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High-Speed Rail Supporters Meet In Portland

People who want to see a high-speed rail corridor running from Eugene, through Seattle and up to Vancouver B.C., kicked off a three-day symposium in Portland Wednesday.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, they want more trains — running faster — so people will commute by rail instead of by car or airplane.

In an effort to walk their talk, train advocates arrived in Portland on rails and walked to their event. That included the mayor of Eugene, Kitty Piercy. She believes the nation is at the start of a train revolution.

Kitty Piercy: “Very excited about the Obama Administration’s interest in rail. Long-time waiting for this to happen and I want to take advantage of all the opportunities that are there right now to make those improvements and make rail really work for us in this corridor.”

As part of the federal stimulus package, the Obama Administration has earmarked $8 billion for half a dozen high-speed rail corridors around the nation.

One of those corridors runs between Eugene and Vancouver B.C.. But trains here can’t go very fast because of antiquated crossings, and because there aren't enough areas where freight trains can pull off to let passenger trains whiz by.

Rail advocates, like Bruce Agnew of the Cascadia Center, say 79 miles an hour — the current maximum speed —  is too slow.

Bruce Agnew: “To go faster than that, you have to put more grade separation, overpasses and underpasses into the system. And we’re not there yet. We’re hoping to get about a billion dollars in federal funding which would allow us to go beyond 79 miles per hour and more importantly add more train service. Because people are really dying to get more frequency between Eugene and Vancouver.”

In the short term, rail advocates would like to see the trains reaching 100 miles per hour. But longer-term, they’re hoping for the 200 miles per hour seen in some European nations.

Peter DeFazio: “I look forward to the day when you can get to Seattle from here in 1 hour and 10 minutes — we have that potential.”

Symposium keynote speaker, Oregon congressman Peter DeFazio, said that if just a fraction of the money the nation spends on space travel was spent on high speed trains, the 70 minute Seattle/Portland commute could soon be an everyday occurrence.

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