Is the Portland-Eugene high-speed rail worth the cost?

Editorial Pick of the month:
The huge cost of fast trains
By Democrat Herald, Hasso Herring

Oregon and the federal government are about to spend another $10 million or so on planning for high-speed rail in the corridor from Eugene to Portland via Albany and Salem. It’s time for a reality check.

The latest effort about to be launched is an environmental impact statement which, among other things, is supposed to determine the best route for a passenger service that would feature more and faster trains.

The question is: Are we just dreaming about this stuff, and spending lots of money on studies and consultants to keep from waking up, or is there a real chance that any of it could actually be built?

A year ago in December, a report by the Congressional Research Service called into question the whole notion of high-speed rail in the United States. The costs are astronomical and the benefits small or questionable, according to the report.

More passenger trains will hardly make a dent in highway congestion because most highway traffic does not go from and to the same places as the trains, the congressional researchers concluded. And as for energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases, trains represent no net gain either, because in the United States, owing to population patterns, most trains are sparingly used.

In the Willamette Valley, consultants for ODOT rail said developing passenger service along portions of the old Oregon Electric line would cost upwards of $1.8 billion in construction alone. As huge as that expense is, the estimate for improving the main line for the same purpose is even bigger: more  than $2.1 billion.

Oregon doesn’t have the money to accomplish this. There’s no reason to believe Congress will have the money either, although it could always try to borrow more, from China or some other place.

Assuming the money could be obtained, there is no way the Union Pacific will allow the use of its main line for more passenger trains, especially high-speed ones, without vastly more improvements than even the $2 billion estimate includes. The UP has told the state so.

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