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Ray Whitford

The CRC Committee rolled their eyes when I asked that high speed rail be designed into the new bridge. But that committee only was looking for a replacement road for the current roadway over the Columbia.

So the idea of dedicated HSR corridors in Oregon and Washington are not being considered in any way, shape, or form if the two DOT's cannot agree to save the billion on a new bridge down the road. Just designing into the new bridge a HSR corridor that says "We are serious about Amtrak and HSR" would have sent a message about our future.

Up to 6 Billion dollars and all we really get for our future is a bridgehead into Vancouver for Light Rail.

We should add 2 Billion dollars to this decision because a separate bridge will be needed down the road for HSR.

Ray Whitford


So true and let's get B.C. involved as well. Either that or get a law passed that state and federal legislators can travel by train only - presto!


I have been screaming for a west coast bullet train forever! San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, all linked by west coast high-speed rail. Hell, throw in Vancouver B.C. and Tijuana if you can convince the DHS. It'd be immensely popular if it could compete with the airlines on price.

The hard part: getting the right-of-way. Most tracks were laid back when the West was a wilderness -- now every scrap of it is owned by rich people. Government can impound land for this kind of thing, but it'd take a lot of political will. People need to be convinced of the idea first.

Also, there's natural enemies to such a project: it would compete directly with the airlines and the freeway infrastructure.

Nevertheless, this is at least deserving of serious study. (hasn't anybody studied this yet?)


As much fun as it is to ride on fast trains and be delivered into the center of a city, the population densities on the West Coast do not lend themselves well to High Speed Rail outside of a few key corridors. California is proceeding with a proposal to implement a system to include its major cities.


However, it is unlikely that we would ever see a high speed connection between Northern California and the Willamette Valley as the distances are too vast. There are no other examples of a high speed route across such a distance, connecting so few population centers.


European auto drivers pay about 200 billion euros in gas and other highway-use taxes each year. About half of that is spent on roads while most of the rest subsidizes European rail lines. Yet those rail lines carried only 7.4 percent of passenger travel in 2000, down from 9.6 percent in 1980. European autos, meanwhile, carry more than 78 percent of passenger travel.
Ari Vatanen, a member of the European Parliament, observes that “not a single high-speed track built to date has had any perceptible impact on the road traffic carried by parallel motorways.” It seems that Europeans are actually losing mobility, paying exorbitant auto taxes to subsidize a rail system whose importance is steadily declining.

Why would we want to continue to follow this failed path?


Andrew's got it exactly right: Distances between the big West Coast cities are just too great to make rail travel a realistic alternative to air travel.

I guess maybe you could make the case for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Diego (125 miles) or even Portland and Seattle (175 miles). But beyond that, the distances are too great for railroads -- a 19th-century technology, by the way -- to ever make up for the time advantage air travel offers. Even LA to San Francisco is a 400-mile trip.

It might make sense to do high-speed rail in the Northeast, where you've got lots of really big cities all lined up right next to one another. But LA to Portland or San Francisco to Seattle by train? Forget it. There's no way to make rail trips like that practical for anyone but a few leisure travelers, no matter how fast you could get the trains to go.


nwig, do the statistics you quote really indicate a decline in the importance of the european rail system? An increased use of auto transportation, perhaps yes, but a decline in the importance of passenger rail? Doubtful.

Realistically, despite those statistics indicating that over a 30 yr period, autos represent a 22% increase in passenger travel, could Europe really do without it's very extensive rail system?

Rail takes the pressure off streets and highways, making increased auto use possible. It also helps to distribute transportation accessibilty equitably across income levels.

I've never really been a fan of bullet trains. People needing to get somewhere that fast might as well fly.

Brian Libby

I disagree. French bullet trains average 185 miles an hour. It's about 635 miles from Portland to San Francisco. A nonstop train trip on Amtrak-only tracks could be done in 4 hours. It's still twice as long as flying, but twice as FAST as driving. And some of us much prefer staying on the ground.

Obviously high speed rail is more applicable between cities like Portland and Seattle, but don't underestimate rail's potential in a future transportation network. The way the population is growing, we'll need a spectrum of air, train and auto options. And new train technologies are being pioneered all the time, such as magnetic trains in Japan. I even once saw a Discovery Channel documentary on an ocean-floor train across the Atlantic envisioned for 50 years in the future that'd get one from New York to England in a few hours. I think we can handle Portland to San Francisco or at least Portland to Seattle.


An upgrade in train travel is long overdue on the West Coast. There is a growing desire for travel from one major city to another in the west by urban professionals and others for work and pleasure that don't involve cars or planes.

I have family and friends in Seattle, Portland and Eugene whom I visit by train because I find it more relaxing than driving and far less expensive than flying. I do drive to these places if time crunch or mobility is a major issue. A faster more reliable rail system would encourage more people to try other forms of transportation. Raising the consciousness about transportation other than complaining about rush hour traffic is needed.

The idea for bullet trains from major cities in the west is a good one that needs more research and support from key government officials. Raising funds i.e. taxes for a project of this scale would be a major obstacle.

I have not traveled on the Euro-rail system but it does stand as the prime example on how to do it on a large scale. It seems like California would be more likely to be able to implement a test case for high speed rail than a combined Oregon and Washington. OR and WA can't even agree on investing in a light-rail system over the Columbia.


There's no question you can do stuff like this technically -- linking the entire 1,500 miles of the West Coast by high-speed rail, for instance, or maybe even that pie-in-the-sky under-ocean train between the U.S. and Europe. The question always is: At what cost? Could they really connect Portland and San Francisco by high-speed rail at a cost that wouldn't be so outrageously expensive nobody could afford to ride that train? I doubt it. They're now saying it'll cost up to $6 BILLION just to build a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia. (And if they're saying that now, you can be sure that by the time it gets done, the actual cost will by closer to $20 billion.)

High-speed rail works for western Europe and Japan, but not on our West Coast, not only because they're smaller but because those places had major population centers close together in the 19th century, when the railroad industry was booming and expanding. The flaw in your argument, Brian, is that nobody makes huge investments like this in infrastructure simply because it would be nice or because "some people would prefer" to travel this way. You do it because either (a) it's the most efficient thing to do (and railroads aren't, not anymore) or (b) becuase you can make a profit off of the investment.

I'd love to take that nonstop train ride you propose from Portland to San Francisco in under four hours. The problem is, even if they built such a thing, that trip wouldn't BE nonstop. People in Portland and San Francisco would love it if it were, but all the people in between who are going to be paying for that line -- in Eugene, Corvallis, Medford, Ashland, Eureka, Redding, Davis, Napa, Sacramento -- are going to be none too happy about paying for an expensive rail line that doesn't stop anywhere near where they can use it. So even an "express" train between PDX and San Francisco will need to make four or five stops along its 635-mile journey. And suddenly it's not a four-hour trip anymore; it's six.


I relate to the practical considerations Carlo raises that may at some time make the greater case for high speed rail. If the money or economic need for it comes to exist, it might well be built.

To be fair, I've never ridden HSR, but I've read some alarming things about them. The environmental and livability concerns; noise, disruption, etc. are substantial.

Except for the time savings, from a visual and otherwise aesthic perspective, I wonder just how well people really enjoy being zipped across the landscape at 185 mph. Kind of nice not to miss things with a blink of an eye.


THe land is already there and available. Just run the train down the center of I-5.


One other point: If Amtrak's high-speed Acela in the Northeast is "very successful" -- and even that's debatable -- it isn't because Amtrak owns the tracks or even because Acela is that good. It's because the whole Acela line is only 400 miles long -- the distance between LA and San Francisco -- and in that 400 miles you've got a bazillion people crammed closely together in six major business centers (Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington) and a bunch of smaller cities. Which is to say, it's unique. It is the one spot in America where high-speed rail may actually be the most efficient way to get around.

The only way you'd even begin to approach a similar population density in so small an area on the West Coast would be if San Diego, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver all happened to be located BETWEEN Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then it would make sense to connect them all by high-speed rail.


Excellent point Carlo. Note also that France has built its high speed rail in increments and over many years.Paris to Lyon is closer than Portland to Klamath Falls. I would like to see an improved, much faster (how about 120 mph), more reliable service between Portland and Seattle with a stop INSIDE Sea-Tac airport. I am a big fan of trains and subways, but the reality is they cost a lot and unless you have a central government building them with tax money it takes forever. PS:I don't think the I5 median is very scenic by the way, I prefer Crater Lake from the plane window.


The west coast could support two high-speed rail lines: Vancouver BC to Eugene, Oregon and San Francisco to San Diego. There really isn't anything between Eugene and San Francisco with a population great enough to support much rail service.

As far as new rail lines, we probably don't need them. We need to upgrade the existing lines for high speed travel, prioritize passenger traffic, and use double-tracking along selected segments to allow freight trains to pull aside to make way for high-speed rail. The use of precise scheduling and signaling should keep everything running on time.

(This would require increased subsidies, since the federal or state government(s) would need to pay the railroads for track priority, as well as new track where needed and improved maintenance. However, the public investment could benefit both passenger and freigh travel.)


California is currently at the brink (hopefully) to begin really planning a high speed rail network. The current basic plan would to link every major city from San Diego to San Fran (including Sacramento) with 200 mph trains. Some estimates put the need for expanded freeways and airports at over $35 billion over the next 20 years; a high speed rail network (which primarily competes against airlines) at around $20 billion.

The NW - Portland to Vancouver could probably do quite well with an 'almosmt-high speed rail' service, which in fact is exactly what WSDOT is planning in a multi-billion dollar upgrade to the Washington state rail network that links Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver.

Also, as far as cost: both the French TGV and Japan's JR Railways turn a profit (beyond the capital investment, which is a lot of money). These countries have sunk an enormous amount of money into their systems.

Lastly, France just broke 553 kph (343 mph) in testing their TGV a week ago... and even Turkey is opening their first 350 mile high-speed rail line this year.


Also, here is a slightly out-of-date high speed rail map of Europe, clearly showing which regions and cities are connected.




French TGV travelling 558 kph/346 mph.


Private Swiss rail lines make a profit. (note the "private"). For the most part, the government isn't too good at this stuff.

Our private freight lines are expanding in the US while, at the same time, government freight lines in Europe are in a decline. The European Union says the share of European freight moved by rail declined from 22 percent in 1980 to 14 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation says the share of U.S. freight moved by rail increased from 31 percent in 1980 to 39 percent in 2000. Seventy-five percent of European freight moves by truck versus just 28 percent in the U.S.


nwig, are those statistics from the same source or derived from the same study? Somehow they seem a little contradictory. 75% of European freight moves by truck? I would have thought just the opposite would be true.




nwig, thanks for the link. Quite an article. The statistics you quoted make sense after reading the article. According to the article, over there, current political relationships between countries seems to be the major obstacle to greater use of trains for moving freight.

It basically predicts that rail use will increase as all the different countries come to terms with each other, in no small part because european roads and highways are approaching capacity and fuel costs are becoming prohibitively expensive.


It seem to me that privatization would go a long way to create a more successful system like ours.


nwig, regarding the situation in europe described in the article, it appears that private enterprise has created a successful outcome according to the example provided. This success is limited only because goverments have yet to get their act together. You're not suggesting privatization of the government are you?...just joking.

All those countries have to get their priorities straightened out so they can come to agreements that benefit everybody. The U.S. has been comparatively more successful in the area of freight transport because it recognizes the importance of such agreements across state borders.

I'm not sure what needs to be done to dramatically boost passenger rail service between major metropolitan cities in this country, but I'd like to see it happen because personally, I hate flying. The 50's train service was class travel, but that's a long time past now. Wonder if we'll ever see something like those days again.


I have ridden the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Kyoto which is about the distance between Portland and San Francisco. (By the way, the food on the train is equivalent to airline food, so most people pick up bento and carry it on.) Trains follow that route at no less than 1 hour spacings, sometimes as frequent as 15 minutes between 6AM and about midnight. Express trains now make the trip in under 3 hours; local, in about 4. All luggage is carry on, trains stop in each station for 90 seconds. The JR tracks are dedicated to passengers. The tracks are welded. While commercial airlines operate at airspeed almost 3 times the Shinkansen's groundspeed, airports cannot be where people live, unlike train stations. What does drive, park, security, baggage add to air travel time?

Somehow I'm skeptical that a "too cheap to meter" nuclear electric-hydrogen fueled transportation system of American-built highway land cruisers will prove out about as well as manned travel to Mars, so maybe by then, ripping out a few lanes of the existing interstate for passenger rail might. Certainly in the immediate term, rights of way need to be assiduously preserved.


Rob: The distance between Tokyo and Kyoto is only 230 miles, which is only a bit more than one-third the distance between Portland and San Francisco (635 miles). Japan as a whole is a little smaller than California, but it has almost four times as many people (34 million in California, 127 million in Japan), which of course is why spending all that money on high-speed rail makes perfect sense in a place like Japan. It's small and crowded.

You can look anywhere in the world, and I don't think you'll find a place where high-speed rail is really efficient and successful over an area longer than about 400 miles.


I have ridden both the TGV from Paris to Lyon and the Eurostar from Brussels to London and will say the high speed rail is the worlds best way to travel, quite, comfortable and fast. Maybe private jet is better, but I wouldn't know.

When you add in the drive, parking, check-in, security, delays and often multiple transfers to air travel you are you usually have to add 3-4 hours to your trip. Not to mention the absolute chaos that passes for a US airport these days. Rail travel is a simple matter of showing up 5-10 minutes before departure right downtown and stepping onto the train. For distances of under 300 miles rail wins every time, from 300-900 miles is a toss up and over 900 miles air wins. It's time we invest at least in the Portland-Seattle-BC line. The more choices for transportation the better.


I agree with the poster above. Air travel clearly will never stop getting stupider and more annoying. Bring back the trains.


I just don't understand any of this conversation as it relates to a comparison between rail travel time and plane travel time. Just think about this in regards to business travellers. Let's say that you have a high speed mag rail (think Asia) system in place between Seattle and Portland. At 265 mph this would take all of 45 minutes. Think about not having to go through all the fun and games of post 9/11 airport security. Think about not having to drive to, and then from, the airport. Compare it to driving - 3 hours, and then having to deal with traffic. Think of this same system between PDX and San Fran. Using ws's numbers above, 635 miles would go by in 2 1/2 hours. That's almost on par with plane travel (including security/waiting times).
This is only a consideration of times as compared to plane travel. I think there are other conveniences associated with rail travel when thinking of business trips.
You can use your cell phone.
You can have the use of a real table to spread your lap top out on. There are plug ins for a lap top or other electrical devices.
You can see where you are at.
Train stations are inherently more centrally located within a city.

This is another one of those "we need to start thinking towards the future".
i.e. just think if there was a high speed rail system in place on the west coast for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Tired of crossing the border in a cramped car with 2 upset kids in the back seat? Get away and go to the bar. : )


I'd love to take a really quick and convenient high-speed rail trip as much as anyone (actually I have taken some, in Europe, and loved every minute of them). The problem is, all the people posting here about how fas high-speed rail would get us from Point A to Point B are really overselling the benefits of high-speed rail.

Several have commented above about trains going 200 mph (like Zilfondel) or 265 mph (like Matt). Others have posted about France's TGV going 343 or 346 mph. But they all ignore the fact that such trains only travel at those speeds for a relatively small portion of their trips, typically when they're traveling through wide-open spaces on flat ground.

If you look at the TGV's timetables online, you'll see that the trip from Paris to Lyon (245 miles) takes 2 hours. Paris to Marseille (400 miles) takes 3 hours and 15 minutes. In both those cases, the "average" speed is only 120 miles an hour. (The rail fans also all assume the trip between Portland and Seattle or Portland and San Francisco would be nonstop. They have to do that because if they don't the times just don't come out in their favor. But such trips are NEVER nonstop. And it's all the stops that really kill any advantage high-speed rail might offer.)

Yes, flying these days is really an ordeal. And yes, high-speed rail would probably be more fun. But you just can't ignore the fact that creating high-speed rail where it doesn't now exist will be astronomically expensive. Nor can you ignore the laws of physics: A plane traveling between Portland and San Francisco at 550 miles an hour will be able to cover that 635-mile distance in little more than an hour. A train averaging 120 mph, and stopping periodically along the way, will never be able to do it in less than six.

Brian Libby

I think by now we can mostly all agree that Portland to San Francisco high speed rail is less plausible. But I think a Northwest corridor betwen Portland, Seattle and Vancouver is very viable. Ultimately we'll need planes, trains and automobiles as part of a comprehensive inter-city transit system for the region.


Others here have given good reasons why the dream of HSR might not equate to the reality. Money as always, seems to play a big part in this.

I have to say, I don't really know what condition the rail between L.A.-Portland-Seattle currently is, but bits and pieces here and there tell me it still is generally poor. One track should be upgraded and modernized to run a non-stop fast train between those points a couple times a day. Maybe L.A. to Portland. L.A. to Seattle.

Lots of professionals must be making that commute. If keeping the sought after speed below 100mph makes this economically do-able compared to HSR, why wait to do the latter? The time to move is now.

Trains have a unique appeal despite air travel's advantage, mainly in terms of speed. It seems smart to develop on that. Show people what rail can better offer them in certain situations over plane travel.

Having said that, I don't think it's too smart to expect trains in the future to be free from a more intense security check than exists now. Terrorists can blow up trains too as they did in Spain. T.E. Lawrence showed arabs how to do that very effectively.


Yes, the average speed of high speed rail may be 120 mph, but for a Portland to Seattle run that's almost 2x the speed of driving and probably 3x considering the traffic. As for the cost consider how pricey air and auto travel will likely become as fuel costs increase. High speed rail generally runs on electrified lines which can be powered by renewable resources. Also consider how much money is put into airport expansions, freeways and airplanes (about $75M/ea.) and I'll bet high speed rail looks a lot better. The initial investment however is steep.


I found this link a bit late but for what its worth.....

I wonder how many people in this discussion have lived in an area with a sucessful high speed rail system?

Yep it takes money. Lets look at the subsidies GM, Ford, Crysler, Boeing, etc etc etc have received in the past, say, 15 years. I chose 15 years because most sucessful high speed rail systems worldwide use this as a benchmark in forecasting/planning.

Now who would want to go from center of town to center of town, with your bags, on time 80% of the time? And you can choose to sleep, eat, drink, work, etc, when you want to during the trip? Oh yeah. Cell phones work too. Wifi also.

Alright. Now the proposal that was crushed by the special lobbiests in Florida, well they ruined the 45 minute transit time proposed high speed link from Tamba Bay to Orlando (again center of town to center of town, with bags, on time).

And yes, the very first proposal for high speed trains in the US........the state of Texas! And those lobbiests absolutly destroyed any thought of that. Who was in charge of Texas back then anyway?

Lets face it. Until the interstates become parking lots---anyday now---enjoy the traffic! The French, and France (size of Texas), have budgeted in their plans to get to the hardest to reach spot in their country, the Southeast, in 4 hours, withing the next 5-10 years. Over 550 miles. Truely amazing and a tix one way for about $100.

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