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KVAL
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EUGENE, Ore. -- Bringing high-speed rail service to Eugene has been a slow train coming.

For more than a decade, local politicians have envisioned sleek, modern trains shuttling passengers from the downtown station to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver at speeds of 150 miles an hour, 200 miles an hour or more.

But details of the plan remain sketchy. Leaders have yet to study the environmental impact of such a route or secure right-of-ways from freight haulers.

Now, local leaders say they want to get the plan back on track with help from federal stimulus funds.

"From Portland down to Eugene, we really need to get our act together," said Kitty Piercy, Eugene's mayor.

President Barack Obama recently announced an investment of $8 billion in high-speed projects nationwide.

A joint-proposal from Oregon and Washington requested $2.1 billion for the fully-funded Northwest line. The states ended up receiving a total of $598 million, the lion's share of which will go to Washington for improvements between Portland and Seattle.

Oregon received $8 million, much of it for repairs at Portland's Union Station.

Piercy, a proponent of high-speed rail, said she was encouraged that Oregon made the cut. But she added there's much more local and state leaders can do to further the project, from infrastructure planning to track improvements to negotiating rights of way.

Because of the lack of study, it's not even clear yet which tracks a high-speed line would use.

Piercy said she's putting together a summit on high-speed rail for March 9 in Eugene, featuring local, state and national transportation leaders. One of the obstacles in getting the planning done, she said, has been a lack of state funding.

In doling out the funds, Obama said he was looking for projects that were "shovel-ready."

In contrast to Oregon's approach, California spent the past decade investing heavily in plans for a line from Sacramento to San Diego. A state-appointed board put together detailed plans of how the trains would work, the routes they would take and how much it would cost.

Jilliane Schoene, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kulongoski, said Oregon, meanwhile, has just invested $102 million in planning through the ConnectOregon program. That's up from a total of $77 million invested before Kulongoski took office.

Even so, "we're just starting to make these investments," she said.

Schoene added that Oregon would be stepping up its research so it can compete for a second round of federal funding -- $2.5 billion -- that will be made available later.

A study released Tuesday by OSPIRG, an Oregon public interest research group, found that a high-speed route would attract about 3 million passengers a year on the section between Portland and Vancouver alone, easing congestion on Interstate 5 and reducing carbon emissions.

For the time being, passengers hoping to ride the rails to Vancouver will have to settle for the Amtrak Cascades trains.

Passenger Karen Hernandez said she likes the comforts of the train, but as a means of transporation it's no faster than driving a car.

As she waited for the 11:35 to Seattle at Eugene's downtown station on Tuesday, Hernandez said she remains confident high-speed service will one day come to Eugene.

"I just hope it comes while I'm still around to enjoy it," she said.

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