Intercity and commuter/regional rail offers, when done right, a greener alternative to driving and flying not only in reduced energy consumption but also in enabling compact high-density and walkable development on existing brownfield lands as opposed to car-oriented low-density greenspace-munching sprawl.
The Pacific Northwest is an epicenter of rail transportation and land use initiatives, with hits and misses given the beauty and quality of life and the unchanneled growth that threatens to destroy it. Hits that all three of the major cities: Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore. have or will have commuter and urban rail transit systems, are linked by an albeit sluggishly-growing-and-improving intercity rail network, and especially in Portland's case (with some of those most advanced policies anywhere), are encouraging transit-oriented development. Misses in that the British Columbia and to a lesser extent Washington state government continues 1950s-styled sprawl-encouraging roadbuilding and widening policies (in B.C. case's despite its commitment to carbon taxes) and service cuts including in Portland to local transit.
The Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center is sponsoring a conference that is happening soon: May 27, 2009 - May 29, 2009 and would be worth while to attend to learn about transportation alternatives and developments in the region that can be applied elsewhere: intercity, commuter/regional rail and rail/cycling integration.
The event, the Cascadia Rail Partnership Conference is subtitled Moving Beyond Oil - Connecting Communities - Rails & Trails. Among its agenda items are
* Federal High Speed Rail Legislation-Moving Passenger and Freight Rail Beyond Oil
* Cascades Rail and Interconnecting Bus Service, and the Connect Oregon Initiative
* New Rail Technology from High Speed Rail to Diesel Multiple Units
* Update on Stimulus Package and Rail Opportunities
* Moving Freight and Passengers on the Same Track
There will also be a special-invite launch in Snohomish (north of Seattle) with Sonoma/Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) John Nemeth, Rail Planning Manager for SMART, the builder of a 70-mile rail and trail line, and Andy Peri from Marin County Bicycle Coalition will meet with Snohomish County rail and trail advocates, and the Snohomish Chamber of Commerce to discuss lessons learned.
This last one is quite timely because there have been and continue to be conflicts between both green form of transportation: cycling/walking and rail transit on little-used or abandoned-but-being-brought-back-to-use rail lines. There has been a big battle on the Seattle area's growing, sprawling, and congested Eastside over such a rail corridor that some senior and powerful officials want for bicycles/pedestrians only while others want for a mixed-use commuter/regional rail and cycle corridor. This route is also the only feasible north-south rail transportation alternative should the principal rail line that hugs the earthquake/landslide/tsunami-vulnerable shoreline from Everett to Seattle gets knocked out: a strong possibility in 'shake-rattle-and-roll country'. Or there is a fire or explosion in the aging tunnel that brings the trains under the city center.
The event takes place in Seattle and Portland with an on-board presentation aboard the 'kickoff' train between both cities on May 27. There will also be a tour of Portland's WES suburb-to-suburb commuter rail; the group will take the MAX light rail to Beaverton, change to WES, ride to Wilsonville, and return. Following that attendees can ride back on MAX and get off near the Amtrak station or ride further directly to PDX for their flight back via Horizon (alas Sound Transit's LINK light rail from SeaTac to downtown Seattle isn't open yet but there are the King County Metro buses). There will be sessions on the 28th and the aforementioned luncheon on the 29th.