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Amtrak Cascades Train at Oregon City, October 2004
Amtrak Cascades train at the Oregon City station in October of 2004. Photo by Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”).

[NOTE: The summary published in Railway Age, which I used as the primary source for this article and which had its original source in news reports elsewhere, contained a few inaccuracies. This included reporting the funding package at the state level in a way that neglected to include a number of funding sources, thus representing the total cost of the Oregon section of the Cascades service. Please read the much better article on the main Seattle Transit Blog page article, as well as the much more extensive discussion there. – Glenn Laubaugh]

As reported in Railway Age:

The cost to operate Amtrak Cascades service in the state of Oregon during the next two year budget cycle is estimated to be $10.4 million. Originally Amtrak had requested $20 million to operate the service but this was negotiated downward by state officials.

The Oregon Joint Ways and Means Committee has now reduced the funds available to $5 million.

If this level of funding is the final budget for the Oregon section of Cascades service, it is likely to be insufficient for any regular train operations and the service may have to be cut. There are some at the Oregon Department of Transportation that feel there are likely other sources of  funds available and if those come through they will continue operating the Cascades trains even with this restricted level of general funds available. Efforts are far from over yet.

If you are one of those approximately 24,000 passengers* per year from the Puget Sound region that continue south of Portland, you may need to be prepared for some service adjustments that coincide with the Oregon funding.

For the coming budget cycle the allocation for highways is $1.6 billion, for a comparison of how little of the total Oregon transportation package is actually spent on the Cascades service.

While this is obviously an Oregon problem, the fact is the Cascades trains are a regional service. If there is any interest in further updates I will attempt to keep people here informed of further developments.

* The totals listed in the September, 2014 Seattle Transit Blog entry do not include passengers that had to change trains or change from a train to a bus due to a lack of through service. Thus, e.g., in that article no passengers are shown traveling from Eugene to Everett as there is no single service that makes such a trip. Actual through ridership south of Portland is higher than indicated in that article due to southbound bus connections at Portland for several trains from Seattle.

Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a manufacturer of electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10.

26 Replies to “Oregon Amtrak Cascades Funding Troubles”

  1. This issue illustrates the wisdom of the state of Washington. Washington has a dedicated source of funds for the rail division. While a fair amount of that goes to service improvements on the freight railroads, at least there is a reliable source of funds.

    1. True, at least we don’t have the threat of similar antics right away.

  2. Glenn, I’m following this. As an Amtrak Cascades user (mostly to get to/from Everett as I have an alternative to/from Seattle), this scares me. Will Washington State hang on without the Oregon section? Time will tell and considering the attitude of many in the legislature towards transit, I’m nervous.

  3. My understanding is that if ODOT cuts the Eugene to Portland service, the state will have to repay the Feds for the cost of the 2 Talgo trainsets that were recently purchased using federal stimulus money. That might provide a strong incentive for Oregon to find a dedicated source of funding for passenger rail–at least something other than license plate fees.

    1. Lest anyone misunderstand, it is only a very few license plate fees from certain plate designs that go into the fund. Standard fees can’t go into the fund.

      So, even the license plate fees are pennies of pocket change.

    2. So far, what I am hearing is that at the least the state would have to sell the trains with the money going back to the Feds.

      What you say is my understanding as well. I also wonder about Albany and Salem. I think they got federal funds for station improvents with the idea that the stations would be served by something other than the Thruway buses.

      1. Glenn, the question then becomes could Washington State and/or Canada/British Columbia buy the trains and use them?

      2. There are a pair of Talgos sitting somewhere in the Midwest that were originally built for Wisconsin but never accepted or paid for. Good luck trying to sell the Oregon Talgos.

      3. I wish Washington State or Sound Transit would make a play for them…

      4. GuyOnBeaconHill, I thought the Wisconsin Talgos went to Michigan for Amtrak regional service there.

    1. One of the things that concerns me is that we have already seen that half-assed funding produces half-assed results. They’ve already provided the half-assed funding over what Amtrak would prefer to see in order to provide a service that will continue to grow.

      Now, the guys in Salem want to essentially quarter-ass it.

      1. I keep reading about the ODOT plans to build HSR between Portland and Eugene: lots of meetings, lots of plans, lots of studies. But if the Oregon legislature won’t even fund 2 Cascades trips, what’s the point of planning for HSR in Oregon? It seems like a lot of time is being wasted on something that won’t ever happen.

      2. I think that was all a big show. The route they proposed is physically impossible for a train to follow south of Salem. Their preferred route goes south from Salem by following I-5, which crosses an object known as Ankeny Hill on an approximate 8% grade. It would not be a legal freeway route today, let alone something you would want to do with high speed rail.

        It makes me suspicious that the plan someone hatched was to go through the motions of having all the meetings and then kill it when it proved too impractical or too expensive.

      3. Something both the political right and the political left do: Kill progress with process.

  4. I wish Washington State or Sound Transit would make a play for them…

    1. How could Sound Transit justify the investment? Are they suitable for Sounder?

      1. I mean, are the trains themselves appropriate for Sounder? Don’t Talgos cost more and have higher operating expenses for the tilt technology? Don’t they have fewer seats to be comfortable for several-hour trips?

      2. Probably kinda, maybe and yes. I’m a big supporter of Sounder South between Seattle and Tacoma, and hopefully soon down to Olympia.

      3. Mike,

        They’re completely unsuitable for Sounder. They’re small and single-level, not commuter sized at all.

      4. Okay, well it was just a thought, a thought I’ll now backdown on.

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