGO trains seem to rarely have problems. On the Northeast Corridor, the ACELA Express has had several problems, including last year’s brake problems. The TALGO uses a passive-tilting system, while the Acela, which is a hybrid of the Canadian LRC and the French TGV, uses an active system. This moring, on a railfan board, I heard that a tilting mechanism on an Acela Express running from Boston to New York had a tilt-mechanism fail near Providence, Rhode Island. This is not the time for Amtrak’s lack of maintenance to haunt them. They need every piece of rolling stock they have running today.

  26. I was on my way to the temp agency this morning, and as the bus went by King Street Station, I saw something wierd among the trains being staged for the Thanksgiving rush. They usually(and today was no exception) call in extra equipment from around the country, but on one of the TALGO sets, it was overpowered. They had a Genesis Locomotive instead of the normal F59PHI. The Genesis gets between 4000 and 4200HP, and normally pulls Long Distance Trains. The F59PHI does around 3000HP. I do not think the TALGO needed the extra HP. Amtrak must have some locomotive shortages, plus the standard inspection cycle.

  27. Found this on a railfan board, from the Toledo(OH) Blade looking in on the Michigan Services provided by Amtrak. Three routes, the Wolverine, Blue Water(former International to Toronto, post 9/11 customs delays are the excuse for cutting the portion North of the Detroit River. When it crossed the border, it operated as VIA Train 88, and the crews were VIA crews, where custormer service is job 1), and the Pere Marquette. Ohio is served by three Long Distance Trains, one of them Tri-Weekly, and most pass through in the middle of the night. Ohio would be a great market for local services, but they have not got around to tapping that potential, although among the states that have put money into local service, three are their neighbors, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.

    The states need to get involved, but we also need a national policy, with a robust national network linking the regional corridor services.


    I also read an article awhile back about the suggestion that a connecting service be provided for the Empire Builder at Shelby, to link it with Montana’s major cities, Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman, Billings(not sure if the trackage between Butte and BIllings is still there).

  28. Here is a little more on Michigan, where the two of the three services they support with money, got a little less this year, because ticket revenue was up. Awhile back, there were rumors that entrenched bus companies(that in turn get a little money from Lansing as well) were trying to cap the amount Amtrak gets from Michigan, but I guess it got spun as the trains made a little money. $3 per gallon gasoline could do that. There was the attempt to get Michigan to take Amtrak’s heavy repair shop, but nothing came of it.


  29. An average of 30-40 passengers on a train designed for over 200 is a waste in terms of labor and fuel economy […] The Salem market could be complemented with commuter rail service that would easily connect to Cascades service to the north as well as local TriMet service. Albany and Eugene would get bus service, either directly from Portland or to/from Salem.

    There is no reason why FRA-compliant DMUs couldn’t serve the entire Willamette Valley. The current Talgos are nice, but usually overkill south of PDX. DMUs like we are getting for Beaverton-Wilsonville could serve the whole corridor. Local trains could add other destinations along the current corridor, and others not on the corridor, most notably Corvallis. There is currently a large network of rails along and across the valley that could be put into service. DMUs likely have a relative economy of energy use, and certainly labor (how many people work on each of those Talgo trains?), can be easily right-sized for ridership (add-subtract trailer cars) and I suspect in the valley would be able to run at equivalent speeds.

  30. I like the Colorado Railcar model, although some on railfan boards have a problem with it’s aesthetics. I would like to have seen DMUs on SOUNDER-North, mainly because of the relatively flat route. Would just need one DMU and use an existing bi-level to handle the traffic the two daily round trips had.
    Plus, any order for DMUs for Amtrak Cascades, should try to be a joint order with other agencies.(A repeat order from TriMet, and possibly Sound Transit). A joint order would help out with some of the costs.

    The TALGOs are not the only equipment Amtrak Cascades has used, there are the Amfleet(locomotive-hauled, based on the old Metroliner EMU) and Horizon-fleet coaches are used for extra train put on over Thanksgiving weekend, and when one of the TALGOs was being repainted in 2004, a three-car Superliner set, using a F40NPCU and a F59PHI Locomotive, filled in on Amtrak Cascades 516/517 between Seattle and Bellingham, but I am not sure if they would do it these days on Seattle-Portland route. The tracks have speed limit signs posted in three categories, T, P, and F. P is for regular Passenger, F for Freight, and T is for TALGO, and naturally, the Talgo is always the highest.

  31. From Bill’s comment:

    Local trains could add other destinations along the current corridor, and others not on the corridor, most notably Corvallis. There is currently a large network of rails along and across the valley that could be put into service.

    Nice, if the ridership exists.

    South of Portland, the current Talgo trainset, with a capacity of over 200, barely gets 30-40 paying customers on its four trips between PDX and EUG (twice northbound in the morning, twice southbound in the evening).

    30-40 people wouldn’t even fill a DMU. If we are to talk about pollution, do we want a 600-700 horsepower railroad car or a 250-300 horsepower bus to carry the same actual load? The DMU becomes overload, and basically is using its energy to just pull its own weight. The bus does the job better, faster, more economically, and more efficiently with less pollution.

    When the day comes that there is significant north-south travel patterns that warrant something larger than a bus, the DMU might make sense. But we could replace the two daily RT trains with a series of busses that would actually do a better job. For the same price as one DMU (approximately $3M) we could purchase 8 busses. One DMU could make about two round-trips daily between PDX and EUG. The DMU requires two; the current trainset usually requires three or four employees. Each bus – one. With more frequent service throughout the day, the service would likely attract passengers who would otherwise not take the service because of the poor schedule.

    PDX-Salem commuter rail service makes more sense – there’s already a six-lane highway that carries some 70-90,000 ADT daily. The traffic falls to half that south of Salem, and even much less south of Albany. However for the commuter that wants to travel from Salem to Portland, the only options are two early morning Amtrak trains, Greyhound, or a rather poorly designed public transit option of SMART/Cherriots bus 1X from Salem to Wilsonville, then SMART bus 201 from Wilsonville to Tualatin (transfer to 76 to Tigard or Beaverton, or 96 to Portland during rush hours only) or Barbur Blvd. TC (transfer to 12 to Portland).

  32. …four trips between PDX and EUG (twice northbound in the morning, twice southbound in the evening).

    And that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? The schedules out of Eugene just aren’t all that great. If you want to leave EUG later or arrive earlier, you can take… the bus! Half of Amtrak Cascades’ service in the Willamette Valley is by motorcoach! So we kind of already have what you’re suggesting.

    The larger problem is, train or bus, the intercity transit picture for the larger Willamette Valley- the state’s most populous region- is not very coordinated. As you point out, there are a number of agencies making connections here and there, but a coherent vision is lacking. This issue has grown in importance since Greyhound began abandoning its smaller stations. I believe that a convienient, frequent, understandable system would attract ridership.

  33. In the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, their is a group, the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority, that is suggesting the idea of using DMUs for High Speed Rail applications. There eventual goal is from Cheyenne, Wyoming thru Denver, Colorado Springs, Albequerque, to El Paso. It’s a long term project, and Colorado Springs planners are not willing to go with it at this time, maybe 30 years from now they say.

    Here are a few resources:



    A few years ago, the Oregon State Rail Plan suggested a run to Corvalis for the Amtrak Cascades, is there any trackage that leads to it still intact?

  34. The Willamette Valley has a population of 3 million, soon to grow to 4 million. You’d think this MIGHT be able to support more than 1 train per day?

  35. One would think that. Up here, most of the state’s population lives in the Western part, and most of that is along the I-5 Corridor. I eventually hope that it gets up there. The 4 commuter trains between Tacoma and Seattle, plus the 2 Everett-Seattle trains are now up th 6300 riders a day. That is a far cry from the around 630 riiders on day one back in 2000! Both Amtrak Cascades and SOUNDER are on the verge of hitting 1 million annual riders, but still critics of passenger rail only care about ticket revenue, not passenger train miles. It is the same thing with Amtrak, especially the long-haul trains.

  36. Just because there’s population, doesn’t mean there’s travel patterns.

    Look at I-5 and 99W/99E traffic counts. Look at the number of Greyhound busses and airline flights that connect Portland and Eugene. It’s a far, far cry from Portland-Seattle or Seattle-Spokane. The fact is that Eugene is much more independent from Portland than what appears on a map.

    Judging from PSU’s population estimate, the nine counties that make up the Willamette Valley have a combined population of 2,566,295. Of that, how many are within 15 miles of the Amtrak corridor? Corvallis barely gets in. Most of Polk County, aside from West Salem, is out. Forget about Yamhill County. Anything in downtown Hillsboro or west gets eliminated as well. And Gresham and Troutdale would also not be considered.

    So maybe we could expand Amtrak service to…every 15 minutes service, would that still make a difference? Not for those that can’t get to the train station. If you’re in Salem, what do you do on an evening or on Sundays when Cherriots shuts down? In Corvallis, the Linn-Benton Loop only operates Mon-Fri.

    We could spend a lot of money on just a few trains, and not have a complete (or should I say “balanced”) transportation system – we’d offer trains to a few. We could take that same money, and build a fully functional, widespread bus network that blankets the entire Willamette Valley, and offers service that truly matches demand. No longer would McMinnville residents be forced to drive on Highway 99W to get to Portland, or deal with the alternative of a slow local bus that drops them off at a movie theater’s parking lot some 17 miles from downtown Portland. No longer would Sheridan residents have to call an expensive taxi to get to Salem area medical appointments. No longer would Sweet Home residents be forced to take a day off in the mid-week to do business in Albany, because the bus doesn’t run in the afternoons, evenings and weekends.

    $3 million dollars – it can buy you ten busses, or it can buy you one DMU, or it can buy you one locomotive (and no cars). Which of the three options provides the most seats and the most mobility? It isn’t about ticket revenue, it’s about functionality. Passenger Train Miles is a worthless statistic – so what if a train runs, it doesn’t mean that it is effective (again, see the Amtrak Cascades runs from Portland to Eugene – over 200 available revenue seats; on average less than 40 are occupied.)

  37. I have been looking at California’s system, which was built up over a period of 30+ years, and noticed something. They have a network of feeder buses that covers a good portion of the state, as well as some future extensions of the rail system.(Such as the route across Donner Pass to Reno). These are a little different than the Thruway Bus services elsewhere. They are often painted as a billboard for the trains they are connecting.

    On another note, Amtrak Cascades needs a more robust equipment pool, and possibly some more track and signal mprovements. I was just watching the news about the Winter Storm that has hit Northern Puget Sound(some areas of Seattle have been hit, mainly Queen Anne Hill, darn micro-climates), with 8-15″ of snow up in Whatcom County. They are saying it has taken some people 7 hours just to get from the border to Mt. Vernon. If the tracks were clear, this would have been a perfect place to add extra trains(and parking lots would have made some money $$$) to the runs North of Seattle. Now I would prefer extra Talgos or Horizon cars, but if they had got desperate, I would have been willing to press SOUNDER Cars into service. There are two sets laying over in Everett right now, that train normally rates 3 cars each. 140 passengers to a car. Would have been sufficient. It would have been able to at least take some Greyhound Passengers.

  38. Sorry to bring this up again. When I was down in Portland, coming in on Train 501, they mentioned there were taxis waiting for those who missed the Thruway because we were 40 minutes late. I also observed the people later that night while I was waiting for 508 to head North. 507 comes in(Continuing on to Eugene), over 100 people got off, and 30 people got on. Now I did not get a chance to see 507 to see how many were aboard total, because it was on the other side of the train I was catching, and pulling out of Union Station. That was also on a Saturday.

    Some of the problems we have in places restoring passenger rail were compounded by the private railroads giving up. In CHicago, the commuter routes operated by the Chicago and Northwestern actually broke even and made money even as the remnants of the 400s(The brand name of their long-distance streamliners) were losing money. One reason? The C&NW decided to overhaul their commuter fleet, which was mostly made up of retired Long Distance Coaches that were 30-40 years old and powered by Steam Locomotives. They dieselized the trains, and bought new, double deck coaches that seated much more, and came up with the concept of Push-Pull(their Chicago Terminal, unlike Union Station and most of the others, was stub-ended). Interesting how the C&NW applied this to their Chicago-Green Bay-Northern Wisconsin/Michigan services. This was a pro-active stance that headed off the impact of the new expressways. Elsewhere, like up here, the Northern Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Great Northern gave up, the SP seeking to downgrade and discontinue, the NP and GN seeking to run the trains as first class operations but no new rolling stock was ordered.

  39. New equipment does not resolve the question of “profitability” – the Talgo trainsets used on the Cascades trains haven’t made those trains profitable, and Amtrak’s myriad of equipment types purchased since 1971 haven’t made Amtrak profitable.

    Nor does the Beaverton-Wilsonville Commuter Rail project intend to be “profitable” despite TriMet’s insistence on a brand new car type.

    One reason I have heard as to why Chicago commuter operations were run the way they were is because Chicago was the city where many railroads’ headquarters were located. (SP had only one real commuter train operation the San Francisco-San Jose service, and SP did purchase the gallery cars as well as new locomotives in the 1960s/70s for commute service; however some 1920s era Harriman cars remained in service.)

    Commuter Rail in Portland disappeared in the 1930s outside of the interurbans, which lasted until the 1950s (to Oregon City and to Gresham, Boring and Sandy). And even then, “commuter rail” was service between Portland and Lake Oswego (which, in those days, was hardly the snobish town that it is today.)

    Rail can be successful when there is significant population densities that need to move from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ – I think if MAX were reduced to a service that began at Gateway TC and ended at Beaverton TC (via downtown Portland), there’s a likely chance that MAX could be considered profitable. Technically, the cost-per-passenger is less than an all-zone TriMet fare; however when the fare is apportioned out to connecting busses, the revenue-per-passenger drops to below the actual cost of operations. But said “costs” don’t include the capital cost of MAX.

    Getting back to the Amtrak service south of Portland, on a daily average basis, the train has a total of 40 passengers who board (northbound) or deboard (southbound) at Eugene, Albany, Salem or Oregon City. After how-many-years of this service, the ridership isn’t there. A 3200 horsepower engine pulling an empty train is not fuel-efficient or cleaner than a 350 horsepower bus engine pulling the same capacity (40 passengers).

  40. The TALGO was tried out by several railroads in the fifties. None were able to get them to work. What I meant by the railroads giving up, were mainly the ones up here that decided to not go head to head when US99 became Interstate 5. The TALGO design that the New Haven, Rock Island, and Boston and Maine, and the TRAIN X offshoot tried out by the New Haven, and New York Central, would not have worked out here due to the changes the railroads made. They did not like the articulated, semi-permanent coupled cars. The first streamliners of the 1930s, which interesting enough were not meant to return the trains to profitability, but to just get riders back to stem further red ink, were semi-permanently coupled. The first Zephyrs were a success, but the Burlington did not like the entire train being sidelined while one car was being fixed up. So they, and other railroads began using lightweight, single-unit cars. The railroads that tried out the TALGO design insisted on those modifications. They also had Baldwin and Fairbanks Morse design special locomotives for various reasons, probably because an E or F unit would have been overpowered.

  41. Something from California on improving their passenger rail. This has something to do with possibly getting the FRA to allow lighter cars to share the right of way with heavier trains. CalTrain between San Francisco and San Jose is going to electrify, how they do it is the biggest argument right now. Using existing cars with Electric Locomomotives will replace 5 minutes on the schedule. Using EMUs, it could be another 2.5 minutes. THe EMUs are lighter, off the shelf designs , is the way they want to go. THe FRA regs have got in the way from time to time.


  42. Erik said:

    “Rail can be successful when there is significant population densities that need to move from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ – I think if MAX were reduced to a service that began at Gateway TC and ended at Beaverton TC (via downtown Portland), there’s a likely chance that MAX could be considered profitable. Technically, the cost-per-passenger is less than an all-zone TriMet fare; however when the fare is apportioned out to connecting busses, the revenue-per-passenger drops to below the actual cost of operations. But said “costs” don’t include the capital cost of MAX.”

    This has been my contention all along. Rail is not a good fit for Portland, due to the metro area’s layout and population densities. The only corridor that might be suitable for rail would be downtown Portland to downtown Beaverton and downtown Hillsboro, as the two latter cities are projected to have 100,000+ populations by 2025. The Gateway end would have been much better off as a BRT, giving many more riders one-seat rides to downtown, as the vehicles could leave POW east of Gateway and circulate on local streets.

    But try telling all this to railfans. Good luck.

  43. There is one corridor I do believe that commuter rail makes sense – and that is Portland-Salem.

    However we have put our eggs in the Light Rail (MAX and Portland Streetcar) and Amtrak Cascades baskets, and that despite significant traffic counts on I-5 between the two cities and the significant amount of commuters in both directions, and that TriMet has no interest in such a plan, it will never happen.

    In other parts of the country, multiple transit agencies (in this case, TriMet, Canby Area Transit, Woodburn Transit and Cherriots) come together and jointly operate a network. This is how Metrolink (in Los Angeles) and Sound Transit (in Seattle) both work. Cherriots works with SMART (Wilsonville) to operate the 1X route, but it still takes a minimum of three busses to get from downtown Salem to downtown Portland, and likely a fourth bus at either end. That doesn’t jive.

    And as “progressive” as Portland claims to be, shouldn’t we be talking about the need for commuter rail now, before I-5 is so jammed up that the only way out of the mess is a widening of the highway? We should have learned from the westside – we knew the Sunset needed to be widened, we said “MAX will solve our problems…” and guess what? We have MAX – AND a widened highway. MAX to the Expo Center didn’t reduce congestion either. And neither did the MAX Red Line expansion to Beaverton (although frankly that was a good idea as it relieved over-congested Blue Line trains; and had no capital cost associated with it.)

    As far as the Streamliners not intending to put rail passenger service in the black, it is because railroads still felt that passenger service was intended to grow freight service, so whatever losses incurred by the passenger service would have been absorbed by increased freight service.

    Somehow, I don’t think the railroads buy into that logic anymore. I don’t see a lot of Chinese businessmen selling cheap imports to ship in a can (container) clamoring to ride on a passenger train to see America’s great beauty. Not to mention, they would have to fly here first.

  44. That is true, and if they ever want to see the territory their goods cross by rail, some of the railroads use their own Buisness Car Fleet. Union Pacific does just that, with that Heritage Equipment stored at Cheyenne, including that relic that was never retired, Locomotive #844. It is a 4-8-4 like SP&S700 and SP4449, but that is where their similarities end.

  45. Here is some info on S.294, the latest attempt at an Amtrak Reauthorization Act.(The last one expired in 2003 and still has not been renewed). The operating amounts range from $450 million a year to $600 million a year.(Biggest misconception about Amtrak is that it is one big grant, it is two, Operations and Capital) The low amount is possibly due to last year’s Amtrak Request(there are several budget figures presented during negotiations, the Administration’s, Amtrak’s own, and the Senate and House) was $50 million less than the year before. They attributed it to revenue enhancements done to the Empire Builder, as well as the beginings of Diner Lite.

    Other things in it include the right to outsource some trains, defining a national network around a minimum of what LD Trains are operating when the Act is enacted.(Watch for 180 day notices saying trains are being discontinued prior to this act passing. The last Amtrak Reauthorization saw the Pioneer and Broadway Limited being canceled). There is also a suggestion that a Demonstration route be started, it would be Denver-Cheyenne-Ogden-Boise-Portland-Seattle. Now I would like to see a few different names be floated for it other than the name Amtrak had for the route discontinued in 1997. Portland Challenger, or Portland Rose(in honor of a UP Train that once ran over the route. Also, if they gave the Surface Transportation Board some more teeth, they could help get On-Time Performance up. There is a precedent in the courts that could be used to enforce any requirements that in exchange for Amtrak’s track access payments, Amtrak does not get needlessly delayed by freight dispatchers. The case is United States vs. Southern Pacific. It might still be hard to enforce it today, because in a previous Amtrak Reauthorization, the requirement that the trains maintain the May 1, 1971 level of utility was dropped.


  46. As far as the Streamliners not intending to put rail passenger service in the black, it is because railroads still felt that passenger service was intended to grow freight service, so whatever losses incurred by the passenger service would have been absorbed by increased freight service.

    That isn’t exactly true. Some of the services where more than profitable. Santa Fe’s services did just fine. But in a general sense, a lot of passenger service was used in such a way because otherwise it was absolutely irrelevant if it was or was not provided.

    The fact of the matter is the only reason it hasn’t been profitable in the last 50 years is simply everything associated with price suppression for travel costs. People will no longer pay for actual travel costs because they have an unrealistic view of what transportation is worth. Speaking on that matter, it all boils down to false subsidization.

    I mean hell, people honestly think that MAX makes money, Trimet is a real company, and Amtrak is rolling the dough – and that the prices are TOO HIGH?!?!?! That is just unreasonable absudity.

  47. Found a book in the Seattle Public Library on the Canadian. The book is old(about 20 years), and it included a copy of the Canadian Pacific Timetable for Montreal/Toronto to Vancouver Trains, and it seemed that they had several schedules in that timetable(for 1955) about the time they introduced The Canadian. The schedules for that train, the Dominion, the Mountaineer(a train that joined the CP Transcontinenal line at Little CHicago(Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan) coming from the US Midwest), and a nameless local or two, and except for one train, they all arrived in Vancouver very close to each other. No wonder 10 years later most of those trains were gone.

    Now the Santa Fe did a good job of keeping the passengers coming and at least trying to halt the decline. Union Pacific, it is hard to believe that they are the ones hindering Amtrak’s On-Time Performance, during the 1960s, they went out of the way to keep their best passenger trains running. When the City of Portland, City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco(really a SP Train carried east of Salt Lake City by UP) and City of Denver no longer had enough traffic for stand-alone trains(and the fact that the trains ran on schedules close to each other), rather than discontinue all of them, they combined the trains East of Wyoming. They did not even pull the signature cars of the trains, the Dome Diners, until 1970! Each of their routes had at least one train, and some had two.

    In the case of the railroads, crippling regulations(the Staggers Act repealed that, 10 years after Amtrak was formed), burdensome local taxes(New Jersey a good example, they taxed the railroads into bankruptcy), and subsidization of the competition. One thing the old ICC looked into when they entertained a motion to discontinue a train from a railroad, was all costs. They included portions of the track maintenance costs, signals, dispatching, even the CEO’s salaries. Now with CTC, that meant they did not need the stations, so that was a legitemate associated cost. With the formula weighed against them, it was easy to see the trains lose money. Now I bet if there was no USPS contracts, and the costs of the FAA’s Air Traffic Control, and other infrastructure for the aviation industry, the old gaurd carriers, and possibly some of the low-cost carriers, would not be able to survive.

  48. Found this article posted on a railfan board about the new Amtrak CEO outlining new funding proposals, including partnering with the Frieght Railroads to get track improvements done. While he sees the corridors as the future, he also is not willing to write off the Long Distance Trains. Perhaps they finally got somebody good to takeover at Amtrak, unlike the Transit Trio of Downs, Warrington(who left mtrak in 2002 for New Jersey Transit, just quit last week at that job) and Gunn.


  49. Found this on a railfan board about a proposal for service from Chicago to the Quad Cities. The irony about this route, dropped in 1978, was that it was never an Amtrak route. The Rock Island was too broke to join Amtrak, and thus had to continue operating them for at least 5 more years. CHI-QC would just be a short-term idea, existing Midwest Regional Rail Initiative proposals have service on this route all the way to Omaha, which if a High Speed Route, or even a conventional regional route would use, that is the way to get across Iowa, as the Rock Island Corridor hits almost every major city in Iowa.


    The MWRRI idea, as well as what Senator Durbin proposes in the short-term, is just one possibility for a network of faster routes radiating out of Chicago and the Midwest.(Some lost connections that did not go through Chicago are also being looked at).

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