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High speed would be incredible! Until the passenger trains get their own rails or take priority over freight (yeah right) then the experience will be nothing but frustrating or second class. High speed talgo cars with express trips avoiding every little town along the north south corridor could beat auto times easily. I would take amtrack to Seattle, Vancouver BC, Los Angelos, or even Eugene in a heartbeat if it wasn't as disappointing as the last miserable trip I took on amtrack.



Salem is the second largest city in Oregon.

First the wrong location on the Falsetto thing and now this hehe.

(sorry to be a jerk)


"Salem is the second largest city in Oregon."

yeah, but not by much


Salem - 149,305
Eugene - 148,595

But when you add the surrounding areas of Springfield and Keizer, then you can easily see why Brian wrote what he did.

Springfield - 57,065
Keizer - 34,880

(sorry to be a jerk)


Amtrak puts you on a bus(!) if you want to go to Vancouver BC "by train". You go (I think) to Seattle, and then off you go on a bus. Pathetic. I share Brian's desire for a high speed rail link North to South from (at least) Seattle to Eugene. Even something similar to Acela between DC and Boston would be something...


Oh, I just remembered the region couldn't agree to even extend light rail across the river to Vancouver WA. Imagine trying to agree on an expensive high speed rail line.

Brian Libby

Miguel, thanks for your concern about Portland Architecture scheduling and fact-checking. Sorry if you were one of the ones I sent to the wrong Falsetto event location. In the future, I will try and crack the whip some more for the website's fact-checking and scheduling staff (current population: zero) to be better sticklers for accuracy.


In addition to the bus service that AMTRAK runs from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, there's a daily Seattle-to-Vancouver train. However, the train departs from Seattle at 7:40 AM, making it impossible to travel through from Portland to Vancouver without arranging an overnight stay in Seattle. This seems insane... The good news is that, after years of negotiation with the BC government, agreement has been reached on upgrades to BC track that will permit the addition of an afternoon train from Portland through to Vancouver. By next Summer, it should be possible to board a train at Union Station in Portland and get off six (?) hours later at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver. [http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Rail/AmtrakCascades/2ndTrain.htm]


Back in the early '90s Amtrak and the states of Washington and Oregon got together and realized the oportunity to implement a high-er speed rail corridor between Eugene and Seattle. They jointly funded the equipment upgrade in the form of the Talgo trainsets and agreed to allow Amtrak to operate it. Further plans were in the works for track and station upgrades. The trains are capable if 124 mph, but now 74 due to existing track and right of way deficiencies. Problem was, when Oregon ran out of money after 9/11, that funding vanished, service greatly decreased on the Oregon side, and track and station improvements were out of the question. These major failures are the obvious result of a state which has a political leadership deficit. Meanwhile Washington state is ambitiously expanding service.

I have made this horrible trip on i-5 and every time, I come to the same conculsion as you. There is no solution but to spend billions of dollars connecting the valley with HSR with dedicated right-of-way, modern transit hubs with large park & ride capacity in Eugene, Corvallis, Salem and Portland. This is the sort of long-term vision Sam Adams spoke to at City Club a month ago. It is however, completely lacking anywhere else in elected government and in red counties.

I think the public should be presented with a fair campaign of facts to help them understand the Eugene - Salem - Portland -(Seattle) problem. If you figure in the cost to the state in the form of decreased productivity, maintenance, and near term projects like: the i-5 columbia river crossing, widening the freeway from Salem to Eugene. This sum is in the 10's of billions, the i-5 bridge alone is 4-6 billion and will surely be much more knowing how official estimates are.

There is no question that the people of the Willamette valley can comprehend this issue. It remains to be seen if the rest of the state can and will do the right thing. Raise taxes and build it.


The I-5 traffic problem is also glaring approaching Seattle from the South! I am getting a fat state tax refund check from Oregon this year. They don't seem to think they need the money for anything! So when the times are bad the state of Oregon is running deficits but when the times are good it has to return the surplus! It is a lose lose situation for the State budget. Maybe the Legislature should meet every year, since we are now a grwon up State (and not a frontier territory)or are we not?


Maybe the Washington County Commuter rail could someday extend to Salem... and beyond!


Brian Libby

I think that's an intriguing idea. Why not build on what we have? Another possibility would be to extend part of the Washington County commuter rail to Yamhill County so people in Newberg and McMinnville can get to Portland that way too. And in that case, the train could double as a transportation means for wine country tourists. Wasn't there even an article recently about somebody trying to drum up support for a wine country train anyway?

Randy Rapaport

Road conditions are just now at the point where incremental increases in the number of cars on the road.

It will get much worse over in the future. There are no practical solutions for increasing the infrastructure.

We do not have the political leadership or the money to improve conditions.

The smart and lucky folks like you and I will chose to live close-in, use public transportation when we can and learn from the hipster kids who walk, bike and skateboard.

Sean Casey


Enjoyed reading your post about your recent traffic experience.

The issue of mass transit, infrastructure, and other matters are really out of my expertise, however the topic of car travel is something worth commenting on.

I've been without a car for more than a year. What started off as an inconvenience, has morphed into something else.

I walk, bike, bus, or Max it now.
Cars are a great convenience, not to mention a necessity if you're living in outlying areas. But given the benifit of living in Portland, one can get pretty much anywhere without one.

Driving in a car is an isolating experience. It's a self-contained environmentally controlled bubble that separates one from the elements and people.
Psychologists will tell you that isolation is not a mentally healthy experience, and when I look at the thousands of commuters on I-84 going 5mph, it has all the banality and horror of Beckett or Kafka. Thousands of hours of one's precious life being frittered away, never to return. It's a guilded cage. Traffic jams are an equal-opportunity frustrator. Whether you're in a jallopy or a Benz...makes no difference. You're stuck.

A large part of what keeps people in their car (I believe) is fear.
Fear of the elements. Fear of being late. Fear of the streets. Fear of other people. Isolation helps compound this fear.

I would hope people would not look to politicos and institutions to solve their transportation problems. Freeways will fill up to capacity as fast as they are built.

Perhaps a more meaniful solution to commuting would be to individually take stock of your life and ask whether the stress, cost, environmental concerns, etc... is worth being a Single occupancy commuter.

Believe me, I've been guilty of driving a two ton vehicle to pick up an 8-oz. item at the store. However, since going pretty carless, I've met new neighbors, kept myself reasonably fit, saved money, and enjoyed the elements. Probably just as important, my sense of time has expanded. The journey becomes entertaining as well.

Again, perhaps this doesn't tie in perfectly with your original post, but I appreciate the opportunity to comment.

Thanks, and take care.


Great and relevant post Sean.

I used to do the "commute" from Portland or Eugene to Salem, where I grew up, by bicycle every weekend. It's just over two hours from Portland and just three hours from Eugene if you're in good shape and have a fast bike.
It's humorous to see people head to the gym before or after their slow commute home, when they could have killed two birds with one stone and avoided the depression and stress of being caught in traffic by biking.

BTW: September is bike to work month!

Brian Libby

I agree, well said Sean. I have the luxury of working from home, and I live in Southeast Portland very close in, so I walk and bike lots of places. But going to places like Eugene or even across town, I do indeed use my car. Sometimes I regret it and sometimes I don't. I am definitely committed to avoiding auto travel as much as is reasonably possible. I'm for mass transit and walking/biking first, but I also still wish they'd add a lane to I-5 between Salem and Eugene.

Brian Libby

Incidentally, we seem to have some statisticians out there contributing, but no Fellini fans?


I dunno about adding an extra lane to I5. I've driven the Portland to Eugene stretch frequently for years and hate the gridlock. But with freeway construction costs exceeding $13,000 per FOOT (someone please verify that -- it's a vague recollection, not researched), I'd rather see the scarce transportation money going to dedicated passenger rail lines for I5, including the Columbia River bridge.

I've read that that single new bridge project, which would serve mostly Vancouver WA commuters, would consume practically all the federal transport money available for the region for years, would quickly fill up with more cars (as is the historical pattern) until gridlock again ensued, and would diminish or kill the incentive for people to take a new river-crossing Max. When drivers realize that it's faster and more convenient to use mass transit than to drive, many of them will do so, and that will reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions, save money that'd otherwise be going to Texas and Saudi Arabia, etc. etc.

I would certainly take the train to Eugene, Seattle and to Vancouver BC (all of which I've had to drive to this summer) if it were reliable and convenient. I couldn't take it to Vancouver this summer because of the Seattle stayover mentioned above. And I couldn't take it to Eugene because of frequent delays and inadequate number of runs per day.

Not everyone can do without a car on these inter-city trips, but I bet enough could to make rail feasible for plenty of travelers who now drive. Taking a train, and then bus, bike, or taxi when you get to the destination city could still be cheaper than paying for gas and parking fees for a car trip.
Given scarce resources, not to mention soaring gas prices, climate change, etc. etc., we should be investing in energy-efficient rail travel along I5, not more car lanes that contribute to sprawl and enable still more single-driver commuting.
Thanks for bringing this up, Brian. If anyone knows about the current state of advocacy for I5 rail, please weigh in.


Brian... no worries I was just busting your balls.

Convoolooted: I lived in Salem and I am moving to Eugene next month. What you said is true. Eugene is not the second largest city in Oregon though.

and back to Brian:
I understand that you are the only one writing this. That is often how blogs work and that is one of the reasons blogs have comments. You have your readers to fact-check for you so you can make retractions and show you know what's going on.

I was jokingly giving you ess about it but honestly I was trying to be a good reader and help you.

Brian Libby

Miguel, not to make this a Kum-ba-ya fest, but actually it was my bad. I want to make it clear to other readers that they're encouraged to correct me if I'm wrong on anything. Miguel, I was being a little sarcastic in tone when I responded to you, and that was not necessary. Like a lot of people, I have have a frustrating tendency sometimes to respond defensively to criticism/correction no matter whether it's fair or not. Still working on that, Dr. Freud. :)


Honestly, your sarcasm was probably an appropriate response to mine.

Anyway, we should probably hug now. :)

Mike O'Brien

Brian and Others,

If you can find it, there was an interview of Robert Liberty in the DJC last week (I think) that has a great deal of relevance to this discussion. I really appreciated his outlook on this issue.

I'm too lazy to find it for you but thought it worth mentioning.



As a former Portlander(?) and a current Seattleite, the topic of transportation is always of interest to me. A high speed train would be an amazing addition to tie the entire Northwest together. Unfortunately, reality is that as long as the GOP is idiotic/corrupt/archaic and the Democratics are completely inept at accomplishing anything, this will never happen. Our only hope is to get Paul Allen and Phil Knight to check their seat cushions and pull together the coin to make something like this happen.

Jim Heuer

Improved rail passenger transportation in Oregon and connecting our state to neighboring population centers is an urgent need, and there is, in fact, an organization dedicated to just that goal: AORTA, the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates.

This group is affiliated with the national organization NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers).

For AORTA info see:

For NARP see:

Passenger rail transport can never be expected to make profit as private enterprise operations, so most civilized countries of the world have set up funding mechanisms to provide this vital modal alternative. Unfortunately, political and ideological obstacles have crippled the US ability to do the same -- much to the detriment of our mobility and energy efficiency.

Unfortunately, we depend on for-profit private rail freight companies for most of the railroad infrastructure used by our passenger trains (the big exception being between Washington and Boston). That fact, more than any other, is why we are limited to the number of trains we have per day between Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. The Union Pacific, owner of the tracks is not particularly cooperative, but to be fair to them, they own a rail line that is bursting at the seams handling the current volume of freight and passenger traffic. Moreover, they are already spending well over $2 billion annually to improve capacity across their system and aren't keeping up with the demand. Some of that is going into the north-south line through Oregon, but not nearly enough.

While this is an architecture blog, transport is certainly a relevant side issue, since rail and highway transport shape the geographies of our communities, the land prices, and the quality of life. All of these create the context in which the architect must work.

I encourage the readers of this blog to get active in lobbying for better rail transport -- nothing will ever get done if there is no strong grass-roots support for it.


I feel particularly qualified to comment since I just got back from a rail/bus journey to Vancouver, BC. One would ask why a civilized man such as myself would subject himself to 9 hours of travel time each way rather than the 3 or 4 it would take to get to the airport and fly. I'll try and elucidate... For now, at least, by taking the train I avoid any moment in which I feel that I am giving up my constitutional right to person and property without unjust search. It is hard to explain the wonder of travel without x-rays to someone who is perhaps so accustomed to taking their shoes off for a man in uniform that it happens automatically. (This could change with increased rail traffic, I suppose.) In addition, I feel that the time I have traveling is like no other - I cannot be bothered to do anything else but read, look out the window, and think. I make and take a few phone calls, but this is at my discretion. And finally... $48 to Vancouver BC? Check your hourly rate and tell me whether thats not worth your while...

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