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Johnson says state will find money for Amtrak, but schedule must change

Without subsidies that pay a third of its operating costs, Amtrak says it will suspend service between Eugene and Portland.

By Peter wong

Capital Bureau

Published on April 13, 2015 8:20AM

A top Democratic lawmaker says the legislature will come up with the $10.4 million necessary to fund passenger rail service in the Willamette Valley.

Courtesy Oregon Department of Transportation

A top Democratic lawmaker says the legislature will come up with the $10.4 million necessary to fund passenger rail service in the Willamette Valley.


SALEM — One key legislator says Oregon will continue state-supported passenger rail service between Portland and Eugene, despite press reports suggesting otherwise.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, says lawmakers will come up with enough money to continue twice-daily runs in the Willamette Valley.

“There is no story here,” says Johnson, who’s the Senate co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s joint budget subcommittee on transportation and economic development.

On Dec. 1, former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget package proposed $10.4 million in subsidies from the general fund to Amtrak to operate the service. That’s in addition to around $18 million the state kicks in from non-general fund sources.

So far, the Legislature’s budget framework proposes just $5 million in state general funds.

But without the full $10.4 million, “we will likely have to end passenger service,” says Shelley Snow, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Johnson said that’s not going to happen.

The elimination of the service would prove embarrassing to state officials who in 2009 used $38.4 million to buy two locomotives and passenger cars for two trains to service the Oregon corridor. They began service in 2013.

Oregon contracts with Amtrak to provide the service, and has relied on federal subsidies to pay for part of the cost. But those subsidies have now ended.

In the next two-year budget cycle starting July 1, the state will have to pick up the full cost of the service after ticket sales, which cover about two-thirds of the bill.

But before that happens, Johnson says Amtrak has to do something about the schedule to make the service more appealing to riders.

The first train leaves Portland at 6 a.m. on weekdays, too early for potential commuters bound for work in Salem. Prior Jan. 1, 2014, the first train left at 9:30 a.m. — too late for commuters.

“It’s all messed up,” Johnson says.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, only 5,529 riders took the early morning train south in all of 2014, compared to 45,858 who boarded in Portland at 6 p.m. for the last southbound run.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Insider newsletter. To subscribe, go to oregoncapitalinsider.com



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