What part of Oregon is the Oregon Passenger Rail study looking at?
The project is looking at ways to improve passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland. Specifically, this includes the Oregon segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor between the Eugene-Springfield urban area and the Columbia River in the Portland urban area.
What is the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor?
The 466-mile PNWRC runs between Eugene, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia. It was designated by the Federal Railroad Administration in 1992 as a high-speed rail corridor. The PNWRC is one of ten federally designated high-speed rail corridors in the U.S.
What is high speed rail?
Conventional passenger rail operates at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. High speed rail operates at speeds of at least 110 miles per hour.
Why is the Oregon Passenger Rail study being conducted?
Annual Amtrak Cascades ridership has grown significantly over the past five years. Over the next 25 years, the population of the Willamette Valley is expected to grow by approximately 35 percent, and freight volume in the state is expected to grow by 60 percent. This will result in travel demand that exceeds existing freight and passenger rail capacity. ODOT is studying how improved passenger rail service can address increased travel demands, especially as funding for highway projects is in decline.
What is the current passenger rail service?
Oregon pays Amtrak to provide passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland. This service, called the Cascades, makes two round trips per day stopping in Eugene, Albany, Salem, Oregon City and Portland. In addition, Amtrak operates the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle once a day. Although it also travels through Oregon and stops at the same stations (except Oregon City) as the Cascades, Oregon does not pay for this service.
How will the study affect freight rail?
While the focus of this project is on passenger rail service, the project will also support the current and future capabilities of Oregon’s freight rail system.
What is NEPA?
Oregon received a Federal grant from the Federal Railroad Administration for the Oregon Passenger Rail study, which means the project will follow the National Environmental Policy Act process. NEPA ensures that the agency takes into account the environmental impacts of any project, and requires analysis and reporting of negative and positive impacts of alternatives. Public and resource agency involvement is an important component of the environmental assessment process. The intent is to ensure that the appropriate criteria and environmental factors are being considered and made available for input and comment during the decisionmaking process.
What is an Environmental Impact Statement?
The first step towards improving passenger rail service is to conduct an environmental review of a reasonable range of alternatives for passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland known as an Environmental Impact Statement. An EIS is a document, required under NEPA, prepared for an action (i.e., project) that is likely to have significant impact to the human or natural resource environment. This document summarizes the major environmental impacts, outlines issues, examines reasonable alternatives, and identifies a preferred alternative. The public is invited to comment on the Draft EIS before the selection of a preferred alternative and the preparation of a Final EIS.
What is a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement?
The Oregon Passenger Rail study will produce a Tier 1 EIS. The Tier 1 EIS is a corridor-level analysis that answers certain broad questions before a more detailed study (a Tier 2 analysis) can be done. The Federal Railroad Administration is the lead federal agency and the Oregon Department of Transportation is the lead state agency responsible for the preparation of the Tier 1 EIS. The Tier 1 EIS will take approximately three years to complete.
What is Scoping?
Scoping is an early step in the EIS process that provides the opportunity for the public and government agencies to review information and offer comments to help determine the scope of the project and major issues. Comments received during Scoping will help shape the project’s Purpose and Need and evaluation criteria. The project Purpose and Need is the foundation of the project and lays broad parameters for what kinds of alternatives can be considered. The Scoping process includes identifying a broad range of alternatives, and then screening them against the Purpose and Need. The alternatives that “pass” this first screening will then be further narrowed based on the evaluation criteria.
What alternatives will the study consider?
There is not a predetermined outcome. At this early stage in the study process, all reasonable alternatives will be considered, including a “no-build” alternative—which means taking no action. The study will result in the selection of a preferred alternative, which is an alternative that best meets the study Purpose and Need and evaluation criteria.
A preferred build alternative would include:
- a general passenger rail alignment between Portland and Eugene;
- communities where stations will be located;
- service characteristics, such as the number of daily train trips and speed; and
- identification of potential environmental impacts and proposed mitigation strategies.
If a build alternative is selected, then the next steps would include developing a funding plan and conducting a more detailed environmental analysis of site-specific proposals, as required.
Why isn’t commuter rail or intercity bus service part of this study?
While a comprehensive multimodal transportation system is needed to meet future transportation demands, transportation funding is limited and it is not possible to address all future transportation needs in this one study. The current study is focused on improvements to intercity passenger rail service. Our current transportation system includes roads and highways, intercity bus and rail, bus and light rail transit, commuter rail, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The state will take advantage of opportunities to study and enhance other modes of the system when funding becomes available.
How is this project being funded?
Funding for the study is a combination of state and federal funds. ODOT received a $4.2 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration and the remaining $5.8 million is from ODOT.
When will cost estimates for construction and operations be done?
The Oregon Passenger Rail study will produce a Tier 1 EIS. The Tier 1 EIS is a corridor-level analysis that answers certain broad questions before a more detailed study (a Tier 2 analysis) can be done. Cost estimates for construction and operations require a more detailed engineering analysis that will be done in the Tier 1 EIS.