WSDOT Intercity Rail Update

Photo by Atomic Taco

At the recent WSDOT Public Transportation Conference, WSDOT Rail Operations Supervisor Kirk Frederickson offered a thorough update on WSDOT’s Intercity Rail Program.  While STB’s readership will be familiar with many of the current projects – Point Defiance Bypass (PDB), the King Street Station upgrade, Cascades Trainset Overhaul, other ARRA/HSIPR improvements, etc – there were many new ideas and projects to pass along.

Governance

Perhaps the biggest news is that under federal law, Cascades must be financially independent of Amtrak by October 2013. Thereafter, the governments of Oregon, Washington, and (perhaps someday) British Columbia will assume all operating costs.  This presents short-term funding challenges, as Amtrak currently provides 24% of Cascades’ funding, but this independence may also offer a measure of long-term protection against hostile Republican administrations. In response, WSDOT and ODOT will complete their joint corridor management plan  by January 2013, and WSDOT is also developing a new State Rail Plan.

Because of inertia, precedent, and due to the fact that the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder will remain under Amtrak, Frederickson said Cascades will likely retain Amtrak under contract as its operator. Interestingly, however, Frederickson left open the possibility of choosing another operator:

“There have been discussions all around the country, particularly in Congress, [and] Republicans would like to see more free-market [principles] brought to intercity rail, as it’s a monopoly right now. So we’ll never say never, and we will look at different things that we can do as we try to get different operators. Are we completely wedded to Amtrak forever? The answer is absolutely not.”

Fares

  • Fares will become even more dynamic.  Top prices will increase in 2013, but in order to compete with BoltBus, more aggressive discounts will also be offered for advance purchase tickets.

Fleet

  • After significant delay apparently related to wi-fi, Oregon’s trainsets will arrive in December 2012 after being tested and certified in Pueblo, Colorado.   They will enter general rotation in Spring 2013.
  • The new trainsets will not have rotating seats, but they will continue the push-pull operations with which we are familiar, meaning most passengers will be seated backwards in one direction of travel.

Schedules

  • WSDOT is considering new scheduling options, even before the Point Defiance Bypass is complete. Frederickson cited Train 509 as an example, which arrives in Eugene around midnight and often runs nearly empty south of Portland.  As all southbound service to Eugene currently arrives in the evening (5:03 on the Starlight, and 8:50 and 11:45pm on Cascades), officials are considering replacing the PDX-EUG section of Train 509 with bus service  to allow for a new early morning train from Portland to Eugene, likely timed to become Train 504 (9:00 am departure from Eugene).
  • After the Point Defiance Bypass is complete, Frederickson reiterated that one of WSDOT’s main scheduling priorities is to add early morning departures from both Seattle and Portland, with the goal of arrivals in both cities between 9:00-10:00 am.

Stations

  • There are no plans to add additional stations, despite numerous requests from municipalities.  However, WSDOT has begun developing criteria by which cities can qualify for stations in the future.
  • When asked about underperforming stations, specifically Stanwood, Fredickson said, “We are going to take a good look at what we’re getting for those stations, and what we’re losing there.  If, say, we’re only picking up one person, we will have to be mindful of the big picture.  When we have stations that are underperforming, we will take a look at possible changes.”

Demographics:

  • 73% of current ridership is either under 35 (43%) or over 55 (30%).  Riders are 86% white, and average household income is $76,000.  Frederickson indicated a desire to grow ridership among minorities and adults aged 35-55, but he also confirmed that marketing campaigns will continue to cater to the established rider base.

 

 

Comments

  1. aw says

    If the seats can’t be rotated on the new trainsets, you have to wonder why they didn’t install half the seats forward-facing and the other half rear-facing. Or add more facing pairs to better accomodate groups of three or four.

    Personally, I don’t have any problems with a rear-facing seat on a train. Sometimes it’s okay to see where you’ve been.

      • Lloyd says

        C’mon – for those who might have issues with riding backward, at least have 1/2 seats facing one way and 1/2 facing the other, as on the Vermonter and some other push/pull trains.

      • asdf says

        How many passengers have issues riding backwards? I’ve done it and never had issues. I’ve also faced backwards on other rail services as well, including the Washington D.C. Metro and our own Link system.

        I don’t know what the additional cost of rotating seats may be, but if it’s a substantial cost to benefit very few people, simply letting those few people who can’t face backwards ride BoltBus seems like the reasonable solution.

      • says

        A lot of people THINK they have a problem with it because the do on buses and cars. My kids used to complain about riding backwards so I started distracting them when the train first took off. Once they forgot to realize they didn’t like going backwards they’d notice about an hour later. A couple times like that and it was easy to convince them they really didn’t have a problem with it.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Are they planning to wye the trains at each terminal? I know the trains are sometimes wyed at Vancouver BC, but it seems like a pain in the butt to run every Cascades trains down to Spokane St. (in Seattle) instead of spending 10 minutes turning the seats.

      • Mike Orr says

        I never had a problem with riding backwards and I didn’t think anybody did, until I took my mom on her first Link excursion from TIB to SeaTac, downtown, and back to TIB. She didn’t want to sit on the backward seats because looking backwards made her slightly dizzy.

  2. Brian Bundridge says

    Thanks for the detailed update! As for the seats, that will cause a problem for those passengers who overtime, get disoriented from traveling backwards at high speed. Why the decision to have none rotational seats is beyond me, since the Wisconsin trains have that option.

    As for BC, who would be taking up the issue of funding? BC itself or the Canadian Government?

    • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

      I think the incoming social democratic BCNDP government in May 2013 that will replace a tired BCLiberal free enterprise admin would be open to helping fund Amtrak rather than the conservative national Canadian government.

      There are some people I know up there you may want to talk to. E-mail of mine is josefk-AT-usa-DOT-com if you want their names & e-mails.

      • Nathanael says

        Well, that’s good news. Washington State engineers have laid out a rather clear list of the north-of-the-border obstacles to faster service on Cascades Vancouver-Seattle, which are listed in the “Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades” from 2006. if an incoming NDP government is willing to commit to making some of the changes, progress would happen very quickly.

        The biggest unresolved issue is whether to (a) replace the Fraser River bridge (which I think is the correct thing to do) or (b) build a new terminal station south of the Fraser River Bridge near Scott Rd. (which is the cheap option).

        However, there are three BC projects which are needed whichever option is chosen: the most important is the White Rock Bypass (the other two are the Colebrook Siding and high speed tracks north of White Rock). So far BC has not lifted so much as a finger to even start planning any of these projects.

      • Nathanael says

        I stand corrected; the Colebrook siding was in fact completed.

        This means that Seattle-Vancouver service is stuck at “timetable B”, since very little of the planning work for “timetable C” projects has even been started.

        The Seattle-Portland service is also on “timetable B”, but most of the projects for “timetable C” are under construction, more of them are funded, and all of them have planning completed; the Point Defiance Bypass will likely be the last one to get built. Several of the projects for “timetable D” from Seattle-Portland are also funded or under construction. The next step for Seattle-Portland is a third track along much of the corridor, basically; it’s likely to meet its target for “schedule F” by 2023.

        The Seattle-Vancouver route is not going to be ready for schedule F by 2023 unless a lot more money gets put in very soon.

    • Paul says

      I’m from the UK, I rode on trains facing backwards my whole life with no issues. To my knowledge, trains in the UK have NEVER had rotating seats.

      You guys are funny with the issues you pick.

  3. John Slyfield says

    If it weren’t for Sen. Mary haugen being senate transportation chair its unlikely we would have wasted this money on a station serving so few people.

    I would be happy to see that station go away but until she is out of office and or democrats control Olympia that’s unlikely to happen (this coming from someone who typically votes for and this year no exception democrats)

    • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

      Well perhaps it’s time to vote Republican for change in state government. Margaret Haugen is in real danger of losing her seat to a way better person and leader in State Rep. Barbara Bailey.

      • John Slyfield says

        I would consider it if i were in her district. thanks for politely correcting her name my oops.

        I like politicians who think regionally and not just locally especially on transportation issues. if it weren’t for Margaret Haugen we wouldn’t have a stanwood station.

      • aw says

        John, you were partly right, as was Joe. Haugen identifies herself in the Senate directory as Mary Margaret Haugen.

  4. Jason Barbour says

    For those interested, Oregon is also working on the Oregon portion of the corridor:
    http://www.oregonpassengerrail.org/

    It’s good to know a joint plan is being worked on.

    I realize this is focused on the I-5 corridor, but something that would be good to know is what it would take to have daylight train service to Spokane (the Pacific Northwest’s second-largest city) and maybe even reopening the Cheney train station.

    • Steve says

      “Spokane (the Pacific Northwest’s second-largest city)”.

      By any conceivable measure, Spokane is far smaller than either Seattle or Portland (or Vancouver BC). Did you mean Washington’s second largest-city? Or are you not counting Oregon as part of the PNW?

      • lazarus says

        Yep. Spokane isn’t the Northwest’s 2nd largest city. And it’s only marginally bigger than Tacoma anyway. Plus it would be a long thin route with not much need in between. Such routes are much better served by buses.

  5. Erik G. says

    Average incomes are based on passenger surveys (i.e. self-reporting), which cannot be trusted.

    As for the levels of the pigment melanin of customers (Riders are 86% white) what measure is WSDOT using? US Census’ which considers Hispanic an ethnicity not a race? And how does this number compare to the region as a whole?

    • Lloyd says

      While I always travel in Business Class, I walk the train front to back every trip (4 or 5 times a year, usually weekdays) and these numers seem about right by my very unscientific observations. I’d guess more 35-55s on weekdays, lots more under 35s on weekends, perhaps.

  6. Chris says

    I wish they would add a stop in Blaine, and dump the Stanwood station. If the people in the lower mainland of Canada could drive to Blaine and park, maybe the Canadian govt would be more willing to invest

    • d.p. says

      Admittedly, the last time I passed through Stanwood on the train, I remember thinking that “this little old-west town looks cute; I would totally get off here and explore if the next train weren’t 12 hours away.”

      Isn’t it kind of interesting that a city so small has two historic downtowns?

      I guess I don’t have a problem with the occasional less-than-blockbuster stop, far between any other stops, causing a couple of minutes of delay. Those minutes pale in comparison to the time wasted on sub-standard ROW on the Canadian side of the border.

      • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

        Yeah, I’d explore the town too if there was a transit link back to Skagit that wasn’t 10 hours later.

      • asdf says

        Monday-Saturday, Stanwood is actually served by Community Transit route 240. The bus goes to Smokey Point, where you can take the #201/202 to Everett, followed by the 510 back to Seattle. Amazingly, the 201/202 run every 30 minutes, so the connections can’t be that bad, at least on paper. I’d guess it would take about 2-2 1/2 hours.

        Alternatively, there is also a commuter express making two trips a day, but the schedule makes it completely unusable unless you are willing to spend the night there.

      • J. Reddoch says

        But Joe is interested in going between Stanwood and Mount Vernon. The 411C operates nine trips a day between Mount Vernon and Stanwood on weekdays and five trips a day on Saturday.

        And if given a choice between Everett Station and Stanwood, I would much prefer taking the 412C if given the choice. Although on Saturdays you must take the much slower 201/202 and 240 combination to get to Stanwood.

        Finally, if you take CT’s commuter service to Stanwood, you could always return on Amtrak.

  7. says

    Huh, hadn’t realized that requirement was in PRIIA. Does that apply to all state-supported routes (such as the Amtrak California routes)?

    Seems like it would be good to get the gubernatorial candidates to weigh in on whether they would continue to support and improve funding for the Cascades. I wouldn’t trust Rob McKenna with the future of the Cascades and intercity rail in the Northwest.

    Regarding BC, I would not be surprised if the new provincial NDP government to be elected next May (they have a commanding lead in the polls) helps fund service on their end. I would not expect much from the Canadian federal government until 2015.

    • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

      I’d trust Rob McKenna – I don’t think he’d want to torque off his rural base who needs intercity rail to get to/from Seattle for big events like air shows & Seafair & Seahawks.

      Agree w/ you on Canadian funding though.

      • asdf says

        McKenna’s rule base is not going to lobby him to keep intercity rail for them to get to Seattle once a year for bit events. They will lobby him to gut intercity rail and use it to cut taxes instead, by some very trivial amount.

        The Republican position on transportation is unequivocally simple: transit is pork, intercity rail is pork, all transportation investments, with the possible exception of highways to move more cars is pork. Given this, there is simply no way I can trust any Republican on transportation.

    • aw says

      Yes Robert, PRIIA section 209 applies to routes less that 750 miles in length so that would include the three California state-supported routes.

      From http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/PRIIA%20Overview%20031009.pdf

      State-Supported Routes

      The Amtrak Board of Directors, in consultation with US DOT, the governors of each relevant State, and the Mayor of the District of Columbia, or entities representing those officials, is required to develop and implement a single, nationwide standardized methodology for establishing and allocating the operating and capital costs of providing
      intercity rail passenger service among the States and Amtrak for the trains operated on designated high-speed rail corridors (outside the Northeast Corridor), short-distance corridors, or routes of not more than 750 miles, and services operated at the request of a State, a regional or local authority or another person [§209].
      The methodology should ensure equal treatment within five years in the provision of comparable services of all States and groups of States (including the District of Columbia) and allocate to each route the costs incurred only for the benefit of that route and a proportionate share, based upon factors that reasonably reflect relative use, of costs incurred for the common benefit of more than one route. If a State desires to select or selects an entity other than Amtrak to provide certain rail passenger services, the State may enter into an agreement with Amtrak to use facilities and equipment of, or have services be provided by, Amtrak under terms agreed to by the State and Amtrak [§217]. The STB is authorized to resolve any dispute that might arise between a State and Amtrak over such terms.

    • Nathanael says

      “Huh, hadn’t realized that requirement was in PRIIA. Does that apply to all state-supported routes (such as the Amtrak California routes)?”

      Yes. Mainly affects Surfliner in CA.

      • Nathanael says

        Nationally, the largest effects are on (1) Empire Service in NY and (2) Wolverine Service in MI.

        The only service which is expected to actually be cut is the Hoosier State; all the other states have promised to figure out how to come up with the money.

    • John Slyfield says

      That would not be a problem Portland and north. union pacific might throw a flag on that arrangement south of Portland thought.

      • Erik G. says

        Uncle Pete might not even allow any non-Amtrak run train south of Portland. Isn’t that why rerouting the train over the Oregon Electric (or whatever its name is) has been looked at?

      • Anandakos says

        Eric,

        An Oregon Electric routing may now be impossible. Certainly, an all-Oregon Electric routing is. Even if one could stand the enormous time penalty (at least forty minutes longer point to point) between Portland and Salem via the old OE, the crucial north-south right of way along Cornelius Pass Road has been obliterated south of Cornell.

        BNSF had rights on the UP main between Union Station and the intertie to the old OE at the north end of Salem. The Willamette and Pacific uses those rights today, but it’s at least possible that BNSF kept the actual rights and assigns them to W&P as a haulage operator.

        Whether or not Uncle Pete would allow those rights to be exercised by BNSF engineers on passenger trains would be unclear.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        The OE option is still very much under consideration, although I think it’s a long shot. Oregon is still working on their plan for service between Portland and Eugene. There are a series of public information meetings scheduled this month in cities along the route. The reason the OE is still being considered is that much of the UP line south of Portland is single tracked and there aren’t enough available sidings to keep the traffic moving freely. That’s why Oregon is looking into the OE, the cost of upgrading the UP mainline to 110mph service won’t be cheap. Would it be better to just put the money into the OE and not have to worry about freight conflicts and Uncle Pete?

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        BNSF allows UP trains with UP crews to operate on BNSF tracks between Tacoma and Portland, so I don’t think it would be a problem for BNSF crews to operate Cascades trains between Portland and Eugene, although UP might require a crew change in Portland.

      • Nathanael says

        I believe all the Oregon Electric proposals I’ve read involve using the UP corridor from Portland to Salem and getting onto the Oregon Electric in the vicinity of Salem.

  8. Walker says

    The Cascades’ biggest problem is that the rail office is ran by wannabe politicians who are more interested in making sure the train has their favorite scotch in the bar than seeing that the state’s money is well-spent. And they fail upwards – the clown who ran the passenger operations prior to this clown is now some big shot with Amtrak in DC. He’ll last just long enough for them to figure out what a total joke he is, and then he’ll be back here in the Department of Commerce or some other silly department where people like him land.

    How about repealing PRIAA in its entirety, giving Amtrak multi-year funding, and letting the people who know how to run trains, run trains? If the politicians want to micro-manage something, how about the military welfare complex?

    • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

      I really did not appreciate your last comment there. Our troops as welfare? Really?

      I hope you take that back.

      • aw says

        I took it as meaning the defense contractors. You know, the old military-industrial complex that Eisenhower complained about.

      • Walker says

        Take that back? What are you going to do, tell your mommy on me?

        The Military Welfare Complex is the corporate handout machine – stuff we don’t need for national defense, and includes most of the “defense” budget. You can unclutch your pearls now.

      • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

        Walker, I’m currently an OB-GYN to a project that will Growl the hell outta the people who hate the military in Island County. You want to wake up to Growler noise, sure pal.

        I do think though that some military projects have ripped us off (Commanche stealth helicopter meant for gaming, latest upgrades to the M1A2 Abrahams, some of these drones, stealth warships) – and it was dumber than dumb to put the Airborne Laser into mothballs. On the other hand, let’s support the troops and understand they’re all around better people than most of us.

      • jon says

        I dont believe walker said anything about the troops in his comment, dont drag the troops into a fair criticism of the military industrial complex.

    • Walker says

      AVgeek, I grew up in the military (Air Force Brat). My dad and uncle were WWII vets. I know all about the military, and have a deep respect for the challenges of military life, both for the members and their families, but not a slavish adoration. They’re people, just like the rest of us.

      Romantic notions are one thing, but we should have learned by now that we can’t have both guns and butter. It’s never worked for any civilization (as they taught me in USAF ROTC) and it won’t work now.

      Trying to have it all impacts every facet of our society, including transportation. We spend more money on “defense” than all the other nations combined. We are what General Eisenhower warned us about, and we are bankrupting ourselves in the process. I

      • says

        Walker, I think that’s a fair point to raise. We’ve got too much welfare spending going on and way too much spending on CRAPPY defense projects.

        I mean LockMart can’t even fix the breathing system on the F-22 Raptor. Heck, Boeing’s never had a problem w/ their F-15s having oxygen depravation. Don’t get me started on the LockMart F-35… I can go full avgeek but this blog is about transit.

        Like I said: I agree, too much spending on kit. After all, why do we have so many M1 tanks in our modern counterinsurgency warfare?

  9. d.p. says

    After the Point Defiance Bypass is complete, Frederickson reiterated that one of WSDOT’s main scheduling priorities is to add early morning departures from both Seattle and Portland, with the goal of arrivals in both cities between 9:00-10:00 am.

    But the bypass will only save six minutes, right? Based on the current schedule, presuming padding will remain similar, that means a morning departure between 5:36 and 6:36. That just seems unrealistically early for most in Seattle or Portland to catch the train, especially if relying on public transit to get them to the station.

    As it is, the 7:30 Seattle departure requires you to be on a bus by about 6:40, and even that’s cutting it close. Depending on your route, a 6:15 bus might be the last one guaranteed get you to your train. Any way you slice it, you’re out of bed by 6:00.

    I’d much rather they add a late-morning departure. Coast Starlight, with its longer travel time and higher fares, is unappealing to the point of irrelevancy. The next Cascades isn’t until 11:25, so you’re not getting into Portland until 3.

    Let’s face it: business travelers who absolutely must be in Portland by the start of the work day are going to keep flying. Let’s optimize Cascades for those with flexibility, by providing real flexibility (without the sleep deprivation).

    • aw says

      Get to bed earlier. If you were flying, you would have to get up by 6:00 or earlier. And if you lived south of Seattle, you could catch the train at Tukwila.

      One of the benefits of the PDB and the other ARRA funded improvements is the schedule reliability should be improved. I think they’re planning to remove some of the padding then, so hopefully, the travel time will improve more than just the six minutes saved by the bypass.

      The bypass is also needed to increase train service. They will presumably add at least one morning departure.

      • d.p. says

        If you were flying, you would have to get up by 6:00 or earlier.

        Not true. That 7:30 train doesn’t get in until 11:00.

        If I were to fly to Portland with the intent of arriving around that time (including MAX), I wouldn’t need to be on a plane until 9:30. That means getting to SeaTac by 8:40, which means being on a train by 8:00, which means being on Metro by 7:15 at the latest.

        That’s a whole hour later than might be required to get to King Street by 7:30.

      • d.p. says

        And my comparison involved business travelers who want to be there by 9 or 10, not by mid-day.

        They don’t care about the higher cost of flying, and they don’t care if they have to pay for one day of parking at the airport (which also costs less than parking near King Street). So, really, they can roll out of bed at 6:45 and still be on an 8:30 flight.

        This isn’t the Northeast Corridor, where all the airports experience significant backups, and where LGA and JFK are particularly gigantic pains in the ass. Business travelers there have every reason to choose Amtrak, even if it requires getting up very early.

        But you’re never going to get SEA-PDX business people on a 6 AM train when they could be on an 8:30 flight. Not going to happen.

      • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

        I like the 7:30 AM Amtrak Cascades so I can take the county connector then the Sounder then the Amtrak Cascades down to Tacoma or Olympia if need be. Taking that away is a big no-no in my book. Those of us north of Seattle who don’t have cars need accessible, affordable access to get to the state capitol and back in the same day.

    • Lloyd says

      But for people in Thurston and Lewis counties who need to be in Portland or Seattle at the opening of business? Seattle and Portland are NOT the only sources or destinations of passengers for our Cascades trains, a feature that some “urbanites” sometimes forget.

      • d.p. says

        I’m just being honest here. The number of riders who:

        A) are traveling from Centralia or Olympia on a weekday morning; and
        B) absolutely must arrive in Seattle or Portland by the start of the business day; and
        C) live close enough to those intermediate stations that it doesn’t just make more sense to drive the whole 90 minutes north or south

        …is negligible.

        Not worth devoting an entire train to, especially when the late morning and the mid-evening are such obvious holes in the schedule.

      • Lloyd says

        And yes, we need every-other-hourly service SEA-PDX sooner rather than later, and hopefully hourly between
        0600-2000 shortly thereafter.

      • Avgeek Joe from Skagit County says

        Thank you Lloyd.

        May I remind people many of us need an accessible ride to/from OLYMPIA! Our state capitol!!

    • Lightning says

      Actually, I’d love to have one Express SEA-PDX train, stopping in Tacoma, Olympia and that’s it. When more trains are added (I thought there were going to be TWO more, not just one, perhaps at least one train can be an Express.

    • asdf says

      d.p. – you are really exaggerating things here. From what I read, the point defiance bypass project is expected to save 15 minutes, not 6. And improve reliability also.

      Furthermore, it should be noted that there is such a thing as taxicabs, and the reality is, if you need to be at King St. Station by 6:00 and live anywhere with 5-10 miles of there, you’re probably not taking a bus, but taking a cab instead. The cost of the cab will absolutely be within the budget that business travelers are willing to pay and will still be far cheaper than flying.

      Also, remember that anybody who flies from Seattle to Portland still needs to get to SeaTac somehow. Anybody that would be boarding Amtrak at King St. Station (as opposed to Tukwila or Tacoma) would be coming from somewhere where a cab ride to King St. Station would be both faster and substantially cheaper than a cab ride to SeaTac. Yes, people going to SeaTac could choose to drive and park. But parking at SeaTac airport costs about as much as parking in downtown Seattle, so the cost of driving and parking is about the same in either case.

      • d.p. says

        While nothing you say is technically incorrect, asdf, you are missing my point.

        The reason Acela trains on the Northeast Corridor are competitive with flying is that the airports are so inconvenient (LGA, JFK, IAD) or so prone to runway delays (BOS, JFK, et al) that there’s a good chance the train will be faster as well as easier.*

        The advantage of Cascades over flying is price. And to a lesser degree stress. Flying is still unequivocally faster; you can get out of bed an hour later, perhaps two hours later, and still make it to Portland at the same hour.

        So if time is more valuable to you than money, you’re going to fly. And people who absolutely must to be there by 9 or 10 in the morning are most likely business travelers, i.e. those who value time over price. A 6:00 AM train isn’t going to convince a single one of them to stop flying.

        *(This speed advantage exists in spite of the fact that Acela trains don’t technically run much faster than Cascades trains do.)

      • d.p. says

        Oh, and the official word is that the bypass will save 6 minutes in running time.

        Hopefully the improvement in reliability will allow them to shave off some of the padding built into the current schedule, though.

      • Bernie says

        Cascades absolutely has to be competitive for business. If it can’t then it’s a tourist attraction and we should question if that’s worthy of State subsidy.

        You can drive to SEA and park. For a day trip it’s really not even worth parking outside the SEA garage. To take the train from DT Parking would be really expensive and negate the operating subsidy. A free spot in a P&R though and you’re golden. Maybe a paided parking garage in Tukwila? A lot depends on where you’re trying to go. If a business traveler from Portland has a meeting in DT Seattle then Amtrak has a big advantage. If the meeting is out on the Microsoft campus then not so much.

      • says

        “Flying is still unequivocally faster; you can get out of bed an hour later, perhaps two hours later, and still make it to Portland at the same hour.”

        Actually it isn’t. I wrote an entire study on it. Downtown to downtown driving is fastest by about 15 minutes. Flying and the train came in very close. Driving at AAA and the IRS estimates costs $85, flying about $100 and the train $30-45.

        The biggest advantage to flying is that there’s 13 flights per day but only 5 trains. Driving you could leave any time you wanted. For comfort and cost the train won hands down. Driving won for speed and convenience. Flying lost in virtually every category (although narrowly in speed).

        Since the study was aimed at business travelers I focused on downtown to downtown. If you live by Seatac and your destination is near PDX then flying would have a chance.

      • d.p. says

        Seems like you’re basing your comparisons off of the padded flight schedules (50 minutes) and recommended airport arrivals (1 hour).

        The truth is that you don’t need to arrive at either airport more than 45 minutes before your flight if traveling light, and that the flight is barely over half an hour.

        You may also be ignoring the need to arrive at King Street and Union Station at least 10-15 minutes early.

        I’ve only ever flown SEA-PDX and PDX-SEA once, when severe Centralia flooding had knocked out both the train and the highway.

        Waste of money? Sure.
        Fast as the dickens? Absolutely.

      • d.p. says

        Honestly, my partner at the time and I treated the unexpected flooding-instigated increase in our travel costs as an excuse to throw caution to the wind — we treated the trip like we were business travelers. Drove from Ballard, parked for 24 hours at the airport, rented a car at PDX. Ballard to Downtown Portland took barely 2:30.

        Cascades can compete for some types of business travelers — those who are actually cost conscious, or would prefer to be able to work in transit than to physically be there at the earliest possible hour.

        But any business traveler who obsesses about getting there first thing in the morning will fly. This will not change.

      • Mike Orr says

        “you don’t need to arrive at either airport more than 45 minutes before your flight if traveling light”

        That’s really cutting it close. When I arrive at SeaTac an hour ahead, by the time I get to the gate there’s only ten minutes before boarding, because they start boarding a half hour before departure and you have only a few minutes to get in before boarding is closed. Usually I have enough time to fill up my water bottle, but sometimes I have to run or do without water. Now I aim for two hours ahead, and if I miss a bus or the train is delayed I’m still 1 1/2 hours ahead.

      • d.p. says

        Now I aim for two hours ahead, and if I miss a bus or the train is delayed I’m still 1 1/2 hours ahead.

        And business people just drive.

      • d.p. says

        Also, the SEA-PDX flights on Horizon are as close to the old BOS-LGA shuttles (that have mostly ceased to exist since Acela and 9/11*) as anything I’ve seen in a while.

        They don’t have the separate security*, but they have no-hassle boarding, which doesn’t start until 20 minutes before departure (I think) yet still gets the doors closed at the 10-minute mark with push-back on time if not early.

        (In the pre-Acela, pre-9/11 era, you could get to BOS, LGA, or DCA 15 minutes before a departure and still get on it.)

      • asdf says

        The claim that flying costs $100 is not reasonable.

        If you include taxis, airport parking, and/or rental cars for ground transportation, flying will likely cost you close to $100 on ground transportation alone for the round trip. And that’s before you factor in the cost of the plane itself.

        It should also be noted that, like just like trains, planes are subject to lots of random events that can delay service with little notice. If your schedule is really time-critical, you are probably best off driving and nothing we do in the forseeable future is going to change that. But if you’re willing to accept a little bit in schedule or travel time, the train gives you an option that is both cheaper and more comfortable than the driving and flying options.

      • Not Fan says

        Actually it isn’t. I wrote an entire study on it. Downtown to downtown driving is fastest by about 15 minutes. Flying and the train came in very close. Driving at AAA and the IRS estimates costs $85, flying about $100 and the train $30-45.

        Cost comparisons depend critically on the purpose of the trip and the nature of the vehicle driven. If you’re going on business, then the IRS rate for a car works. If you’re a tourist from out of town, the IRS rate isn’t high enough. You have to compare it to renting a car, and then ask whether it’s a one-way rental or round-trip, because there might be a drop-off charge with a one-day rental.

        If the comparison is for a non-business trip using your own car, the IRS rate is ludicrously high. It is geared for business travel in a late model car, and includes allowances for depreciation and insurance. However, the average person keeps a car for 12 years, so depreciation rounds to zero. Insurance isn’t a factor, because they’ll pay it no matter what.

        Therefore, for a non-business car trip, the cost of traveling to Portland is the gas, plus something for oil, tires, and general wear and tear associated with 175 miles of travel. At 25 mpg on the freeway, typical 190-mile trip from north of downtown Seattle to Beaverton) costs $32.30 for gas. I’ve checked the numbers on Edmunds.com. If I tossed in another 2 or 3 cents a mile for maintenance, it would be another $5, for a total of $37.45. Hell, I’ll even round it up to $40 on the theory that false precision is worthless. But it’s nowhere near $85.

        Yes, I know the IRS rate is $0.555 per mile. If I was, say, a traveling salesman and was driving a lot for the company, the IRS rate would make some sense, because I’d need a newer car and would legitimately expect to be reimbursed for allocated insurance and depreciation. But in my own car, driving there and back for strictly personal reasons, the IRS rate simply does not realistically apply.

        Moreover, for business purposes where flying is an option, most companies aren’t going to be looking too hard at the transportation cost. What they care much more about is time. If you fly down there, you might be able to save hotel money. You’ll definitely have a more productive day. It’s possible to do a business day trip from Seattle to Portland and back by air, but not by rail.

        To put it differently, a business trip to Portland by rail is pretty much guaranteed to take a minimum of two business days. One entire business day will be spent in transit. By air, you can do it in a day, spending maybe a third of a day in transit.

        In this regard, it’s quite similar to taking the East Coast air shuttles. For many years, I worked in Boston and traveled frequently to New York on business. In the air, it was a day trip. Take the 7:30 shuttle from Logan; at the gate at La Guardia by 8:30; midtown by 9 or 9:15 (not nearly as much of a problem as people here think).

        In reverse, leave midtown Manhattan at 4:15, on the shuttle by 5 if you’re lucky, 5:30 if you’re not. Back at Logan at 6 or 6:30. Even before the Big Dig, I was back home in the western burbs by 7 or 7:30. Tired, but still in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

        In the East, that day trip is simply not possible on Amtrak. There are a fair number of business travelers on the Acela, but they are not day trippers. There is simply a larger market for a wider variety of business trips in the Northeast. After all, between Boston and New York, we are talking about roughly 25 million people; Seattle and Portland, about 6 million, and no Wall Street. The pool is much shallower here.

        Therefore, the main market for rail in the Pacific NW is tourists, and will be for the far-foreseeable future. Most of those tourists are choo-choo buffs, so they’ll love the train no matter what. And I see absolutely, positively no reason whatsoever for any entity of governmnt, but especially not a Washington State government that can’t even keep the state parks open, to subsidize their trips.

        Beyond the train-buff tourists, there are others have done the math and think the train will be cheaper. Other tourists simply dread the drive. Past the non-business/non-tourists, the business people, and the tourists, you have a sort of grab bag, like students. Hello Bolt Bus, and good luck Cascade.

        Even if, like most of the people on the Seattle Transit Blog, you have an unstoppable choo-choo train fetish, at least try to get the numbers right, and try to accurately understand just who you want the taxpayers to subsidize.

      • Not Fan says

        The reason Acela trains on the Northeast Corridor are competitive with flying is that the airports are so inconvenient (LGA, JFK, IAD) or so prone to runway delays (BOS, JFK, et al) that there’s a good chance the train will be faster as well as easier.*

        Keep dreaming. I mean, sheesh, do the choo-choo buffs just make it up?

        Maybe I’m the only commenter here with direct, personal experience on the air shuttles and Acela. There isn’t any competition between the two alternatives for business day trips between Boston and N.Y. I’m telling you: No competition at all.

        Why? Because a Boston-New York day trip on Acela is impossible in practical terms. Now, this is America and people do all kinds of crazy stuff here, so I’m sure someone will pop out of the woodwork somewhere and claim to have done a Boston-N.Y. Acela business day trip. But in the real world, they’d be an outlier, and everyone knows it.

        Travel time from downtown Boston to midtown Manhattan, including the cab from La Guardia, station/airport wait time, and 15-minute station exit and cab from Penn Station to midtown, is an hour and three-quarters (maybe two hours) in the air vs. 4 hours on Acela.

        This makes your transit time 3-1/2 to 4 hours on the air shuttle vs. 8 hours on Acela. Therefore there simply aren’t business day trips between Boston and New York on Acela. I know this, because I tried taking the train a couple times. It doesn’t work for a day trip, period.

        Do you see business people on Acela? Sure. Some business people are afraid to fly. Others have an intermediate stop. Others aren’t as time sensitive. You see, there are 25 million people in New York and Boston combined, compared with about 6 million in Seattle and Portland. And you have Wall Street there, vs. a few bank branches here.

        So the “business traveler” market in the East is vastly larger and more variegated than it is here. Get it through your heads, people: We are not the Northeast, and we never will be. If you want the Pacific Northwest to be the Northeast and Seattle to be New York, you are in for a lifetime’s worth of frustration and disappointment.

      • Mike Orr says

        Must not feed troll… can not resist… So because our population is not 25 million and we don’t have Wall Street, we should remain dependent on cars/buses and airplanes forever, as if we were a region of 200,000? The only reason we have this highway/airport infrastructure is sixty years ago people decided to pour a ton of money into high-energy, inefficient transportation modes, and to rip out the rail infrastructure that existed rather than modernizing it. Anyone outside that time period would say that’s idiotic, especially since it builds in a dependency on cheap fuel. Not to mention the space that highways and airports and parking lots take up. Half of cities’ built environment is taken up by parking spaces — those things that make distances longer so that there are fewer things in a walk circle, and it makes the entire city take up twice the space it would otherwise be (overrunning the most productive farmland).

        If they hadn’t ripped out the streetcars and let the passenger rail system languish and decay, we wouldn’t be spending all this money now to replace it. Instead we’d be spending a small amount of money on maintenance and modernization. We wouldn’t be spending it on rights of way which we already had, and we could have acquired more ROW slowly over the years as opportunity arose and new cities grew. The only ROW left is that which the freight railroads are using. So when a city like Lynnwood grows and we want a station there, we have to spend billions on right of way because it wasn’t reserved when the cities grew. And when we want a direct train from Seattle to Tacoma, it has to spend an extra half hour detouring through Sumner and Puyallup because there’s no track or ROW through Federal Way which would be shorter.

      • d.p. says

        Not Fan,

        As I wrote elsewhere on the thread, the BOS-LGA-DCA shuttles you describe have ceased to exist.

        No more hourly or half-hourly flights on Delta and competitors.
        No more unscheduled extra planes sitting around in case the hourly gets full.
        No more separate security line so you can get on the plane 15 minutes after you get to the airport.

        Thanks partly to Amtrak’s frequency and its (slight) speed improvements, but much more thanks to the increasing nightmare that is airport security, runway delays, and getting between LGA and Manhattan, Acela is absolutely competitive on a travel-time basis these days.

        And it has captured the majority of business travel. On the NY-DC segment, it has captured 75% of total travel. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/business/hassles-of-air-travel-push-passengers-to-amtrak.html?pagewanted=all

        This is why Acela barely has to be competitive on price anymore. It succeeds on time and ease.

        On Cascades, the overwhelming advantage is price rather than time. (And yet Cascades pays for more than 2/3 of its operating costs through fares, which is not too shabby.)

    • Nathanael says

      “But the bypass will only save six minutes, right? Based on the current schedule, presuming padding will remain similar…”

      The bypass will allow the removal of 4 minutes of padding due to greater reliability. It will therefore save TEN minutes total. This is information from WSDOT.

      • Nathanael says

        Other paid-for improvements (sidings in Kelso, bypass tracks in Vancouver WA, etc) will collectively knock off another 5 minutes or so from the schedule.

      • Nathanael says

        “73% of current ridership is either under 35 (43%) or over 55 (30%).”

        This fits D P Lubic’s hypothesis of a “generation gap” on attitudes towards trains.

      • Mike Orr says

        So that will bring the travel time down from 3:30 to 3:15. It takes exactly three hours to drive from Ballard to Portland in good traffic, so Amtrak is within a coffee break of equaling it.

      • Not Fan says

        So that will bring the travel time down from 3:30 to 3:15. It takes exactly three hours to drive from Ballard to Portland in good traffic, so Amtrak is within a coffee break of equaling it.

        Come off it. Why can’t you tell the truth? Is it really that hard?

        Yes, Ballard to Portland is 3 hours if the traffic gods are smiling, but you cannot credibly compare this to the Amtrak timetable. If you use Amtrak, you will need alternative transit links on each end, plus you’ll have station waiting time. How stupid do you think your readers are, anyway?

      • Nathanael says

        [ad hom]

        It depends where you’re going, doesn’t it? If you’re going to somewhere in downtown Portland, you don’t have to add any “connecting transit” time; the “drive through downtown Portland” time is certainly longer than the walk / streetcar ride, unless you like to drive after midnight.

        On the Seattle end, it’s not as good as that yet, true — but if you’re heading from, say, the University of Washington, you will (soon) have a choice of “take Link to the train station”, or “drive through stop-and-go traffic through downtown Seattle”, and I think I know which will be quicker.

        So there are going to be a lot of cases where the drive is clearly SLOWER. Obviously, if you’re going from a transit-disconnected location to another transit-disconnected location, or if you’re heading from south of Seattle to north of Portland, then you’ll find that driving is faster.

        Having to fit your schedule to the train schedule? Yes, that is an issue, but a much smaller one than people think. On a drive, you have to leave a huge amount of leeway for potential traffic delays. This amounts to more than the “waiting to fit the schedule” delays from trains which run fairly often and reliably, as Cascades soon will. There are going to be more and more frequencies of train service. And when Pt. Defiance Bypass is completed, the trains will run on time.

    • Scott Stidell says

      At a previous firm I had a major client in Portland and had frequent meetings with them there. For a same-day, mid-week trip it was always cheaper (and much more pleasant) to take the late train down the night before and stay in a hotel then take the evening train back to Seattle. Usually it was considerably cheaper to do this than to fly. Many businesses do care about their expenses and saving any money without negatively affecting our firm was never frowned upon (plus, of course, if necessary it’s much easier to work on the train). The firm’s HQ was in Houston and they frowned upon/did not understand the rail option, but when the lower reimbursable requests came in they changed their minds quickly!

      Certainly many people will not want to miss an evening at home and will decide to fly, but on a pure cost basis, the train+hotel will nearly always win–and will always do so when you add the additional work hours you are not losing while traveling by air during business hours.

      • Not Fan says

        I don’t know what business you were in that looked at value in the way you describe. All I can say is that it strikes me as unusual enough to be pretty odd. But it’s a big country, and we all know that some businesses are capable of making some pretty odd decisions.

  10. political_incorrectness says

    The bypass needs to get hightailed soon. That should help reduce the operations costs through increased frequency. Having the extra two trips should help. This would also allow for more trains during the Labor Day weekend, Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc. It would allow many to bypass the I-5 traffic jam between Olympia and Tacoma. Once travel times are right at 3 hours, that would help even further. Follow the Keystone Corridor example, speed it up, add frequency, and people will come.

    • Nathanael says

      Obama and LaHood have fast-tracked the Bypass. Hopefully that will help. It has to go through a lot of “environmental” documentation because Lakewood NIMBYs are causing trouble.

      There’s a categorical exclusion pending which would mean that this, and most other rail projects which take place entirely on existing rail lines, wouldn’t have to go through any of this “environmental” documentation; it probably won’t be finalized as a rule for six months, a year, or more, hence the fast-tracking of the specific project.

      I put “environmental” in quotes because none of this is about pollution, endangered species, wetlands, or anything genuinely environmental. Those would still have to be evaluated for any project.

  11. says

    I still don’t understand why this mostly straightaway well used corridor lost the bid for true (>125 mph) HSR. What happened to all the pull of our national reps? And how did a totally unbuilt and untried route in CA get the money?

    As far as more stations, I think there are a very low cost investment in the future of WA which needs to spread away from the congestion of Seattle.

    Ultimately I’d want an Inland Express Seattle/Yakima/Pasco/Spokane bullet train traveling through a chunnel in the mountains.

    • d.p. says

      And how did a totally unbuilt and untried route in CA get the money?

      Perhaps due to the millions and millions of people who are actually there to use it.

      And true high-speed rail, not saddled by cut corners and compromises, is built mostly from scratch. Feature, not bug (when the cost is justified).

    • Mike Orr says

      The core of California has 60 million people (probably more now), the state has a quarter of the House of Representatives, and distances are longer. If you drive an hour from San Francisco you end up in San Jose or halfway to Sacramento. If you drive an hour from Los Angeles you end up halfway to San Diego or San Bernardino. If you drive an hour from Seattle you end up in Mt Vernon, Olympia, or the middle of the Cascades; i.e., completely beyond the metropolitan area. So California has a much greater need for regional transit.

      I hope the state at least outlines a plan for normal-speed trains to Wenatchee-Spokane and Yakima-Spokane. No bullet trains needed, until such a time that they go all the way to California or Chicago.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        Weirdly, I’m going to defend JB’s opinion (in part). The CaHSR initial segment is a very expensive joke, and calls to mind the description someone once gave me of the now-euthanized 219, namely “a bus that goes between East Nowhere and East Nowhere ten times a day”. SNCF, the only adults who were briefly in the room (or at least looking in the door) at CaHSR offered to build and operate HSR between LA and SF on an I-5 alignment, with feeders to inland cities, at a fraction of the mind-boggling cost CaHSR is now batting around, but were shot down for political reasons.

        Just as having bus routes set by an entity like the King County Council, which sways and ruffles in every political breeze, makes it very hard to run a decent bus system, so having politically sensitive agencies choose rail alignments makes for hilariously suboptimal and expensive rail alignments. If only we could reanimate the highway builders of the ’50s, who knew only too well that if you want people to use your transportation system, you build it straight between (and straight into) your urban centers.

        Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Washington doesn’t have the cash to build a new rail alignment, or we’d probably find ourselves building Seattle-Portland via Yakima in the name of “equity”.

      • Nathanael says

        SNCF’s proposal was asinine, skipping (as it did) multiple major cities. I think they’d never looked at a CA population map. Have you?

      • Nathanael says

        The 2009 SNCF proposal was perfectly reasonable. I don’t know where the recent “bypass everyone” proposal came from.

      • Not Fan says

        The core of California has 60 million people (probably more now)

        Um, the entire state of California has 38 million people. Please, use Google.

    • Jon Korneliussen says

      An Eastern Washington connection has merit. Getting over the passes is a pain. An alternative to chaining up or summer weekend traffic jams would be a welcome addition.

  12. J. Reddoch says

    Regarding Stanwood Station, I wonder in lieu of Cascades stopping there if a three party agreement between WSDOT, Community Transit and Sound Transit to extend Sounder to Stanwood. WSDOT could pay the incremental cost of extending the line in addition to building a small platform in Marysville near the park-and-ride. CT’s involvement could be paying an equivalent amount to the operating cost of operating Routes 421 and 422 for an x number of years, less any feeder services they may choose to operate.

    This would provide more service to Stanwood and the station would probably have more use although peak only. Ridership would increase on Sounder and Community Transit would no longer need to provide such lengthy commuter services to downtown Seattle. The park-and-ride at I-5 would still be served by Island Transit.

    • Mike Orr says

      Maybe, but Olympia would probably be first. Olympia would have two-way traffic with Seattle businessmen going to the Capitol and tourists visiting the Capitol, and it would also pick up some Olympia-Tacoma trips. Plus there’s a latent market of people who would travel in that corridor if the transit were as frequent and inexpensive as Sounder. (I can’t believe I called Sounder frequent. :)

      In contrast, a Stanwood stop would pick up the 55 people on the Stanwood bus, with a one-digit trickle going north or south otherwise. It makes more sense to truncate the Stanwood bus at the future Link terminus (Lynnwood or possibly Everett), and that could allow more frequency or mid-day service, which would give people a non-automobile alternative to Snohomish County (rather than directly to King County).

      • J. Reddoch says

        Perhaps. But I was just brainstorming on an idea that if Amtrak Cascades did not stop in Stanwood there would be some use for the station.

  13. jon says

    typical congress BS… amtrak has to pay its way but money thrown at 70 mph design speed 6 lane grade separated roads to nowhere, there are so many overbuilt roads in this country and huge expensive bridges that serve few people

  14. Nathanael says

    “73% of current ridership is either under 35 (43%) or over 55 (30%). ”

    This fits D P Lubic’s hypothesis of a “generation gap” on attitudes towards trains.

  15. Walker says

    Here’s what I’d like to see on the Cascades:

    1.) Night owl service between Portland and Seattle, so you don’t have to stay all night in either town if you want to go see a game or something.

    2.) A van or bus service operating non-stop service between Centenial Station and downtown Oly/Capitol Campus. The current bus service does not make the grade.

    3.) Seat assignments like the airlines offer. Get rid of those long lines at KSS and Portland Union.

    As for the future of Amtrak, I believe that it is vitally important that it survive as at least a marketing entity/clearinghouse for the foreseeable future. Right now you can call 1-800-USA-RAIL or visit Amtrak.com, and see 90% of the Inter-city train service in the US. (i do wish it had links to the regional commuter lines somehow) If that were to be splintered at this time, with passenger rail still in the infancy of its rebirth, it would be a huge blow.

    On a side note, someone mentioned the great job BNSF does with Sounder. It should be noted that Amtrak and ST do the lion’s share of the work (maintenance, housekeeping, marketing, ticketing, etc) – BNSF just provides the engineers and Conductors.

    And one other thing – someone said that if the Cascades were just a tourist train, it shouldn’t be subsidized. Tourism is one of our main industries in Washington state. Tourist dollars pay for a lot of our services and facilities. Don’t knock the tourists :-)

    • d.p. says

      3.) Seat assignments like the airlines offer. Get rid of those long lines at KSS and Portland Union.

      I haven’t the slightest idea why Cascades started assigning seats at all.

      The Northeast Corridor, with ten times as many trains and fifteen times as many passengers, each of whom has paid 2-6 times as much for a ticket, has totally open seating.

      Best practices, people!

      • Dan Carey says

        The only times I have seen assigned seating was at the starting point of a route, like Seattle or Portland. If you get on at an intermediate stop, there is no assigned seating.

    • R Nelson says

      BNSF also dispatches the Sounders. The importance of this cannot be overstated, especially if BNSF also runs the trains. Think about it…

      • Walker says

        Think about what? Sounder is a class of trains that BNSF gets an incentive to bring in on time. Just like they do with all the Amtrak trains, which they also dispatch. Would they do a better job if it were just another train that they ran? After all, commodities are more valuable, financially speaking, than passengers, and involve much less expense. Commodities don’t complain when they are late, or if the track is bumpy. They don’t need bathrooms, or clean sheets, or waiting rooms, or hot coffee. They don’t get out of sorts if someone doesn’t smile at them the right way, and they don’t wax nostalgic for some golden age that they only know about because that’s the way grandpaw remembered it.

        Think about it indeed. Think about why the private roads wanted out of the passenger business, especially after they lost their USPS subsidies. They didn’t want passengers then, and they don’t want passengers now. If they have to do it, in the name of “efficiency”, they will make sure that it will cost us taxpayers big time – and the privatization-friendly politicians will be there to grease the skids, because they know that some of that gravy will be ladeled back to them

        Naïveté is charming in the young, but it’s a tragedy when its widespread amongst the taxpayers.

    • R Nelson says

      “BNSF just provides the engineers and Conductors”. And, dispatches the Sounders, an important function, whether you think so, or not.

      • Walker says

        Yes, as I said above, I know they dispatch the trains. It’s their tracks. They dispatch Amtrak trains too. That’s what railroads do.

      • Nathanael says

        The essence of control in railroading is dispatching. It’s not the actual *key* to control — that’s ownership of the land and tracks, as Norfolk Southern discovered when the state of North Carolina pointed out a couple of decades back that one of its most important tracks was actually owned by the state under a 99-year lease which had just expired. (NS has been *very cooperative* with North Carolina’s passenger rail plans since then.) But on a day-to-day basis the dispatcher controls the railroad.

    • Dan Carey says

      Ferry boats coming from Sidney BC have (or used to have) a small duty free shop, though I have no idea if it made much money.

      • Not Fan says

        I have spent enough time on international flights to know that you don’t save money at DFS. It’s an impulse buy, often as a means of getting rid of foreign currency. Sticking DFS on domestic trains is a joke.

  16. Not Fan says

    I see no reason whatsoever for the State of Washington to subsidize passenger train service here. If you want to fetishize the choo-choo train, have at it. But don’t ask the taxpayers to finance your fetish at a time when the state can’t even pay for its parks.

    • Not simple-minded says

      Well, the taxpayers have subsidized it for ten years now, and the world hasn’t ended. So perhaps what you need is a heapin’ helpin’ of get over yourself?

      And when the state stops subsidizing the auto fetishists and the aerospace fetishists, and the Maritime fetishists, and the military fetishists, maybe we can talk about rail. After all, isn’t it all about a level playing field?

      • Nathanael says

        Not Fan:

        I see no reason whatsoever for the State of Washington to subsidize paved road service in Washington. If you fetishize the automobile, have at it. (Build your own toll roads.) But don’t ask the taxpayers to finance your fetish at a time when the state can’t even pay for its parks.

        Notice that this argument applies *more* strongly to automobiles than to trains, because (1) automobiles are more environmentally damaging, (2) automobiles are a less economically efficient way of transporting people and require far more subsidies per passenger than trains.

        Get over it. Either we subsidize transportation or we don’t. If we do, we should subsidize the most appropriate forms of transportation, which includes trains between major cities and within major cities.

      • Nathanael says

        And yes, taxpayers subsidize paved roads in Washington; only a small fraction of the roads are funded by the gas tax. Look it up.

      • Nathanael says

        I can just see “Not Fan” driving his car along the unsubsidized, wet, pothole-filled dirt highway from Seattle to Portland, saying “I’m so glad I’m not on that unsubsidized train!”

        The historical evidence is clear: trains only need subsidies *because* roads and airports get subsidies. Personally, I think subsidizing all forms of transportation is helpful; it boosts the economy.

        But they should be on a fair playing field: for high volumes of passengers, such as between Portland and Seattle, trains are simply more efficient, and in an undistorted market, trains would win. If we’re subsidizing, we shouldn’t waste money, so we should go ahead and build trains where they’re appropriate.

    • Mike Orr says

      Cascades exists in lieu of expanding the freeway, and to make the region less dependent on short-distance flights. The planes use a lot of fuel, plus the cars of people driving to/from the airports (not to mention that people driving to the airport uses space on the freeways). If Cascades disappeared, it’s not like those people are not going to go to Portland (or Tacoma or Vancouver WA). Well, some of them won’t, but most of them will. Cascades exists partly to serve current needs and partly to establish the corridor for the future as the population grows and regional trips grow. A proper comparison is not Cascades vs nothing, but Cascades vs what WSDOT would otherwise spend on highways and air travel for the same trips. Fortunately the freeways are privately financed by investors so no tax money goes to them. Oh wait, that was another universe.

  17. Not Fan says

    I’ll consolidate my responses in one post rather than scattering them among sub-threads. Since there is no preview function here, I csn only hope I got the coding right. If I didn’t, I’ll correct it in a reply to my own posting.

    So because our population is not 25 million and we don’t have Wall Street, we should remain dependent on cars/buses and airplanes forever, as if we were a region of 200,000?

    That’s not what I wrote. But if you’re determined to build strawmen, I guess I can’t stop you.

    As I wrote elsewhere on the thread, the BOS-LGA-DCA shuttles you describe have ceased to exist.

    I am sure that would come as news to the people who use Delta Shuttle and the U.S. Airways Shuttle.

    Maybe you’re referring to the announcement a couple years ago that one or both of them would no longer guarantee a seat to everyone who makes it to the gate on time, even if it means rolling out another plane. That was mostly a marketing gimmick. I checked with a couple people back East before writing this, and I’m informed that nothing’s changed with the shuttles in daily use.

    Thanks partly to Amtrak’s frequency and its (slight) speed improvements, but much more thanks to the increasing nightmare that is airport security, runway delays, and getting between LGA and Manhattan, Acela is absolutely competitive on a travel-time basis these days.

    The only time Acela is “absolutely competitive” is if the train is running on time and Logan or LGA are weather delayed. No question about it, in moderately crappy weather the shuttles can be a pain, while Amtrak generally sails right on through. In really bad weather, i.e., a winter Nor’easter or an ice storm, I’d rather take my chances at the airport. Amtrak is notorious for breakdowns, and epic delays during really bad weather, and sometimes when the weather’s just fine.

    In big winter storm situations, the shuttles will typically be delayed by three or four hours. A major PITA, that’s for sure. But I can only recall having to cancel and stay overnight once.(And that happened was because I voluntarily gave away the last seat on the last flight, literally at the end of the jetway as we stood next to the aircraft door, to a bridegroom who was quietly lamenting that he was going to miss his own wedding. The airline paid for my hotel, even though they weren’t required to.)

    Another time, when neither the shuttles nor Amtrak were leaving New York, I did what any red-blooded American would do: I called Hertz, rented a Crown Vic, and drove from LGA to Boston in six totally nerve-wracking hours. When the going gets tough, a real man saddles up the Crown Vic and makes it through.

    The war stories are fun, but there’s a point to them: I actually know what I’m talking about. I have used every possible means of conveyance within and between Washington, Philly, New York, and Boston, all of them more times than I can count. I’ve done so in sun, fog, rain, snow, sleet, hail, and the gloom of night, and have always managed to complete my appointed rounds. I will forget more than anyone here will ever know about how to get around in the Northeast.

    That’s one reason why it’s so hard to hold my temper with you people when I see the outright foolishness routinely posted on this blog about mass transit. Most of you don’t even begin to have a clue as to how it actually works, day to day. Not even remotely close. I suspect that most people who do know how it works look in here for a while, roll their eyes, and give up.

    About the only sensible thing I’ve read in this thread were the thumbs-down to the comment about backwards-facing seats on trains being a problem. That’s just absurd. No one cares which direction they’re facing.

    And it has captured the majority of business travel. On the NY-DC segment, it has captured 75% of total travel. This is why Acela barely has to be competitive on price anymore. It succeeds on time and ease.

    First off, on the Northeast Corridor there is a somewhat plausible argument for an East Coast bullet train, although I’d like to see it costed out against simply adding a dedicated busway to I-95. But, any of that aside, the current reality is different, and that’s what you were discussing.

    In the BOS-NY finance sector, where I have more daily familiarity with various alternatives, you do have a segment of business travelers who hate the air shuttles. I can’t blame them. It’s hard to love the air shuttles, especially the part involving the ride between LGA and Manhattan. The most you can really do is appreciate the totality. Fact is, in normal operation the air shuttles are two hours faster each way. Oddly enough, this is well-illustrated by this article, in which a pair of Boston Globe reporters staged a “race” between the two cities, one by Acela and the other by air shuttle.

    In the article, the reporters arrived only minutes apart, and declared it a tie. However, if you look more closely, you will see that the air shuttles had a two-hour weather delay on race day. This is not representative of the usual experience. In reality, the air shuttles have an 80%+ on-time record. The typical experience, therefore, is that the shuttle will beat the train by two hours each way. That’s a fact, as inconvenient as it might be here and now, or to the Boston Globe then and there.

    On Cascades, the overwhelming advantage is price rather than time. (And yet Cascades pays for more than 2/3 of its operating costs through fares, which is not too shabby.)

    Given my background in financial analysis, I’d like to see all the numbers. Partial statements prepared by management are not to be trusted without further investigation. Is maintenance deemed an “operating cost?” What about train replacement? I’d guess this would be deemed a capital outlay. The airlines have to pay for both their operating and capital costs through fares, and ticket taxes pay for the airports.

    Well, the taxpayers have subsidized it for ten years now, and the world hasn’t ended. So perhaps what you need is a heapin’ helpin’ of get over yourself?

    Maybe you haven’t noticed that state government finances have changed a great deal over 10 years. As for the ad hominem, well, I’ll simply settle for pointing at it.

    Cascades exists in lieu of expanding the freeway, and to make the region less dependent on short-distance flights. The planes use a lot of fuel, plus the cars of people driving to/from the airports (not to mention that people driving to the airport uses space on the freeways).

    On average, Cascades carried about 2,400 riders a day in 2011. Spread among their 11 trains, that’s an average of 218 people per train. You’d have to be one seriously true-believing zealot to argue that this materially relieved any congestion on the roads. It’s a spit in the ocean, traffic-wise.

    Why should taxpayers subsidize your fetish for parks?

    I’m sorely tempted to return your serve and answer that with hyperbole, but this time I won’t.

    I used parks to illustrate the severity of Washington State’s government budget crisis. Parks are usually one of those mom & apple pie programs, but we can’t even fund them. We’re a billion short on K-12 education, and the state colleges and universities are jacking up their tuitions. Health care has been slashed. In Oregon, they’ve closed state government offices for periods of time to try to save money. Several counties are either bankrupt or close to it, and are drastically reducing basic services like police, jails, and emergency response.

    Meanwhile, the average household income of Cascade riders is $76,000. The average household income of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon is about $53,000. I don’t think the residents of these three jurisdictions should be subsidizing an amenity whose user base is 43% richer than they are, especially during crisis times, and especially when a close look at the ridership numbers will show that a whole lot of those riders are tourists.

    Secondly, as much as I believe in having state parks, I am open to alternative methods of administration and finance of them. I’m certainly not advocating their expansion at this time. Maybe we have too many state parks. Maybe some should be closed, turned into wilderness, or sold. Maybe there should be mandatory user fees for everyone, at least if it could be shown that they’d bring in money net of administration costs.

    Train advocates, on the other hand, strike me as virtually impervious to factual analysis. You deny the actual numbers, make false claims, and push for expansion. That’s why I use hyperbole, referring to a “choo-choo train fetish.” In this thread alone, there a number of assertions from “choo-choo train fetishists” that are quite boldly false. When the errors are pointed out, the “fetishists” don’t retract them, but repeat them in a different form.

    So, perhaps rather than “fetishists,” I will call you “zealots.” Hostility to facts and denial of reality is a mark of a zealot.

    The core of California has 60 million people (probably more now), the state has a quarter of the House of Representatives, and distances are longer.

    I previously corrected only half of this. Not only does the state of California have 38 million people, but it sends 53 people to the House of Representatives. This constitutes 12% of the body’s membership, or a bit less than one-eighth. Which is not one-quarter, but actually half of one-quarter. Facts: They’re what’s for dinner.

    If you’re going to somewhere in downtown Portland, you don’t have to add any “connecting transit” time; the “drive through downtown Portland” time is certainly longer than the walk / streetcar ride, unless you like to drive after midnight.

    We can game this forever, but I do the drive monthly and have been doing it for a long while. If my trips were train station to train station, with little or nothing to haul, and no need for personal flexibility in Portland – in other words, if I were a tourist – I’d take the train. However, if I, say, live in Ballard and my trips take me to Beaverton, and I will need to get around once I’m there, it’s quite a bit different.

    On the Seattle end, it’s not as good as that yet, true — but if you’re heading from, say, the University of Washington, you will (soon) have a choice of “take Link to the train station”, or “drive through stop-and-go traffic through downtown Seattle”, and I think I know which will be quicker.

    It isn’t any better in Portland. Unless your destination is downtown, you don’t have much to take with you, and you won’t need a vehicle while you’re there, you’ll want to drive there rather than take the train, or a bus, or a plane. By comparing downtown-to-downtown, or spots across the street from light rail stations, you are cherry-picking. That’s a sign of zealotry.

    So there are going to be a lot of cases where the drive is clearly SLOWER.

    Actually, not many at all. If you’re going strictly downtown-to-downtown, it’ll usually be pretty much of a tie, leaning toward the drive. If we account of delays, well, we need to remember that Cascade’s on-time performance is in the high-70% range. My experience with driving is that it’s better than that, as long as you avoid the rush hours.

    On a drive, you have to leave a huge amount of leeway for potential traffic delays.

    I would be the last person to say that he likes the drive to Portland, but as long as you avoid the rush hours you’re generally fine. When there are tie-ups, they’re aggravating but short. When I do my 190-mile drive, I mentally budget 4 hours door to door, and usually wind up beating that by anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour. Every now and then – maybe one in 10 drives – something kind of nasty will happen, and it’ll take 4:15 or 4:30.

    When the traffic gods are really mad, it can take five hours. That’s happened to me five or six times in the 10+ years I’ve been taking the trips. In fact, one such occasion was a couple weeks ago. Really nasty tie-up on Portland’s west side. Rush hour out of Portland, including accident. Slower than usual through Centralia. Rush hour in Olympia. Bottleneck at JLBM. Rush hour in Tacoma. Heavy in Seattle. Left Portland at 3 p.m. on Friday (not too brilliant to begin with), home at 8 p.m. with frazzled nerves.

    I hated it, but not nearly as much as the time I was essentially imprisoned on an Amtrak train and stopped counting the hours until those train-lovin’, customer-focused managers finally sent a bus. Strictly on travel time, while it’s true that results will vary, it’s just as true that driving usually beats the train, hands down.

    And one other thing – someone said that if the Cascades were just a tourist train, it shouldn’t be subsidized. Tourism is one of our main industries in Washington state. Tourist dollars pay for a lot of our services and facilities. Don’t knock the tourists :-)

    Oh please. Local jurisdictions sock it to the tourists in every way they can devise. We are no different, starting with Seattle’s rental car tax of nearly 30% and its 15.6% hotel tax. I’m really not worried about charging tourists the full cost of their train trips, especially when Cascade riders have a household income 43% above the Pacific Northwest average. They can afford to pay full price.

    between Portland and Seattle, trains are simply more efficient

    By what definition of efficiency? If “efficiency” is really your goal, the most “efficient” method of travel, by any conceivable definition of the term, would be a bus at full capacity. A train doesn’t even beat car travel for “efficiency” unless it’s more than three-quarters full, which only happens on some Cascade trains during the height of tourist season. As car fuel efficiency rises, the “efficiency” bar will get much harder for trains to clear.

    On cost efficiency, Cascade also fails. Say what you will about cars and road spending, which people here object to, but no one is giving any automobile driver a one-third subsidy on his car’s operating cost. Highway spending is a capital subsidy, which isn’t included in the numbers this blog has parroted from Amtrak and WSDOT’s management.

    A fair amount of that subsidy comes from gas taxes. Finally, the various attacks on roads here and elsewhere completely ignore their economic contributions. The Cascade’s contribution to the economy is negligible at best.

    • d.p. says

      I am sure that would come as news to the people who use Delta Shuttle and the U.S. Airways Shuttle.

      As I said, the separate security arrangements that once made the shuttles a breeze are dead and gone. So add 30-45 minutes to your historic experiences right there.

      U.S. Airways, meanwhile, couldn’t get a plane to its destination on time if the airline’s whole existence depended on it (which, on multiple occasions, it has). That airline is a nightmare that keeps on giving. I don’t know why they even still attempt to offer a shuttle service, when multiple hours late and treating customers like shit is par for the course over there.

      I will forget more than anyone here will ever know about how to get around in the Northeast.

      Seriously, get over yourself.

      • Not Fan says

        As I said, the separate security arrangements that once made the shuttles a breeze are dead and gone. So add 30-45 minutes to your historic experiences right there.

        There was never any “separate” security at LGA, where there is a separate shuttle terminal. As for Logan and DCA, you seem to be ignorant of the TSA’s “fast lane” program. Please, if you’re just going to make junk up, you need to try a little harder.

        U.S. Airways, meanwhile, couldn’t get a plane to its destination on time if the airline’s whole existence depended on it

        Wrong again. All you have to do is check Orbitz. Per federal law, they list on-time records. US Air’s operates 16 shuttle flights a day in each direction. 14 of the 32 flights are on time more than 90% of the time. Another 8 are on time between 80% and 90% of the time. 7 are on time between 70% and 80% of the time. The other three are on time between 60% and 70% of the time.

        The peak shuttle times are 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. That’s 12 flights total between Logan and LGA. Of those 12 flights, 6 are on time more than 90% of the time. 4 between 80% and 90%. 2 more than 70%.

        Facts: They’re what’s for dinner. Now go eat.

        I will forget more than anyone here will ever know about how to get around in the Northeast.

        And certainly a whole lot more than you.

      • d.p. says

        …where there is a separate shuttle terminal.

        …and where security delays and recommended arrival times have increased significantly (no matter what the “cut-off” claims), just like everywhere else. Nice try.

        you seem to be ignorant of the TSA’s “fast lane” program.

        You mean that thing that debuted barely two weeks ago, and is available by invitation only to a select few, who maintain multiple frequent flier accounts (among other hurdles)?

        http://seattletimes.com/html/travelwise/2018425961_trpucci17.html

        Yeah, way to “prove” that flying is faster and easier as a general rule.

        If I had a private plane, it would also be faster than the train! Your very narrow example is just as stupid.

        Facts: They’re what’s for dinner.

        The schedules are padded to nearly double the actual flying time, and planes arriving up to 15 minutes beyond the padding are still marked as “on-time arrivals”. So your flight, gate-to-gate, can be (and frequently is) nearly 90 minutes or more.

        With such generous leeway, why isn’t it 100%?

        And certainly a whole lot more than you.

        Seriously, get over yourself!

      • Not Fan says

        First it was “U.S. Airways, meanwhile, couldn’t get a plane to its destination on time if the airline’s whole existence depended on it.” Now you’re complaining that they don’t have a 100% on-time record. LOL.

      • d.p. says

        The point was that 90 minutes (of which only 40 are even in the air) gets counted as an on-time arrival.

        So even with ridiculous amounts of leeway, they can’t make their target.

        And that 90 minutes is equivalent to roughly 40% of the Amtrak trip. Add security, boarding, and de-boarding, and you’re up to about 60% of the train trip. Add getting to LGA, and your flight is slower than the train.

        Anyway, methinks you doth protest too much of your jetsetting position in a capitalist enterprise. I’m going to venture a guess that, like every other internet troll, your purported experience and income-bracket-based political ideologies are both products of wishful thinking.

      • Not Fan says

        And that 90 minutes is equivalent to roughly 40% of the Amtrak trip. Add security, boarding, and de-boarding, and you’re up to about 60% of the train trip. Add getting to LGA, and your flight is slower than the train.

        If that’s the case, then why was it a tie the day the two Boston Globe reporters did their train vs. air shuttle race on a day when the air shuttles had a two-hour fog delay?

        Come on, face facts. The air shuttles are faster. If you prefer the trains, fine. I like the Acela too. When I’ve been back East as a tourist and time’s not an issue, it’s my choice.

        But you’ll spend an extra four hours on your round trip. That’s a fact, and if you’re a business person and want to do a day trip between Boston and New York, the train is going to be a hell of an ordeal. Why can’t you just admit it and move on?

      • Nathanael says

        Oh my God, US Airways, don’t get me started. They were the monopoly airline in the Finger Lakes region of NY for a very long time (they’ve since actually left and been replaced by other airlines). They merged with America West, which was even *worse* (I remember their “computer system meltdown” day)…

      • Nathanael says

        Not Fan: Businesspeople work on the Acela (pull out their laptops and start working). They can’t work on the air shuttle.

        Therefore, the Acela is, for them, less wasted time.

      • Not Fan says

        Oh my God, US Airways, don’t get me started. They were the monopoly airline in the Finger Lakes region of NY for a very long time (they’ve since actually left and been replaced by other airlines). They merged with America West, which was even *worse* (I remember their “computer system meltdown” day)

        The U.S. Air and Delta shuttles are airlines within airlines. I was a frequent shuttler throughout the ’90s and into the ’00s; during that period, one or both of them changed ownership and names, but the reality was never affected.

        Businesspeople work on the Acela (pull out their laptops and start working). They can’t work on the air shuttle. Therefore, the Acela is, for them, less wasted time.

        As I wrote at the outset and have continued to write all the way through this discussion, there is definitely a market for business travel by Acela. There is also a market for the shuttles. Each has its pluses and minuses.

        Acela is more spacious and comfortable, and the atmosphere is relaxed. The shuttles, by contrast are hectic. However, the shuttles are two hours faster in each direction, and the experience is definitely a cut above other airline travel on the civility and comfort scale. Which I realize isn’t saying a whole lot, but it’s noticeable. You do get something besides speed for those sky-high fares.

        As for working while on the Acela, I found it a mixed bag. Forget about their Wi-Fi. It’s a joke, and everyone knows it. Typing on a laptop is a mixed bag, because the train rocks and rolls. But you can get more reading done, mainly because you’re sitting there for an extra couple of hours.

        On the other hand, there is a much higher “will you just shut up?” factor on Acela, even in so-called “quiet cars.” People talk on their cellphones like crazy; at one point, I even bought a jammer from overseas via the Internet and would unobtrusively creep up next to people, reach into my pocket and turn it on, and watch while their calls were interrupted. Came in handy on Boston commuter rail too.

        Still, it’s each to their own. Between N.Y. and Boston, there are at least 25 million people, and it’s the richest part of the country because of the Wall Street factor. It can support two shuttles and a train. Vancouver-Seattle-Portland has maybe 8 million people, and a far smaller pool of business travelers, the richer of which are on their private air forces anyway.

        Therefore, while Amtrak and the shuttles are profitable in the East, the train loses money here and needs a big subsidy to survive. The “progressive” zealots of the Seattle Transit Blog are indignant and outraged that anyone might suggest that a rider base that’s heavily tourist-oriented and which has an average income 43% higher than the region shouldn’t be subsidized.

        When it comes down to it, the yuppie elites will always find a way to make their subsidies sound like they are somehow in the public interest, even when, as in the case of the Cascade train, it’s really a matter of feeding someone’s jones for the nostalgic magic of the rails.

      • Not Fan says

        By the way, speaking of your complaint about the shuttles and their delays, how about Amtrak’s on-time performance between Seattle and Chicago? All zero percent. That’s right, zero. Has a certain ring to it, huh? Zero.

        You know, to run a train, or a anything else, late every single time, that takes a special kind of effort. Why, if I didn’t know any better, I might even say that Amtrak is on a crusade to show us just what the term “passive aggressive” really means.

    • Nathanael says

      “Say what you will about cars and road spending, which people here object to, but no one is giving any automobile driver a one-third subsidy on his car’s operating cost.”

      Road maintenance costs are an operating cost. Policing of the roads is an operating cost. Snow clearance on the roads is an operating cost. Have you actually added up those costs? They’re very large.

    • Nathanael says

      “If we account of delays, well, we need to remember that Cascade’s on-time performance is in the high-70% range.”

      This is almost entirely due to delays around Point Defiance (to a lesser extent, freight interference immediately north of Portland Union Station). There’s a reason SDOT has had the Point Defiance Bypass on its high-priority projects list for a very long time.

      Would you tolerate a ONE LANE ROAD THROUGH A TUNNEL, with a 20 mph speed limit, being the only connection between Seattle and Portland? If that were the case, I’d call for road expansion! Well, the equivalent is what’s going on with intercity rail!

      • Not Fan says

        I couldn’t care less why the train’s on-time record is in the high 70s. The fact is that this is what it is.

    • Nathanael says

      Train beats single-occupant car travel for energy efficiency any day of the week; the load factors are easily high enough for that.

      Sure, two-occupant car travel is better fairly frequently.

      The load factors on Cascades will get a lot better when the on-time performance increases (which I guess is kind of obvious). I pointed out already that the on-time performance problems are mainly due to the lack of *one project* at this point. If Cascades does not show load factor improvements in the year after Pt. Defiance Bypass is finished, I will reconsider whether Portland-Seattle intercity rail is viable.

      • Not Fan says

        It will be “viable” when it can survive on its own, like Amtrak in the northeast corridor. Until then, it’s a “progressive” subsidy to yuppies and tourists.

  18. Not Fan says

    Something not mentioned here (and who’d expect it to be, among a group of people focused on a 19th-century technology like trains) is the radically changing face of air travel, and its impact on the market for the Cascade.

    I haven’t seen any analysis of the business travelers on Cascade. I don’t know who they are. (I suspect that it’s mainly lower-level people, along with a few senior people with time on their hands.) In any case, from the looks of the general stats, it doesn’t seem like there are many at all. Previously, I’ve pointed out that businesses aren’t going to care as much about any cost differential between the train and flying nearly as much as they’ll care about the time differential.

    There’s another factor: Private jets.

    Today, the reason commercial air travel has become so bad is because no senior-level executive in a Fortune 500 company travels commercial unless it’s by quirk or special case. All of the Fortune 500 has either their own air force, or uses time-shared jets for domestic travel. Therefore, no CEO at United or American, etc., will ever get a call from a board member about the atrocious flight from Chicago to San Francisco. To put it differently, just about everyone you see on an airplane, whether in first class or coach, is a peon.

    Now we have a whole new class of private jets coming. They are smaller and radically cheaper. They will spread private aviation to lower ranks in the big companies, and the upper ranks of ever smaller companies. You’ll see affluent individuals using them as “air taxis.” The commercial airlines will thus complete their ongoing transit to Greyhound with wings, and their prices will rise.

    In the emerging environment, there’s even less of a chance that Cascade can ever capture business people, no matter what. In the Northeast, I wonder what the impact will be on the air shuttles. I know that, in Boston, when Fidelity (the 20-ton mutual fund gorilla) acquired its own black-car service (Boston Coach), the financial community almost instantly switched from taxis. The local cabs took one hell of a hit, and almost instantly replaced their fleets and raised standards generally.

    Just wait until Fido starts “Boston Air Coach.” If you think a big tax on aviation fuel will happen, don’t make me laugh. If you think the air traffic control system will keep it from happening, forget it. That whole structure is on the brink of a shift to GPS-based routing. There’ll be no lack of space in the skies for those air taxis. Oh, and I’m sure very few of you realize just how many small private airports there are in this country. Thousands and thousands. The private air forces operate largely unseen by the great unwashed.

    None of you are thinking about the ongoing class bifurcation of travel. The rich in their own airforces, and everyone else left fighting over the crumbs. In that environment, I really don’t see a good argument for shoveling money at the Cascade, when the bulk of their riders are tourists, and the total ridership is a rounding error relative to I-5. The argument ought to be about how to do the most with the least, but not if you’re stuck on your hobby horses, in this case the Cascade train.

    Folks, you’re looking backwards, and that has never cut it in this country. If you keep doing it, you’ll wind up like William Jennings Bryan, the model for the Cowardly Lion in Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. You will rant and rave about being crucified on a cross of gold, as Bryan did in 1896, and then watch as the next generation is dominated by people who look forward.

    Time after time on this blog, you fail to look forward. A less esoteric example is what’s coming with automobiles. Within two decades and probably a lot sooner, almost every car will be a plug-in hybrid, just like the Chevy Volt. That’s how the car companies will meet the 50+ mpg standards. This is the technology of the future, and it’s going to be much cheaper in subsequent versions.

    The implications are clear for anyone who seriously cares about “efficiency” and “the environment.” Similarly, we’re right on the brink of a whole new generation of automatic guidance systems that will have a major impact on road congestion. One of them, adaptive cruise control, is already here. If every vehicle had it, highway congestion could be cut by 30%.

    However, the Seattle Transit Blog and its true believers have such an anti-car jones that they refuse to even think of what’s coming. Ordinarily, it’d be cause for some snickering at you, but unfortunately the policy makers in this neck of the woods appear to take your crowd seriously. That’s the scary part.

    • BA says

      I’m always suspicious of long-winded posts, particularly when it starts with “19-Century technology” referring to trains. I guess that refers to cars as well, plus “20-Century technology” for airplanes, and how old do we refer to walking as a technology for transportation? What’s the point?

      Trains have their place, just as all other modes of travel have their place. I’ve used private planes for business travel – they have the feature of no schedule, and a much quicker pace through the terminals. You still have to get to and from the airport.

      I’ve used cars, certainly, a lot. I’ve used commercial airlines too much, trains when it makes sense (which it does for business travel more often than you think – my time is valuable and my ignoring my billing rate when I make travel decisions is foolish.

      More efficient cars are coming, which likely means we’ll not see a drop in their use because of fuel costs, which leads to more congestion, and parking demands.

      Mandatory adaptive cruise control? Reconcile that with the freedom we assign to cars and our personal liberty and think about how easily we’ll adopt that as a society.

      The best answer, in my opinion, is to maximize choices in our society. If you focus on subsidies then fine…eliminate all of them, or be more thoughtful in how you target them and why.

      • Not Fan says

        “Mandatory adaptive cruise control” isn’t an infringement on anyone’s freedom of movement. There’s no “right” to use a freeway. The state can impose reasonable conditions, and that would be reasonable.

        As for subsidies, if you do the full tally, I don’t think there is a net subsidy to roads. Same goes for the railroads at an earlier time. But state money for the Cascade is a very typical “progressive” amenity: A convenience for the well-off, dressed up as a public good.

      • BA says

        Maybe this will stack correctly under “Not Fan’s” post about no “right” to use a freeway.

        Good luck selling the notion that you let go of your accelerator to drive on the freeways during certain hours. We Americans are very good at capturing “rights” and if it isn’t yet clear how ingrained into our heads how much a right to travel in our cars has become….look into a mirror.

      • Dan Carey says

        Will mandatory cruise control let people text and drive at the same time? Then it might be a big hit. :)

      • Not Fan says

        Driving and texting come when Google’s self-driving cars hit the market. The freeways will be the perfect places to implement that technology. Along with adaptive cruise control, we’ll be able to put many more vehicles into the same amount of space.

        It will be a win for everyone except the zealots who object to the automobile in the first place, i.e., most of the Seattle Transit Blog, and their favorite one-term mayor.

      • Nathanael says

        “As for subsidies, if you do the full tally, I don’t think there is a net subsidy to roads.”

        You’re just wrong. You obviously have never done the full tally.

        Now, perhaps you don’t mean “subsidy”. Perhaps you mean that there is a “net social benefit” from roads which is larger than the “net cost” paid by property tax and sales tax. If so, you are likely to be right.

        But there is still a very large “subsidy” by any definition of the word.

    • Steve Wight says

      Your post assumes that only cars and planes can be improved. Given your mode prejudices against rail, I suppose that’s not surprising. But, energy efficiencies also will be applied to rail. We can see this already in the Chinese rail administration’s decision announced today to modify their order with Canada’s Bombardier to get a mix of energy efficient train sets to fit varying use scenarios. The article refers to some of Bombardier’s energy efficiency advances.

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48907891

      • Not Fan says

        I’m not “prejudiced” against rail. I used it for a very long time in the East. It was a mixed bag, but in some places, for some purposes, it made all kinds of sense. But I think subsidies for West Coast intercity passenger rail are a big waste of money, as is are the Portland the Seattle light rail systems.

    • Steve Wight says

      Looking at the Bombardier web site (http://www.zefiro.bombardier.com/desktop/en/efficiency/low_energy.html) on their Zefiro design, it strikes me that many of the advances represented in the modern plug-in hybrid car with adaptive cruise control have their corrolaries in modern high speed train designs, including regenerative braking, electric propulsion, lighter materials, electronic control systems and traffic management systems.

      It’s therefore hard to see how some advance in car design that cannot be applied in similar fashion to trains is going to overcome the inherent energy efficiency advantages of lower rolling resistance of rails versus rubber tires, or the aerodynamic advantage of a train cars coupled together as a train set versus individual cars no matter how closely they could theoretically be convoyed via adaptive cruise control. Those are real physics limits.

      • Not Fan says

        The efficiencies in cars will come from electrification. Plug-in hybrids will be flat-out revolutionary. The equivalent for rail would be electrification, but on that score we’d have to look at the details of their power consumption to compare electric trains with electric-drive hybrid cars.

        We’d also have to examine the tax cost of electrifying the rail route for the purpose of transporting a couple thousand relatively rich people a day, many of them tourists. “Efficiency” isn’t just fuel efficiency; it’s also a matter of the efficient use of scarce money.

        People on this blog are clearly head over heels in love with trains, no matter what. I am fine with trains where they make sense, which is not here.

      • Nathanael says

        Electrified rail routes carry far, far, far, far more people per day than electric cars — and they carry *POORER PEOPLE* because they’re *cheaper* — less than $100 for a train ticket versus $50,000 for an electric car. Think about it.

      • Nathanael says

        “it strikes me that many of the advances represented in the modern plug-in hybrid car with adaptive cruise control have their corrolaries in modern high speed train designs, including regenerative braking, electric propulsion, lighter materials, electronic control systems and traffic management systems”

        Most of these things were done on trains first and the car companies are copying them. Trains are 20-30 years ahead, technologically.

      • Not Fan says

        Electrified rail routes carry far, far, far, far more people per day than electric cars — and they carry *POORER PEOPLE*

        Um, the average household income of the Cascade passenger is $76,000, which is 43% higher than the combined average for British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Poor people don’t ride trains.

    • Nathanael says

      “…is the radically changing face of air travel, and its impact on the market for the Cascade.”

      Yes! Let’s discuss this!

      First of all, security theater has made air travel a disgusting and unpleasant spectacle, and has slowed it down. This is driving people to trains.

      Second, aviation fuel is going straight up in price with the oil price and nobody has yet invented electric planes which can carry lots of people. This means that it’s getting more and more expensive to operate planes.

      Third, the subsidies for airlines have been cut substantially since the 50s, and pretty much every airline goes bankrupt on a regular basis. Short of government takeover (Amtrak-style), service is just going to keep declining — it’s a similar death spiral to the one the private railroads were in in the 50s.

      They’re now into a spiral of cutting branch line service, losing connecting passengers, cutting more service….

      Fourth, service quality has been cut to the bare minimum (some would say below the minimum) by the always-nearly-bankrupt airlines, so that also drives people away.

      Fifth, airlines mostly can’t even afford new planes, so they’re running the old ones into the ground. Whee!

      So, yeah, let’s look at the future of airlines. Commercial airlines will die.

      The bifurcation of travel by class? The 0.1% will fly in private airliners, presumably.

      Everyone else will be in the TRAINS. You think average people will be able afford automobiles? Yes, all future automobiles will be electric. And very expensive. And while they will get cheaper, they won’t get cheaper fast enough for the 99%, who are simultaneously getting poorer.

      So average people will move to places where they can travel *by train*, which will remain affordable.

      • Bernie says

        airlines mostly can’t even afford new planes, so they’re running the old ones into the ground.

        Right, that’s why Boeing has only a seven year backlog. The rest of the of the fabrications aren’t even worth trying to set straight.

      • Not Fan says

        First of all, security theater has made air travel a disgusting and unpleasant spectacle, and has slowed it down. This is driving people to trains.

        Apart from taking off your shoes and not being able to put liquids more than 3 ounces in carryon bags, there really haven’t been many security changes since the 9/11 attacks. Going through the lines takes a little longer, but that’s usually all.

        The “disgusting” part has been the ongoing shrinkage of legroom, combined with airplanes flying much fuller due to capacity reductions. These things have added considerable stress to the experience. But they do not affect the Northeast shuttles too much.

        That experience has always been a hectic ordeal. But it’s also always been fast enough to enable day trips, which I think is the biggest reason the shuttle is as popular as it is. Beyond that, believe it or not, there are plenty of people for whom a 3-1/2 hour train ride is just long enough to piss ‘em off, as opposed to an hour and 15 minutes on the air shuttle.

        When I was on business in the Northeast, I preferred the shuttle, ugly as it could be, to the train. Penn Station is not exactly a day at the beach, and 3-1/2 hours (or more, given the frequent delays when I was taking Acela) didn’t relax me.

        I just wanted to get home, sooner the better. I wasn’t the only one. That’s another reason why the air shuttle is popular with business travelers, especially those who are frequent travelers. Not everyone gets all teary-eyed and romantic about the rails like you do.

    • Nathanael says

      Oh, and Not Fan: you make the mistake of conflating “business people” (who will take the train) with “the 0.1%” (who will take private jets).

      There are an awful lot of small businesspeople in this country (even though both parties like to screw them over — the Republicans screw them over worse, though) as well as an awful lot of middle managers.

      • Not Fan says

        So what? I’m talking about the market for the Cascade. I don’t think the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland corridor has a big enough base of traveling white collar business people to sustain an unsubsidized train.

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