When it comes to high-speed passenger rail, the United States lags behind the industrial countries of Europe and Asia.

Japan’s bullet train with a top speed of 200 mph now is overshadowed by the German TransRapid, which runs at the top speed of 277 mph. They all are being left behind by the new Chinese train (CRH380A), which boasts a top speed of more than 300 mph.

The closest technology we have in this country is the Acela Express train on the northeast corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston through Philadelphia and New York. Acela runs at a top speed of 150 mph but averages 75 mph.

In 2011, the Oregon Department of Transportation, with some federal railroad funds, launched a study of a passenger rail service between Eugene-Springfield and Portland-Vancouver, Wash. This 125-mile corridor is part of a federally designated Pacific Northwest rail corridor, which has been identified for a high-speed rail corridor in the past 30 years. The project is steered by a Leadership Council, chaired by Mayor Kitty Piercy of Eugene, and is supported by a Corridor Forum, made up of representatives of communities along the corridor.

Several alternative routes have been identified which are a combination of the existing and nonexisting tracks. The objective of the project is to provide seven round trips per day while each trip would roughly take the same amount of travel time as driving. The alternative routes or options identified are labeled by a color:

The Blue Alternative follows mostly the existing Amtrak Cascades Route along or near the Union Pacific Railroad line and as such it could use existing railroad stations.

The Red Alternative would be constructed as a completely new track along Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 between Springfield and Vancouver. It would bypass the existing stations of Eugene, Albany and Salem/Keizer. The new track would be the most efficient option in terms of travel time, but it would come with the highest price tag.

The Purple Alternative uses the existing Oregon Electric line and parts of the Blue Alternative. This alternative features several different alignments by sharing a portion or portions with the Blue Line.

The Yellow Alternative is the one that includes the city of Corvallis. This alternative would run from the Eugene Station to Junction City, thence on a new track to Monroe to connect to the existing rail line between Monroe and Corvallis and then to Albany. A notable issue with the existing track from Corvallis to Albany is that the track meets the Union Pacific line north of Albany and bypasses the Albany Depot. This option would not work for a train trip between Corvallis and Albany. Another variation of the Yellow Alternative would depart the existing lines in Corvallis and would run on a new alignment along Highway 34 to Tangent to join the Union Pacific track south of Albany. This option would provide for train trips between Corvallis and Albany by going through the Albany Depot which also serves as a transit hub.

Each of these alternatives has been evaluated against the criteria of environmental impacts, quality of life, cost, freight movement and mobility. The Yellow Alternative, however, did not fare well in a preliminary evaluation. Several reasons contributed to its low score, chief among those the cost of constructing new tracks (Junction City to Monroe and possibly along Highway 34), the existence of many at-grades crossings along the route and the environmental sensitivity of the terrain. This, of course, is not the final decision and other decision-making processes are ahead of us.

Corvallis, with its growing and highly mobile population, would greatly benefit from a passenger railroad service for its intercity movements. Just as other forms of public transportation, the railroad service saves energy and resources, and reduces noxious auto emissions. For these reasons, the mayor of Corvallis and its City Council have prudently passed a resolution urging the provision of passenger rail service to Corvallis. The Benton County Board of Commission is also expected to provide similar support to a passenger rail service in Corvallis and Benton County.

Public input can be provided through multiple means. The project’s website is: www.oregonpassengerrail.org. The contact page of the website allows direct public input and a community open house has been scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, 6500 Pacific Blvd. S.W. in Albany. Your participation is encouraged.

FYI

Public input on the rail project can be offered through a number of ways. The project’s website is: www.oregon

passengerrail.org. The contact page of the website allows direct public input and a community open house has been scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, 6500 Pacific Blvd. S.W. in Albany.

Ali Bonakdar is director of the Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and lives in Corvallis.

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