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Passenger rail improvement effort gets under way

Amtrack train
With the receipt of a federal grant, ODOT is engaging stakeholders to begin the process of studying options for improved intercity passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland. The Oregon Rapid Passenger Rail Plan will undertake an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will select the general rail alignment, the cities where stations will be located and service characteristics such as the number of daily trips and travel time objectives.
The need for improved passenger rail service is being driven by demographic and transportation trends in the state.
With the state’s population projected to grow by more than 1.5 million over the next 30 years, additional pressure will be put on the I-5 corridor, which already experiences significant congestion. With inadequate funding to increase freeway capacity significantly, ODOT is looking at alternatives to move people and goods safely and efficiently. With high gas prices, passenger rail ridership on the Cascades Amtrak service, which runs along the I-5 corridor in the Willamette Valley and on to Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, is growing rapidly; making the service more frequent, reducing travel times, and improving reliability could drive ridership much higher.
  The Oregon Rapid Passenger Rail Plan will lay a foundation for the future by making important, informed decisions about the role of passenger rail in Oregon’s transportation system. Those decisions must be made for Oregon to be able to take advantage of future federal funding opportunities. Governor Kitzhaber is establishing the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council, co-chaired by Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and John Russell, a former Oregon Transportation Commission member from Portland, to guide the project and work with ODOT to develop consensus based recommendations to submit to the Federal Railroad Administration for final approval.
The process will include a public involvement strategy to ensure stakeholders can help shape the decision-making process. In addition to the Leadership Council, ODOT will establish other groups. The Corridor Forum will be composed of all the communities in the corridor, other key agencies and major statewide interests. This group will deliberate and serve as a sounding board for the Leadership Council. This will ensure that each potentially affected community will have direct access to those developing Oregon’s recommendations to FRA, while engaging a range of statewide and regional interests. Segment Advisory Committees will be established along the corridor to consider local issues and provide input to the Corridor Forum and Leadership Council. In addition, an Industry forum for railroad owners and operators and a technical advisory team will also be established. Once the process begins, there will be many opportunities for all stakeholders to participate and provide input.
For more information on the process, visit ODOT’s passenger rail program website or sign up for e-mail updates on passenger rail.
Federal funding to help improve passenger rail service
Funding for the EIS will be a combination of state and federal funds. Oregon has received a number of federal grants from the Federal Railroad Administration to improve passenger rail, including:

  • $4 million to fund preliminary engineering and environmental work for track replacement and expansion, facility upgrades and energy conservation measures at Portland Union Station
  • $7.2 to fix Union Station’s failing roof and make other structural upgrades to preserve the historic building.
  • $4.2 million for environmental work and service planning to identify improvements for the Cascades route from Eugene to Portland.
  • $800,000 to develop a State Rail Plan (SRP) that will serve as a strategic blueprint for future public investment in the freight and passenger rail network in the state, including multimodal access to other forms of transportation, and propose plans to improve the overall rail environment.
  • $500,000 for preliminary engineering and environmental review of the Willbridge turnout and crossover upgrades project to reduce delays for freight and passenger trains.
  • $1.5 million for preliminary engineering to build two stub tracks and platform improvements at the Eugene Station.
  • $1.3 million for preliminary engineering to reduce delays on tracks at North Portland Junction.

Pacific Northwest rail corridor