Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

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Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby Vincent » Fri Jun 26, 2009 3:27 pm

ODOT has released a draft plan to move the Cascades service to the Oregon Electric line. According to the authors--Parsons Brinckerhoff--it would be cheaper to rehabilitate the OE line than upgrade the UP line for future Cascades service expansion between Portland and Eugene. I'm not real familiar with the OE line, so I'll let my friends in Oregon make the commentaries on the report. Bottom line: the cost to upgrade the UP line for future needs is $1,266,000,000; the cost to upgrade the OE for similar passenger traffic levels would cost $856,000,000.

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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby David Benton » Fri Jun 26, 2009 4:12 pm

that seems to be a huge amount of money either way . what speed / frequency will that give ???
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby wigwagfan » Fri Jun 26, 2009 8:00 pm

Let's just say I disagree very much with this report -- ODOT and many other supporters are very biased over using the OE route, despite numerous flaws (and in some cases fatal flaws, or at least flaws that I believe are being well underrepresented in this and other reports).

The UP line already supports six Amtrak trains per day, already has stations and the assorted facilities for passenger service...the line would require some double-tracking (especially north of Salem) and some trackwork between Oregon City and Canby, but it would not require extensive signal work (it's already signalled with CTC) and there are no major bridges which would require repair/replacement (although it'd be a good idea to replace the Oregon City viaduct and the Molalla River structure).

The UP also more directly serves more communities - Oregon City, Canby, Woodburn, and Salem in the northern stretch, and serves Albany, Junction City and Eugene equally to the OE (which lacks the station facilities that the UP route has, save for Junction City which is not a current Amtrak stop).

The OE line would require extensive bridge work in Milwaukie, a massive construction project to connect the Newberg Branch with the OE in Tualatin (one option, a viaduct, would wipe out the current WES station and place a new station on the viaduct!) and the second option would require two stations in Tualatin - one for the intercity route and one for WES with no convenient transfer option save for a shuttle bus. The OE would serve Wilsonville (which WES does) but would not serve Canby or Woodburn (Woodburn could be served with a station "in left field", in farmland several miles to the west of downtown Woodburn where the SP line passes through the center of). In Salem, the OE line passes through an older neighborhood on a very narrow right-of-way, requiring extensive property acquisition costs and the dislocation of dozens of homes, closure of many streets, and dealing with street trackage into downtown Salem. Building a station would be difficult as the "best" location is a popular city park; south of Riverfront Park the line is on a narrow cliff over the Willamette River, not unlike the short stretch between Canby and Oregon City on the OE.

Again, in Albany the OE is on street trackage that would have to be mitigated and a station location found in downtown Albany - the SP line has a newly restored station at the opposite end of downtown alongside Highway 99E.

In Junction City - again the OE finds itself on street trackage; and in Eugene the OE serves an industrial area with many rail spurs and dead-ends short of downtown.

The only real benefit to the OE line north of Salem is that the right-of-way is owned by ODOT, but at the expense of indirect or lack of service to several communities.

When one compares the SP to the BN line to the north of Portland - the BN track is double-track between Tacoma and Portland and handles a magnitude higher traffic, both freight and passenger, than the SP line ever did or likely will. Double-tracking the route will likely achieve all of the benefits necessary to safely and reliably operate freight and passenger trains with less impact to residents (and in fact would eliminate much of the residential street trackage in Salem and Albany - thus improving those neighborhoods' livability) and would allow the state to focus on grade crossing elimination on just one line. Much of the OE line sees little freight traffic and much of the line could be rendered duplicative or obsolete with an improved UP mainline. (Considering that P&W already operates one daily freight train from Salem to Portland and another train Albany to Eugene on the UP mainline...) The use of the OE route would incur substantial costs within the communities of Eugene, Junction City, Albany, Salem, Tualatin, Lake Oswego and Milwaukie just to allow for passenger trains to be on the tracks; not to mention brand new station facilities (the WES facility in Tualatin will not work; not to mention the WES platforms in Tualatin and Wilsonville aren't even compatible with Talgo equipment!)

However, I believe this is the same consulting firm that said WES would only cost $80 million and the project was more than double the cost...
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby westr » Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:58 am

That report makes very little sense. In addition to wigwagfan's concerns, here are mine...

The assumptions:

The "UP 2030 Baseline" assumes that UP's traffic will increase so much by 2030 that the Cascades run time will increase from 2 hours to 3 hours, but that UP will not make any improvements on its own to accomodate that increase. That seems unlikely.

They assume that moving the Salem station to the OE line, which is a bit closer to downtown but not that much, would attract ridership, but as wigwagfan said it would only be more convenient to downtown if it was built in Rivertfront Park, and the current station is much more convenient to Willamette University and the State Capitol and other state office buildings than a station on the OE line would be, so I doubt their projections of a significant ridership increase by relocating the Salem station.

The Numbers:

Track & Crossing Improvements: UP: $326,000,000 OE: $217,900,000
Bridges & New Connections: UP: $238,000,000 OE: $176,000,000

By the report's own admission, the OE is a 25mph freight line, with several bridges that will need work just to maintain those standards and would need some entirely new junctions for Talgo service, while the UP line is already carrying Talgos at up to 79mph. The OE would need a new viaduct at Tualatin, and significant new connections. I don't see how the UP line would need any new connections and I doubt UPs bridges would need anywhere near the work that the OE's would. How can the UP costs possibly be so much higher than the OE costs?

Stations & Platforms: UP: $2,000,000 OE $4,000,000

I'm not sure what improvements would be necessary for the UP option since the stations are already serving Talgo trains, but $2 million isn't a lot of money, especially when you spread it out among the stations, so I'll accept it. The OE line, on the other hand, would involve entirely new stations at Tualatin and Salem. Even if you ignore the improvements at the other stations, there's no way you are going to build two new stations for only $4 million. The renovation of the Albany station cost $11.5 million. This is the ONLY category out of 6 in which the OE number is higher than the UP number.

Design, Construction Management & Environmental Mitigation: UP: $566,000,000 OE: $324,100,000

These numbers are very suspect. At this stage Design and CM costs are usually based on a percentage of the projected construction costs. The OE number is about 38% of the total, while the UP number is about 45%. These both seem high, but they should also be about the same percentage of the total. If we assume the difference is due to "environmental mitigation," how much environmental mitigation is necessary for the UP line, which would just need upgraded track, signals, bridges, etc, all in the same place they already are, and maybe some new track, right alongside the existing track. How much environmental impact is that going to have? The OE line, with its new stations, new viaducts, new connections, should have more environmental impact. I wonder if these numbers are entirely made up.

Anf finally, a disconcerting quote from the report:

"UP’s railroad management has expressed interest in segregating passenger service from high-density freight mainline services."

I wonder if UP fed them some inflated numbers to support moving Amtrak trains off UP rails.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby lbshelby » Sat Jun 27, 2009 11:58 pm

This report was put together by one of the largest, oldest, and most respected private transportation engineering firms in the nation if not the world. Professionally trained engineers are far more likely to understand the costs and complications of construction than lay people and railfans. And before people get their knickers in a knot, this is a Passenger Rail Study. It is a preliminary step prior to entering into engineering studies, such as a fatal flaw analysis. Nobody is proposing to go out into the field and wave a magic wand and say, viola, the OE is now the passenger route, now we have to go build lots of exotic junctions! Such matters would be in a fatal flaw analysis should ODOT decide to pursue the idea further.

That said, much ballyhoo has been made in this thread about moving this here, and moving that there, and building this here, and connecting that there, a regular laundry list of issues.

Six words: this is why we have engineers. Nothing -- not a single thing mentioned -- is a fatal flaw. It's just this thing called "change." If the OE does become the Cascades alignment, then, no folks, it's not going to be the same as today. And yes, you might have to board your trains somewhere else.

It's a very simple equation here:

1.) The way that UP runs the valley main, in normal economic times it is at capacity. UP would be more than happy to see the backside of the Cascades.
2.) The OE is a line that hits all the major cities that the UP does and has a stable and dramatically lower freight volume.
3.) The report's "OE Alignment" right-of-way from Tualatin southwards is in public hands, giving ODOT leverage over it in a way they do not have over the UP alignment.
4.) Amtrak is unhappy with how UP has treated them in the past and sees no signs of an improvement ever coming.
5.) PNWR sees improvements to their railroad that will cost them little or nothing.

Result? OE wins.

Here's another way to look at it: which costs less, accommodating an additional 32-36 trains on a line already handling 20, or accommodating an additional 2-6 trains on a line already handling 8? Understand that structure costs can be deceiving. While the UP structures may on average be better maintained, they are also capacity choke points. It is doubtful that any structures on the OE would need to be widened to accommodate double track, for example. The single largest structure on the OE, the Wilsonville Bridge, is a very young structure in excellent shape.

Again, the OE makes better sense at this stage. It may not -- let me repeat this for the anti-anything-anyone-proposes-crowd -- IT MAY NOT make better sense later in the process. If I had to bet money, though, I'd say it will, for the simple reason that every player -- ODOT, Amtrak, PNWR, BNSF, and UP -- wants the Cascades off the UP and onto the OE.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby karl1459 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:10 pm

I agree pretty much with everyone on this... The big question on routing north of Salem is Wilsonville/Tualatin or Woodburn/Canby going to generate the most passenger usage? Canby to Portland would be the most expensive section to double track for UP.

IMHO the UP line is best site for a Salem station, the existing station is OK but could be slightly better located at the north end of the capitol mall. OE is actually too close to downtown and the river chokes things to be convient. Albany OE station exists (as of a couple of years ago) in good condition as a pizza joint and could probably be reused as a station with only minimal remodeling (as opposed to restoration).

From Salem south could (and this is a huge IF) the OE line be upgraded for one way running, with connections through places like Junction City to double track the UP line, and used as a paired double track line with the existing UP line. If this could happen, and UP would agree to a shared use agreement, would result in UP as the major user at normal capacity and would likely have UP paying for the majority of operational maintainance (and UP saving operating costs or costs of building their own second track which they need anyway).

Also, just to be sured the pot is stirred, Woodburn was served by a stub branch of the OE in electric days.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby Vincent » Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:15 pm

Interesting discussion, I wonder how high of a priority it is at ODOT to expand the Portland to Eugene rail corridor. Is I-5 in the Willamette Valley becoming as congested as I-5 in the Puget Sound region? My memories of riding from Portland to Eugene on the Starlight are that the railroad is mostly single track and that double tracking would be difficult in many places. My last auto trip from Eugene to Portland was about 7 years ago and most of the time I was at or above the posted speed limits, although as I got closer to Portland, the freeway became congested.

How badly does UP want Amtrak off its property? I've asked before if it would be possible to allow UP to buy out Amtrak's access rights. If UP wants to get Amtrak off the freight line, how much would UP be willing to pay to buy out Amtrak's right of access? I doubt that UP would be willing to foot the entire bill for rebuilding the OE (actually, I doubt that UP would be willing to pay for any of the bill), but it might be an interesting discussion between Amtrak, ODOT and UP. How much would UP pay to get Amtrak off the UP mainline?

I'm guessing that a 90 mph passenger rail corridor with 6 daily roundtrips between Portland and Eugene would dramatically increase train ridership and help to defray or postpone freeway construction and maintenance costs. The next question for ODOT is to figure out if an investment of +/- $1 billion in a (sort of) high speed rail corridor would pay for itself in reduced highway construction and maintenance cost.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby railohio » Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:47 am

So we're talking about the Oregon Electric? A former interurban? Why wouldn't it be well-suited for passenger service? Yes, some reinvestment will be needed but we're talking about a railroad that was built for speed. It's basically straight and flat, or at least lacking in major grades. There's nothing there that Talgo sets or DMUs couldn't handle.

In fact, an incremental approach to this seems to be the best solution. How about starting by extending WES to Salem? When that's operational extensions can be made to Albany and eventually Eugene along with a route into downtown Portland. The DMUs can keep handling WES service to the suburbs and the Talgo sets can provide direct service downtown.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby wigwagfan » Wed Jul 01, 2009 11:45 pm

lbshelby wrote:2.) The OE is a line that hits all the major cities that the UP does and has a stable and dramatically lower freight volume.
3.) The report's "OE Alignment" right-of-way from Tualatin southwards is in public hands, giving ODOT leverage over it in a way they do not have over the UP alignment.
4.) Amtrak is unhappy with how UP has treated them in the past and sees no signs of an improvement ever coming.
5.) PNWR sees improvements to their railroad that will cost them little or nothing.


2. The OE does not hit all the cities; in fact it misses quite a few. The UP line only misses out on Wilsonville, which isn't an "intercity" destination.

3. The OE is only in public hands north of Quinaby. Yes, that line is nice and straight, but the route in Salem, Albany, Eugene, is horrible. Same with south of Salem. Yes, this line was once an interurban, but we're talking 1910s-1920s standards. 50 MPH was a fast speed back then. 50 MPH is not acceptable today for intercity rail, especially when the speed limit on I-5 is 65 (and most people do 70-75). In North Salem, the speed limit is 10 and the only way to increase the track speed is to buy out about 100 houses and eliminate a few streets in their entirety (never mind the businesses that require access from that street, especially those on the west side of Front Street that have no other street access as they abut the Willamette River).

4. I think this can be changed. Yes, Amtrak is unhappy with UP, so what? I'd be damn unhappy if I was on a passenger train on the OE. Wait, that actually happened last last year/early this year, when the Coast Starlight attempted a detour on the OE. End result: They got about 15 miles down the OE...stopped...backed up to Albany and continued on their regular route on the UP.

5. Who's the beneficiary - taxpayers, or the P&W? P&W got a sweetheart deal out of WES that has screwed over TriMet riders and many transit advocates have declared WES a failure. The last time I checked we weren't responsible to give away the bank to P&W.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby wigwagfan » Thu Jul 02, 2009 12:01 am

railohio wrote:So we're talking about the Oregon Electric? A former interurban? Why wouldn't it be well-suited for passenger service? Yes, some reinvestment will be needed but we're talking about a railroad that was built for speed. It's basically straight and flat, or at least lacking in major grades. There's nothing there that Talgo sets or DMUs couldn't handle.


Again - this is not the real case. Look at the OE.

Yes, from Quinaby to Wilsonville the line is straight. Problem: There's NOTHING on that line except a couple of grain elevators. Meanwhile you've got Woodburn, population 25,000, several miles off the OE (but the UP runs right through downtown) and Canby, another 20,000 folks and completely off the OE. All you need is a station platform and you could serve those two cities today for less than $5 million.

Yes, from the south end of Albany to the north end of Eugene is relatively straight. Problem: Nothing there! (Granted, there's nothing on the UP except for the bustling villages of Tangent, Shedd and Halsey, but you could double-track the UP and get far more benefit for both freight and passenger service).

Now look at Salem:

On Broadway St. NE between River and Madison you'll see the OE makes a sharp turn to the west. In the Interurban days, the "passenger" line continued south on Broadway while freight trains turned towards the river. Obviously when the passenger trains stopped running in the mid-1930s, the line was removed. This is a 10 MPH curve, followed by another 10 MPH curve a few blocks west. Assuming this route were to still be used, you'd be eliminating quite a few homes on the east end and a major business on the west end.

Front Street NE, between Norway and Division: Street trackage. 10 MPH. Track is also in pretty bad shape with a few recent derailments. A number of businesses on the west side of the street have no other access and have frequent truck traffic in/out that require access to this street.

Downtown Salem: No good location for a train station, unless you locate the train station to the north or to the south of, but not within, the downtown district. Compared with the existing Amtrak station which is an easy walk to the Capitol Building, the entire Capitol Mall, Willamette University and the Salem Hospital campus.

South of Salem to Buena Vista Road: At the bottom of a bluff, along the Willamette River - mudslides are a problem (just like on the UP between Salem and Canby). There are at least a half-dozen underpasses that require replacement. Few if any suitable locations for sidings.

Albany: Runs on street trackage along Water Avenue from the east end of the city through downtown. Dip underneath the P&W Toledo District bridge is a permanent slow order. Long trestle on west end of downtown requires replacement. No good location for a new depot unless trains stop in the middle of the street or the street is removed, or you build the station on a bike path. (Granted, the OE is closer to downtown Albany than the Amtrak station but not by much; the Amtrak station is along 99E and has a transit mall and much more parking availability. And it was just rehabilitated a couple years ago.)

The only real reason to upgrade the OE is to give a huge bailout to the P&W. On most of the routes there are only one or two freights a day operated on the line - if this were the NEC, it would be different; but for just a handful of passenger trains? It would be an awfully expensive railroad line for the taxpayers of Oregon to have to pay to maintain for comparatively little ridership; when a fruitful discussion with the UP could truly create a win-win for the taxpayers, the riders, UP and P&W by building a fast railroad down the valley akin to what BNSF has north of Vancouver. BNSF operates some 40-50 trains a day north of Vancouver and UP runs about 10 south of Portland; Amtrak runs twice as many trains north of Portland as they do south. UP stands to win by upgrading their railroad for the small cost of accommodating a few passenger trains. It's just that Oregon has no clue how to talk to the guys in Omaha; while Washington's investment in the BNSF has reaped huge rewards for both the railroad and the state and has turned WSDOT and BNSF into partners extending into BNSF's operation of the Sounder commuter rail service.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby westr » Thu Jul 02, 2009 6:26 pm

lbshelby wrote:Here's another way to look at it: which costs less, accommodating an additional 32-36 trains on a line already handling 20, or accommodating an additional 2-6 trains on a line already handling 8?


That's not the choice. The choice is between upgrading a line that already hosts Talgos at up to 79mph to host 6 more Talgos at up to 90 mph vs upgrading a 25mph freight line to handle 90mph Talgos. If UP has an additional 32-36 freight trains to run, then UP is responsible for increasing capacity to accomodate them and will have to make those upgrades regardless of whether they have 0, 2 or 6 Talgos to worry about. The only costs that should be in the UP option are those that UP wouldn't have to make without the Talgos, and that's part of my problem with the report's assumptions.

railohio wrote:So we're talking about the Oregon Electric? A former interurban? Why wouldn't it be well-suited for passenger service? Yes, some reinvestment will be needed but we're talking about a railroad that was built for speed.


The OE was never that fast. It was only considered "high-speed" when the alternative was a Model T Ford on bad roads, which is why passenger sevice ended in 1933. Once the roads were paved they were faster. According to "Willamette Valley Railways" by Richard Thompson, OE runs from Portland to Eugene took 3.5 to 5 hours. The "Supreme Court Limited" took 2 hours just to get from Portland to Salem. The average speed of the "Eugene Express" was 30.5 miles per hour. The OE even had sleeping car service between Portland & Eugene from 1913 to 1919 on a very extended 10-hour overnight schedule for a 122-mile trip. The OE was a classy and luxurious interurban, but was not extrememly fast.

wigwagfan wrote:BNSF operates some 40-50 trains a day north of Vancouver and UP runs about 10 south of Portland


Based on my time at my old job in Oregon City within sight of the UP line and the number of UP trains I hear at night from my place near Milwaukie, lbshelby's estimate of 20 trains per day sounds closer for the UP south of Brooklyn.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby lpetrich » Sun Jul 05, 2009 6:59 am

I had to check the OP's link to find out where the OE line goes. It's

Portland - Lake Oswego - Tualatin - Wilsonville - Salem Front St. NE - Roberts - NE Albany UP line - Albany Water Ave. - Harrisburg - near UP line - Junction City - Eugene

The UP line goes

Portland - Milwaukie - Clackamas - Oregon City - Canby - Woodburn - Salem 12th St. NE - Jefferson - NE Albany OE line - Albany Pacific Blvd. - Harrisburg - near OE line - Junction City - Eugene

This route includes some street running in Salem and Albany, and PB's study includes some proposals to use the UP line in downtown Albany and between Junction City and Eugene. The former option will require a UP-OE track connection in south Albany.

They could go with a partial option: use the OE line north of either Albany or Salem, and the UP south of that crossover place.
I-5 distance:
Total route length: 111 mi
Crossover at Salem: 50, 66 mi
Crossover at Albany: 70, 44 mi
(extra distance due to departing from I-5 and returning to it)

But even there, they would still have to build the connection at Tualatin that would be necessary for the route.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby AgentSkelly » Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:49 pm

I know PNWR would pretty much welcome such upgrades, but however if we offer the same to UP, would they take it? I just think that they would not want such upgrades with a catch of more passenger services on their lines as well, they don't care for passenger service.

But as for the PNWR, I think we need to step up the upgrades...since we bascially are reinventing the wheel, lets design the system to work at 100 MPH. Yes, I know a PTC system will have to be put in among other things, but we can then use the Talgos to their potential. And lets future proof the MOW for electrification.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby lbshelby » Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:42 pm

None of the issues raised here are beyond engineering solutions.

Cities that the OE does not pass through that the UP line does pass through are irrelevant if they do not currently have an Amtrak station.

The numbered list I provided is an assessment of how each of the parties at the table for this study views this proposal, not an argument for or against. The validity or public interest of any of the parties -- including how much PWNR might or might not benefit on public money -- is for you to speculate, but it has no bearing on whether or not G&W is in favor of the project. If they gained an inordinate amount of money from the public coffers, that will bolster their support if anything.

The experience of rerouting an Amtrak train on an existing, unsignalized segment of the OE for an emergency movement is in no way comparable to any experience that an Amtrak passenger would have post-move.

Again, this is a preliminary study. It does not have the level of detail being debated here and nor should it. That will come later in the process. In the meanwhile, if people wish to debate it, oppose it, or consider it a waste of money, that's their right. None of that, however, changes the fact that all parties at the table have been positive and supportive, and are likely to remain so.
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Re: Moving Cascades trains to the OE line

Postby Vincent » Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:27 am

Oregon has filed a pre-application for an ARRA/HSIPR grant of over $2.1 bn, which includes money (~$1.8bn) for 110 mph electrification of the route between Portland and Eugene. The pre-application, however, doesn't clearly state whether it's the OE or UP route that they are planning to upgrade. Anybody know which route is in the plan?

Oregon's HSIPR pre-application: http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/RAIL/docs/AR ... WRC_OR.pdf
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