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Monday, January 30, 2012

Tri-Met's new ATM for trains: you

A couple of readers have alerted us to this one: The not-so-clever people who have been running Tri-Met have come up with a proposal to pile up tons of tax dollars for future rail projects. And apparently the plan will mean new taxes for all of us. As one reader put it --

The first recommendation is that six counties (Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington, Marion, Linn and Lane) establish a massive rail transit district and levy a tax to improve the rail system (for both freight and passenger) in the valley. Then, they will transfer all of the property taxes paid by the railroads to the new transit district. Then they will transfer tens of millions of dollars from lottery proceeds to the rail district. Then they will levy a tax on all telephones in the state to repay the counties for the money the counties lost when the rail properties were transferred. Everybody loses but Neil MacFarlane [CEO of Tri-Met] and Tom Hughes [president of Metro government, and another apartment developer servant].

The document of which the reader speaks, fresh from Goldschmidt Party headquarters, is here. All aboard for more taxes!

Comments (15)

This is my favorite (p. 12):
Rail Funding Source: Passenger rail charges
Key Benefits: Users of the rail pay for improvements to the track that they are using.
Key Drawbacks: Very limited revenue stream. Potential negative impact on passenger rail ridership due to cost increase.

I think that means people don't want what they are offering. Well, I guess until they make us like what they are giving us. You will pay for this Max line! You will go by streetcar! And you will love it!

I find it hard to believe that reallocating $80 Million dollars a year from lottery, railroad property tax, and telephone access fees will be used to create a rail investment tax credit. ["Generating,repurposing"]the money for rail specifically is just another URD. The ORFTF met four times between April and November 2011. Go by streetcar!!! Didn't WES pay to upgrade the local tracks already?

Take a look at p. 12.
Key Benefits and Drawbacks of Rail Funding Options

I find interesting that the telephone access fee is noted as a potential for high revenue yield....then under drawbacks chart it is noted No major drawbacks, except that it could be a tough political sell to link telephone fees with rail improvements.

No kidding.

How much of any fees collected would be used for freight/passenger rails that might need repairs throughout our state versus still more light rail for development?

While you are at it, do take a look at p. 9 and 10 for a list of 20 funding options.
I will list five:
Sales Tax on motor fuels
Motor vehicle title
Passenger vehicle weight fee
Auto Insurance Fee
General Sales Tax

How much of our money will be used then to PR and market all of this?

And to think that when I HAD to leave the area because the job market was so bad that I felt bad about leaving. Not any more, the more I read, the happier I am that I left. It just keeps getting dumber and dumber.

It appears there would need to be some sort of election, perhaps to authorize the taxing authority. Ben, guess we'll all be working together to fight this should we get to vote on it.

OTOH - is this a smoke screen to sneak something even more reprehensible into law?

....guess we'll all be working together to fight this should we get to vote on it.

Isn't that a theme, to keep people so busy reacting to this and that, so that eventually they get what they want in one way or another?

Hey Native,

I'm right with you. Left the area to take a job offer and felt bad at the time.

Not any more. But it looks just as ugly from 250 miles away as it did when I was standing in it.

Since when is it a proper government function to fund privately owned freight railroads?

Last I head passenger rail from Eugene to Portland costs close to $100 per trip per passenger.


I'm surprised no one has caught on to the current scheme:

Right now WSDOT and Amtrak (as in the federal government) own five Talgo trainsets that run between Vancouver, BC, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. Because WSDOT has the lead, the two trains that serve the Portland to Eugene segment are northbound in the early morning and southbound in the late evening - of which many people have complained about. The trains average 100 daily riders per train a day...which is better than the 70-80 it's been running for the last few years, but each train has close to 300 seats.

ODOT found some "savings" in its road maintenance budget and decided to buy two new trains, so that Oregon will have some "flexibility". Oregon's two trains will have two more coaches per train than the existing set. So far, so good - right?


BNSF is refusing to allow new schedules, so the total number of trains will remain exactly the same. So there's really no new "flexibility" involved.

Further, one of the existing trainsets will be broken apart, and its coaches allocated to three of the other trainsets, so that all of the trains will have the same number of cars (I believe one train will be one coach short or about 40 seats fewer than the other trains.)

And the Talgo trains are notoriously overpriced at nearly $20 million a pop - a trainset of conventional railcars would cost less than half that - and the Talgo trainsets don't offer a speed advantage in Oregon on Union Pacific rails and saves only about 10-15 minutes up to Seattle. Is that worth tens of millions of dollars?

Now...the money came from Stimulus money. That's supposed to create jobs, right? How many jobs are being created in Oregon as a result of the $35 million?


The trains are built in Wisconsin.

They are maintained in Seattle.

No new Amtrak employees will be hired in Oregon as a result of these new trains.


So...we'll have shiny new trains but no new trips. The trains will have a lower load factor - currently at an abysmal 33%. Oregon could have purchased a fleet of brand new buses at $500k a pop and those buses would make a profit from day one.

In fact, ODOT works with a bus company to offer a few additional schedules as part of the Amtrak Cascades service. And those buses receive zero subsidy, pay all the regular registration and highway use taxes, and they make a profit. (In fact riders with "multiple-ride tickets" have been declined boarding on the buses because the buses are typically full, and are forced to wait for the train that has more than plenty of room aboard.)

This new line that the state wants to create the taxing district for would essentially extend WES to Salem and eventually Eugene...we all have seen how much of a collassal failure WES has been with its abysmal ridership, it's outrageously high cost per rider...

And we've seen the success stories Oregon has had with buying up freight railroads - the Astoria Line (embargoed west of Wauna and has had repeated washouts), the Tillamook Line (embargoed west of Banks and has had repeated washouts), the Coos Bay Line (reopened last year, but traffic is very low for a >100 mile route), the Willamina & Grande Ronde Railroad (state paid to rebuild the line in the 1980s, the line is used to park unused freight cars), the Burns Branch (was scrapped and salvaged less than 10 years after the state paid millions to rebuild it), the Joseph Branch (currently used for just an excursion train; absolutely no hope for freight service to return). The state has given millions as part of ConnectOregon to build dubious projects (a freight yard in Tigard that in recent months has sat mostly empty), a "transit center" in Elgin for a city that gets four buses A DAY...

I love trains. I love railfanning. My son loves trains. I love riding trains. But I don't love blowing money left and right when we have serious priorities that are falling to the wayside over choo-choos because someone at TriMet or Metro or ODOT likes trains. Trains have their purpose. Trains are great at moving large quantities over long distances. Trains are great for coal, for grain, for inland containers, for autos...

When you don't have quantity, trains don't make sense. Moving ten cars over 100 miles on a slow mountain railroad does not make sense. The ten cars barely covers the cost of the locomotive and fuel - and mountain railroads are horrendously expensive to maintain. The Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad alone had a $25 million washout...and two years later another washout estimated at nearly $50 million (the Port finally decided it wasn't worth it and the railroad is shut down.) It's no wonder that the railroad was sold to the state for just a couple million dollars - while BNSF donated the Astoria Line to the state.

Rail Funding Source: Passenger rail charges
Key Benefits: Users of the rail pay for improvements to the track that they are using.

What's amazing is that Amtrak actually sells itself on the fact that "the fare you see is the fare you pay - no taxes or surcharges".

Of course. Amtrak is allowed to sell below cost.

Amtrak is a government sponsored entity that has its own federal police department (Amtrak Police). Why isn't Amtrak charging a "9/11 Security Fee" to cover the cost of its police department?

Amtrak has to pay for the use and upkeep of stations, which are often owned by other jurisdictions (Portland's Union Station is owned by the Portland Development Commission; Vancouver's is owned by the City of Vancouver). Why isn't Amtrak being forced to charge a "Passenger Facility Charge"?

Amtrak doesn't charge change fees...why not?

Amtrak has real charges in operating baggage rooms, baggage cars and baggage personnel...yet on Amtrak you can literally move your entire house for free.

Amtrak whines and cries that it doesn't have any money...what it fails to realize is that people don't put much of a value on Amtrak. If Amtrak's so popular as they claim (30 million rides last year - an all time record for the 40 year old company) and demand should indicate that the fares are too low.

So why is Amtrak's systemwide load factor 50%? That means half of the seat-miles go empty on Amtrak...and there is a very real cost to each coach that runs on the system that doesn't have an occupied rider in it. Each coach has a maintenance cost. Each coach contributes to fuel consumption and requires staffing...

On the Amtrak Cascades trains between Portland and Eugene, the choice is having two 450 horsepower buses that have a staff of one driver...or a 12 car train of which only two of the coaches are occupied, a staff of five personnel, and a 3,200 horsepower locomotive hauling the train and then the dead weight of a "NPCU" (a non-functional locomotive used as a cab car and a buffer)...the locomotive is burning more fuel to just pull its own weight, than it is actually moving people.

Even the airlines understand how to calculate fuel needs...that's why the airlines don't fly 747s with full fuel loads on every flight. They fly the aircraft that best meets the passenger demand with the lowest fuel burn.

Soooo...we need long-term 'sustainable' funding for rail...

Tell me again how school funding is going in the state?

Yeah...that's what I thought.....

When I hear "sustainability" it always seems like what's being sustained is six-figure jobs for planners and their acolytes, sustained raids on the public treasury and sustained increases in costs for maintaining the whole rotted-out system.

Its cute when US politicos try to develop mass transit Euro style, completely igoring reality.

Alternatively, dammit Portland get out of Marion county. Its bad enough here!

Randall Edwards? Isn't he the guy who never noticed the plunder of the Oregon college savings investments and the bribing, um, I mean courtesies given to the states superfluous investment advisors? That Randy Edwards?

Meanwhile in California, Governor Brown poo-poohs the increasing cost estimates for high speed rail, and claims that the whole thing can be paid for with (wait for it) proceeds from the new cap-and-trade program.

Because, you know that so many cap-and-trade programs are working well, and generating revenue. Actually, most of them have folded altogether. And govt cost overruns never happen, and the auditor is just wrong. Yeah.

Every time the kleptocrats propose a zany new toy train scheme, it ends up the same -- we pay for the Comet, but get the San Sebastian Line.


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