Amtrak: Maybe Now?

In stark contrast to the Bush administration’s efforts to pull the plug on Amtrak funding, a post on Planetizen links to a Washington Post column encouraging investment in the nation’s rail systems.

“America’s train advocates are mildly optimistic. And for some good reasons. Amtrak is reporting impressive ridership gains. Oil is pushing $100 a barrel, throwing a long shadow over affordability of travel on already congested highways. Airport delays hit an all-time high last summer. Global climate concerns are mounting.”

“Rail freight demands, meanwhile, are rising fast, suggesting joint improvements with passenger rail. Worries are rising about mobility gaps hindering the ability of America’s ‘megaregions’ — the Northeast, Great Lakes, California and others – to match the performance of competitive regions worldwide.”

“Also positive for Amtrak: signs of a much friendlier reception in Congress. Add to that an array of states anxious to expand rail service, especially if they can get a federal “match” comparable to the 80 percent-20 percent federal-to-state match for highways.”

Long-distance passenger rail improvement has been a popular topic here in the Cascadia region, and there has been no shortage of ideas by those commenting to this very blog. It is very well known that the “Portland Triangle” is a substantial bottleneck for freight- and passenger-rail traffic on the west coast. A dual-pronged effort to improve both the freight- and passenger-rail networks within the region and state with the feds picking up 80% of the tab could very well provide the improvements that will be needed to eliminate the bottleneck and take intercity rail transportation to the next level.

Additionally there has been news recently of the Coos-Siskiyou Shippers Coalition that was formed in response to the closed freight rail line between Eugene and Coquille and the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad has also suggested they may shut down the line between Medford and Weed, California. Given the importance of these lines to commerce in that region of our state and our own desire for improved freight and intercity (and high-speed) passenger rail here in Portland, what do you think are our greatest priorities for rail improvements? Is it possible to reduce the scope of the CRC – something many Portlanders aren’t very fond of anyway – and divert some of those funds as our local 20% match for rail improvements across the Columbia? Perhaps upgrade the rail crossing west of I-5 to allow for improved passenger rail service as well as dedicated truck lanes to move that traffic away from I-5, thus reducing the need for the CRC to be as substantial as WSDOT is pushing for?

Continue reading Amtrak: Maybe Now?

58 responses to “Amtrak: Maybe Now?”

  1. Last I looked, Amtrak, nationally, carried about the same number of riders as MAX does in Portland.


    Amtrak, except for a few east coast lines, needs am merciful application of the corporate death penalty.

    (Bob: please do the grade school arithmetic before attacking.)


  2. “please do the grade school arithmetic before attacking”

    This from a guy who makes an assertion and provides no data whatsoever to support it. Talk about laughable.

  3. I would LOVE to move to some other country while free-staters like Jim got their way. While I’m sure their ego would be stroked when in-the-red government programs get axed and they kept their jobs for a time, it’d be a matter of months before the start complaining about the hordes of homeless, lack of any policing (the Police don’t pay for themselves), rampant crime and escalating cost of doing business.

    In 2005, Amtrak had about 25 million riders; I’m guessing that equates to 25 BILLION passenger miles (i’m going with a 100 mile average trip; this is purely a guess).

    In contrast, MAX had a 2006 total service miles of just over 4 million (source: NTD) and 178,499,147 – roughly 1/25 of my assumtion for Amtrak.

    But then again, Amtrak doesn’t offer a fareless zone and only runs 4 times a day.

  4. If you want Amtrak to take off in the Seattle-Portland corridor, the following needs to happen:

    1. Decrease travel time to 2-2.5 hours, which, given the easier connections especially on the Seattle end, makes it quicker than flying.
    2. Provide hourly or near hourly service to get business travelers.

    Do both and Cascades will be successful in replacing air/car travel.

  5. I LOVE THE AMTRAK CASCADES!!! In contrast to my cynical MAX and Streetcar opinions I do think we should massively overhaul and help Amtrak routes in high population corridors. One of the ones I would improve is the Eugene to Vancouver BC route. And I think if we can’t get the feds to improve our route ODOT and WSDOT should take it over and excuse the PNW from Amtrak. We currently only have 3 Cascades trains daily from Eugene to Portland. I ride the train nearly every weekend from Salem to Portland. I would like to see them offer frequent runs so Amtrak could be a viable commuter option for people living in the Salem area and commuting to Portland and vice versa. Maybe this type of service would be an option for Vancouverites travelling to downtown Portland and innecessitate an expensive bridge and freeway expansion. The Cascades talgo is comfortable and an enjoyable ride and very reasonably priced (at least from Salem to Portland where you can buy a 10 ride ticket for $58). An added plus …. not nearly as many vagrant type people as do ride the greyhound system.

  6. JK wrote:

    Last I looked, Amtrak, nationally, carried about the same number of riders as MAX does in Portland.

    Ding, you win a prize. Amtrak ridership in 2007: 25 million. MAX originating rides in FY2007: 28.5 million. (By the way, for anyone who’s interested, TriMet has recently updated their ridership statistics spreadsheet with FY2007 numbers.


    What’s laughable is comparing long-haul passenger and mid-haul commuter service with local transit service.

    Amtrak, except for a few east coast lines, needs am merciful application of the corporate death penalty.

    Frontier Airlines carries about 8 million boardings, for comparison. How does the corporate death penalty work? Yank funding? Revoke charter? Lethal injection of worthless sub-prime derivatives?

    (Bob: please do the grade school arithmetic before attacking.)

    I’m sorry you feel that someone else has to do the grade school arithmetic for you, but in this case it’s not necessary. One only has too look up the already-calculated numbers available from any number of sources.


    You are so most welcome.

  7. I’d put a priority on restoring Amtrak service between Portland and Salt Lake City, (the Amtrak Pioneer?) The Amtrak Cascades is already competitive with flying and driving between Portland and Seattle. Consider running the Washington County commuter-rail line (Wilsonville-Beaverton) eventually to Salem.

  8. Amtrak works great in the Northeast because it has its own tracks and a coordinated schedule of trains going in many directions. Amtrak is preferable to flying in those areas.

    It also works well in areas where it has partnered with states to provide relatively frequent regional service…Cascades in the NW and Capitol Corridor in California.

    The problem is with the long-haul trains, which rank below freight in the pecking order of the shared tracks, and therefore are perpetually behind schedule.

    If Amtrak could buy a few of those trackways and lease them back to freight (but prioritize passengers), and increase the frequency in the West from 1/day to 2/day, I would think ridership would increase over time, and the train would again be a romantic way to travel.

  9. Amtrak works great in the Northeast because it has its own tracks and a coordinated schedule of trains going in many directions. Amtrak is preferable to flying in those areas.

    I think Amtrak could be preferable to both driving and flying in the Eugene-Vancouver B.C. corridor. The whole route is nearly completely flat, there are lots of open areas, etc. It would only make sense, in my opinion, to lay special passenger only double tracks, put an eletric high speed route in. If the feds don’t do it, the state and B.C. should all form a “NW” alliance and get it done. We should quit waiting for the feds as they lollygag and do it ourselves.

  10. Amtrak gets less annual funding than the MAX does! Why would it be a big surprise that they carry around the same number of riders?

  11. Amtrak gets less annual funding than the MAX does!

    Is that correct? I thought Amtrak’s federal contribution was somewhere around $1.3 billion on average, with some variance year-to-year.

    I believe TriMet’s entire annual FY2008 budget (including also passenger revenue and non-Federal sources) is around $750 million, and a huge chunk of that is the capital allocations for the current construction of the Green Line and the reconstruction of the Transit Mall.

    Of course, as I mentioned earlier, direct comparisons of a local transit service like TriMet to a long-distance passenger service like Amtrak are, to use JK’s term, “Laughable”.

    – Bob R.

  12. There’s some sort of utility-maximization law in economics, that essentially boils down to, business interests (ie, freight haulers and their clients) will “always” pay more for rail priority than will passengers. So they’ll always be problems with freight traffic (or passenger traffic, as I’m sure B&N calls it).

    The only resolutions are better scheduling algorithms (although, as we see with the ultra-efficient airport scheduling, small uncontrollable delays can cripple the entire system) or separate tracks, which is wasteful. Probably the best compromise would be ‘bypass routes’ in the most heavily trafficked rail corridors.

  13. Probably the best compromise would be ‘bypass routes’ in the most heavily trafficked rail corridors.

    Or to accept that rail track is more valuable for moving freight than it is for moving people.

  14. Once again, JK ventures out on to a statistical limb, turns around, and saws it off (saw courtesy of Bob R.). By the way, nice post Joseph.

  15. “Or to accept that rail track is more valuable for moving freight than it is for moving people.”

    >>>> I’m afraid that rail freight IS more important to the economy than passenger. But then again, I think the laws should be changed to direct more transport money to heavy rail, freight and passenger, where justified, instead of obsolete and wasteful trolley cars of various shapes and sizes.

  16. “Perhaps upgrade the rail crossing west of I-5 to allow for improved passenger rail service as well as dedicated truck lanes to move that traffic away from I-5, thus reducing the need for the CRC to be as substantial as WSDOT is pushing for?”

    I don’t think reconstructing the I-5 Columbia River crossing is a need–and an improved, multimodal crossing in the rail corridor would relieve enough pressure on the I-5 system that most expansion projects on that route would be unneeded. Assuming the rapid population growth that is forecast for this region—with much of it going to Clark Co.–trying to cram that all on to two routes is senseless. What if downtown Portland had only two bridges, or worse, only two routes to access it?

    The rail corridor could be improved not only for Amtrak and freight trucks but also for MAX, bicyclists, auto traffic to West Portland and a future streetcar along NW Front Ave.

  17. Within the last few months, there’s been some small articles in the O, buried in the middle of the sections, that say there could be a congressional push to restore all or part of the Pioneer route service.

  18. Amtrak’s statistics are available at this website.

    I would like to point out that compared to TriMet, Amtrak is crystal clear – you can find out virtually ANYTHING about Amtrak on their website. Just try to find budget or financial information on TriMet’s website.

    According to the September 2007 Monthly Performance Report which has the FY2007 ridership and financial results:

    Amtrak systemwide carried 25,847,000 passengers.
    10.04 million of those passengers were on the Northeast Corridor connecting Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. 3.19 million passengers rode the high-speed Acela Express, while 6.84 million rode a Regional train.

    11.99 million passengers rode any other Amtrak corridor service which includes the Cascades, the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliners (the latter three within California), the Hiawatha service north of Chicago, etc.

    3.82 million passengers rode an Amtrak long distance train, which includes the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight trains that serve Portland.

    To be more specific,

    Cascades Service trains – 674,153 passengers (7.2% increase over FY2006)
    Coast Starlight – 343,542 passengers (3.5% increase over FY2006)
    Empire Builder – 504,977 passengers (1.6% increase over FY2006)

    You can also determine ridership by station by visiting Amtrak’s State Fact Sheets.

    In FY2006 (2007 numbers not yet available) the ridership is as follows:

    Seattle – 583,766
    Tukwila – 15,566
    Tacoma – 101,413
    Olympia/Lacey – 43,371
    Centralia – 18,783
    Kelso/Longview – 20,851
    Vancouver, WA – 73,981

    Portland – 482,695
    Oregon City – 6,960
    Salem – 49,356
    Albany – 26,635
    Eugene – 85,455
    Chemult – 9,015
    Klamath Falls – 28,939

    Bingen/White Salmon – 2,037
    Wishram – 1,403
    Pasco – 22,128
    Spokane – 41,862

  19. What’s up with TriMet anyway? Vehicle revenue miles have been dropping since 2005. Bus ridership fell in 2006 and 2007, total ridership fell in 2006, and total passenger miles fell in 2007.

    Fares must be up because fare revenues are growing faster than operating costs and much faster than ridership. Are higher fares or lower vehicle revenue miles (i.e., less service), or both, driving passengers away?

    Is TriMet having some financial crisis that it is keeping quiet? America’s most-admired transit system should be taking advantage of higher gas prices. Instead, it is conceding the race to the automobile.


  20. AMTRAK ridership counts are calculated differently. AMTRAK counts boardings and deboardings. Most ridership for AMTRAK is in the Boston – New York – Washington DC corridor and is in the daily work commute, intra-region and not inter city. The subsidy per ride in 95%.

    West coast AMTRAK is pathetic even when the AMTRAK buses are included. Look at the AMTRAK published schedule for Portland-Salem- Eugene. The AMTRAK buses are faster than the trains and almost as frequent. AMTRAK doesn’t supply a breakout between their buses and train ridership.

    When an airline ridership falls and costs exceed revenues, it goes out of business.


  21. From TriMet’s recently-updated stats, there appears to be a mixed bag of issues here.

    Overall revenue hours were up a tad in FY2007, by 1.3%. Bus revenue hours increased 1.5% and rail revenue hours up just 0.3%. Bus revenue hours are still not back to 2003 levels, and rail hours have been declining since their peak in FY2005.

    Rail operating costs were up 1.4%, while bus operating costs were up by 3%.

    Passenger-miles went down while originating rides and boarding rides went up. (Both boardings and originating rides up by 1.2%).

    It seems that there were more rides than before, but for shorter trips overall. Is this a sign of newer riders making significantly shorter trips, or is it a sign that the longer-distance riders are leaving the system while newer riders are making short-to-moderate trips?

    Passenger revenue appears to be way up, by 10.7%, and the fare recovery ratio is as high as it has been in the 10 years shown on the chart … 26.8%.

    Does the fact that service was rerouted off the transit mall during construction have any impact on the passenger-miles vs. boardings issue?

    A good question for TriMet would be, after the mall is put back together and the Green Line is operating, what kind of increase can we see in bus revenue hours and rail revenue hours. (And in the case of rail revenue hours, will that include a net increase for the existing Red/Blue/Yellow lines, or will the full increase come solely from the Green Line?)

    – Bob R.

  22. AMTRAK ridership counts are calculated differently. AMTRAK counts boardings and deboardings. […] The subsidy per ride in 95%

    Are you saying that when Amtrak claims in their FY2006 Annual Report that “With 24.3 million passengers in FY 2006, Amtrak generated record-high ticket revenue of $1.35 billion.” that it was only 12 million passengers, and that the subsidy is $27 billion?

  23. I would like to see Cascades service boosted to hourly, but can we consider a few branch-routes if the trackage was upgraded? If Union Pacific could be convinced, could we see Amtrak Cascades continue to Klamath Falls? As for Long Distance Routes around here that could see some improvements, a 2nd Frequency on the Hi-Line(Ex-Great Northern route of the Empire BUilder), and a restored Pioneer but Daily this time, and bring back the North Coast Hiawatha. Too bad that will not happen, although there are studies being commissioned to study it, again.

  24. “It seems that there were more rides than before, but for shorter trips overall.”

    Doesn’t it make sense this could also be that people are moving closer to where they want to be? For example, I moved much closer to work and places I spend time, and use transit more, but for shorter trips now.

    An article in the Tribune mentioned the average commute distance as seven miles in 2000, down from ten in 1990. Maybe we’re still moving closer to work?

  25. I have to say the Washington State DoT has done an incredible job with improving the Cascades. Most places they just talk about improving passenger rail but the WA DoT has actually accomplished a lot in the last 10 years. Certainly I would like to see the improvements happen faster but when you look nationwide at passenger rail improvements, nothing compares to what Washington has done in such short time to improve speeds, add new crossovers, close grade crossings, improve stations, purchase new equipment, add more trains. In a few months work begins on the Point Defiance Bypass to reroute the Cascades route away from coastline near Tacoma to a quicker more inland route along I-5.
    Plus check out the long range plan for the route

  26. In the current Amtrak Debate, there has been talk of matching funds for state improvements, although I have not heard anything about giving states that already have put up the money credit for that. If you did that, California might be getting a lot of money back. I mean, how long have they been investing in Passenger Rail? The Bond Measure passed in 1990, but they had been funding the San Juoquin and at the time San Diegan for a little bit before, I believe. In the South, North Carolina has been supporting Passenger Rail with the Carolinian, and the Piedmont. Virginia is starting out on this, former Governor Mark Warner I believe got the ball rolling on that. Tidewater is one of the major population centers, but only gets two trains off the NEC a day. Now they are building a Light Rail line there, called the Tide in Norfolk, but I have not heard if they are going to add one in the Bridge-Tunnels, yet.

  27. According to Tri Met’s Oct 2007 Monthly Performance Report issued on Nov 21, 2007, fixed Route Passenger Revenue to system Cost is at 25% a low for the year. But that’s bogus because of the manipulation of what constitutes System Cost.

    The accurate number is easily obtained by looking at the Tri Met independent Audit Report. Look at Total Operating Resources and divide that number by the fare revenues received.

    It’s lower now.

    The Oct 2007 AV weekday boarding rides, compared to Oct 2006 is down 1.76% and the monthly boarding rides is down 2.38%.


  28. Ross –

    No, you didn’t miss anything, I let the topic get derailed (ahem).

    Amtrak-only in this thread from now on, please.

    – Bob R.

  29. AMTRAK ridership counts are calculated differently. AMTRAK counts boardings and deboardings. Most ridership for AMTRAK is in the Boston – New York – Washington DC corridor and is in the daily work commute, intra-region and not inter city. The subsidy per ride in 95%.

    Amtrak’s financials are also broken out by the Northeast Corridor, the Short-Haul Corridors and the Long Distance trains (again, something TriMet virtually refuses to do).

    The NEC – the Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington high speed corridor, actually makes an “above the rails profit” – meaning that it has an operational profit BUT does not cover capital costs. The NEC itself is profitable because of the fees Amtrak charges to the local commuter rail agencies and freight carriers to access the NEC – but again the NEC does not cover the cost of capital-intensive projects.

    Regional trains (which include the Cascades) lose money but to a small degree. When looking at Amtrak’s reports, however, Amtrak counts state subsidy revenue (the payments that WSDOT and ODOT make to Amtrak) as REVENUE and not an additional subsidy. So the subsidy to those trains is actually higher than published on Amtrak’s website – Amtrak does not break out the “state contribution revenue” per train/route.

    The long distance trains lose anywhere from $300 to $600 million a year, depending on whether you want to include depreciation expense (Amtrak does not break out depreciation by equipment type and property so it’s hard to judge). Plus Amtrak is burdened with an accounting requirement that it must pay a certain amount into the Railroad Retirement Board above and beyond what it pays for its own employees.

    So assuming that the long distance trains cost $500M a year in federal subsidy (with all costs included), that leaves about $700M for the rest of Amtrak’s system. A LARGE portion of that goes straight to certain capital projects, such as the upgrading of the Thames River lift bridge that itself is a multi-hundred-million-dollar project. The operating subsidy for 22 million of Amtrak’s passengers is mere dollars, but the operating subsidy for the shy-of-four million long distance passengers is well into the hundreds.

    And in fact, the subsidy would be higher, except that Amtrak’s website clearly shows that profits from the NEC/NEC Trains are used to reduce the federal subsidy for the LD/corridor trains. Amtrak could easily use those profits for the NEC itself; however it looks “better” to the Feds to ask for a smaller amount of operating support (which is an annual thing) in addition to one-time capital grants (which are not recurring, but Amtrak makes a habit of asking for grants of the same amount but for ‘different purposes’).

    I believe there is a commenter here who likes to butt heads with me over the cost-effectiveness of busses and whether they serve the greatest need. I think that commenter, when applying his logic to Amtrak, would readily agree that long distance trains are simply not cost effective. The only difference between Amtrak and TriMet is that Amtrak has a legally defined requirement to operate as a “for-profit business” whereas TriMet is defined to provide a transit service, with regards towards serving the public, not towards a profit/loss statement.

  30. Is anybody familiar with the Galveston-Houston Interurban line? It ran for a number of years, until 1936, and it was the fastest interurban in the world for most of this time. And they’re working on reviving it now, it sounds like just the thing for the Portland-Salem-(?)Eugene-(?)Vancouver Wash cluster. And if George Bush’s hometown can do it, we certainly ought to be able to….

  31. Mel points out that TriMet figures show monthly boarding rides down 2.38% and Ross says
    it’s time to stop talking about it.

    Yeah you missed something.
    Apparently by choice.

  32. Steve –

    I’m as guilty as Mel for allowing this to divert into yet another TriMet discussion. However, that has been noted and the topic is now back to Amtrak. Don’t chide Ross for wanting to stay on-topic … topic erosion has been getting out of hand around here.

  33. You can’t really mess with these moderators!

    Their always reasonable,

    which makes it hard for those of us that like to be unreasonable,

    to pursue the unreasonable!

  34. But when will a new TriMet thread pick up where Mel was silenced?

    Stop being arrogant. There’s plenty of active threads, several of which have TriMet discussions.

    Al, drop it. It’s not funny anymore.

  35. Okay, Amtrak.

    Well, I grew up in NY state. I remember Amtrak as the train that took me to NYC faster than a freeway.

    I guess we don’t get that privilege in Portland, but it’s a nice bonus. With some track straightening along I-90 in both NY and WA, as well as North/South alignment corrections, both regions could increase the rail accessible areas.

    Maybe the Pac NW can copy, to a degree, what the San Diego -> Santa Barbara corridor has done. Add passing lanes, areas to expand into later, and improve turning sights and turn radii, and we’ll have a real system.

    PDX needs to work with various entities to make a real appearance, but they have a chance. Real train access from Vancouver to Salem would kick it.

  36. Dave,

    The Pacific Surfliner/San Diegan line that you directly refer to, is owned by two different transit agencies south of Los Angeles – the agency that operates the Metrolink commuter trains (to Los Angeles), and the agency that operates the Coaster commuter trains (to San Diego).

    Right now the only commuter rail operation we have is Sounder, for which the trains are owned by Sound Transit, operated by BNSF on BNSF rails, and maintained by Amtrak. Sound Transit has maybe a few staff members that have anything to do with Commuter Rail, mostly monitoring service contracts.

    Oregon has no such operation. The closest we have is the soon-to-launch Beaverton-Wilsonville Commuter Rail line (WES), except that Amtrak will never operate on it, and that it will be EXTREMELY difficult if not impossible for a suitable station to be constructed in Beaverton that will serve anything other than the DMU vehicle that TriMet chose outside of standard procurement processes.

    The potential to rebuild the Portland-Salem route that Amtrak currently uses is there; it is just lacking the will and the money. Right now the powers-that-be believe that the Oregon Electric route is the desirable route “to avoid congestion on the Union Pacific mainline” however the OE route (that goes from Beaverton to Wilsonville and continues through Salem’s Riverfront Park) has several near-fatal flaws that make it undesirable for passenger service; the UP mainline can easily be remedied to eliminate the congestion problems and still maintain an appropriate level of service for commuter and Amtrak trains.

  37. OK, so perhaps I came late to this thread, but here’s my take:

    Amtrak may be eligible for assisted suicide, but only because it’s time to acknowledge that what we really need in this country (and in Oregon) is a nationwide high-speed rail system, electrically-powered, with headways and travel times that are competitive between adjacent major markets to driving or flying.

    Diesel has been useful for many years. Biodiesel is a greater way to improve the emissions profile of diesel. But what we really need is to electrify (or, in many cases, re-electrify) our regional, state and national rail networks. Amtrak trains are powered by some of the dirtiest diesel engines out there — they spew massive clouds of visible diesel smoke, full of cancer-causing particulate matter and other nastiness, into the immediate environment adjacent to their routes. This is not good P.R. for their service. Additionally, their horns are the bane of the neighbors of their routes, and FRA regulations make them blow their horns loudly and often to prevent “incidents.”

    This points to another need — separated grade crossings pretty much everywhere, allowing us to move to a more European-style regulation system, where horns are only used to avoid collisions, not blown indiscriminately across the land.

    An 80%/20% federal/local split might be a good start, but it needs to be combined with a hefty federal budget, a plan for the national portion of the high speed rail network, and plenty of local initiative.

    Finally, as one commenter noted, Washington State has done wonders for their commuter rail & Amtrak infrastructure, whereas Oregon’s Legislature has been almost entirely missing in action with regards to passenger rail within the state. I’d like to see the Cascades service extended into the Rogue Valley, not duplicate the service to Klamath Falls. Just look at the demographics — the Rogue Valley has a lot more people collectively (between Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass) than does Klamath Falls. And ultimately, I think that a High Speed Rail route from Tijuana to Vancouver would probably run through the Rogue Valley (as does I-5), not through K Falls.

    So, there we go, a vision. Now, how do we get from here to there?

  38. Start with an AM Cascades to Eugene with a travel time or two hours or less! If the legislature can’t sign on to that, what hope is there.

  39. “Start with an AM Cascades to Eugene”

    Agreed. Right now if you want to go from Portland to Eugene for the day, you end up on a bus, and you only spend an hour in Eugene…

    The problem is that sending a train from Portland to Eugene in the morning, (and then back again in the evening,) means that you need another train set, and putting all the employees on weird split shifts. And given that Washington state gets nothing out of that, they aren’t willing to contribute money towards it, so it would be up to the Oregon legislature to buy the train set, and fund the operation, and they are having trouble meeting their commitments for the existing operations, so…

  40. I rode the Amtrak again this weekend. It was about 20 minutes late leaving Salem and excruciatingly slow between O.C. and Portland. The ride took almost 2 hours factoring in the late leaving and slow going after O.C. What’s up with THAT? I know, blame the freight trains….. I wonder how they can really expect the system to compete with driving and plane travel when its inconsistently late and otherwise unreliable. The ride itself is great, IMHO and is a great option if you don’t have to be a certain place on time. Otherwise, your best bet is Greyhound or car.

  41. Washington has stepped up the plate on the Portland-Seattle run, now Oregon needs to follow for the Eugene-Portland leg. I would think with our local politicans especially Blumenauer they would strongly support the needed investment to further improve Amtrak in Oregon.

    BTW It seems to me British Columbia needs to do a lot more for their share to improve service into Vancouver BC.

  42. Two things:

    1. “Amtrak gets less annual funding than the MAX does! Why would it be a big surprise that they carry around the same number of riders?” …and they cover over 50% of their costs (for everything, infrastructure too!) MAX covers barely 22%. If you look at just operational costs Amtrak is closer to 80%.

    2. If the trains weren’t overstaffed, ran efficiently, used more modern equipment (like the Talgos), didn’t have absurd FRA regulations to follow, Amtrak could easily rake in 100-120 Million per year. Their number one cost is excessive personal operating a train service the same inefficient way they did in 1950. Very few steps to modernization have occurred. The last real strides of progress were made in 1950 by Santa Fe and the Milwaukee Road. Amtrak hasn’t done crap.

    But I digress, if we’re going to do it the expensive public funding route, we really ought to have a good dose of rail service in there.

  43. In 2012-2015 when the Cascades route shifts over to the Point Defiance route there is an estimated trip reduction by 15-20 minutes. Work, increased speeds through towns and improved track work will have the Cascades down to around 3 hours from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. It is currently 3 hours and 30 minutes.

    BNSF is also talking about increasing the speed from King Street Station to Spokane Street to 30mph for freight and 40mph for passenger from it’s current 20mph for all trains. Also if I remember correctly, BNSF was talking with 2 land owners to lessen the curve at Puyallup South of Control Point “Stewart” on the Seattle Subdivision. This would allow passenger trains to maintain 79mph instead of slowing to 45-50mph.

    Improvements are coming.. slowly but surely. I really wish we could get some form of ATS here so we can at least do 90mph. I would prefer 110mph but that means massive grade crossing closures anywhere where trains would run above 91mph.

  44. ^ Yeah, but the Oregon segment (Eugene -> PDX) hasn’t seen any infrastructure investment, and is languishing. Washington has certainly stepped up to the plate ,but Oregon hasn’t.

    I for one would really like to be able to ride Amtrak to Eugene and Corvallis from Portland.

    One problem I’ve ran into is that the trains to Seattle are frequently full-up and you have to buy tickets a day or two in advance. Well, “problem” for me, anyway!

  45. The biggest thing isn’t so much ODOT but more or less the Union Pacific Railroad that the Amtrak Cascades use between Portland and Eugene, Oregon. BNSF is more laxed for infrustrature improvements and it’s pretty easy considering it is a Double Track mainline already. The Union Pacific line is single track with passing sidings. UP is pretty firm on wanting full double tracking if anything involving passenger trains. This is one of the many reasons why the Las Vegas Amtrak train never came about was because of UP’s want of fully double tracking the corridor.

    WSDOT is working close with Amtrak and BNSF on expanding service to Vancouver, BC which will include trip reductions and removal of the last bits of jointed rail. A new siding is going in just outside of Colebrook to allow a second Cascades train to Vancouver. A third train will come when the rest of the siding upgrades between Everett, Washington and Blaine, Washington are completed which should be near the time for the Olympics.

    The good part of all of this work is another round trip train that should be starting in September 2008. It’s been said recently by many people that WSDOT wants to add 1 train a year and running almost every 1. While not confirmed on any government level publically (it’s always a surprise when a new train starts) the Cascades can easily do 2 hours and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes once the full system is “rolled out” but that roll out required that Bill which was tossed out once again by the House.

    If anything High-Speed is to come about here, the State of Washington, State of Oregon, and British Columbia will need to come together soon to provide an outstanding amount of service that would allow a vast committment to passenger rail service. It is going to be an expensive deal but to leave the car at home, hop on a train and go to Portland or Seattle, use the Light-Rail or Streetcar networks along with Flexcar services, ones “short haul” services can dramatically change the way people travel in our region. I personally would love a 4 hour 30 minute trip between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC.

  46. “UP is pretty firm on wanting full double tracking if anything involving passenger trains.”

    If the WES is any indication of what trackwork costs, it would be approximately $10M/mile, and it is ~100 miles from here to Eugene, so it could be a billion dollars. That said, if we could get an 80% match, that would be $200M, which is less than what we have budgeted for the Streetcar/Orange Line bridge… (And would UP want us to pick up the entire tab for double tracking? I mean, they’d get a lot of benefit out of a double track mainline as well…)

  47. I would be surprised if it cost that much, i do agree though that it would be very expensive. That said, this route really should be double tracked and it would benefit freight as much as passenger. South of Eugene topography makes it much more difficult to double track but thats almost all freight traffic anyway. UP would throw in some money, how much I dont know. I understand the UP are douchebags compared to other RRs so it probably wouldnt be much money. I’ve taken the Coast Starlight several times so I know all about the single track on that route. :(

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