Eugene on track to lose rail service.
SALEM - Thanks to the Legislature's failure to pay for promised rail improvements, Eugene may lose one outgoing and one incoming passenger train by month's end.
In the final days of their session, which adjourned last week, lawmakers finally came up with the $10 million needed to operate two northbound and two southbound trains from Eugene to Portland - part of the Amtrak Cascades regional passenger service.
But they failed to make good on the state's 2000 commitment to pay for $15 million in track improvements, part of Oregon's agreement with Union Pacific Railroad Co. in exchange for the use of its tracks in the Willamette Valley.
And unless state officials can successfully appeal to Union Pacific for a reprieve, the company is prepared to follow through on its vow to kick off two trains.
"What we have done is notified the state we'll have to discontinue Amtrak trains number 504 and 507," said Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley.
He cited a May 26 memo to the Oregon Department of Transportation, which said if the state fails to come up with the track-improvement money by 30 days after the Legislature adjourns, it will discontinue those two trains. That deadline falls on Sept. 28.
The first train he referred to departs from Eugene northbound each day at 9:30 a.m. en route to Portland. The second train arrives southbound in Eugene from Portland at 8 p.m.
Elimination of the two trains would leave travelers with one daily train that is part of the Amtrak Cascades service, departing Eugene at 5:55 a.m. for Vancouver, B.C., and returning at 11:30 p.m.
In addition, passengers could still use Amtrak's two arriving and two departing buses each day and its Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Seattle, which stops once northbound and once southbound each day in Eugene.
Sen. Kurt Schrader, a Canby Democrat who led his chamber's budget-writing efforts, said there simply wasn't enough money to do everything, and lawmakers were confident that if they came up with the $10 million to operate the Amtrak Cascades service in Oregon, ODOT and the governor's office could come up with an agreement to continue using Union Pacific's rails.
"I think we lived up to our end of the bargain. I certainly hope they live up to theirs," he said.
In the wake of the Legislature's adjournment, state officials have entered preliminary talks with Union Pacific, and hope to persuade the company to accept a slimmed down package of rail improvements, said Pat Egan, a senior policy adviser to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. He said it was doubtful the state could come up with the $10 million for rail improvements that had been proposed by Kulongoski to the Legislature, let alone the full $15 million initially pledged by the state.
"We can't just pull $10 million out of a hat someplace. We're going to have to ask for their allowance for us to be more creative," Egan said.
Possibilities include seeking help from Oregon's congressional delegation in securing federal dollars, and tapping funds dedicated to certain uses.
For instance, the state highway fund, which must be used for roads and bridges, might be used for rail-crossing improvements, including on Irving Road in Eugene, Egan said.
And the $12 million in lottery funds appropriated by the Legislature for short line and freight and spur improvements could be used to improve rail yards. That might mean building a short length of track for passenger trains to use in the Eugene rail yard, he said, clearing the way for Union Pacific's freight trains that would otherwise be slowed by Amtrak trains.
Union Pacific's Bromley said he was unaware of any 11th-hour appeal by the state, but that his company expected such a pitch to be made. He said the situation with Oregon is unique, since other states that use Union Pacific railroads, including California and Missouri, have always made good on promised payments and track improvements in exchange to run passenger trains on its rails.
Claudia Howells, administrator of the Rail Division at the Oregon Department of Transportation, said she expected Union Pacific to feel obligated to follow through on its plans to cut off passenger-train access to its tracks, since it can't send a signal to other states that it's acceptable to renege on track-use agreements.
"But I'm sure at some level they don't like the notion of kicking passenger lines off their lines - they've never done it," she said.
The Amtrak Cascades service from Eugene to Portland could be reduced if the state can't work out an agreement to continue using tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Co.
At risk of being eliminated:
Eugene-to-Portland Amtrak Cascades train, departing at 9:30 a.m.
Portland-to-Eugene Amtrak Cascades train, arriving at 8 p.m.
Services that would continue:
Eugene-to-Vancouver, B.C., Amtrak Cascades train, departing at 5:55 a.m.
Vancouver, B.C.-to-Eugene Amtrak Cascades train, arriving at 11:30 p.m.
Los Angeles-to-Seattle Coast Starlight train, departing Eugene northbound at 12:44 p.m.
Seattle-to-Los Angeles Coast Starlight train, arriving in Eugene southbound at 5:10 p.m.
Eugene-to-Portland bus service, departing at 1:45 p.m. and 3:10 p.m.
Portland-to-Eugene bus service, arriving at 1:40 p.m. and 8:25 p.m.
- Oregon Department of Transportation, Amtrak