Short distance trains are important for the long run

Rail transit in the Rogue Valley

The distance from Eugene and Portland to Sacramento and the Bay Area is ideal for overnight trains, but rather long for day trains. The Rogue Valley is located almost in the middle, and has more than 100 000 inhabitants. Making full use of the ridership potential improves the chances, to operate long distance traffic successfully.

Until the railroad was built, only a few pioneers had arrived in the Rogue Valley. Later settlement was typically created around the depot. Due to this history, the valley is well suited to small-scale rail transit. Such system could achieve an average speed of more than 40 mph despite short stop distance. Such numbers are out of reach for bus transit, which does not have the advantage of both fast and direct town center to town center connection.

Outside of big cities, 5% of transit bus passengers might have access to a car. If a rail-based transit solution is able to provide lots of direct links, and is squeezed out for the highest average speed possible, this figure can be >40%.

Small DMU, village nearby, hillocks around.
With 15 hp/ton or more, modern DMUs bring rapid transit performance to small town areas.

Since high ridership figures can't be expected in the Rogue Valley, size and costs of railroad operation have to be adapted to a small town area. Such systems have once existed in the USA, but there are no current examples. An important difference to 1920: An electrified Interurban is no longer necessary for the task.

Rail has to provide the backbone function

Within the last 15 years, railstitution of bus traffic proved to be an important tool for winning back passengers to public transport in Europe. This policy has reactivated branch lines in lower density areas, has made them the backbone of public transport, with buses rerouted and serving as feeders. Examples for successful application are given on the next page.

Combination of train stop and bus stop.
Rail backbone and bus feeders should be closely integrated. Passengers save time, and delays of either mode are easily noticed by staff.

Using rail as the backbone of a bus network has several advantages:

  1. Comfort. The rail solution allows to offer more room. Passengers can read or write, thanks to a steady and undisturbed ride. For the rising number of elderly passengers, level boarding is an important element of comfort.
  2. Speed. Average speed can be double as high in comparison to the bus, thus offering attractive journey times, less labour cost for the passenger mile, and better usage of equipment.
  3. Adapted infrastructure. Traffic planners will choose infrastructure upgrade options with the goal, to achieve efficient equipment usage. Example: A 24 minutes run allows to operate a one-hour memory schedule with one train.

Street space with bus stop sign in foreground, DMU with open doors in background.
Level access to the train does not only speed up boarding: It removes punctuality risks, allowing fast turnaround at the end of the line.

Common perception in Europe is, that political majorities for rail transit projects are almost impossible to win in the USA. Reason for this prejudice is lack of information: At the cost figure of many passenger rail projects in the USA, it would be impossible to win majorities in Europe. Nonetheless, these have passed a parliament or even a ballot!

Reactivated line Sprinter Ammertalbahn  
Newbuilt line     Gardermobanen
Location Oceanside - Escondido, USA Tübingen - Herrenberg, D Oslo - Eidsvoll, NO
Line length 22.7 miles (36.5 km) 13.3 miles (21.4 km) 41 miles (66 km)
Stop distance 1.6 miles (2.6 km) 1.5 miles (2.4 km) 5.1 miles (8.2 km)
Frequency 30 minutes 30 minutes hourly (+ IC, + airport shuttles)
Line Speed 55 mph (89 km/h) 62 mph (100 km/h) 125 mph (200 km/h)
Average Speed 25 mph (40 km/h) 33 mph (53 km/h) 48 mph (78 km/h) (ICs faster)
Public Investment / mile 15.4 million $ 1.44 million $ 11.3 million $

The newbuilt, doubletrack, electrified Gardermoen airport link includes infrastructure like the Romeriksporten tunnel of 8.6 miles, the Bekkedalshøgda tunnel of one mile, and the Eidsvoll tunnel of 0.3 mile length. The price also includes a 50% cost overrun, for which the planners were ridiculed by the Norwegian press.

The cheapest railroad infrastructure within the EU is built in Spain, the most expensive in Britain. Important differences are found in the overhead created by planning, project management, legal costs, plus the setup of funding. Supervising an infrastructure project with consultants only, without the second eye of inhouse knowledge, can easily double the costs. Finally, a major part of the costs depends on the quality of regulations.

The author is not able, to explain passenger railroad project costs in the USA. Without doubt, a major part is generated by the low quality of work by the Federal Railroad Administration. For example, none of the vehicles, which could operate in the Rogue Valley with a chance of success, is allowed to do so. While this point is easy to document, it does not come close to an explanation.

1950s design 4-axle railbus in New Haven livery.
1953: The Mack FCD dieselelectric LRV was prepared for paired operation of two powered units. With 10 hp/ton and streetcar bogies. it was able to outperform contemporary European railbuses, but most units never entered service.

Railroads in the USA once pioneered the usage of motor cars. William McKeen put the first one on (Union Pacific) rails as early as 1905. More than 150 units were built in the next years, pushed by UP chairman Edward Harriman. While this early attempt did not achieve the required reliability, it is interesting to notice, that Harriman already used most of the arguments, which sold thousands of small DMUs to European railroads 90 years later.

Today, federal regulations do not allow the operation of high performance versions, unless these trains are separated from both freight traffic and long distance passenger trains in a timesharing agreement. With Medford being the central point of freight operation, trains pulling out north and south, timesharing is no feasible option. Separation from long distance passenger rail defeats the possibility, to operate as a collector for it.

White DMUs with yellow and blue contrast 
colors parked along a railroad line, freight train in background.
The "River LINE" DMUs have the performance for a fast timetable despite many stops. Their operation on track shared with freight requires a timesharing agreement, shutting down passenger traffic early in the evening. Freight is operated in the night.

While this document has outlined a way, to create FRA-compliant long distance trains of acceptable performance at a moderate increase in cost, no such possibility is in sight for the local run. In a small-scale transit operation, off-peak service from early morning to late evening is realistic only, if the incremental costs for an additional train run are comparable to the bus. Under FRA rule, railroad vehicles are simply too heavy to come close.

In some European countries, railroad cars of very different strength and weight operate on the mainline network. Basis for such operation is a ruleset, which sets minimum requirements for protection by the signaling system, automatic train stop devices or operating rules. Should the federal government be able to provide such an alternative ruleset in future, rail transit in the Rogue Valley will be worth considering. Examples for successful reactivation are given on the next page, timetable examples for the Rogue Valley on page 45.

Unit conversion for text on this page.
45 miles 72 km
40 mph 64 km/h
15 hp/ton 12.3 kW/metric ton
8.6 miles 13.9 km
1 mile 1.6 km
0.3 mile 492 m
10 hp/ton 8.2 kW/metric ton

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Last modified: 2004-12-31