How will Oregon passenger rail’s two alignment options affect Portland?

ODOT's Oregon Passenger Rail project seeks to find a long-term alignment for intercity rail service, such as the Amtrak Cascades train seen here, south of Portland.
ODOT’s Oregon Passenger Rail project seeks to find a long-term alignment for intercity rail service, such as the Amtrak Cascades train seen here, south of Portland.

Last Thursday, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced that the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council had selected two alternatives for future intercity passenger rail service south of Portland. The alignment selection is part of a planning process to determine the alignment for mid and long-term investments in passenger rail operations in the Willamette Valley. Presently, this corridor is served by four three daily round trips of rail service (three two Amtrak Cascades departures and the daily Amtrak Coast Starlight) and an additional six Amtrak-affiliated “thruway” motor-coaches. While the two remaining alternatives differ from each other significantly, both have similar and substantial impacts for the greater Portland region. Before we examine these, let’s look at the two alternatives more closely.

ODOT's two proposed alignments for intercity passenger rail service south of  Portland. Both will advance to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, but ultimately only one will be selected for construction.
ODOT’s two proposed alignments for intercity passenger rail service south of
Portland. Both will advance to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, but ultimately only one will be selected for construction.

Alternative 1. This alternative keeps rail service south of the city on its existing route, using the right-of-way of the Union Pacific Railroad. Presumably the selection of this alternative would mean introducing a series of extensive, phased improvements to the UP tracks such as additional passing tracks, double and triple tracking in places, and improved signal systems.

Alternative 2. This alternative is a combination of several different segments. For the purpose of this post we can generally describe this as following Interstate 5 from the Eugene area to Keizer, north of Salem. From Keizer to Wilsonville the alignment follows the shortline freight tracks of the Portland & Western. From Wilsonville to Oregon city, it follows I-205 and from there it uses the existing UPRR tracks into Portland. (A third variation of Alternative 2, utilizing a tunnel under part of Portland, remains in play, but seems less and less likely.)

Winners & Losers. The details of both alternatives and their pros and cons would take up plenty of discussion on their own. The two alternatives, however, are very similar in how they directly impact the Portland region. Both utilize the existing Union Pacific tracks from Oregon City through to a station stop at Portland Union Station. The result is a mixed bag for the city, and creates some big winners and some big losers.

Portland Union Station, at more than 100 years old, will continue to be the epicenter of  Oregon's passenger rail system."
Portland Union Station, at more than 100 years old, will continue to be the epicenter of
Oregon’s passenger rail system.

Winner: historic preservation. Both alignments will continue to serve Portland Union Station. Built from 1893 to 1896, the facility is the oldest continually operating union station west of St. Louis, Missouri. The experience of other cities across the nation indicates that the best way to preserve historic and large city-center rail stations is continued operation.

Loser: Eastside/”modern” station advocates. It’s been a long-time dream from some to move Portland’s rail station facilities to the east side of the Willamette River. The most dramatic of these was the conversion of Memorial Coliseum into a rail station, an idea championed frequently in the pages of The Oregonian by activist Ray Polani.

Winner: passengers passing through Portland. Given the continued use of Portland Union Station and the limited storage space of the station’s yard, it seems likely that trains south of Portland will continue to be interlined with service north of the city. This means fewer required transfers for passengers passing through the city.

The Central Eastside Industrial District will remain bisected by First Avenue's  exclusive railway use. With increasing interest in residential development in the CEID, can a quiet zone push be far behind?
The Central Eastside Industrial District will remain bisected by First Avenue’s
exclusive railway use. With increasing interest in residential development in the CEID, can a quiet zone push be far behind?

Loser: condo developers in the Central Eastside Industrial District. Developers hoping to construct residential units in the CEID, such as Key Development’s recently announced Burnside Bridgehead tower, will face the continued presence of rail traffic on the right-of-way of First Avenue. Trains in this corridor frequently block pedestrian and auto traffic and are a source of both particulate pollution and noise. Expect increasing developer pressure to establish a “quiet zone” in the CEID, eliminating train horn noise.

Loser: high-speed rail purists. The continued use of the Union Pacific right-of-way through the city implies that the future of passenger rail south of Portland will remain a blended, mid-speed system with speeds no higher than 125 miles-per-hour (and probably nowhere near that fast within the city). It is still marginally possible that if Alternative 2 is selected train speeds might edge closer to the 200 miles-per-hour mark, but given the difficulty of phasing this option it seems less and less likely that Alternative 2 will end up being the selected route.

Winner: rail-side neighborhoods and pedestrians. Lower top speeds will mean less need for massive sound barriers, security fences, and grade crossing eliminations, thus resulting in fewer circulation impacts.

An Op-Ed Moment. While the details of the two alternatives are beyond the scope of this post, it is the opinion of this writer that Alternative 1 remains the best option for the future of intercity passenger rail service south of Portland. Alternative 2 will be almost impossible to construct in operable, phased segments, making it unlikely to be able to survive the political apathy towards passenger rail that has been typical of the state’s Legislature. Furthermore, Alternative 2 runs counter to good land use principles, being dependent on freeway-side stations not located near the city centers along its route. None of Alternative 2’s stations south of Portland are located in city centers, and in the case of Eugene, not only would this alternative’s station be further from the University of Oregon, it would be not in Eugene at all, but in Springfield.

Alternative 1, by contrast, lends itself naturally to the successful phased approach that was utilized to construct Washington’s wildly successful segment of Amtrak Cascades. Alternative 1 is also the only alternative that supports good land use, maintaining rail service to the centers of Salem, Albany, and Eugene were quality transportation nodes can be supported by denser land uses.

For the present, both alternatives will advance towards inclusion in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that will be published sometime in late 2014, with public hearings anticipated in early 2015. To learn more about the project, see

54 responses to “How will Oregon passenger rail’s two alignment options affect Portland?”

  1. How about a hybrid option–Option 1 from Eugene to Salem–using the existing UPRR tracks, providing service in the downtowns of Salem and Eugene, and avoiding the most substandard parts of the old Oregon Electric line–and then Option 2 to the north from Salem to Portland?

    The main thing you’d lose is downtown service in Woodburn, and the alignment would be a bit longer than straight Option 1. Also, a new bridge across the Willamette in Oregon City would be necessary (there is also a risk that ODOT would use such a project as an excuse to widen the freeway; right now the Abernathy Bridge limits their ability to do so). You’d gain service in Wilsonville, and a connection to SMART and WES, and a Salem/Portland commuter service would be an option.

    One other interesting question about Alternative 2: would it have any connection to the SW Corridor? My assumption is that the only stop in the SW area would be in Wilsonville, and that the tracks would split from the current rail line just north of there, with the new line then running alongside I-5 to I-205, with no service to downtown Tualatin. If the SW Corridor is BRT, it would probably be useful to extend it (even if just local bus) to connect to Wilsonville (or even if not); a more interesting option might be to build a “wye” in Tualatin so commuter service could run from Washington County to Clackamas County.

    • I don’t know how open the process is to further modifications of these corridors, at least not regarding piecemeal mix-and-match moves. If previous DEIS processes are any indication I suspect that the two alternatives remaining will advance more or less in the forms they have now, perhaps with further refinement, but not with further massive alteration. My guess here is that Alternative 1 is meant to be a WS-DOT style phased approach, while Alternative 2 is meant to be a “whole hog” true HSR approach.

      I do not know bout its interactions with the SWC except from my attendence at several meetings last summer, at which time it seemed that the only interaction would be at a potential Wilsonville station. Wilsonville stakeholders strongly wanted the station to be a tunnel station so as to eliminate any at or above ground presence for the rail line. Adding more stations would likely serve only to slow down the service and thus be contradictory to the purpose and need statement.

      Might the right-of-way be sharable by an HCT project? Possibly. And if the Tigard vote goes anti-transit, then one could speculate about an HCT project that turns south along I-5 and runs down to Tualatin and Wilsonville rather than diagonally through Tigard to Sherwood.

      Speculation: always fun, rarely right.

      • Well, the SWC has selected a Portland-Tigard-Tualatin route, not a Portland-Tigard-Sherwood route. Tigard is still slated for service at present (mainly the Triangle and Tigard TC), but it is possible, I guess, for the city to be bypassed if the anti-transit ballot measure passes.

        Any thoughts as to how likely it might pass? The prior measure did pass–though it was a fairly reasonable one. The more recent one seems to be a bit more extreme, and is more obviously anti-transit than anti-spending-money-on-boondoggles. (When one of the lead sponsors is a Bircher, what do you expect…)

        One technical issue that would complicate use of a HSR ROW for transit (at least as far as MAX is concerned). Long distance electrified rail generally uses high-voltage supplies (12.5kV or thereabouts), whereas urban transit lines are often low-voltage (MAX is 600V). The two simply don’t mix on the same track. Rolling stock that does both exists, but MAX trains would likely be fried by 12.5kV.

        • The idea of legislating specific modes, even to the point of pavement space for bus exclusive lanes, strikes me as ridiculous. That said, given that it appears to be in a special election with an assumed far lower voter turnout, I would predict that it will pass. I hope I’m wrong, but so far I have been nothing but disappointed by suburban lack of vision.

          As for sharing, I was thinkng more sharing of right-of-way rather than the same track. Otherwise there’s a whole FRA pandora’s box that gets opened….

          • Really guys, Alternative 2 is just a Potemkin Village set up to meet the requirement to have SOME alternative. If any improvement whatsoever is made, it will be a phased version of Alternative 1. And quite honestly, I doubt that it will.

            Bolt can provide service for much lower cost; if Oregon wants to subsidize something, let them subsidize the bus fares for lower income folks.

            Yes, I love to ride the train (just did the CS from OAK to PDX at the full moon; Shasta was almost BARE!). I agree there is a need for some through service through the entire Cascades corridor from Eugene to Seattle. But it doesn’t have to be the major carrier. Oregon simply doesn’t have enough people in the Willamette Valley to make it worthwhile to build a big train system.

            What I do think would be good, and which might get UP buy-in and some money from them, is a FREIGHT bypass around the east side of Salem. That would mean that the single-track along 12th Street would be less of a critical chokepoint.

    • As a technical question on the “wye” idea, how would the WES trains get from the Tualatin station over to the freeway right of way? There’s a modest (for cars) elevation change between the station and the freeway and even more up to the I-205 interchange.

      Plus, of course, there are oodles of buildings in the way…….

  2. Thanks for the great article Alexander.
    I think true high speed rail service down the Willamette Valley is not a near term reality. Basically I feel there is just not enough population to generate close to enough business to get any federal funding. The cost per rider subsidy would make the much maligned WES look cheap.
    The best we could hope for would be to to see the UP right of way upgraded to full PTCS, sections of double track. Of course the big ticket for moderate speed operations of up to 125mph would call for elimination of grade crossing and grade separations for big ones especially in cities and towns.
    Honestly extending WES down its OE alignment to Salem could have potential of tapping the 30k commuting from Salem and the 25k commuting to Salem from Metro every day of the week. If that took off then perhaps that alignment could really have potential.

    • Paul,

      Unfortunately WES’s capacity is essentially nil. Each car seats about 35 people, and there are only four or five cars. Extending to Salem would double the running time for a round trip, necessitating purchase of another four cars just to maintain the current capacity.

      The upshot is that though there is large commutation between Salem and PDX Metro (though surely nothing close to 25,000 each way), WES could only accommodate a tiny fraction of it.

      Locomotive hauled gallery trains (think CalTrain or Metra in Chicago) would certainly be a different story, but the WES infrastructure is completely inadequate to handle them.

      • WES seating capacity is far higher than 35 per car. Each car seats 74, more tha double that number, and although they do not advertise standing room, there are many occasions when passengers are forced to stand, typically the 5:00-6:00 pm runs when service use is heaviest.

        That said, I largely agree with most of the remaining points. I think that a Salem WES would have worked, but it also would probably need to be a more conventional commuter system. It does appear that joint use from Wilsonville to Salem may be a possibility on Alternative 2, but I still strongly doubt that Alaternative 2 will ultimately be selected.

        • Lighter DMUs would be great–not that WES trains would be replaced anytime soon. But it would be nice to not have to ride in a heavy, slow Faraday cage…

          • I have a sinking feeling that those Euro DMU’s have a much lower platform height than do the WES cars. Maybe I’m wrong, but they’re very strong on low-floor across the pond.

            That would be another impediment to buying some; the WES stations would have to be rebuilt and the whole fleet would have to be replaced at once. We can’t just buy add-ons.

            • Generally, trains are available in both high-platform and low-platform models; this is something independent of propulsion. High platform trains are easier to design and build, and arguably more comfortable to ride, as all the mechanical stuff is beneath the floor, whereas with low-platform you have lots of the works in the ceiling.

              Unless you need to provide service to the curb–and neither commuter rail nor HSR would need to–high platform is fine. (Europe frequently uses tram-trains and such–rail vehicles that function like streetcars in the central city, and like commuter rail outside–including use of rails that are shared with freight).

  3. Nice overview of some of the potential issues. One minor correction to your intro: the Oregon portion of the corridor is still only served by two daily Cascades round trips, not three. The revised schedule with the new trainsets now provides morning and evening departures from both Portland and Eugene, but the number of daily departures remains the same as before. (Previously, there were two a.m. departures from Eugene and two p.m. departures from Portland.)

  4. Travel time is critical. We need to get the trip to Eugene to less than 2 hours, so more stops are problematic, and the more direct route between Salem and Albany shown in Option 2 might save a few minutes. Otherwise, we need to keep the key stops in those two cities as well as Eugene.
    re HCT in the Southwest Corridor, I would just run it from PCC to Kruse Woods and Bridgeport, using I-5 corridor if need be. Forget Tigard. What’s there?

    • re HCT in the Southwest Corridor, I would just run it from PCC to Kruse Woods and Bridgeport, using I-5 corridor if need be. Forget Tigard. What’s there?

      From a so-called “transit advocate” this is flat out inflamatory nonsense…

      50,000 residents are “nothing” apparently to Lenny Anderson.

      Two Metro-designated regional centers are apparently nothing.

      A “town center” is apparently nothing.

      Three major highways crossing together, with a combined 350,000 daily trips is apparently nothing.

      Just because Tigard doesn’t necessarily agree with Portland’s dictated choice of transportation modes, does not make Tigard “nothing”. And for a so-called “transit advocate” to argue excluding Tigard from transit planning simply because of a large opposition to MAX is rubbish right on the surface, and the kind of comments that should not even be considered as a legitimate discussion piece.

      • Why should we spend scarce transit resources on a community that chooses to legislate unnecessary restrictions into the decision process? I think your problem is with your neighbors, not the folks at Metro.

      • The suggestion that Tigard, or any community, should be “forgotten about” isn’t appropriate.

        That said, if Tigard doesn’t want HCT (whether light rail, BRT, or whatever else), I’m more than happy to respect their wishes on this matter; Tualatin residents might be better served by an HCT line that doesn’t divert to Tigard TC.

        (Also note that the SW Corridor planning does call for improvements to local bus service).

        As noted previously–the current BM concerning HCT appears to be more anti-transit (as in “we want to drive our cars, and don’t want more of them busses coming in”) as opposed to anti-rail (LRT is too expensive, and/or should be approved by the people). It’s hard to say what Tigard (as a community) does want–city leadership has been participating in the SWC planning process, and has not been recalled or voted out for this–but certainly there is a group in town that would rather the city did not participate.

        If Tigard does get excluded from transit planning, it will be at the behest of its own voters–if I understand it right, the proposed ballot measure doesn’t just apply to actually building a project, but also prevents the city from spending any money on planning activities–i.e. city staff could no longer participate in SWC activities while on the public dime.

  5. Good article Alexander. BTW, since Jan. 6, there are 7 thruway bus round trips a day which, with the 3 rail RT’s now allow 10 RT options every day between Portland and Eugene. As UP, with the help of federal and state funds, adds capacity to Alternative 1, (the same as our 1992 Rail Passenger Plan), demand will grow and trains will replace some of these thruway buses.

  6. Good article !
    Minor point, Univ. of Oregon campus is just across the bridge from Springfield, which is much closer than Downtown Eugene and it’s train station.

    • The UO campus is hardly “just across the bridge from Springfield.” It is 2.5 miles from Springfield to the UO campus. Having ridden transit through this corridor many times, and walked portions of this section, it is a hellish, pedestrian-unfriendly space.

      By contrast, the campus is a mile closer to the present Eugene Amtrak station, and further the territory between that station and the campus is a pedestrian friendly urban grid with full sidewalks and relatively low traffic speeds.

      • I would imagine that the ideal location for a station in Eugene/Springfield would be downtown Eugene. I-5 passes through neither downtown, though were Alternative B chosen, one option would be to route along I-5, cross the Willamette with the freeway, and then head west along Franklin Boulevard and the UPRR tracks and approach downtown from the SE.

      • Hardly “hellish”, there is a perfectly good ped/bike trail on the north side of the Willamette River with multiple auto-free crossings of the river between Springfield and Eugene.

        I’d call many areas of Portland “hellish” in comparison; while Franklin Boulevard isn’t exactly pedestrian friendly, it offers excellent transit options (by way of EmX) while through bike/ped access is very close by.

        82nd Avenue, in comparison, is “hellish”, as is Sandy Boulevard, and nearly all of Southwest Portland – for lack of either option as a viable alternative.

  7. The most recent passenger-rail flyer I’ve seen shows 4 route options: Blue, Yellow, Red, Purple. I favor the (Yellow) route station at Corvallis, ahem, Corvallis! From Albany to just south of Salem (Red), that stretch of I-5 is a shortcut and could be engineered for speed. Return to the existing line to serve Salem. At Keizer switch to Oregon Electric corridor (Purple) to Donald. From Donald return to the existing (Blue) route through Aurora to Portland. Extending along the Oregon Electric to Wilsonville and then follow I-205 to Oregon city may be too expensive for now.

    • Wells,

      ODOT is clear that the Yellow option through Corvallis is off the table. It has nearly twice as long a run-time between Albany and Eugene, nearly 100 grade crossings, and numerous encroachments on the old right of way that would have to be removed. It’s not going to happen. Maybe OSU can get a Princeton Junction-type shuttle from Albany to campus, but that would be all.

      Does ODOT think it can build over the hill on which the Enchanted Forest sits without a tunnel? I really don’t understand the Alternative 2 line between Salem and Albany; a tunnel would have to be about four miles long. There’s a reason that the O&C (UP) bellies east to Turner, but of course it was a steam line and hauls long freights; HSR trains can climb grades that would stall out a freight.

      What is the value of detouring along the OE right of way for half the trip to Oregon City? Are you advocating that in order to avoid passing through Woodburn? Any savings on grade separated road crossings there would surely be consumed by the new right of way between the two lines, including a crossing of I-5.

      • The Corvallis route is between Albany and Junction City. The map I’m referring to doesn’t indicate difficulties that restrict speed potential.

        As for using the OE corridor between Keizer and Donald, the connection to the Wes line is most direct at Donald.

        My perspective on HSR rejects electrification to reach 200mph and shortest possible trip times. The direct I-5 route, while seemingly fastest, bypasses cities, such as Corvallis, that generate patronage. Woodburn is close enough to Donald, but Corvallis isn’t close to Albany. I’d rather invest in existing rail corridors; grade separation that improves local roads and RR crossings, etc.

        Those who value high speed above all else, aren’t train fans. To them, trains are just another conveyance between points A and B, never travelling fast enough.

        • Wells,

          An HSR routing through Corvallis is not going to happen. (A “game train” to Corvallis–the tracks pass right by Reser Stadium–might be an option in the future). But as Anandakos indicates, it is too far out of the way, and the Corvallis market is simply not big enough to justify an HSR stop.

          (And I say this as a loyal Beav…)

          The tracks between Corvallis and Monroe are in LOUSY shape.

          The tracks between Monroe and Junction City aren’t there, the ROW long ago abandoned.

          And the tracks between Corvallis and McMinnville are also in bad shape, as is the ROW over Rex Hill between Newberg and Sherwood, for those thinking a westside line might be useful.

          • First, I really don’t think that the Oregon project will be “HSR.” We *might* get limited “HrSR” (speed up to 125mph) but even that is pretty slim.

            Second, since tracks would need to be added or rebuilt anyway, I don’t think the present track condition anywhere has any bearing on plausibility. (After all, if Alternative 2 were selected there’s no present track at all for about 2/3rds of the route.)

            Lastly, however, as much as it is fun to speculate about all the options, the map shown in the post above is *the* most recent map. All other alternatives have been spiked. Possibly, over the course of the year, combinations of these two alignments could emerge. And the notion of a tunnel instead of using the 205 right-of-way remains possible.

            Overall, however, it is plausible that Alternatives 1 and 2 as shown on the map above are the only alternatives remaining, and it is certain that all other earlier alternatives are now eliminated.

          • I do not appreciate being told what is and what is not going to happen, sir. Please keep your ultimatums to yourself.

            It seems logical that Corvallis be included on the HSR route, and completely illogical to follow I-5 and bypass Eugene, Albany and Salem.

            It seems ODOT is taking a hands-off approach for the time being; either modest improvements to the existing route, or a completely new route along I-5 that makes no sense (except to those with one trip in mind: blasting between Portland and Eugene, hyperloop-style).

            • And as for your “game train” idea, Scott, American football is an abomination. We’d be better off without its Nuremburg-style mass hysterics idolizing murderous brutality and We’re #1 nonsense. I’ll never purchase any Nike sportswear product. Phil Knight, you suck.

            • Ultimatum?

              That’s a prediction, good sir, not an ultimatum. And given that the planners have now essentially declared a Corvallis route to be off the table, probably an accurate prediction as well.

              One of the constraints of HSR is that it not stop at every little town along the way. I think for a HS line (or even a medium-speed line), any stop other than Portland, Salem, and Eugene would be hard to justify. Many HSR purists will complain about even a Salem stop. For a commuter line, OGOH, go ahead and stop in OC, Wilsonville, Woodburn, Albany, and maybe even Junction City.

              As for football goes–an extended debate on that subject is well off-topic. The “game train” suggestion is due to the fact that on every other Saturday in the fall, hordes of people descend upon Reser Stadium en masse–an issue relevant to a transport blog. Whether their activities there are deemed meritorious or not, is not relevant. Were Reser Stadium attracting 40k fans each week to a tractor pull or NASCAR event (things I personally don’t care for), it still might merit attention from planners.

              At any rate–and putting on the moderator hat–dialing it down a notch might be useful. Sometimes your outrage is a bit on the excessive side.

        • Wells,

          Follow the link to the ODOT page and read the document. It is explicit that the Yellow line option is “Do Not Advance” because of the reasons Scotty and I listed. The Cascades trains are not going through Corvallis.

          On the Donald deviation are you thinking that WES would be extended in order to offer a transfer there? Or were you expecting that it would simply be extended to Salem? I have to say, Donald is a TERRIBLE place for a station. There’s no “there” there.

  8. AC, I am looking at a map and have lived on UofO campus, and it seems to me that the River/
    I-5/Springfield is closer to the campus than the train station. I agree it is a nasty un-friendly ped space, but that can be fixed, whereas bringing HSR all the way into downtown Eugene is hard to do.

    • Keep in mind–HSR doesn’t have to be built to high-speed standards anywhere within several miles of a station. The distance between I-5 and the current Amtrak station is small enough that trains will likely slow down to “normal” speeds well in advance of leaving the I-5 corridor, thus a routing over existing rails is perfectly possible.

  9. The real question is:

    1. Why are we planning a “rail” project, and not an “intercity transit” project?

    2. Do we “need” rail – after all, the transportation need in this corridor do not suggest a need for such a project (I don’t see Greyhound + Bolt Bus + Amtrak Cascades + Amtrak Thruway + POINT + Horizon Air + SkyWest + all highways anywhere remotely approaching capacity)

    3. Why is enhanced bus service not being considered – a non-stop bus makes the trip in two hours. For the vast majority of travelers in the corridor that is more than reasonable.

    4. Why must we have “high speed rail”? The vast majority of trains in Japan/Germany/France/Spain are not “high speed rail” – HSR largely competes with air travel for business travelers. The business travel market in this corridor is extremely tiny.

    5. Building any kind of rail from Wilsonville to Oregon City via I-205 is ridiculous, will involve massive environmental impacts to say the least, and will cost well in the hundreds of millions – just for fewer than 10 miles of track. (Frankly, using the existing UP owned track from Willsburg Junction to Tualatin, and building a new track between Tualatin and Sherwood south to join the Oregon Electric at a point north of Wilsonville would make more sense – plus it would be built over a rock quarry and on the planned route of an extension of S.W. 124th Avenue.)

    6. This study – like others – have greatly exaggerated the cost to use the UP route, claiming new rail and signal systems would be needed (they already exist and already support 79 MPH Amtrak operations) among other things. ODOT could, today, work in partnership with UP to reduce the number of grade crossings, improve signals and so on, in a “staged” effort. Doing this would allow the costs to be spread out over many years and require much fewer construction impacts.

    • I suspect the study is accurate, or even underestimating, *what UP will demand* to use the UP route. It’s not relevant whether the route can support passenger operations now — which it can.

      What’s relevant is what ransom UP will ask in order to support passenger operations.

      Shortlines and DOTs tend to be less likely to hold passenger operators to ransom, which is why option #2 is cheaper.

      • Nathanael,

        I do not understand how you can say “cheaper as in less overbuilt upgrades” when the cost to build past Salem and over the Enchanted Forest hill will be in the billions. Yes, there is sufficient median in I-5 to build a track relatively cheaply south of the Santiam River crossing, including the “Red Central Albany Option” which allows for a centrally located station.

        While there is probably still room for a single track in the median between Portland Road and Santiam Highway, south of Santiam the median narrows significantly as the freeway runs through a wetland and disappears completely as it crosses the UP tracks and crosses Fairview-Industrial and climbs the hill south of Kuebler past Enchanted Forest. It doesn’t return until the grade eases where Sunnyslope Road swings away.

        While I grant there’s plenty of land alongside the freeway south of the merge with Commercial Street, north of there is a place where there is no room to squeeze between housing developments on both the east and west sides of the freeway just south of Kuebler.

        Maybe ODOT will condemn the six houses on the west side of Baber Court and run the line up the east side of the freeway, but it won’t be cheap and getting from the center of the freeway to the east side won’t be elegant or cheap at all.

        Finally, where will the Salem station go? There might barely be enough room for a platform and the track in the median of the freeway at Center Street or one of the other overpasses, but what a miserable passenger experience! And where would you put the lobby and baggage services? In a building elevated above the freeway, I guess.

        Alternative 2 seems like a colossal waste of money and a fundamental violence to the cardinal advantage of rail transportation: travel between downtowns.

        As I mentioned above, there is an excellent opportunity for a freight bypass of Salem which would greatly improve reliability on the “passenger” line through the city. Southbound the following is how it would go:

        Just north of Brooks branch southeastward, crossing SR99 just south of the development on the east side of the highway north of Jones Ditch.

        Continue on a heading of about 160 degrees to Hazel Green Road about a half mile east of NE 66th.

        Turn more southerly on a heading of about 170 degrees to cross Lardon around the Little Pudding River, then turn due south to State Street a bit east of 62nd.

        Now head south by southwest at about 200 degrees along a diagonal ownership that you can see on GMaps to Condon Road SE and follow alongside it as it becomes Kuebler to rejoin the UP tracks at Mill Creek.

        Yes, this would put freight trains in a part of the Willamette Valley in which they don’t currently run and would likely cause strong opposition from the few dozen houses within a quarter mile of the right of way. A couple of grade separations would be in order.

        But it would allow through UP freights to save a couple of miles and avoid the constricted single-track operation along Twelfth Street.

        • There used to be parallel freight service running east of Salem, down the Valley. Some of the tracks still exist (and are now operated by shortlines like the Willamette Valley Railway and the Albany and Eastern) but many are gone (such as segments between Stayton and Shelburn Junction–which isn’t a junction any more), a Shelburn/Albany section, and a Lebanon/Brownsville/Coburg/Springfield section.

          • I remember that SP eastside line from the old Official Guides my dad brought home. I didn’t remember that it actually extended as far north as Salem though.

            I do realize that my proposal to push a new freight mainline through exurban territory east of Salem would get the pitchfoks waving. Still it really is a good way to deal with the frankly dangerous operation of long freights through the heart of downtown Salem and the limited number of sidings.


              I’m not sure of the exact route of the old Eastside line, but it went something like this:

              It started in Springfield, headed north in the vicinity of Gateway Mall, and crossed I-5 just south of the McKenzie River. It ran parallel to the freeway for a while, through Coburg, and north of there crossed under the freeway. It skirted the western edge of Brownsville, then turned back to the west a tad, then headed north and connected with the still-intact Sweet Home branch at a wye just west of Lebanon.

              It then shared an alignment with the Sweet Home branch into Lebanon, where it then turned north. At Shelburn Junction, the tracks crossed the Mill City Branch–which once ran from Albany to Idahna, then crossed the Santiam River near Buell-Miller County Park. From Stayton to Woodburn, the line remains intact.

              Of course, it should be noted that this was never a line built to modern FRA Class 4 or 5 standards; even if the tracks and ROW were there, these lines would require significant work to become usable for modern mainline freight operations.

            • Scotty,

              There’s a line from Woodburn to Stayton? Wow, I see it, and it goes right through the area in which I was thinking of running the bypass, although about two or three miles farther east (making Salem happier).

              As you mention, the existing trackage would of course have to be completely rebuilt from the subgrade up and some straightening along the Little Pudding River between State Street and McCleay Road might be necessary.

              But “significant work” is not greenfield construction and, really, is not even subject to environmental impact assessment though of course must abide by any wetlands impact laws. The new construction would be subject to assessment and that could stop it of course.

              It looks like the existing right of way could be used for about 50% of the total length of the bypass, though it would of necessity be at least two miles longer than what I thought of before, and therefore no distance would be saved. Running speeds would be more consistent, though except perhaps along the river.

              The bypass wouldn’t use the entire line up to Woodburn, because it’s too closely linked to Highway 22 through town and the connecting curve is way too sharp.

              Instead, how about connecting in right where the track turns northeast from it’s north-northeast heading just north of Kauffman and Howell Prarie heading just about due northwest to Hazel Green and 66th and from there use the previous proposal to just north of Brooks?

              At the south end the bypass would turn southwestward from the existing trackage just north of the Jordan Road crossing, diagonaling across 214, 22 and Aumsville Highway through whatever is the alignment which minimizes the total impact on existing housing then straight to the existing trackage around Hennies Road.

              This might work!

    • Erik,

      I like your idea of linking the old SP to the OE west of Tigard; I’ve thought of the same alternative myself, though a little farther east. Your alignment would be better than what I was considering.

      But you will NEVER get passenger service through Lake Oswego on the surface. The only way to use even parts of this line is to go into the mountain just east of the northeast wye switch and come out underneath Riverside aiming for the (newly replaced) bridghead.

      This would ace out Oregon City which has done a lot to accommodate rail transport; that would be unjust, but Wilsonville and WES have a much better traffic potential than it does.

      Also, it would require surface running over ten grade crossings in Milwaukie.

  10. 1.), 2.), & 3.) Because the existing service is rail, and the point of this process is to chart a future for that rail service.

    4.) It isn’t going to be “high speed rail.” It may not even be “high-er speed rail.” However, the Cascades route is a federally designated high speed rail corridor, and therefore language about the corridor includes the terms “high speed rail” even though immediate implimentation will likely be conventional speeds.

    Also, just because it won’t be 200 m.p.h. today doesn’t mean it won’t ever be. In fact is is inevitable that the corridor *will* host HSR, just it won’t be until the population is far higher.

    5.) & 6.) we actually agree.

    • I thought I had read somewhere that they would need to double-track some sections of the UP line to accommodate future Cascades service? And isn’t that PTC requirement coming in a few years?

  11. Welcome back Erik!
    We should discuss HCT on another thread. My bad, but ABC mentioned it so I could not resist. And yes, I favor MAX to Tualatin via the major destinations as mentioned.
    I hope we will get somewhat faster passenger rail service via the UP line, less than 2 hours to Eugene with trips throughout the day. I’m looking forward to a day trip to Eugene soon with the new morning departures from Portland. Better that than a 3rd freeway lane between Salem and Eugene to accommodate non rail options as population and demand rise. This is a plan.

  12. As long as the route’s running on UP, and as long as UP has management similar to its current management, there is going to be very limited service. UP will make sure of that.

    The same is true for nearly any passenger service hosted on a line owned by a Class I freight railroad; it ends up capacity-limited and eventually you need to buy the line if you want to improve service. BNSF has been rather cooperative — this is unusual — but BNSF is still talking in terms of eventually making the passenger trains build their own tracks, and BNSF charges through the nose.

    The only real hope for improved service is to buy the trackage. This is a possibility but not one being considered at this time.

    Unfortunately the relativelly low populations south of Portland mean it’s probably not worth it to buy the trackage, which would be very expensive.

    So, basically, I’m not optimistic. Whatever gets picked will be dependent on UP. UP will prevent any significant increase in service. Stalemate will continue for years on end.

    New York broke the stalemate by buying tracks. Michigan broke the stalemate by buying tracks. California broke the stalemate by planning to build its own tracks. Toronto broke the stalemate by buying tracks. Denver broke the stalemate by building its own tracks. Miami and Orlando each broke the stalemate by buying tracks…

  13. All railway companies operated passenger-rail service alongside freight for decades, so it’s not as if UP couldn’t accommodate the same in the future. UP freight operations benefit with the upgrades. Neither is BNSF acting in the best interests of the nation just because they can. Warren Buffett sucks too. Phil Knight doesn’t suck as much as Bill Gates.

    Recommended reading:
    “This land was made for you and me. But mostly me”
    (an illustrated guide to outrageous displays of obscene wealth) Bruce McCall & David Letterman
    (including David Letterman as an actual author
    was a display of obscene wealth)

    Don’t tell me what is or what isn’t going to happen.
    Corvallis must be sleeping while their fate is determined.

    • The ODOT alignment selection committee has ruled out Corvallis. Scotty and I aren’t telling you this because we believe it to be true or because it’s our preference; he’s a Beaver for heaven’s sake! They have made the decision, cast it in a pre-ROD document, and distributed it for all to see.

      Unless you plan on impeaching or recalling Governor Kitzhaber, then run for the office yourself — and win — thereby gaining the privilege to appoint the members of that committee, THEY, not you, will make the alignment decisions.

  14. If public resources are spent to improve the existing UP rail line between Portland and Eugene…double track, crossing separations, etc., then that would come with some public rights to access and use for passenger rail. It could be a win-win, at least that is what one would hope and expect. For me no new stations and faster running time is the ticket.

    • Lenny, you did indeed, finish the discussion with the best post.
      Thank you. Keep up this kind of good work.
      Hooray! for WEST HAYDEN ISL-LAND !!
      I’m thinking the geese consider,
      Smith and Bybee,
      accessable more widely.
      an eco-system necessity,
      may be the question;

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