Amtrak route at risk

Amtrak route at risk

Oregon state officials may be forced to cut Amtrak service between Portland and Eugene, the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper reports.

The service, which is part of Amtrak’s Cascades route that runs between Oregon and Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of the company's “state-supported routes.”

States typically pick up the tab for the shorter routes, which are usually within their borders. But a budget that is being considered by state lawmakers does not include enough money to keep the trains running south of Portland, according to the report.

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"Oregon's lack of dedicated, sustainable funding for rail investments is the number one challenge facing a viable rail system for both passenger and freight in Oregon. Without such funding, Oregon does not have revenue available for the required match for federal or private funds to improve rail service, nor the substantial revenue to maintain current infrastructure or operate services already in place," state lawmakers said in a report about their proposed budget, according to the paper. 

The Cascades Line is one of nearly 30 state-supported Amtrak routes that have become popular with state lawmakers as a way to boost commuter rail service within their jurisdictions.

Amtrak has said its state-supported routes were responsible for 14.7 million of its 30.9 million overall passengers in the 2014 fiscal year, which concluded at the end of September. The Cascades line carried 782,519 passengers during that period, according to the company. 

Officials with the Oregon Transportation Department have said the Beaver State’s portion of the Cascade line could be cut as early as this summer if state lawmakers do not appropriate enough money to cover its operations.

"ODOT would need to give Amtrak 90-day notice to stop service but this would not occur until the 2015 session has been completed,” the department's government relations manager, Leah Craft, said, according to the report.

“Should the legislature adjourn without funding passenger rail, ODOT would proceed with stopping service but not until that point," she continued.

Supporters of the Oregon Amtrak route argue that the state’s portion of the line should be saved.

“Amazingly, Oregon is preparing to shut down its passenger rail service between Eugene and Portland in July or soon thereafter for lack of state funding,” the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates says in a post on its website

“The Cascades Corridor south of Portland will be gone, and the only passenger train remaining on the line will be the long-haul Coast Starlight,” the post continued. “Oregon’s Amtrak Cascades service needs $10.4 million to continue operations for the coming two years. However, the Joint Ways and Means Committee has cut that figure to less than half.  While $5 million may sound like enough to continue some service, it is not. That severe a budget shortfall leaves ODOT with only a shutdown scenario.”