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All Aboard!

Local, state and federal officials break ground on Washington County's $117.3 million commuter rail system
by: Jaime Valdez, SOUVENIRS – Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden (left) and Washington County Commissioner Andy Duyck hold spikes that were removed from Portland & Western Railroad tracks and handed out to guests at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Television cameras caught it all: The Portland and Western Railroad train pulling into Tigard's Transit Center on Southwest Commercial Street Wednesday morning and unloading a group of high-profile politicians.

Arriving on the train were U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, U.S. Reps. Darlene Hooley and David Wu, Federal Transit Deputy Administrator Sandra Bushue, Washington County Commission Chairman Tom Brian, Metro President David Bragdon, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen and a bushel of mayors.

They were there to mark the special occasion, which was 10 years in the making: breaking ground for construction of the 14.7-mile, $117.3 million commuter rail system that is expected to start running in September 2008 between Beaverton and Wilsonville.

The train will have two stops in Tigard and one in Tualatin.

'What an auspicious day,' said Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen, who kicked off the event.

He introduced Hansen, who said that getting the project to this point took determination and 'a bit of stubbornness.'

Hansen in turn introduced Brian as 'the grandfather of the commuter rail project.'

'We've finally arrived at the beginning,' said Brian, calling the project a collaborative effort on the part of many agencies and people.

'The smartest thing we ever did was to partner with TriMet,' he said. 'We'll see you at the end of September 2008.'

Wyden joked that in the autumn of even-numbered years, 'your elected officials like to bring you good news.'

He added that the commuter rail system will bring a higher quality of life to the area and link 'suburb to suburb.'

'It's high time for this project,' Wyden added. 'You can't have big-league quality of life with small-league transportation. We have taken your dreams and aspirations and (backed them up in Congress).'

Smith noted that the project has support 'from local mayors to the President of the United States.'

He pointed out that in the current federal transportation budget, 'there are only five rail projects in the whole country, and two are in Oregon - I-205 light rail and Washington County commuter rail. Our fathers and mothers laid these tracks in an earlier generation, and our children's generation will use it.'

Wu said that the project is helping to 'build the kind of community citizens want to live in,' and Hooley told the crowd that there is a lot of interest from other cities in expanding the system in the future.

'I look forward to two years from now when we get to actually get on the train and ride it 15 miles,' she added.

Welcome back

Bushue was there to sign a full-funding agreement that provides the federal government's 50 percent match for the project, or about $58.7 million.

'This puts Oregon once more on the leading edge of transportation,' Bushue said. 'This is one of the few suburb-to-suburb projects around the country.

'Let's sign the contract to get (the funds) out of Washington.'

Smith, Wyden and Bushue completed the ceremonial signing of the FTA agreement before Bruce Carswell, president and general manager of Portland and Western, reminded the crowd of the time when the Oregon Electric Railroad was 'the epitome of modern transportation' before it stopped service in 1933.

From that point on, the railroad tracks have been used primarily to move freight - until now, when they will once again be used to ferry people among the four cities and connect them to MAX lines and bus service.

'We're pleased to welcome passenger rail back to this section of Oregon,' Carswell said.

With that, all the officials at the podium donned striped railroad caps, unveiled a large sign marking the project and just like students graduating from high school, tossed them into the air.

Rail work ahead

From Oct. 24 to Nov. 22, a 300-foot-long machine called a P811, towing a dozen track and tie cars that are each about 60 feet long, will slowly move from along the P and W tracks from Wilsonville to Beaverton, chewing up and spitting out the old rails and replacing them with new rails and concrete ties.

The rebuilt rail line will allow the passenger trains to travel up to 60 miles per hour, and freight trails will go even faster.

When commuter rail service starts TriMet projects that by 2020 the self-propelled cars built by Colorado Railcar will carry between 3,000 and 4,000 passengers each day during several morning and evening rush hour trips.