EUGENE, Ore. -- Congressman Peter DeFazio was back in Eugene on Monday, this time hosting a roundtable on improving Amtrak’s service in Oregon.
The meeting was attended by representatives from Union Pacific, Amtrak, the University of Oregon, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the governor’s office. DeFazio was flanked by state Rep. Nancy Nathanson and Mayor Lucy Vinis. All of them came to the conclusion that improving passenger rail service will improve Eugene’s economy and environmental impact.
“If we can get a train to Portland in two hours, I think there will be a massive amount of interest, including myself,” DeFazio said.
But one of the routes on the Trump Administration's chopping block in next years budget is the Coast Starlight. This is Eugene’s only connection to southern Oregon and major California cities by rail. The Coast Starlight is the only passenger train that connects Seattle to Los Angeles on 1,300 miles of track and there are some in Oregon who rely on this once-a-day train to get around the west coast.
Steve Earley is a Eugene resident who has used the route to see his family in Salinas, California.
“There are a lot of folks that don’t have the opportunity to hop in a car and drive down the I-5 corridor,” he said. “The best thing is is the second you get on the train, you find your seat and the train pulls off, you’re on vacation.”
The administration argues long distance routes lose half a billion dollars annually with the Coast Starlight seeing a net loss of over $46 million a year.
The administration is proposing to replace these trains with buses so rural communities who rely on a once-a-day train like the Coast Starlight do not get cut off.
But Earley said the train is a necessity for some.
“The last couple times that I have taken the train to Salinas or back, it’s real apparent there were folks getting on the train because their community was not easily serviced by bus service or frankly car service.”
At today’s roundtable about Amtrak, DeFazio focused on improving Amtrak’s service by working with the railroads which Amtrak lease track space from.
Though the focus was mainly on Amtrak’s busier Cascade route between Eugene and Seattle, DeFazio said the future of the Coast Starlight is on his mind.
“I now chair the transportation committee. I will have to OK that,” he said. “I will not be OK'ing the president killing the Coast Starlight.”