Train service to increase

Amtrak's Train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, makes a stop at Albany Station Saturday.

Amtrak's Train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, makes a stop at Albany Station Saturday.

Things are happening on the passenger rail front in the Willamette Valley, one right away and the other in the indefinite future. Oregon's two new Talgo train sets start revenue service on Monday (Jan. 6), when the number of southbound trains stopping in Albany on weekdays increases from three a day to four. In 2013 the Oregon Department of Transportation took delivery of two train sets the state had bought with federal stimulus money for $38.4 million. ODOT said another $6 million was spent on consultants, spare parts, testing and the addition of Wi-Fi. The trains have been named Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Bachelor. They join five others in use in the Amtrak Cascades Corridor between Eugene and Seattle. (Amtrak owns two of the trains and Washington three.) The new Talgos have seating for 275 passengers, a bistro car, a dining car, bicycle storage and business class seating, among other things.

The new schedule adds a morning train from Portland to Eugene Monday through Friday. It leaves Portland at 6 a.m., reaches Albany by 7:36 and Eugene at 8:35.

With buses and trains, the Cascades schedule now will have 10 daily northbound connections stopping in Albany. Going south, there will be seven daily stops, plus one on Mondays through Fridays and another on weekends and holidays.

As for the possible future, the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council has recommended to the Federal Railroad Administration that two route alternatives for faster train service get more detailed study. One route mainly follows the existing Union Pacific right of way, and the other follows Interstate 5 for most of the way from Springfield to Albany. At Albany, one alternative is to use the existing station and another is to build a new station near the freeway.

The leadership council and ODOT are working on long-term passenger rail improvements, starting with an environmental impact statement on the two alternative routes now recommended. The cost of the contemplated improvements has been estimated in the billions of dollars, and there's no firm timeline for when they might become reality -- or if. (hh)

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