State of U.S. Passenger Rail – Oregon

Railroading in Oregon is healthy and growing stronger, with Amtrak ridership up 19% from 2003 to 2014, and a new Portland-area regional railroad, Westside Express Service, growing by 66% since it started service in 2009 with service to five new stations in the Portland area: Beaverton, Hall/Nimbus, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville.

First, let’s look at the volume of Amtrak passengers moving through the state. Amtrak serves seven stations in Oregon with three routes. Amtrak’s Cascades offers multiple departures per day between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., with service in between at Portland, Oregon City, Salem and Albany. The route is also used by the Coast Starlight, which offers daily service between Seattle and Los Angeles. In Oregon, the train bypasses Oregon City, but otherwise makes all of the Cascade stops, plus stops at two destinations in the southern part of the state: Chemult and Klamath Falls. And Portland is also a terminal station on the Empire Builder, with daily service to Chicago.

Portland is Amtrak’s busiest station in the state, carrying 70% of the state’s Amtrak passengers in 2014. This pie chart shows the breakdown.

Eugene accounted for 12% of the state’s ridership in 2014, and Salem, Albany, Klamath Falls, Oregon City and Chemult together accounted for 18%.

Ridership at each of these stations has actually held pretty steady over the years, as seen in this line graph:

Portland ridership is up 24% over the time period, rising to 585,828 in 2014 from 472,500 in 2003. That’s a bigger increase or decrease than any of the other stations in the state with one exception. Oregon City opened in April 2004 and was the origin or destination for 3,286 passengers in that year. By 2014, ridership had doubled, doubled again, and then some. Ridership that year was 14,046. But things were relatively steady at the rest of the state’s stations: Amtrak reported a 23% increase over this time frame at Albany and at Chemult, and a 15% increase at Salem. At Eugene, ridership was down 4%, and at Klamath Falls it was down 20%.

Here is how all those station-by-station totals add up when totaled together:

With a 19% growth rate from 2003 to 2014, Oregon is the United States’ 38th fastest growing state in the country for Amtrak ridership over the time period. Now let’s look to the Cascades, which is the state’s busiest train route with the most frequent departures.

Average monthly ridership on the Cascades is up 30% from December 2003 until June 2015. But ridership on Oregon’s new regional railroad, Westside Express Service, is up by much more. Here’s a look at Westside Express Service’s ridership growth from February 2009 when it began service until the latest figures available, March 2015:

Here, average monthly ridership has boomed 66%, rising to 40,767 as of March 2015, from 24,567 after its first 12 months had elapsed, in January 2010. It is good to see that Westside Express Service has been added to the ranks of the nation’s regional passenger railroads, and is helping to reduce automobile congestion and pollution in the area it serves.

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