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Monday, August 17, 2009

Oregon to spend "leftover" $35 million on Amtrak trains

Those 30,000 vehicles going over the Sellwood Bridge every day will have to wait for a solution to the problem that's crumbling beneath their wheels. Trains to Eugene are apparently a higher priority.

Comments (23)

You just don't get it, do you? Money you have, you spend on the frills. Then for the things you absolutely urgently need to do, you raise money you don't have. I don't think you'd be very good at this.

Seems a bit unfair to characterize it that way as the article explains:

Currently, Oregon is using trains owned by Washington state on the route. Now Washington wants them back for an expanded service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Rail service is actually a good thing.

Trish, the point is, they shouldnt have any "leftover" when there are things such as the Sellwood bridge that need fixing.
Instead, they want to add new county fees for vehicle registration. And this is on top of the state registration fees doubling in Oct.
But you can bet if they find another use for that money in the future, they will.

Not sure this is scandalous at all seeing how it's happening because the State of Washington wants their borrowed trains back. I would also be curious if the money, which comes from stimulus funds, could even be used for the Sellwood bridge in terms of allocation and timeline.

Nevertheless good red meat for all the libertarian/conservatives out there.

In short, it's a shell game. The money from the new registration tax is obstensibly for transportation improvements such as the Sellwood bridge, but before they can get any meaningful momentum on that it will have been diverted to some other frill and so on ...


Though I have a feeling it wasn't your intent, if you are suggesting that libertarians/conservatives are the only ones that can see through this con, then you are actually demeaning liberals.

Lets say those 30,000 vehicles only have one (ONE!) person each on each trip, the result is 30,000 people whom have been affected by this bridge. Daily.

Are there 30,000 people specifically (only) traveling between Eugene and Portland in a month? I doubt it.

Common sense was eliminated out of the Oregon thinking budget a long time ago.

This is also a small (very small) first step toward what Oregon & Washington hope is a multi-billion dollar Federally funded high speed rail corridor between Vancouver, BC and Eugene. Apparently the tracks from Vancouver BC to Portland are in good enough shape that they it makes Vancouver, BC to Portland one of the leaders in the high speed rail dollar chase. Oregon needs to upgrade its trains AND upgrade its Portland to Eugene tracks to get up to Washington’s quality. Then voila, four Democratic Senators bring home the bacon.

We are often told on this site and others that cars pay their own way through the gas tax -- why would we need to use stimulus funds for auto bridges and roadways?

George, when Sam Adams stole over $182 Million in state STIP gas tax dollars in just 2006 alone for Portland for bike trails, pedestrian improvements, mass transit education, trolleys, signage, etc., then you have problems fixing even the Sellwood Bridge. Some of you need to really see an outlay of money on a big spread sheet, then you can understand the many posts made on Bojack.

How many people ride the train between Eugene and Portland? What's the percent of capacity being used?

Anyone even consider doing a cost/benefit analysis?

But Congress has had to pour billions into the Highway Trust Fund plural times -- if cars pay their own way, why is the Highway Trust Fund broke and being supported from general revenues?

My guess is that there is a pent-up demand for service at least to Salem from Portland. There are many commuters and people who go down frequently while the legislature is in session. Vehicle trips in winter can be harrowing, with tractor-trailers splashing rain faster than windshield wipers can remove it.

Don't worry . . . the same guy who pungled up the projected figures for WES ridership is working on this one . . .

But Congress has had to pour billions into the Highway Trust Fund plural times -- if cars pay their own way, why is the Highway Trust Fund broke and being supported from general revenues?

That would be because highway funds are raided for light rail, streetcars, bike bridges, etc. The Vera Katz Esplanade was built with "highway funds".


While I agree with your characterization of Sam the Scam as a thief, his "reprogramming" of STIP / RTIP / SDC funds allocated to Portland has no impact on the Sellwood Bridge. That Bridge is a county responsibility, always has been, and absent an act of the legislature, always will be.

Sam is a thief, certainly,but he didn't steal money from Sellwood Bridge repairs....but only because he couldn't get his hands on it.

The last I read, our alleged mayor was holding Sellwood Bridge replacement hostage to a deal with the county and Metro for a Rose Quarter hotel. It remains unresolved in this forum whether the move by Bragdon and Rex the Wonder Candidate against a prominent member of the Metro bureaucracy was made because he opposed or favored the hotel.

Mouse, Multnomah Co., in preliminary negotiations and in the media, has indicated that they expect Portland to pay a fair share of the bridge cost. Wheeler has also stated this.

So Adams stealing STIP dollars steals from the highest priority of transportation lists-the Sellwood Bridge. Besides, Adams could have spent some of his time in Salem (besides making contact with juveniles) while he's lobbying, to ask the legislature for help with the bridge.

Don't forget that each end of the Sellwood lands in a Portland neighborhood, and that over 65% of the traffic serves Portland residents.

Apparently the tracks from Vancouver BC to Portland are in good enough shape that they it makes Vancouver, BC to Portland one of the leaders in the high speed rail dollar chase.

Perhaps we'll lead for the dollar chase, yes. But as long as passenger and freight trains have to share the same rails in this corridor, there is no way we will have high speed service like the Boston-Washington corridor, or - dare I say - what France has had with their TGV trains since the 1980's.

My guess is that there is a pent-up demand for service at least to Salem from Portland.

Now if they force state workers who commute from Portland to use it, I would be all for it. I had a job in Keizer for a couple years, and I was surprised at how many single-occupant vehicles there were with state-government plates on them coming from Portland during the morning commute. That cant be cheap.

But as long as passenger and freight trains have to share the same rails in this corridor, there is no way we will have high speed service like the Boston-Washington corridor, or - dare I say - what France has had with their TGV trains since the 1980's.

This. When I lived in the Salem area, we would take Amtrak to see a Seahawks game every year. I mean, King St. Station is right across the parking lot from the stadium... what could possibly go wrong?

Well, what would always go wrong is the train would stop in the Brooklyn rail yard for half an hour because Union Pacific owns the tracks, and Union Pacific was pre-emting Amtrak.

So, after about the third time of arriving half way through the second quarter, we decided we'd rather take I-5 and see the whole game.

How many people ride the train between Eugene and Portland? What's the percent of capacity being used?

According to WSDOT's official statistics (WSDOT basically runs the show, ODOT just pays a few bucks for the train to keep running to Eugene),

In 2007, just shy of 600,000 people got on or off of an Amtrak Cascades train in Oregon. The vast majority of those boardings/deboardings take place in Portland and head to points in Washington.

If you exclude Portland, you get the following:

Eugene: 72,000
Albany: 25,000
Salem: 43,000
Oregon City: 7,000
Total: (rounded up) 150,000

There are four trains a day, 365 days a year. So 150,000/365/4 equals 103 boardings and deboardings per train.

Obiviously each person is counted twice - once to board and once to deboard, so divide the 103 by two and you get 52. (Notice that I'm rounding entirely in favor of Amtrak.)

A typical over-the-road bus has 57 seats in it and requires one driver. The Amtrak Cascades trainset has approximately 250 seats in seven coaches (including one or two ADA accessible coaches), two business class coaches, a bistro/table car set, a baggage and a service car; and requires an absolute minimum of two (Engineer and Conductor) to operate, but has a typical staffing of five or six (Engineer, Conductor, Assistant Conductor, Talgo Tech (yes, each train carries its own mechanic), Bistro Attendant and occassionally a second Bistro employee.

At an average load of 53 passengers, the load factor for the train south of Portland is, well...low.

Granted those were 2007 numbers. My understanding is that 2008 did result in a climb to an average of over 70 passengers per train. As a percentage - that's a 50% increase! But in load factor, the load factor for even 75 passengers is still at around 35% of the train being utilized - and with no reduction in labor cost. At 75 riders you would need a second bus, but with the second bus you still have better utilization.

Another thing to consider: As part of the Amtrak Cascades trains are a number of buses. Each of these buses receive ZERO subsidy, cover all of their costs, and are operated by for-profit companies who pay road taxes, income taxes, fuel taxes, etc. - and yet pay their costs. Amtrak, on the other hand, is tax-exempt (its employees pay taxes, but Amtrak itself does not.) Amtrak does not pay property tax, sales tax, income tax, occupation tax, revenues tax, fuels tax, etc.

I will agree that Portland-Seattle is heavily used, and in fact by releasing the two trains from Eugene service and running them to Seattle would provide six or seven daily trips between Portland and Seattle, with no additional capital cost, no additional labor cost, and would increase capacity - additional revenue that would reduce operating losses up north.

Portland-Eugene, on the other hand, makes no sense. Even I-5 traffic counts south of Portland are much lower than north; airline trips (Horizon Shuttle/SkyWest) and Greyhound trips are far lower. The fact is that there just isn't enough travel demand in Portland-Eugene unlike Portland-Seattle. Oregon would be better served by running an hourly bus, each hour on the hour, up and down I-5 between Portland and Eugene.

I will agree that commuter rail PDX-Salem seems to make sense...but Oregon doesn't have the money, and since Portland doesn't have the traffic congestion that Seattle does - we'd be better served with motorcoach buses (which Seattle does use as part of Sound Transit), and introducing HOV/bus lanes in the unused median space of I-5 from Wilsonville north into downtown.

Have Bragdon and Rex the Wonder Candidate gone to all this trouble without an intention to ally intimately with our alleged mayor in the construction of at least a posh hotel?

Architecture, as Albert Speer knew well, is inherently political.

Erik H:

"Obiviously each person is counted twice - once to board and once to deboard,"

Nope. Anyone getting on south of Portland and riding all the way through Portland to Washington state (both of the trains which continues through, rather than stopping in Portland) is only counted once, because they deboard in Washington.

This is, frankly, probably most of them, despite the 25 minute wait in Portland, since taking the train just from Salem or Eugene to Portland really isn't reasonable currently, but taking it all the way to Seattle seems a lot more plausible. So the load numbers you want are something slightly less than double the ones us just used.

In addition, the fact that the Eugene-Portland service is an extension of the Portland-Seattle services means the incremental cost of them is much lower than for exclusive Eugene-Portland service, which would be completely unjustifiable. Keeping the same crew running the train another three hours may simply not cost much more than paying them to cool their heels, assuming the running times match up "right".

If I'm reading it right, the trains Oregon is buying will be used on Seattle-Portland-Eugene service. Washington's "loaner" trains were used for this, but will now be used for Portland-Seattle-Vancouver,BC service. (Vancouver,BC-Eugene service is apparently just "too long" to do with the one trainset and crew.) So effectively, an extra trip from Seattle to Portland is being added!

This all probably changes your conclusions.


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