Comments on high-speed rail in Oregon roll in

Public comments reflect a lot of enthusiasm for high-speed rail in Oregon, but its future is anything but certain.

Public comments reflect a lot of enthusiasm for high-speed rail in Oregon, but its future is anything but certain. 

A series of public and online forums about a proposed high-speed rail line from Eugene to Portland has attracted about 1,000 public comments over the past several weeks, as Oregonians continue to debate a challenging expansion of passenger rail.

The forums were part of a publicly funded $10 million initiative to create an Environmental Impact Statement for a rail project that the state has been studying since the 1990s. Planners are trying to determine how many daily trains to accommodate and where exactly to route them. Cost estimates, likely to be high, will come later.

Oregon Department of Transportation project manager Jim Cox said the state heard directly from about 380 people in person and another 700 or so who have commented online. “There’s a lot of interest in this project,” he said, “and a lot of enthusiasm.”

There are also large, heavy, steel objects blocking the path. The company that owns the tracks currently used for Amtrak passenger rail between Portland and Eugene, Union Pacific Railroad, is a freight company, not a passenger rail company. UP has raised safety and liability concerns about expanding passenger rail and stated publicly that it will never allow speeds above 79 miles per hour on its tracks, nor will it alter its line to accommodate the all-electric trains that reach tops speeds in Asia and Europe.

“If (high-speed rail) is something that the public wants to pursue, we would coach you to find a different right of way,” Union Pacific spokesman Brock Nelson said at a December public meeting.

The other main alternatives would be to switch to the sporadically used Oregon Electric Railway right of way, to piece together various short-haul lines or to construct new tracks along the I-5 corridor. Early alternatives that would have bypassed Salem and downtown Portland are likely to be rejected.

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