Choo Choo Trains vs. New CHSR Corridor
A Paradigm Shift in Time, Economics and Land Use
US High Speed Rail Association Conference Guest Speaker
June 3, 2014, Presentation by Brad Perkins, CEO CHSR
June 3, 2014, Presentation by Brad Perkins, CEO CHSR
Why even think about putting future trains on a train corridor that was built before there was electricity, telephones, the Model T, and baseball. We all got into high-speed rail, taking different roads of interest to get here. My road traveled through community activism, care for the environment, historic preservation, and real estate development. Through my experience, I have learned that community groups and governmental jurisdictions do not develop property nor create new systems of travel. At best, government helps to facilitate, finance and regulate development. Over the years, individuals interested in making money lead the change. Today we need to equate making money on the same level as beating back global warming.
On the west coast, we are in a great position to help lead the change in how we live and travel. In the Northwest and California, we have always led in environmental protections. In 1973 the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 100, which forced governmental jurisdictions to come up with land-use plans designating where best to develop or preserve land throughout Oregon. The public was involved with the review process. Oregonians are proud of the fact that they helped to prevent suburban sprawl. Today, Portland's regional population is twice as dense as Seattle's
Decades ago, leaders such as Governors Tom McCall, and Bob Straub, led the way in protecting our beaches from private ownership and development. Oregon was one of the first states to pass a bill for deposit return on bottles. Since 1985, Portland's metro region has developed over 70 miles of light-rail and hundreds of miles of bikeways. The more people know about Oregon's climate, natural beauty, transit systems, bike paths, and environmental protections, the more they will come. Unfortunately, State, local and corporate leadership in planning for what people need regarding high-speed rail lacks vision, understanding, and boldness that we once had. The majority of Oregon voters want government to do something about global warming. The problem is, that government may set lofty CO2 reduction goals, but it doesn't have strong initiatives to accomplish this.
The State of Washington got $800 million of Federal stimulus money by calling their inter-city passenger rail improvements “high speed rail,” yet their incremental improvement plan is on a 19th century, privately owned corridor. Both Oregon and Washington's 20-year goals look to the choo-choo train on private tracks as the future and do not offer opportunities that high speed rail can bring. This has occurred because of our leaders' lack of vision and the belief that “the Northwest is not ready to develop high speed rail.” Yet our 460 mile corridor between Vancouver BC, and Eugene, Oregon is nearly flat, has 8.5 million people living near the most congested freeway system in the region, and has the 30th best economy in the world. Citizens in the Northwest would love to take a high-speed rail train from Portland to Seattle in 75 minutes and connect to other transit, bike, taxi and rented cars at the station hubs and be able to live, work and shop within walking distance of the rail stops. With this lifestyle, car ownership becomes unneeded.
In each state, we need to know who we're dealing with in leadership positions and try to influence change respectfully. In Oregon the head of the Department of Transportation Rail Division is an archaeologist with no railroad experience. Our current Governor also appointed Oregon's Passenger Rail Leadership Council who will take three years to decide on the future north/south passenger rail corridor via a $10 million dollar Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study. Unfortunately, its members, ODOT's engineers, and the project managers, with the reputable CH2M Hill engineering firm, have little to no professional background in rail corridor planning. For this reason, Oregon's planning goals, as in Washington, are based on incremental improvements to the existing Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe private railroad system. Passenger rail speeds are not to exceed 79 mph. If billions of dollars were spent on grade crossing and siding improvements, average speeds would still not exceed 55 mph, and every change in the system would still have to be approved by four bureaucracies, i.e. the private railroad company, Amtrak, State DOT and Federal Rail Administration. The Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council approved without discussion recommendations by ODOT and CH2MHill staff to not study an electrically powered rail system or the possibility of commuter express trains that can use the same inter-city HSR tracks. With the 20 year project scope and the Council’s misguided, critical decisions without expert advise of alternatives eliminated any thoughtful discussion or cost benefit comparison for high speed rail versus choo-choo trains and thus Oregonians lost an opportunity to study an alternative that could attract high speed rail enthused private investments.
Only with fast train service, i.e. over 180 mph in an exclusive, double tracked corridor, would private parties be interested in investing in a transportation system popular throughout the world. Sharing this new corridor with private electrical, natural gas, fiber optic, and light-weight freight companies could also help finance and add impetus politically to move this high-speed corridor system forward. Also critical in our plan is to develop a new transportation system to last beyond 100 years. The long-term benefit to financial investors and passenger rail users would far outweigh the initial capital. So eventually when the debts are paid it can make money while freeways require a great deal more maintenance expense and do not produce income.
As the founder of Cascadia High Speed Rail Advocates six years ago and most recently our change to Cascadia High Speed Rail, LLC, we have been developing plans and support for a true high-speed rail system between Seattle, Washington and Eugene, Oregon. (see: cascadiahighspeedrail.org) The initial and most important phase is planning the connection between Portland and Seattle, a 187 mile distance that will double as a commuter service between Olympia and Seattle and between Longview and Portland. Fast speeds of over 200 miles/hour in a relatively straight corridor, on fly-overs and in tunnels where populations are dense, will be a game changer in time traveled and having the opportunity to live an environmentally focused lifestyle without dependence on the automobile.
In Portland, the Rose Quarter is already the transportation hub for light rail, street cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians and cars. Adding a new high-speed rail station near a fully developed Rose Quarter Transportation Hub will only encourage more alternative transportation use and the development of mixed use projects in the existing entertainment, sports and convention center in the heart of Portland. The Cascadia High Speed Rail multi-modal bridge plan across the Columbia River is a sound alternative to the recently failed $3 billion bridge plan along I-5 between Oregon and Washington. CHSR's double-decker bridge, next to the current 1908 BNSF rail bridge one mile west of I-5, includes double rails for both freight and high speed inter-city and commuter rail with a four lane upper deck for cars and trucks. The multiple use bridge will relieve congestion on I-5 and will be an attractive investment opportunity to replace the BNSF Railroad,s congested, outdated, earthquake prone swing-bridge.
Ongoing development phases of Cascadia High Speed Rail will include a connection to Eugene with commuter rail stops to the south between the Rose Quarter Transportation Hub and Salem. From Tualatin (a suburb south of Portland) to Eugene, the plan is to use the publicly owned I-5 corridor. Station stops will help encourage town-center development and a variety of public and private financing options of the CHSR system.
Our consistent input at the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council meetings, when invited to speak, has had a positive effect in keeping the I-5 corridor and the section route between Portland and Vancouver, Washington as alternatives worth continued Environmental Impact Statement study.
In closing, I believe CHSR's Concept Plan for a new transportation corridor in the Northwest will provide a useable good start, on a final, well engineered corridor. Even the 8.3 mile corridor through Southwest Portland will eventually prove to have merit by engineers, TRIMET and ODOT officials. The innovative and brilliant planner who designed our route (see: cascadiahighspeedrail.com), Rudy Niederer, is the same person who designed Honolulu Area Rapid Transit (HART), which is being built today.
CHSR, LLC will continue to influence funding sources and the need for a public/private partnerships to advance a true high-speed rail system that is well connected to other forms of transportation alternatives, with mixed-use development at station hubs. It simply cannot succeed on 140-year-old, privately owned rails used and designed to move freight and not people.
I believe that citizens of the United States support a creative way to fund and implement a true high-speed rail system, if private money is matched. We have developed great canal, rail and road systems in the past via private initiative, but we need to influence visionary political leaders willing to work towards environmental progress that advances the latest transportation and technology that will cause tremendous economic growth. The Pacific Northwest today as in the past continues to make progressive steps forward on environmental initiatives and alternative transportation modes. Cascadia High Speed Rail is the next transportation system that could add another dimension to the existing transportation alternatives, spur transit oriented development, and continue to be a model for the rest of the nation in progressive transportation system development. The future is now! Be the change! Thank you.
Brad Perkins, CEO Cascadia High Speed Rail, LLC