© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ridership Drops On Oregon Trains As Officials Ponder Funding Options

An ODOT sponsored Amtrak Cascades train pulls away from the station in Oregon City.
Chris Lehman
/
Northwest News Network
An ODOT sponsored Amtrak Cascades train pulls away from the station in Oregon City.

Passenger rail advocates came to the Oregon capitol Monday to ask lawmakers to preserve state support for Amtrak trains.

The funding debate comes as ridership on the Portland-to-Eugene trains is dropping.

Last year, the Oregon Department of Transportation changed the schedules of two of the daily trains it sponsors. The agency called the result a disappointment. Ridership fell 15 percent.

"We did not see the ridership increases that we thought that we would see providing that service,” said Hal Gard, director of ODOT's Rail Division. “We are actively working with Amtrak to find out why didn't we see it, why didn't we get the return that we expected to see."

Lawmakers said there are no immediate plans to discontinue the service. But they want the agency to find ways to fund it that don't depend on the state's general fund.

Due to the ongoing budget negotiations, passenger rail advocacy groups alerted their members that a potential shutdown of Oregon’s Cascades rail service was imminent. But Democratic Representative David Gomberg, who co-chairs the budget committee that writes ODOT's budget, said, "I don't know anybody here that wants to shut down the program. But we're looking at the total dollars involved."

ODOT said the subsidy for each Cascades passenger in Oregon is an average of $69 per person. Gomberg said he and other lawmakers on the panel want to see that number lower.

"How do we make this program more self-sustaining?" he said. "How do we make it something closer to being break-even, and encourage more people to use the service?"

ODOT said the two daily round-trip trains between Portland and Eugene are operating at around 30 percent capacity. One morning train averages fewer than 30 riders per day. The agency said ridership totals in 2014 were also affected by increased bus competition and low gasoline prices.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman covers the Oregon state capitol for JPR as part of the Northwest News Network, a group of 12 Northwest public radio organizations which collaborate on regional news coverage. Chris graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He began his career producing arts features for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been a reporter/announcer for NPR station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois. Chris has also reported from overseas, filing stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.