About the Project
What part of Oregon is the Oregon Passenger Rail project looking at?
The purpose of the project is to improve passenger rail service on the Oregon segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor from Eugene-Springfield to Portland-Vancouver, Wash.
What is the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor?
The 466-mile PNWRC runs between Eugene, Ore., 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 passenger rail corridors throughout the nation as express, regional or emerging service. The Eugene to Portland segment is designated as a regional service corridor, which means passenger trains running at top speeds of 90 - 125 mph.
The Oregon Passenger Rail study will determine travel times for the corridor, which will dictate how fast trains will 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 trains run and geographic constraints.
Why is the Oregon Passenger Rail study being conducted?
Annual Amtrak Cascades train ridership has grown significantly over the past five years. During the next 25 years, the population of the Willamette Valley is expected to grow about 35 percent, and freight train 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 because funding for highway projects is in decline.
The first step toward improving passenger rail service is to conduct an environmental review of a reasonable range of alternatives between Eugene and Vancouver, Wash., known as an Environmental Impact Statement.
The EIS is also needed to position Oregon for federal funding to improve passenger rail service. In 2009, when the Administration distributed funds to states to improve passenger service, Oregon did not receive funding for this project because it lacked an in-depth study and a plan. The Oregon Passenger Rail project will make Oregon ready to receive federal funding when it becomes available.
What improvements will the study consider?
All alternatives will be considered during of the project study, including taking no action (no-build). There is no predetermined outcome. A preferred alternative will be selected as part of the study. If chosen, 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;
- 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 a build alternative, initial next steps include:
- Developing of a funding plan;
- Detailed environmental analysis of site-specific proposals.
What is the current passenger rail service? How many people use the service?
Oregon pays Amtrak a subsidy to provide passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland. The Amtrak Cascades trains make two roundtrips per day stopping in Eugene, Albany, Salem, Oregon City and Portland. In addition, Amtrak operates round-trip service on the Coast Starlight train between Los Angeles and Seattle once a day. Although it also travels through Oregon and stops at the same stations as the Cascades (except Oregon City), Oregon does help fund this service.
Ridership on the Amtrak Cascades trains between Eugene and Portland has increased 22 percent since 2009, and 238 percent since 1995. It is forecast to continue increasing 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 percent in one year.
The Brooklyn Institute published a nationwide study of Amtrak ridership in March 2013. The study found that Portland has the 16th busiest Amtrak station 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, Bristish Columbia, Cascades route. 90 percent of Amtrak's ridership growth between 1997 and 2012 was on routes shorter than 400 miles.
What is the projected travel demand for passenger trains in Oregon?
ODOT will determine projected travel demand for passenger rail service using computer modeling, and should have preliminary demand numbers by mid to late 2013.
How will the study affect freight trains?
While the focus of this project is on existing 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 tracks owned and operated by Union Pacific Railroad. BNSF owns the railroad tracks in the congested corridor between Union Station in Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
Part of the project purpose and one of the project goals is to protect freight rail capacity and investments in the study corridor. Furthermore, existing freight rail capacity must be preserved or enhanced to be consistent with statewide and regional goals and forecasts. ODOT is working with Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF to look for passenger rail solutions that will be compatible with freight rail operations.
Will this project consider commuter rail service or bus service?
Oregon Passenger Rail is specifically studying intercity passenger rail service. Regional bus service is not being considered. The purpose of the project is to improve the frequency, convenience, speed and reliability of passenger train service along the Oregon segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Bus service would not accomplish this purpose.
Commuter rail service is also not included because it would result in slower trains with many stops. However, ODOT is looking at ways to improve future commuter rail needs through an 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 four years and is scheduled to be completed mid-2015. See the project phasing infomation and schedule.
What is happening on the Project now?
Three phases comprise the project – we are currently in the Evaluate phase.
The Environmental Process
What is NEPA?
Oregon received a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration for the Oregon Passenger Rail project, which means the project must follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. NEPA ensures that ODOT 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 decision-making.
What is an Environmental Impact Statement?
An Environment Impact Statement is a document, required by NEPA, prepared for a project that is likely to have significant impact. An EIS 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 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 must evaluate the option of making no improvements or changes to the current passenger rail system.
What will be the end result of the Oregon Passenger Rail project?
The end result will be to identify a preferred alternative and 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 broad questions. After the selection of a preferred alternative, more detailed planning, engineering and study will be required before construction. Detailed study will be conducted when 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 that gives the public and government agencies a chance to review information and offer comments to help determine the scope of the project and identify major issues. After scoping, input was collected, the project team:
How is my input used in the study?
Your comments, along with all others, are included in the project database and 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 are generated and used by the project team.
When are open houses held for the project?
There are four rounds of public open house meetings scheduled for the project. The first round was held in September 2012 and the second round in January 2013. The third round of open houses were held in fall 2013. The final round of open houses will be held after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is published, and will include a formal public hearing.
Are there committees that meet on this project?
Yes, there are several advisory 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 Gov. 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 issues related to the Oregon Passenger Rail project. The forum's input will be provided to the Leadership Council for consideration.
Also, geographically based Community Advisory Groups consider local issues and give input to the Corridor Forum and Leadership Council. Community Advisory Groups are formed for each of the major communities in the project study area: Portland, southeast Portland metro area, southwest Portland metro area, Salem/Keizer, Albany/Corvallis and Eugene/Springfield. In addition, a rural Community Advisory Group has been formed.
Are there public engagement opportunities other than open houses and committees?
Yes. In addition to open houses and committees, ODOT conducts ongoing outreach to inform people about the project. ODOT hosts information booths at community events and at train stations to get comments and invite people to public meetings. ODOT will continue this outreach throughout the life of the project.
ODOT also 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 you to comment online at: www.oregonpassengerail.org/contact-us
Can my organization get a project briefing?
Yes, please contact Jill Pearson, ODOT Stakeholder Engagement Strategist at (503) 986-3313 or Jill.L.Pearson@ODOT.state.or.us to schedule a time.
How is this project being funded?
The project uses 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 design and construction come from?
Improving Oregon Passenger Rail is potentially a huge investment for the State of Oregon. The project team is doing extensive outreach to ensure ODOT makes the right decision that works best for the citizens of Oregon. If the study recommends a project to be constructed, this would likely require a mix of federal and state funding.
Does ODOT have cost estimates for construction and operation of an improved passenger rail system?
Currently, the project team is 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 general and subject to change.
The Corridor Concepts represent ideas for potential rail route alignments and station locations. The corridor concepts were screened against the project Purpose and Need.
Goals and Objectives
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 the choices to the best alternatives.
Purpose and Need
The Purpose and Need statement is an essential part of the study. It explains why the project is being proposed and why it is a worthwhile investment of time and money. The Purpose and Need statement also helps provide context and criteria for developing a range of possible alternatives, and eventually the selection of a preferred alternative.