High Speed Rail to Bypass Oregon City in Favor of Lake O?

That’s what ODOT appears to be thinking.

22 responses to “High Speed Rail to Bypass Oregon City in Favor of Lake O?”

  1. The trains would stop in Tualatin not LO under this proposal. While most of the local opposition would be about things like noise, safety, and street traffic delays, I’d be more concerned that it would make it just that much more difficult to get a Milwaukie MAX extension into LO and beyond.

  2. A stop in Lake Oswego and Milwaukie would help win support. A MAX extension from Milwaukie would be more difficult to pull off than six daily round-trip Amtrak Cascades train runs. I’d rule out electrification from the start; maybe later when established ridership justifies it. Electrification won’t save as much time as track upgrades.

    Some kind of cross-Willamette transit there is overdue. I was thinking streetcar, but this idea may be best for now. Lake Oswego seems provential enough a town for infrequent cross-river transit.

    OK, somebody attack my viewpoint. You know you want to. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

  3. Given the difficulty involved in doing pretty much ANYTHING with the section of UPRR track between Oregon City and Canby (where the railroad is sandwiched between the bluff, OR99E, and the Willamette River, this is unsurprising. And having two well-maintained rail corridors down the Valley makes more sense than only one.

  4. Could a small rail vehicle that travels at higher speed—100 mph, for example, but has more frequent service be a cost-effective alternative to the multi billion high speed rail concept?
    I think my idea of an overnight sleeper bus also makes more sense. You could probably even buy one used an convert it. Fall alseep in Portland—wake up in Pocatello, Sacramento, Vancouver BC, etc! Much cheaper, too. No excessive taxation as with the Obama hi speed plan. Stop imposing on the rest of us—– you sleeper coach phobites!

  5. The June 2009 “ODOT Intercity Passenger Rail Study” that is being used to justify looking at the Oregon Electric lacks credibility. This “Study” falsely claims that “the OE alternative would cost less than the UP alternative.”

    According to the man at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) who headed up the project for PB, (1) they “assumed” the state would pay 100% of the costs for improving the UP, and (2) they did NOT include any costs for acquisition of new right-of-way (RoW) on the OE. Both assumptions are ludicrous.

    (1) Improvements (such as new or longer sidings for passing and extending double tracking) on the UP will benefit BOTH freight and passenger service. Another improvement needed is called “positive train control” or PTC. UPRR is REQUIRED to implement PTC not later than 2015 by the Federal Railroad Administration. This must happen whether there are passenger trains on the line or not. UPRR would love to have Oregon HELP pay for PTC in exchange for more track time for passenger trains. But it is not reasonable to assume the State would pay 100% of the cost when the majority of trains on the line are UP freights.

    (2) The new OE alignment proposed by the ODOT “Study” requires new RoW in Tualatin, Salem, Albany, Harrisburg and Junction City, but they did NOT include any costs for acquiring new RoW. This is truly absurd — acquiring new RoW is very expensive.

    The OE RoW is narrow, in proximity to homes (in some cases, very expensive homes), businesses, schools, parks and other developments. The OE line has FAR MORE at-grade crossings, both public and private, many with no train detection circuitry, lights or gates. Closing or improving EACH of these at-grade crossings would be expensive, often involving long legal proceedings, yet these costs do not appear to have been considered.

    The OE line includes many sharp radius curves which are not suitable for even moderate speeds (many are restricted to under 25 mph).

    The OE line goes through the middle of residential neighborhoods in Lake Oswego, Salem and in other locations along the route.

    The Study “assumes” it is necessary to double track the entire UP mainline from Portland to Eugene. That is NOT necessary for the levels of service they are projecting.

    South of Salem, near Orville, the OE travels over geologically unstable soil. The track bed is so bad in this area, that consideration has been given to abandoning the OE track and accessing the UP(!!) RoW in this area.

    While in the “Study” ODOT claims the incentive for using the OE is because of “the inherent difficulty of integrating passenger operations into” UPRR, the proposed OE alignment USES the UPRR RoW:

    (1) Between Portland and Willsburg Junction (the most congested part of the UPRR between Portland and Eugene)
    (2) In Albany
    (3) In Harrisburg
    (4) In Junction City
    (5) In Eugene

    Yet another problem relates to train dispatching. Anyone who knows anything about train dispatching and who has traveled on Amtrak around the country knows that when Amtrak must move from one host railroad to another (I.e., from Portland and Western to UPRR), that moving into the jurisdiction of another host railroad often causes significant delays. Under ODOT’s proposal, trains would leave and re-enter UPRR RoW a minimum of four times, possibly more. If we just stay on UPRR (as we do now) between Portland and Eugene, the UP Dispatch Center is MUCH more likely to want to keep the passenger trains running, rather than stopped, blocking their track. Each time they leave UPRR RoW, you can be sure that UP dispatchers will be in no hurry to bring them back onto UP track.

  6. Dan McFarling and Erik Halstead both have good critiques of the ODOT proposal over on the Tribune web site. I see that Dan just added a comment here.

    Neither the UP nor the “OE” routes are suitable for TGV type service, so if we are looking for an iterim level of passenger train service, with speeds not exceeding the Northeast Corridor, we should be looking for the most cost-effective option.

    The “OE” has fatal flaws and is not the cheapest at any particular level of service. The study by PB was a classic “apples to oranges” comparison. Their high cost for the UP was based on improvements that are either unnecessary for the level of train service anticipated, or will be required for freight service in any case. The “OE” analysis failed to include all sorts of costs. They compared a single track “OE” line with the cost of double-tracking the UP line.

    For the level of service anticipated, double-tracking the UP is unnecessary, and the cost of extending sidings to reduce freight interference would be much less than the cost of the “OE” project. Eventually double-tracking the UP would give far greater (perhaps 6 times more) capacity than a single-tracked “OE” line.

    I asked ODOT why this was being studied. According to Betsy Imholt, “…the large amount of federal money at stake has forced us to move very quickly.”

    I think it is a mistake to pour money into an environmental analysis of something that has such dubious prospects. Perhaps a bit of time spent on figuring out what the purpose of this project is might avoid stumbling into another “CRC” type fiasco. I am all in favor of good alternatives to the automobile, but spending money on bad alternatives just gives more ammunition to the transit skeptics.

  7. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems the easiest route would be to use the UP route as much as possible, and maybe switch over to the OE line for a few bypass areas. It would require more track, but it seems we could avoid most areas of congestion by using both.

    Is there a reason that wouldn’t be possible due to the different ownership of each? Is it one or the other, or can we mix and match?

  8. I gotta admit–I’m a bit surprised at the amount of hackles this has raised, given the preliminary state of things. To me, this proposal, at this stage, strikes me as either a trial balloon, or as a negotiating ploy with UPRR concerning the cost of upgrading the UPRR line. Proceeding with any project would necessarily require a more thorough cost analysis; OTOH I think it premature to write off the OE alternative without doing so.

    Obviously, upgrading the OE line would have significant expenses beyond a back-of-the-envelope calculation of miles-of-track times cost-per-mile. My favorite proposal, one I’ve suggested before, would be a new branch connecting the UPRR north of Hubbard with the OE just south of Wilsonville, running mostly parallel to OR551; along with track improvements and spurs in Tualatin to permit trains on the OE line to switch easily to the Newberg branch. This avoids the nastiest part of the UPRR line (along 99E), but also avoids the really substandard parts of the OE. (And the train can stop in downtown Woodburn if people want).

    Obviously, the stretch between Willsburg Junction and downtown is a major bottleneck, but that would be true regardless of which route HSR uses.

  9. The ODOT report is very rudimentary. I don’t think you can draw conclusions from it one way or the other. Read it for yourself, it isn’t long:


    I think it is probably a tool to get to the next stage of getting ARRA FRA money to study the corridor.

    I think the suggestion that segments of the lines be studied and compared rather than taking one or the other altogether is the best way forward. It may be possible to create a passenger route (or network) that avoids the most troublesome spots along both lines with some new connections.

    Aside from the route, I have trouble with the studied service assumptions. I would recommend studying a wider range of possible frequencies, train capacities & service types (e.g. commuter rail). Include intercity bus services in the study.

  10. If Oregon is ready to move forward with a grand scheme for high speed rail (real high speed, like TGV), it will cost a huge amount and require considering more than just the UP and “OE” routes. Portions of I-5 right-of-way might also be suitable, as part of a combination corridor.

    But for now, that seems like pie-in-the-sky. Extending sidings within the existing UP right-of-way is obviously the cheapest way to reduce congestion problems and improve speed.

    And shouldn’t we focus on the Portland to Vancouver WA segment first, since that is where we already have the ridership?

    The fact is Oregon was caught flat-footed when all the stimulus money for high speed rail became available, because unlike California, we had few “shovel-ready” projects. Instead of pie-in-the-sky, lets work up some more “shovel-ready” improvements along the current routing, that maybe can happen within my lifetime because they are actually cost-effective.

  11. “The fact is Oregon was caught flat-footed when all the stimulus money for high speed rail became available, because unlike California [AND WASHINGTON], we had few “shovel-ready” projects.”


  12. Certainly, ODOT has been neglecting any consideration of rail for years now–there’s no surprise there.

    Regarding the Portland-Vancouver route, trains aren’t likely to be travelling at high speeds over that short stretch. The interesting questions are probably ensuring that whatever new bridge(s) get(s) built across the Columbia can accomodate HSR, and whether we move Union Station or not. (There are lots of good arguments for moving it across the river, and against as well).

    I think part of the reason that things renovating the OE line are getting proposed, is that the mainline freight railroads (UP in this case) have long been hostile to passenger services running on “their” rails–Amtrak is only there now, I suspect, because the law requires it. And there’s actually good reason for some of this–the presence of scheduled passenger service can be highly disruptive to modern freight operations (and vice versa), which runs on an on-demand rather than scheduled basis. The OE/WPRR, being a lightly-used railroad serving local traffic, could conceivably run passenger service in the day, freight at night.

    Double-tracking the UPRR would certainly help as well.

    If the US were really serious about railroad infrastructure, it would invest in more publicly-owned ROW. Given the tax, maintenance, and liability issues involved with owning tracks, I’m surprised that the railroads haven’t been eager to turn over their lines to the government, in exchange for long-term trackage rights. (Instead, they guard their ROWs like Fort Knox).

    My interest in the OE route (and I’m not sold on any particular route–not enough information for me to have an informed presence) is specifically because I’d rather deal with UPRR as little as possible.

  13. I have enjoyed the comments, first on the Tribune article and then here. You guys know the issues on the ground. It seems that ODOT doesn’t have the knowledge base to understand (really?) the costs that are being revealed here. Bravo!

    I am more of a high level planner type (no schooling just 35 years of reading and meetings). As stated, reviewing all the options (one line only, mixed lines, new connections, bus services, commuter rail, etc.) and creating a plan for the Valley seems in order (Noooo!)?!)

    ODOT is ten years behind the times. We have advocated (OK some of us) for a move of Union Station over to the Rose Quarter area (Memorial Station anyone?) for years. OK it’s twenty years away but you have to start some time ODOT, PDX, and Amtrak.

    I do thank you ODOT for trying though because if you don’t try, you don’t learn and you haven’t been learning anything for the last forty plus years.

    Sorry for the vent.


  14. Ray,

    While I doubt ODOT isn’t as incompetent as you suggest (I’m sure they know the “issues on the ground”), they have long had little institutional interest in the state’s rail infrastructure.

    Part of that may be a lack of funding–they can’t keep up with their own highway maintenance backlog, it seems–and part of that may have to do with most trackage in Oregon being privately owned (other than a few lines owned by various port authorities or municipalities); but part of that appears to be an institutional culture that is geared towards pouring concrete. They used to be called the Oregon Highway Division, and in many respects it seems they still are.

  15. First of all, it’s nice to see ODOT finally talking specifics on improving the Eugene-PDX route. That said, I have some logistical issues with the OE route mainly due to the same reasons that Dan McFarling cited. EngineerScotty’s suggestion for the Hubbard-area connection between the UP and OE routes would help resolve many of these issues (of course, trains would still be contending with the fairly dense commercial and residential districts in Tualatin and LO, much as they’re already doing in Salem).

    My armchair opinion is that the current UP line should be upgraded where ever possible (a realization that hit home last year when riding the Starlight on a particularly rough stretch between Eugene and Albany) and passing sidings added/lengthened. In addition, one suggestion put forth by the 2001 Oregon Rail Plan would be to reroute the Albany-Eugene segment along Hwy 99W to include Corvallis (part of the ROW already exists), which would add a bit of distance to the trip but would also serve a great deal more riders (imagine taking the train to a Civil War game no matter which city it’s in!).

    In a related note, wasn’t the second Seattle-BC train set to start yesterday?

  16. Oh…so now we are discussing competence? I liked what Clinton used to say: “We can do better.” So let’s figure out a way to bring the costs back to earth on the wish list of projects that public works advocates want in their “stockings.” I am not against hi speed rail—I just don’t want to see us also barreling towards insolvency at the same time. Which is exactly the tack that the present administration has taken with much of its “shovel-ready” projects. According to the reports I have seen these have not resulted in very much job creation. And if the CRC project is indicative of the sorts of things we taxpayers would be asked to put up money for, who needs them anyway? I did see a list from the Econ. Recovery Act—not sure if it was final. Should I put it up on Portland Transport?

  17. Fatal flaws of the OE for HSR

    Besides the fact that the OE alignment has numerous curves unsuitable for current speed restrictions (79 mph) let alone higher speeds, has insufficient right-of-way (40 ft.) for double tracking, goes through built-up urban and suburban development with numerous grade crossings, misses existing stations (Oregon City and Salem), requires considerable land acquisition probably requiring condemnation, and will require scores of public and private at-grade crossings to be closed or grade separated, ODOT assumes that the passenger demand for Cascade Corridor passenger service will only be 4 additional round trips by 2030 and therefore the single-track alignment shared with local freight trains is sufficient.

  18. why was a multi-use path recently built along the UP line in downtown salem in the only place where a second track would fit?

    what would it take to make the OE line into a modern interurban line and one that functions much like an updated old interurban, such as a relatively high speed single or double car? afterall the OE line was built for this kind of operation. ron swaren mentioned something very much like this earlier in this post.

    what about looking at using portions of each route? clearly in some areas one route is more advantageous than the other and in several locations they cross or intersect.

  19. The folks from AORTA (both Jim and Dan) seem determined to crush the OE idea like a Pinot grape in autumn. :)

    OTOH, some of the points repeated above assume that the current OE ROW would be used with no deviations. Obviously, there are numerous sections of the ROW which are insufficient for HSR, Jim and Dan have listed them quite nicely. Any reasonable proposal to use the OE trackage would have to take that into consideration; certainly we don’t want high-speed trains shooting along the Albany waterfront through people’s front yards.

    However, referring to these as “fatal flaws”, when routing around such issues hasn’t been considered in a serious fashion, seems premature. Using the existing OE ROW without deviation is probably flawed in a fatal fashion; a mix-and-match approach is probably not so.

    (And trust me–nobody will miss the Amtrak stop in OC, other than a few OC politicians…)

  20. (And trust me–nobody will miss the Amtrak stop in OC, other than a few OC politicians…)

    Heh. I’ve heard ridership at the OC station is indeed a little… anemic. If a South Metro stop was so desirable, I’m surprised it wasn’t located closer to Milwaukie/Clackamas.

    That’s one advantage the OE proposal can boast — a Tualatin-area stop is likely to attract far more riders than OC.

  21. Lots of possibilities.

    Anyway, I think the “separate the freight from the passengers” argument is probably controlling. As long as the worst curves can be avoided by deviation, it’s going to give the best results. Remember, this isn’t going to be 220mph, this is (at best) going to be 110mph. So reliability is more important than sheer top speed.

    I do agree they should focus on Portland-Vancouver first. The need for a new, fast, reliable, multi-tracked mainline rail bridge across the Columbia and Willamette is obvious. (And would avoid the entire justification for the Columbia River Crossing, apart from the light rail: freight trucks could be piggybacked on rail, while ships could have a clear straight path).

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