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Portland rail traffic expected to boom

By Jeanie Senior
The (Portoand) Tribune

PORTLAND – Transportation leaders project that the amount of freight moving by train will double by 2020, putting stress on the region's already busy rail and highway systems.

Truck and barge traffic also will grow, although not at the rate predicted for rail, a transportation consultant told the Port of Portland Commission this week. The growth signals an improving economy and also points up the need to address issues such as crowding in the "Portland triangle," where train volumes already exceed capacity.

Cambridge Systematics transportation consultant Lance Grenzeback said this is a good time to talk about such concerns.

Grenzeback pointed out that the Class One railroads, including the Union Pacific Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, although stable and competitive, lack the funds to invest in hugely expensive improvements to infrastructure, from new rail lines to new equipment.

Jay Waldron, president of the port commission, said that while he feels well-informed about air and maritime matters, Grenzeback's report pointed out gaps in his railway knowledge. Port commissioners plan to hold a lengthier session to focus on the future of rail freight.

Some 19.5 million tons of freight, from chemicals and farm products to merchandise, now come to the state annually by rail. Some 13.5 million tons of Oregon products, including lumber, pulp and paper, and foods, are shipped out of the state.

Trucks transport roughly four times as much freight as rail, and barges on the Columbia and Snake rivers handle about a fourth as much, but neither mode is forecast to see the same level of growth as trains.