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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Oregon's Next Step

Out west, an alternative known as the Oregon Electric Line is being promoted by Beaver State officials. Under this plan, the Cascades would shift its Portland-Eugene routing westward to rails currently operated by the Portland & Western, and frequencies would triple from two to six between the two cities. However, advocacy group AORTA strongly disagrees with the alignment and wants ORDOT to keep the Cascades on the Union Pacific route.

The state wants to move the train onto the Class III railroad because the former Southern Pacific route is near capacity. It is worth pointing out that Union Pacific is studying ways to double track the 124-mile line. Meanwhile, AORTA contends that the move is unnecessary, lets the state DOT know that the Capitols in CA have over a 90% on time performance rate, correctly points out that there is no signaling on the P&W route, and that Oregon City, which opened its station in 2004, would lose Cascades service (and perhaps only be available for afternoon rush hour travelers via the Coast Starlight) while Salem would be forced to build a new station.

In the March issue of Trains Magazine, freelance writer Scott Lothes said that upgrades on either route would require "substantial investment," which, according to state officials in Salem, would be billions of dollars. The options to deal with this are many, ranging from the aforementioned two to letting P&W run the Cascades, to splitting up the Portland-Eugene roundtrips so that up to three of them utilize the shortline route. I don't know whether Oregon is a frequent participant in the economic incentives game, but, regardless, I suggest this for the state: Give some incentives to the Portland & Western and its parent company to upgrade the tracks and signalize the the line. Maybe, tapping the railroad or some other independent operator to run standalone Portland-Eugene service would engender some "friendly competition." Also, the OE route could once again live up to its name as "Oregon Electric" as it becomes upgraded to Express HSR while the improved UP line would remain in place as Regional HSR.

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