Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Dan Petegorsky

The current closure of I-5 due to flooding in Washington and the failure of Amtrak as an alternative mode of surface transportation underscore yet again the woeful inadequacy of the West Coast rail system. At just the moment when energy, time and cost efficient transportation between our major cities is most needed, the system couldn’t be in worse shape.

John Judis has an excellent piece this morning arguing that what Obama has put forward thus far for his stimulus package is far short of what’s needed – and makes a good case that a major investment in high speed rail could be a vital missing element.

I’m sure that the desire to find “shovel ready” projects will speed up/intensify discussions of the proposed new I-5 bridge. But Judis’ piece reminds us that more important than the bridge itself is the question of what kinds of vehicles will move over the bridge (and I-205 as well), and how much in need we are of a really functional train system here in the West.


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    The Portland/Seattle corridor seems a fairly obvious place for high speed rail. My experience has been that the Portland/Eugene leg is in even more dire need of an upgrade, and that could go a long way toward bringing Portland, Salem, and Eugene "closer" economically, perhaps giving an economic lift to the whole corridor.

    I agree with Dan, though, the I-5 at Centralia and maybe (please please please) the Sellwood can be "shovels up" projects that should get an immediate go.

  • Stefan (unverified)

    Oregon seems like one of the most natural places in the U.S. to implement a long-distance rail system. At least 2/3 of the population lives along the I-5 corridor from Ashland to Portland. Even better, most of them still live in fairly dense, discrete communities, thanks to our progressive zoning laws, making the distribution of stops a no-brainer. As a Jackson County resident without a car, it'd be really nice to be able to commute up or down the Rogue River Valley, or to visit Eugene or Portland without investing in a rental car. Believe me, I'd take that choice in a second.

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    For those interested in transportation investments, I recommend this piece from Michael Ronkin about the benefits of sidewalks (and their demand for them), this piece about how much transit people want, and this chance to speak out how we should be investing in transportation.

    To create jobs and spur the economy, we need to invest in road maintenance and transportation options first.

  • ws (unverified)

    I've never ridden a high speed train. With what I've learned so far from documentaries and reading, about those that are in France, Japan, and Korea, my feeling is that a high speed train is something I wouldn't particularly welcome. There are a number of serious and negative environmental and quality of life issues associated with them.

    Being shot over the landscape at such a high rate of speed isn't my idea of pleasurable travel, either. Certainly though, rail travel has the potential to be a great mode of transportation. For that to be realized here in the states, a lot of improvement in the quality of passenger rail service, from what exists presently, needs to happen. I suppose a high speed train may be an unavoidable requirement to get a level of ridership that would support those improvements.

  • Becky (unverified)

    I don't really see how high-speed rail is going to solve the problems we are facing with our current rail system, particularly during inclement weather. Unless we have more tracks, there are only so many trains that can run at a given time without crashing into each other. And until we can solve problems like bridges in Portland freezing up so trains can't cross (as happened just before Christmas) and railroad tracks being flooded, high speed rail won't make a whit of difference in the winter.

    Unless I'm missing something ...

  • Terry Parker (unverified)

    The closure of I-5 and the interruption of interstate commerce also demonstrates the inadequacy of and need for improvements, including more capacity, to our roadway system.

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    Yes. Obviously something needs to be done about I-5 at Centralia. It's not as if the PNW has a rain problem. ; )

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    i really DO NOT want to bash government; however the issue in the Centralia/Chehalis corridor has been well known and documented. According to published reports this area has been shut down for multiple days due to this type flooding at least 4 times in the past 22 years. That is 2 times too many.

    A fix was identified and numbers published in 2003. Here we are over 5 years later and NOTHING has been done. Washington state estimates that their econnomy takes about a $4MM hit each day that I-5 can not be open.

    I have nothing against highspeed trains, but find that government needs to fix the obvious before going off after the high dollar, untested fad.

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    Highspeed trains are not a "high dollar untested fad." They have a long history in Europe and even in the NE corridor.

    Yes, we need to fix Centralia but let's fix blame squarely where it is deserved--the Bush administration, as pointed out in today's O story, has specifically cut funding for the Centralia repair for the past few years.

    I don't see why this is an either/or. Centralia needs to be fixed. But so does the Amtrak and train lines if they are also being flooded.

  • left behind (unverified)

    "John Judis has an excellent piece this morning arguing that what Obama has put forward thus far for his stimulus package is far short of what’s needed "

    Obama better get his act together. Im tired of seeing people like Obama claiming they'll support mass transit, and alternative transportation, only to see them change their minds once elected.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    paul g, with all due respect, the PNW is not the NE corridor or Europe. Here it would take BILLIONS to build a rail to handle a Bullet Train capacity. There is also the issue of how heavily subsidized the NE Amtrak trains are. How would such a subsidy be handled in the relatively sparsely populated corridor between Eugene and Seattle?

    Also, where would we get the equipment? Oh I know, Portland is part owner of a rail car company in Colorado. they even have some half-assed equipment for sale.

  • debt settlement (unverified)

    That seems realistic enough.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Being shot over the landscape at such a high rate of speed isn't my idea of pleasurable travel, either.

    Though sitting on a piece of asphalt for 4 hours while dodging 16 year olds talking on their cells and watching wildlife dodge traffic is just hunky dory! Resisting the urge to recreate while bored is an important character building exercise. On a train you could go to the bev car and get a beer. No character. Next thing you know, you'll be reading. Real Americans buy audio books for the morning commute or already know it all.

    I have done both. You're right, there's no comparison. Highways are important. Without their being there to leverage that great American "I've only did that one way before, and, dang, I never do anything different", it would have been much harder to eviscerate the 4th amendment. "Besides, that sounds like something them Europeans would do. We ain't friggin' French, pardumb mine". "Safety checks" were just as important as the War on Drugs- oh, that was expanded on the highways too- in effectively removing its provisions from the Bill of Rights. Nothing good has ever come from the highway system. willing to concede Ralph Nader?

    Some of this is rural paranoia. Think about it. High unemployment in PDX. You need a job. Translate the cost/time of a bad PDX commute to a high-speed train and how far does that get you. Pretty far into the hinterlands, where they don't want your (unemployed) kind.

  • ws (unverified)

    "Being shot over the landscape at such a high rate of speed isn't my idea of pleasurable travel, either."

    That's my comment, and actually, I like trains just fine at speeds of 60mph-90mph. These speeds allows people riding on the train to actually take in some of the country passing by. Less so at 175mph-250mph and ever higher speeds. I'm sure though, that there's a lot of regular commuting people to whom this makes no difference.

    Is the lack of a 200+mph train over the current speed of trains between Portland and Seattle the major reason more people aren't taking the train instead of enduring the drudgery of a car trip between those two cities? Maybe, but if so, they don't seem to making much of a request for such a train, and I don't blame them.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Drive from Portland Burbs to Seattle Burbs = 3 hours easy

    Drive from Portland Burbs to Bullet Station = 1/2 hour

    Park, get ticket, board etc = 1/2 hour

    Ride to Seattle Bullet Train Station = 1 hour

    Disembark, get transportation to Seattle Burbs = 1/2 hour

    Drive/Ride from Seattle station to burbs = 1/2 hour

    Absolutely NO time saved.

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    Love that you don't include parking times, and that you presume people want to go the burbs, and that you don't think anyone's doing any work on the bullet train.

    My math looks more ike: Drive from Portland to Seattle - 3 1/2 hours, 30 minutes of it stressful traffic. Parking - plus 15 minutes. Total, 3 hrs, 55 mins.

    Bus from home to train station - 20 minutes. Get ticket, board, etc. - 20 minutes. Train - 1 hr. Transportation to downtown Seattle - 15 minutes. Total time = 1 hr, 55 mins. And an hour-plus of that I did work on my laptop.

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    Sorry, I meant 3 hrs, 45 mins for the drive/park.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Evan, I should have been more clear. People, for the most part live in the burbs. you actually helped make my point. the one glaring fallacy of rapid transit in general, and those who believe Bullet Trains to be a panacea for The West is that EVRYONE wants to end up in the city downtown area.

    the failed Seattle Rapid Transit plan of about 8-10 years ago found this reality out the hard way. Many Seattlecommuters wnat to go from one byrb to the other and avoid the Seattle downtown altogether.

    Check out the new triple 7? One goes to Everett. Make a sales presentation to Kenworth? Renton or Kirkland. Drop in on Gates and Microsoft? Redmond. Check out the Cruise industry? Eliott Bay and Ballard. Get in on much of the uber chic highrise developments? Bellevue.

    None of these are w/in 20 minutes of the downtown core of Seattle in public transportation with the possible exception of Eliott Bay.

    I make the Seattle commute on a regular basis and have NEVER taken over 3 hours; even with the allegedly stressful traffic. also Evan, check out your math. 3 1/2 hours travel plus 15 minutes parling would be 3 hours 45 minutes. At least that is what they tought in SC public schools when I graduated from High School. Of course I could be wrong as well :-)

  • ws (unverified)

    Tried to find a link for the documentary that PBS ran a few months back, on the development and construction of the Korean KTX. It's worth watching. The KTX is quite an engineering marvel and a significant technological step forward over its high speed predecessors. Still, especially with all its drawbacks, I really wonder if something like this is really going to effectively address the kinds of transportation problems our modern society is up against.

  • Judi (unverified)

    Posted by: Kurt Chapman | Jan 11, 2009 1:51:23 PM

    Evan, I should have been more clear. People, for the most part live in the burbs.

    <h2>u have a loose definition of "people".</h2>

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