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ODOT hosts high-speed rail talks

The Oregon Department of Transportation has scheduled several more “scoping” meetings across the Willamette Valley this week to discuss moving trains from Oregon City to Milwaukie.

ODOT’s revival of its plan to switch rail lines and pull Amtrak trains out of Oregon City, which wants them, and through the streets of downtown Milwaukie, which doesn’t, drew locals to an open house in Oregon City on Sept. 11 at Clackamas Community College.

Oregon City recently finished with a multi-million dollar project to move an old train depot that served the city throughout much of the mid-20th century to the current train Amtrak stop. Even if the city loses its stop, city leaders have pointed out that Oregon City is still in line for light rail in the future (“Mayors tell ODOT to rethink rail plans,” Oct. 27, 2010).

But the possibilities are much broader, ODOT representatives say, as the agency considers the best plan for about 125 miles of high-speed rail between Eugene and Portland. Any alignment from McLoughlin Boulevard to the Interstate 5 corridor is under consideration.

In addition to selecting a general path for rail and communities where stations will be located, the ODOT-led review will determine the number of daily trips, travel-time objectives and the technologies to be used (for example, whether the trains will be powered by electric or “diesel” electric engines).

The meetings, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m., will be drop-in style open houses. Attendees will be asked to sign in at a welcome table, and will receive project handouts and information. Rooms include display boards that provide information about the project, and staff will be on hand to answer questions. Attendees will be able to provide comments on a dot exercise, aerial maps, flip charts throughout the room and a comment form.

About half of ODOT’s $10 million total budget for studying the potential line came from the federal government.

State funds have sponsored the Amtrak Cascades between Eugene and Portland since 1994 through fees generated by the sale of custom license plates. Although trains have a potential top speed of 79 mph, current service includes only two round-trips per day, a two-hour and 35-minute trip each way, at an average of 42 mph. The 124 miles of the current line’s track only has six miles of track where trains can go top speed.

While reducing one-way travel time to under two hours, ODOT hopes for $2 billion to increase service to six times a day and on-time performance from 68 percent to more than 95 percent.

While the agency seeks $1.6 billion from the feds, $400 million would have to come from state coffers.

The remaining scheduled meetings are: Wednesday, Sept. 12, Albany Public Library Meeting Room, 2450 14th Ave., Albany; Thursday, Sept. 13, Phoenix Inn, 14905 Bangy Road, Lake Oswego; Tuesday, Sept. 18, Metro Council Chambers 600 N.E. Grand Ave., Portland; Wednesday, Sept. 19, Atrium Building’s lobby, 99 W. 10th Ave., Eugene.