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Alexander Craghead


The current PDX-SEA average speed is 53 mph, not 42. It should edge slightly upward in a few years as well. That is faster than driving -- unless you drive like Michael Schumacher, anyway.

What you do not mention, but that should be good news, was the last round's grant to WS-DOT for $590 million, all to be placed between Seattle and Portland. While overall trip times won't decline much -- at least 6 minutes shorter, though possibly more -- on-tie performance should approach 98% and the number of round trips will increase, with capacity for additional RTs as financing permits.

WS-DOT's goal is to get to hourly departures between PDX and SEA, and I have no doubt that goal will be achieved.

Oregon, though, I admit is a bit... behind the times. And I'm being generous.

Nick Oakley

(At the risk of sounding pedantic, those are Spanish RENFE high speed trains in the photo at top)

53 MPH is achingly slow, and on a good day it takes 3 hours 30 minutes to rumble up to Seattle, compared to 2 hours 55 by car (Cautious Google Maps). The only justification for going by train is some intermittently good scenery, and over three hours in which to drain your laptop battery. Brought up on, and having worked on the design a few HSR trains, we really should expect a sub 2 1/2 hr dash to Seattle.

Interestingly however, The Economist makes the case that US freight rail leads the world and prioritizing HSR could ruin it.

Jim Heuer

Brian, thanks for bringing to light the odd juxtaposition of massive government hand wringing over the I-5 Columbia River crossing compared to the virtual silence on the issue of rail freight and passenger service and its role in the transport of the region. Much has been made of the age of the I-5 bridge, the oldest parts of which date to 1917, and its vulnerability to earthquakes and age related deterioration. Nothing at all has been mentioned about the parallel railroad bridge used by BNSF and UP trains as well as Amtrak -- it was built in 1908!

As the I-5 bridge project progresses, further stress will be placed on the capacity of the I-5 segments in central Portland, creating a need for freeway lane expansion and the resulting huge disruption to the surroundings in the much abused Rose Quarter district. Also impacted will be the current rail routes through that area, which likely will be called upon in the near future to handle more and faster passenger train service. Indeed, the long range ODOT plan has been for Portland's high-speed rail terminal to be built on the east side of the Willamette, avoiding the tortuous S-curve across the Steel Bridge and slow running through the industrial NW. That new terminal would necessarily occupy land near the Rose Quarter Transit Center.

None of the potential impact of these developments on rail service has reached the public consciousness. (Although I understand that the NE Quadrant Study that is part of the Central City planning effort, currently under way, seems to be oriented to finding ways to expand I-5 capacity through the area. The study group advisory council does have a UP Railroad representative. I feel much better knowing that.)

As to some of the previous comments on your post:

- The 3-1/2 hours you spend on the Amtrak Cascades riding to Seattle will not drain your laptop battery... Every seat is equipped with an electrical outlet. Perhaps that's one reason why more than 3/4 million riders found a "justification" for riding them in the last 12 months.

- Yes, the Economist did carry an article nonsensically lamenting the impending destruction of the US rail freight network by higher speed rail. Note it was higher speed, not real HSR that they claimed was the problem. Real HSR runs on dedicated tracks and will not affect the rail freight network.

The article in question actually was an error-filled regurgitation of press releases and background material from the Association of American Railroads that was, at the time, waging political war against the Federal Railroad Administration, which had promulgated truly awful proposed regulations for the operation of "higher speed" rail passenger service on freight railroad tracks. Those proposed regs have since been rescinded. Still the key point of the article, that passenger train operations up to 110 mph on freight tracks would cripple the US rail freight system, was laughable. US railroads operated passenger trains at speeds over 100 mph routinely until government regulations limited most tracks to 79 mph in the 1950s. Some of the highest freight volume routes in the country also carried 20 to 30 very fast passenger trains as well. In the current era when rail capacity planning has been elevated to a high art using advanced computer tools, there is no reason that our rail passenger service can't be upgraded massively while at the same time enabling dramatic improvements to our rail freight system as well with properly targeted infrastructure investments.


Interesting discussion. However, I'd like to point out that one option for getting between Seattle and Portland has been left out -- the new(ish) SeaPort Airlines. The flight is only 1 hour and due to the small size of the planes, you do not go through TSA screenings. You can arrive 15 minutes before your flight! That said, it goes to Boeing Field and not SeaTac airport. But still a nice "high speed" option for now until train service improves.

Also, I just drove to Seattle and back a few weeks ago, and the 3-hour driving estimate is nice provided there is no traffic. Ha ha. Which is never the case, especially between Tacoma and Seattle! My return trip was close to 4 hours.

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