Rather than spending hundreds of million of dollars exclusively on expanding freeways and freeway interchanges, the state of Oregon should consider a more sustainable carbon free alternative.
One such alternative is to connect all the cities of the state with electrified rail. This doesn't have to be high speed rail, because anything significantly faster than driving will lure people out of their cars. A class 7 track would work wonderfully, because trains could run up to 120 miles per hour. This is not high speed rail that achieves speeds over 250 miles per hour, but more affordable medium speed rail. The idea is to allow travel from any city or town in Oregon to any other city or town in Oregon in significantly less time than driving.
The state of Oregon already plans to spend millions of dollars to upgrade the track along the Amtrak corridor so that diesel trains can travel faster. However these trains must still share tracks with freight trains. And these existing diesel trains risk collision by crossing many streets. When a train crosses a street, that is called a "grade crossing." Automatic arms lower to stop traffic, but that can still risk a vehicle becoming stuck on the tracks, or people accidentally walking across the tracks to be hit. This becomes even a more likely scenario when trains travel at 120 m.p.h.
A state rail project could lay class 7 track along a private right of way, by building bridges or tunneling where necessary to avoid grade crossings. That right of way must be for the exclusive use of passenger travel, and would bar access to freight trains.
Passenger trains could however haul baggage, mail, small packages, and other light freight in common with passengers. For example Fedex might want to purchase one or more electrically driven cars to be hauled along with passenger rail. There would have to be weight limits, otherwise bridges would become too expensive to build.
Although electrified track is twice as expensive per mile to construct than diesel track, it is also environmentally better. Electrified trains are lighter than diesel trains, so bridges may be built for a lighter load.
After 50 to 75 years of construction, the entire system might be complete,
How should such a large system be paid for and constructed? Two sources make sense:
1. A statewide non-regressive sales tax. Perhaps only on related purchase such as gasoline, diesel, tires, car repairs, batteries, and parking. Or perhaps on all potentially unhealthy items, such as carbonated drinks, alcohol, and pot. Or perhaps on all these and more.
2. Toll roads. Perhaps turn all on-ramps to interstate freeways into toll booths. Or perhaps toll on all parking places using property tax measures. Or perhaps a toll when automobile registration is renewed, based on miles driven.
It is not the purpose of this essay to recommend any form of rail construction funding over any other form. Only elected representatives could make this decision.
When envisioning this rail network, other than city centers stations, what other stations might be desirable? Other such centers that could require stations might be:
1. Airports. Every airport that serves the public with regularly scheduled flights might host a rail station in close proximity to the airport's entry.
2. Population centers. Not all population centers are in the middle of a town or city. Often the actual peak of population is in some neighborhood well away from the city center. Such additional population centers might also be served by a rail station in addition to the downtown.
3. Universities and Colleges. Centers for learning can be large enough to be considered a unique population center. Such centers for learning might also be better served by rail stations.
4. Some may believe that commercial venues should also have train stations. Such venues as shopping centers or fair grounds my seem desirable, but perhaps might be better served by local trolleys or buses?
It might make sense to run rail freight to many of the same locations as passenger rail. The state might determine that instead of running two tracks of passenger service, it would make sense to run four tracks, two for passenger service, and two for freight.
Because freight is generally heavier than passenger cars, bridges and elevated sections of track will have to be constructed significantly stronger. Four tracks make the system more resilient, because a derailing on the freight line could allows freight on a section of passenger tract to bypass the outage. Similarly a derailing on the passenger line could allow passenger trains on a section of freight track to bypass the outage.
For such a dual system to work, both passenger and freight would need to be identically electrified, with the same gauge and class of track.