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Tualatin leaders hash out high-speed rail views


Mayor disagrees with Planning Commissions recommendations

While local discussions have centered on the contentious light-rail issue, the more expansive federal high-speed rail project has been pushing ahead — and Mayor Lou Ogden was concerned by what he saw as a disconnect between the City Council’s stance and the Tualatin Planning Commission’s recommendations.

“From what we know today, we would probably not endorse (high-speed rail),” Ogden said.

The Planning Commission, however, had recommended that Tualatin endorse the project. Ogden and Councilor Monique Beikman attended a special Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 17 to discuss the difference in opinion.

The Planning Commission had seen potential economic revenue from the high-speed rail project, but listened to Ogden and Beikman’s concerns about the environmental and overall citywide impact such a rail line would bring.

It was a conversation Ogden characterized as “informal,” and he said no decisions was made as a result of the meeting.

Tualatin lies within the proposed Cascadia region, one of 11 high-speed rail corridors that were identified at the federal level as important high-speed thoroughfares. The Cascadia region stretches from Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Such high-speed rails exist throughout the world, notably in Japan, where trains regularly reach speeds of 240 miles per hour. Estimates for similar U.S. trains put the expected top speed at around the 140 miles per hour level.

The federal High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program has given Oregon $19.7 million in federal funding, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In addition, the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor was given $598 million of the $8 billion in stimulus funding earmarked by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These funds were allocated to advance high-speed rail projects.

For that reason, Ogden said the City Council had been following high-speed rail for more than two years.

During this time, Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed a task force to analyze the proposed high-speed rail and various alignment options. Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson sits on that task force.

“We’re supporting Milwaukie to have it go on the eastern alignment,” Ogden said.

It makes sense that Oregon and the country at large would lag behind other countries in railroad technology: Ogden pointed out that while other countries were laying and constantly re-investing in a solid railroad foundation, the U.S. was developing its interstate highways.

One potential issue is that none of these railways will be exclusive to high-speed travel. High-speed trains would share the railway with freight and pre-existing passenger lines, like Amtrak.

Tualatin residents haven’t forgotten the inconvenience of another rail project: The TriMet-run commuter line WES, which was a noisy, logistical challenge, with loud whistles blowing at each of the line’s seven Tualatin crossings. Ogden recalled how the city worked with the federal government to establish quiet zones to reduce the impact on nearby homes.

“We got that quelled, and then this high-speed rail thing comes up,” Ogden explained.

A Corridor Forum meeting will be held in Salem today (Thursday) from 3 to 6 p.m. at Broadway Commons, 1300 N.E. Broadway St., suite 100. For more information, visit oregonpassengerrail.org.