About the Project
What part of Oregon is the Oregon Passenger Rail study looking at?
The purpose of the project proposal is to improve passenger rail service on the Oregon segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor between the Eugene-Springfield area and Portland-Vancouver, WA.
What is the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor?
The 466-mile PNWRC runs between Eugene, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia. It is part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s high-speed rail program, and is designated as a regional service corridor.
How fast will the train run?
The Federal Railroad Administration has designated various passenger rail corridors across the nation as express, regional, or emerging service. The Eugene to Portland segment is designated as a “regional service” corridor, which means passenger rail running at top speeds of 90 to 125 mph.
The Oregon Passenger Rail study results will determine travel times for the corridor, which will dictate how fast rail will need to run in certain parts of the corridor. Actual speeds will depend on various factors, including the train technology used, the rural or urban nature of the community through which the train runs, and geographic constraints.
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 could exceed 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.
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 Vancouver, WA known as an Environmental Impact Statement.
This study is also needed in order to position Oregon for federal funding to improve passenger rail. In 2009, when the Obama Administration was distributing funds to states to improve passenger rail, Oregon did not receive funding for this project because it had not conducted an in-depth study and did not have a plan. The Oregon Passenger Rail project will make Oregon ready to receive funding when it again becomes available.
What improvements will the study consider?
All alternatives will be considered as part of the project study, including taking no action (no-build). There is not a predetermined outcome. A preferred alternative will be selected as part of the study. A preferred build alternative would include:
- a general passenger rail alignment
- communities where stations will be located
- service characteristics, such as the number of daily train trips and travel time objectives
- identification of potential environmental impacts and proposed mitigation strategies
- technology to be used, including mode of power for train engines
What happens after the study? What are some next steps?
If the study results in the selection of a build alternative, initial next steps include:
- Development of a funding plan
- A more detailed environmental analysis of site-specific proposals, as required
What is the current passenger rail service? How many people use the service?
Oregon pays Amtrak to provide passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland. This service, called the Cascades, makes two roundtrips 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.
Past ridership shows a steady increase in Amtrak Cascades ridership. Passenger rail ridership on the Cascade service between Portland and Eugene has increased 22 percent since 2009 and by 238 percent since 1995, and is forecast to continue to increase with Willamette Valley population growth. The Portland to Eugene segment of the Amtrak Cascades route had 133,791 riders in 2011 and 137,547 riders in 2012 – an increase of 2.8%.
The Brooklyn Institute conducted a nation-wide study on Amtrak ridership, published in March 2013. The study found that Portland has the 16th busiest Amtrak terminal in the country. During the past 15 years, the national rail system experienced a 55 percent increase in passengers, with the vast majority of that growth coming from short-distance routes such as the Eugene to Vancouver, B.C. Cascades line. 90 percent of Amtrak's ridership growth between 1997 and 2012 was on routes under 400 miles.
What is the projected travel demand for passenger rail in Oregon?
ODOT will determine projected travel demand for passenger rail using modeling, and should have preliminary demand numbers by mid to late 2013.
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. Currently, passenger trains between Eugene and Portland have operating rights on Union Pacific Railroad owned tracks. BNSF Railway owns the railroad tracks in the congested corridor between Union Station in Portland and Washington State.
Part of the project purpose and one of the project goals is to protect freight-rail capacity and investments in the corridor. Furthermore, existing freight rail capacity must be preserved or enhanced to be consistent with statewide and regional freight goals and forecasts. ODOT is working with Union Pacific and BNSF to look for passenger rail solutions that will be compatible with freight rail operations.
Will this project provide commuter rail service or consider bus service?
This project is specifically looking at intercity passenger rail service. Improved regional bus service is not being considered. The purpose of the project is to improve the frequency, convenience, speed and reliability of passenger rail service along the Oregon segment of the federally-designated Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Bus service would not accomplish this purpose.
Commuter rail also would not support this purpose because it would result in slower service with many stops. However, ODOT is looking at ways to improve future commuter rail needs through a different process with the update of the Oregon State Rail Plan.
Project Phases and Schedule
How long will the study take?
The Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will take approximately three years and is scheduled to be completed mid-2015. See the project schedule.
What is happening on the Project now?
The project is comprised of three phases – we are currently in the Evaluate phase.
Previous Phase: Understand- COMPLETE
The Understand phase identified the overall issues along the Portland to Eugene rail corridor to ensure an appropriate range of alternatives were selected to consider as the Environmental Impact Statement moves forward.The project Purpose and Need statement was developed in the Understand phase. ODOT held a series of public meetings in September 2012 to get input to help refine the Purpose and Need statement, draft the project goals and objectives, and identify alternatives to be considered.
Current Phase: Evaluate
The project is currently in the Evaluate phase. The Evaluate phase takes the corridor concepts developed in the Understand phase and screens them in two steps. First, the corridor concepts will be screened against the project Purpose and Need. Then, the concepts that “pass” the first screen will go through a more detailed evaluation against a set of criteria. The results will be published in a Draft Tier 1 EIS that will be available for public review.
In late 2012/early 2013, ODOT screened the corridor concepts against the project Purpose and Need. It presented its preliminary screening results to the public in a series of open houses in January 2013. Public comments on the screening results helped to shape a narrowed down set of concepts that will go through the more detailed evaluation. The project Leadership Council made a recommendation on January 31, 2013 on which corridor concepts should be further evaluated. The project team will do a more detailed analysis of the corridor concepts recommended by the Leadership Council.
Future Phase: Recommend
Finally, in the Recommend phase, ODOT will work with the public to identify a preferred alternative and prepare a Final Tier 1 EIS.
The Environmental Process
What is the 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 (NEPA) 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 decision-making process.
What is an Environmental Impact Statement?
An Environment Impact Statement is a document, required under NEPA, prepared for an action (i.e., project) that is likely to have significant impact. This document summarizes the major environmental impacts, outlines issues, examines reasonable alternatives, and arrives at a Record of Decision, identifying the selected alternative for the project. This process requires release of a Draft EIS, which is open to public comment, before the selection of a preferred alternative and the preparation of a Final EIS. NEPA requires that the EIS also evaluate a “No-Build” alternative, which means that the Oregon Passenger Rail project will evaluate the option of not making any improvements or changes to the current passenger rail system.
What will be the product of this project?
The main product of this project will be the identification of a preferred alternative, along with a System Development Plan that explains how to implement the preferred alternative. A Tier 1 EIS is being conducted to help us get to the preferred alternative. A Tier 1 EIS is a corridor-level analysis that will help answer certain broad questions. After the selection of a preferred alternative, more detailed engineering and study may be required prior to construction. Such detailed study will be conducted as funding becomes available.
What is Scoping?
ODOT conducted a “scoping phase” for the Oregon Passenger Rail project in 2012. 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. After input was collected, the project team:
How is my input used in the study?
Your comments, along with all others, will be captured in the project database and each public comment will be categorized based on the types of topics addressed (e.g., technology, alternatives, community impacts, environmental issues, etc.) to aid decision makers in understanding trends. To communicate this information to the project team, regular comment tracking reports will be generated and presented.
When are open houses held for the project?
There are four rounds of public meetings scheduled for the project. The first round was held in September 2012 and the second round was held in January 2013. The next round of open houses will be held in summer or fall of 2013. The final round of open houses will be held after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is published, and will include a public hearing in addition to open houses.
Are there project committees that meet on this project?
Yes, there are currently two committees that have been formed. The project’s Leadership Council is a core advisory group composed primarily of elected officials from the Willamette Valley that was established by Governor John Kitzhaber to guide the Oregon Passenger Rail project and develop consensus-based recommendations that will be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration for final approval.
The project Corridor Forum is a group composed of high-level representatives from cities and counties, key agencies, and other stakeholders that focuses on broad-level issues related to the Oregon Passenger Rail study. The group’s input will be provided to the Leadership Council for consideration.
Geographically based Community Advisory Groups consider local issues and provide input to the Corridor Forum and Leadership Council. Community Advisory Groups are formed for each of the six major communities in the project study area: Portland, southeast Portland Metro area, southwest Portland metro area, Salem/Keizer, Albany/Corvallis, and Eugene/Springfield.
Are there any other public engagement opportunities other than open houses and committees?
In addition to open houses and committees, ODOT is conducting ongoing outreach to inform people about the project. ODOT hosts informational booths at various community events and at train stations in order to get comments and invite community members to the public meetings. ODOT will continue this outreach effort throughout the life of the project.
In addition, ODOT has held numerous informal project briefings with organizations and groups who have a specific interest in the project, including Area Commissions on Transportation, Chambers of Commerce, and neighborhood associations. ODOT also hosts an active website and invites members of the public to comment through the website comment form at any time: www.oregonpassengerail.org/contact-us
Can my organization get a project briefing?
Yes, please contact Jyll Smith, ODOT Stakeholder Engagement Specialist at (503) 986-3985 or Jyll.E.Smith@ODOT.state.or.us to schedule a time.
How is this project being funded?
Funding for the project is a combination of state and federal funds. The total budget for the project is $10 million. ODOT received a $4.2 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration and the remaining $5.8 million is from ODOT.
Where will funding for future phases of the project/construction come from?
Oregon Passenger Rail is potentially a huge investment for the State of Oregon. The project team is doing extensive outreach to ensure the State makes the decision that works for the citizens of Oregon. If the study results in the recommendation for a project to be constructed, this will likely require a mix of federal and state funding.
Does the project have cost estimates for construction and operations of an improved system?
Currently, the project team is in the beginning stages of developing a set of rail route alternatives. Cost estimates will not be available until the alternatives are more fully developed. Until then, all cost estimates, including right of way costs, are very high level.
The Corridor Concepts represent ideas for potential rail route alignments and station locations. The corridor concepts have been screened against the Purpose and Need.
Goals and Objectives
The goals and objectives will be used to help develop evaluation criteria to further evaluate the potential rail route options that “pass” the first screening. The goals and objectives will become the tool to narrow alternatives.
Purpose and Need
The Purpose and Need statement is an essential part of the study process. It explains why the project is being proposed and why it is a worthwhile investment of time and money. The Purpose and Need statement will also help provide context and criteria for developing a range of possible alternatives, and eventually the selection of a preferred alternative.