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?

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