Amtrak Cascades Faces an Uncertain 2013

Amtrak Cascades at Auburn Station

Amtrak Cascades at Auburn Station

2013 will be a volatile year for Amtrak Cascades. In October, WSDOT and ODOT must assume the full operating costs for the service, as Sec. 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) requires that the feds divest from all state-supported corridor trains of less than 750 miles. Without additional funding from the legislature, losing Amtrak funding will mean a 23% hit to the operating budget, or $9.8m annually.

Chart from WSDOT

Chart from WSDOT

But in the 2012 State Transportation Budget, the legislature largely tied WSDOT’s hands, mandating that Stanwood Station  be served in perpetuity, that Amtrak Cascades runs may not be canceled outright, and that WSDOT actively plan for a 3rd Vancouver BC roundtrip. Alternatively, WSDOT is actively looking at truncations to make up the shortfall. At the State Rail Plan meeting I attended on October 31, WSDOT staff said the most likely victim would be trains 513/516, which could revert to terminating in Bellingham instead of Vancouver BC. In the context of the nearly $1B in capital grants received between Seattle and Portland, WSDOT is rightfully committed to adding a minimum of two more SEA-PDX trips; in any funding shortfall, service north of Seattle would have to take the hit. While highly regrettable, truncating a Vancouver BC train would be the least worst option.

Lastly, while mostly overlooked at the time, lawmakers included an earmark in the 2012 budget to study the costs and benefits of adding an Amtrak Cascades stop in Auburn:

5) $300,000 of the multimodal transportation account–state appropriation is provided solely for the department to conduct a study to examine the interconnectivity benefits of, and potential for, a future Amtrak Cascades stop in the vicinity of the city of Auburn. As part of its consideration, the department shall conduct a thorough market analysis of the potential for adding or changing stops on the Amtrak Cascades route.

Until now there has been no process by which cities could appeal to WSDOT to add their city as a stop. Several cities have informally expressed interest; Blaine has long wanted a stop to draw potential riders from Surrey and White Rock for whom neither Vancouver BC or Bellingham are convenient. Lakewood officials have held out the possibility of a stop as one means of getting them to drop their opposition to the Point Defiance Bypass. Auburn’s study will likely set criteria by which cities may apply for stops in the future.

Amtrak Cascades is a huge success story, with annual ridership of nearly 1 million and farebox recovery at 65%.  With greater frequencies, new rolling stock, a more direct route, and improved running speeds in the next few years, the future for intercity rail between Seattle and Portland looks bright. But with dozens of annual mudslide-induced cancellations, British Columbia’s lack of investment, and plans for truly massive freight expansion north of Seattle, the future for Vancouver BC service is grim.




Comments

  1. John Bailo says:

    What we need is for some billionerds to just forget freight track based rail and built a private PDX/SEA/YVR maglev running 300 mph.

    • Winchester says:

      Agreed!

      The Cascades equipment could then be used to provide service to Yakima, Tri Cites & Spokane. Oregon could use their equipment to continue and increase frequencies for Portland to Eugene service.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Hahaha. Or, realistically, as no individual in the world has enough money to pay for this out of pocket, we use rail-based (but not freight rail) 220mph HSR as a plan and work toward it.

      • Cheesewheels says:

        Ben is right. However, once we start bringing back room-temperature superconductor minerals from space, ultra high-speed maglev trains will become a lot cheaper ;)

  2. …greater frequencies, new rolling stock, a more direct route, and improved running speeds…

    Reliability tops my list.

    • Agreed. More work (and probably $) will be needed with BNSF to ensure greater reliability and frequencies. And sadly, it may well be time to say farewell to service north of Bellingham since the BC government and its subjects don’t see fit to assist in the operation of the service. Better trainset utilisation will hopefully come with the arrival of the two new Oregon sets. Ideally, each of the seven (or perhaps 6) sets “should” be out on the road 12 hours + per day. No sane operator has equipment sitting around for 6 hours in the middle of the day the way 510 and 517 do in VAC – ludicrous.

  3. Thank you for blogging an update. I agree Amtrak Cascades is a success story many times over.

    • I’m surprised you didn’t point out the elephant in the living room: that the risk of mudslides might jeopardize Amtrak’s ability to run north of Seattle at all.

      • Amtrak will just run buses during mudslide season, which is what Sounder North should be replaced with.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        I think my last paragraph did address the many elephants in the room.

        “But with dozens of annual mudslide-induced cancellations, British Columbia’s lack of investment, and plans for truly massive freight expansion north of Seattle, the future for Vancouver BC service is grim.”

  4. Not directly related to the post, but why are there two tactile edges on the platform in the photo? Is that in anticipation of a third track through the station?

  5. The most likely immediate consequence is that SEA-PDX fares will rise.

    Which is unfortunate, as the extremely competitive fares for the second speediest and most pleasant intercity rail service in the entire nation were Cascades’ great selling point, more than compensating for its drawbacks (insufficient schedule options, ridiculous assigned-seat procedures, how annoying it is to get to King Street station from North Seattle).

    Already the fares have been ticking up lately, especially for weekends and purchases close to the date of travel, eliminating the cost advantage over driving for even a single person. (Unlike Boston, New York, or D.C., parking in Portland isn’t especially costly, and I-5 is never as prohibitively gridlocked as I-95.)

    Without significant schedule improvement, I worry that the end-user cost-benefit could not survive a 23% further increase.

    • I think it’s also important to remember that BoltBus provides a much lower-cost alternative to the train. At the time I’m writing this, a ticket for later today from SEA to PDX is $25.00 on BoltBus and $56.00 on Amtrak. Furthermore, the scheduled time on the bus is 15 minutes quicker. Does anyone know how this sort of competition is affecting/will affect Amtrak Cascades in the future?

      • Jim Cusick says:

        The $56.00 price is because the train is almost full. Amtrak uses demand pricing just like the airlines. Travel on different trains and the price can be as low as $32.00.

      • …But it used to go as low as $24 (not counting special offers), and max out around $45.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        That’s true, a price increase happened a little bit ago, which means that Amtrak has to hit that magic price-point where they don’t scare away passengers, but maximize the revenue as best they can.

        The weekends are usually always at the high end way in advance.

      • There is also a very good Airporter Shuttle service that competes w/ the northern Amtrak run for the same price or less (depends on the stop). Greyhound too also competes.

      • Is demand pricing normal for trains in this country? It seems that it would be a more useful service if one could know that it always takes X dollars to go by train, just as one knows it always takes X dollars to take a bus.

        As for “scaring” away passengers, I consider myself “scared”. Why pay extra? I am very much a rail-bias kind of guy, but it sticks in my craw that it costs more to take a train than to drive or take the bus.

      • It doesn’t cost more to take the train than drive. Unless you stole the car and are only having to pay for gas. If it’s your car it costs more to drive.

      • Meh. We say that a lot. I’ve certainly said it myself for the sake of argument.

        And yet I keep making friends with paid-off cars in good and highly reliable condition, who pay shockingly little for insurance and almost nothing in maintenance cost.

        Some of them have averaged monthly driving costs below the cost of my non-subsidized Metro pass. Which seems pretty pathetic when you consider how little reliability or freedom King County Metro truly offers.

      • It may cost less for one person to take the train if you figure in maintenance costs, but for TWO people it most certainly costs more to take the train. As d.p. said, some people, myself included, have very low costs due to how little I use my car. How, if one is going to own a car anyway, is it cheaper to take the train?

      • With an improving economy and more folks moving here, traffic on the I-5 corridor will rapidly max out. I’ve seen it many times before in other parts of the country; major roads that were wonderful drives, become nightmares for commuting or just off hours travel.

      • Indeed, Phil. Cascades (SEA-PDX) is the second nicest and most efficient rail corridor in the United States. It will ALWAYS be my peference to take it over driving.

        That’s why I don’t WANT fares to rise to the point where the cheapness and flexibility of driving make it the obvious choice. I’d really rather Cascades fares remain where it can be justified every time.

      • Elder: that’s what the gigantic road subsidies do. You pay through the nose on your property taxes, and then pay more in your sales taxes, and then pay more in your federal income taxes, to pour asphalt and provide state police and plow roads and so on.

        Meanwhile, the governments are incredibly stingy about paying for railroad tracks and locomotives and railroad cars.

        This is what pushes the cost of driving (for two people with a paid-off car) below the cost of train travel.

      • I responded to this late and now that it’s an old thread nobody will read this but in response to “two people are cheaper to drive” the break even point is actually 3 people or 2 adults and 2 children. And as far as the cost of driving a car, the cost is mostly in depreciation so driving it costs a lot of money (miles) and not driving it only costs a little money. It isn’t just about the cost of tires and gas.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      What I’ve never understood is why they don’t just tack on a few more train cars. That can’t be terribly expensive, and other than a tiny bit of maintenance that’s pure profit. That’s one of the great advantages of a train – you can add more trains.

      In my mind there should never, ever be a sold out train. And fares should be set to maximize farebox recovery. When you remove capacity constraints, this can be quite low since you’re favoring quantity of tickets over price.

      • Talgo trainsets come as a whole. They can’t be modified, and are difficult to detach even for maintenance.

        This is part-and-parcel with the passive-tilting technology that allows Cascades to shave nearly an hour off the trip compared to a conventional train (see: Cascades versus Coast Starlight schedules).

      • Once the new Oregon trainsets come into service, it will be possible to break up one of the current trainsets and add cars to the others.

      • Yes, but it’s a major procedure.

        You can’t insert or remove cars willy-nilly to respond to trip-by-trip demand fluctuations as Matt suggests.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        Thanks for the explaination [d.p.]. But just making them longer and keeping cars empty when not needed should work. It looks like Oregon spent a bit over $1M per car. Ignoring maintenance that pays for itself in around 4 years assuming just 10 round trip fares a day at $35 per direction.

      • The Talgo Series 8 trainsets that were recently made for Wisconsin have 11 cars including one bistro car but not a dining car giving total train capacity about 75 passengers more than our series VI trainsets. Oregon’s Series 8 trainsets have 10 cars including a dining car and two business class cars. It seems there’s a bit of flexibility during assembly. The entire Cascades trainset holds fewer people than two Sounder cars (or two Superliner cars) so it’s hard to carry that many people per run.

        I’d love to see Washington pick up the two Wisconson trainsets (since they’re never going to use them and are currently being sued by Talgo) and then break up one of the current series VI trainsets and put the extra cars on the other 4. This would put all Cascades passenger capacity at over 300. The extra 20% capacity could make up the difference in running costs.

      • One time, long ago, The Pennsy would add extra cars to their holiday trains, and even run two trains on the same run, They were called ‘sections’, and you’d get seated in the first or second section depending on I can’t remember what. Of course, schedules were really messed up, what with the multiple sections running and station stops taking two stops because the train was too long for the platforms, but, the bar cars were busy and full of happy travelers. I can remember standing room only in the bars and coaches from NYC to Philadelphia. Good times.

      • It’s still $24 if you can plan a few weeks in advance, and don’t take the popular train.

      • Matt: other reasons why they don’t “just tack on a few more train cars”.

        (1) They don’t own any. Amtrak has been starved of capital funding and does not have enough rolling stock. Nationwide.
        (2) Platform length. It gets really annoying and slow when the trains are longer than the platforms.

        The plan is, in fact, to lengthen the Talgo trainsets once the new Oregon trainsets show up, by recombining the existing trainsets.

        Washington also plans to get more Talgos of its own in a few years (no funding yet)… perhaps the sensible thing to do is to buy the Wisconsin ones!

        You will then ask: Why not just run a few more trains, using the existing trainsets?

        Because BNSF owns the tracks and requires additional money and investment before they will allow more train runs. There are serious advantages to having the government own the tracks. Once several of the triple-tracking projects are finished and the Point Defiance Bypass is finished, however, I believe the BNSF contract allows for the state to run at least one more train each way each day from Seattle to Portland. Possibly more, I haven’t read the documents lately.

  6. Benjamin C says:

    What bothers me the most is that $9 million/year is peanuts. Everyone recognizes the value of Cascades rail service, so why can’t we support it fully? Also if we could get BC to actually be part of the solution, that would be fantastic. Maybe the prospect of losing the service entirely will at least encourage more BC participation.

    • That was my other (politically indignant) reaction. This is a classic Bush-era anti-cosmopolitan maneuver, cloaked in language of national parity/unity to dupe self-defeating coastal Democrats into supporting it.

      It’s a sop to legislators from the 35 states that long-distance service nominally touches, and a gigantic “fuck you” to the ten or eleven states that are doing their best to offer something actually useful in the form of passenger rail.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few potentially excellent corridors cease to exist as a result of this.

      The Federal Government — providing disproportionate representation and tax subsidies to Bumfuck USA since 1789.

      • I’m a Republican, I’ve also worked on a farm so I object to your tone.

        But your underlying sentiment that rural areas aren’t so self-reliant, I agree with.

        I sure feel the hate as an Amtrak Cascades user & advocate in one of those “ten or eleven states that are doing their best to offer something actually useful in the form of passenger rail.”

      • Those ten or eleven states include North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Maine, in addition the expected Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, California, and us.

        As I said, it’s part of a much larger trend of funneling money to “the heartland” with no questions asked, while targeted projects of demonstrated usefulness (wherever they may be) are left to die on the vine, or dismissed as wasteful even when they’re anything but.

        I don’t quite understand how you can identify as “conservative”, when those who have decided that word in the modern era are same the people responsible for our logic-free political discourse and massively contorted priorities.

      • d.p.

        I think I get what you mean. I don’t think a dime and a nickel of Skagit County payment into state taxes should be shoveled into Eastern Washington without government reform either…

      • The states trying to do something:

        1 – Maine
        2 – Massachusetts
        3 – Vermont
        – definitely not New Hampshire
        – I wouldn’t count Rhode Island
        4 – Connecticut
        5 – New York, albeit halfheartedly
        – I am not going to count New Jersey after its recent behavior
        6 – Pennsylvania
        – I wouldn’t count Delaware
        7 – Maryland
        8 – Virginia
        9 – North Carolina
        10 – Florida, recently
        11 – Michigan
        12 – Illinois
        – formerly, Wisconsin, but not now
        – Iowa might, but it isn’t now
        13 – Missouri
        14 – Oklahoma
        15 – California
        16 – Oregon
        17 – Washington

        That’s actually slightly more than “ten or eleven”, now that I counted.

      • Nathaneal, is New Hampshire not contributing to the Downeaster?

        Texas supports the Heartland Flyer. They’ve also done some studies for other routes.

        I believe Georgia has done some studies as well, although I doubt they’re ready to support any trains.

      • a.w.: New Hampshire pays precisely nothing for the Downeaster.

        It does not pay operating costs, and it did not contribute capital costs for the track improvements.

        It didn’t even pay anything for the STATIONS, though some of the localities did.

      • There has long been a push by some locals to get New Hampshire to put some money up for rail — the most popular project is an MBTA Commuter Rail extension from Lowell, MA to Nashua, NH (look at Google maps and you’ll see what a small project this is).

        But the state has been unwilling to spend one single dollar on it for decades, just as it has been unwilling to spend any money on the Downeaster. New Hampshire — the tightwad state!

    • Jim Cusick says:

      [ot]

      • [ot]

      • Jim Cusick says:

        [ot]

      • Jim Cusick says:

        @Norman

        “How much of a fare raise would it take to generate that $9 million per year?”

        With 1 million riders per year, that would be $9.00 per ticket. Although you’d have to scale that based on distance and demand.

      • Chris Stefan says:

        I’d gladly pay more per trip if it meant keeping service. The issue is if there was a general fare increase to raise that $9 million would the current ridership pay it or switch to alternatvies such as driving, Bolt, or flying?

  7. While I’m not enthusiastic about adding more stops in cities well connected to Tacoma and/or Seattle by a myriad of existing transit options, I will say an Auburn stop makes more sense than the pointless Tukwila one.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      Another interesting factor with Auburn is Boeing (the major employer there). It seems they’re always on the verge of leaving us, and just staked out a large amount of land in the South. A Boeingless region would crush Auburn. Of course, long-range planning based on large unknowns is always tough.

    • Bellinghammer says:

      Agreed! Auburn and Kent have huge P&Rs, Sounder, ST Express, large handfuls of Metro routes, and are immediately adjacent to small but cute downtowns. Tukwila should be renamed “The Station in the Brownfield Meadow”; it not only has far less parking but – more importantly – also has ZERO off-peak transit service (at least until RapidRideF starts next year). But even when Tukwila Station is fully built out in a couple of years, Kent or Auburn would still fill a better mobility gap for Cascades.

      • Last March on a Sunday I got off the train in Tukwila and tried to call a taxi to the airport. Amusingly, the taxi went to the Link light rail station. Eventually one showed up at my location, where me and another group, a family of four, squeezed into it and did get to the airport. I would have been better to have gone to King Stree station and taken Link back to Sea-Tac, given how long it took for the taxis to successfully respond.

      • Don’t get me started on why the Link doesn’t cross the BNSF tracks, make a connection with Cascades then turn north to MLK jr. blvd. It would have been great for people coming from the south to the airport.

      • Does anyone have ridership figures for Tukwila Station? I can’t imagine this change would really hurt things, but it’d be nice to see.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        @William, Tukwila carries ~26,000 passengers annually, or 72 per day, or 9 per train. (There are 8 daily trains to Tukwila and the Coast Starlight doesn’t stop there.)

        For comparison, Tukwila has slightly fewer passengers than Kelso-Longview.

        http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/factsheets/WASHINGTON11.pdf

      • Yes, but people in Kelso-Longview or Centralia can’t just hop on a frequent, convenient 150 bus and find themselves at King Street Station, like everyone else within a >30 minute commute to that location has to do to take the train.

    • It seems to me that adding more suburban stops in the Seattle/Tocaoma area might make sense, but not necessarily for each train. With added frequencies, why not add service, but have stopping patterns that serve different areas at different times?

    • Is there any possibility of building something around Tukwila station so that it’s not so lonely?

      • If Boeing vacates their plant. Otherwise, a convenient pedestrian crossing over the Duwamish to connect it to Southcenter might help.

    • I suppose Tukwila is supposed to be for people coming from east of Lake Washington on I-405? I don’t see the utility, it’s just as easy for them to get to King St.

  8. Alan Robinson says:

    There may be a change of heart in BC come May. With a provincial election likely to gut the incumbent Liberals, who have been very auto-centric in their significant transportation expenditure, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an NDP open to contributing.

    • Unless something fixes the slide prone areas…

    • The plans for north of the border include pne or two *extensive* bypasses along new ROW and a new bridge.

      If a new BC government actually decides to put in *serious* money north of the border, it may shame Washington State into finding an inland route from Everett to Seattle.

  9. Is it possible we could pick up to two talgo sets that Wisconsin is letting go to waste in 2013?

    • If WSDOT had them, could it find a space for them in the schedule?

      • Break up one of our Series VI trainsets, attach those cars to the other 4, pick up Wisconsin’s two Series 8′s and Oregons new Series 8′s and we’d have 8 trainsets all capable of handling 300 people.

      • Once Pt. Defiance Bypass and a couple of other projects are done, WSDOT was planning to increase frequencies — and planning to buy more Talgos in order to do so.

        So yeah, WSDOT should totally snap up the Wisconsin Talgos. It won’t need them until Pt. Defiance Bypass is finished, but at that point they’ll be awfully useful.

        And I bet they can get them cheap!

      • … and instead of doing a procuremnet for yet another train type, they would get trains similar to the Oregon trainsets. That could simplify maintenance.

  10. Will Douglas says:

    With Republicans now in control of the State Senate, transit advocates are going to be playing a lot more defense than they realize. If saving the Amtrak Cascades north of Seattle means a stop in Auburn, it strikes me as a price worth paying.

    • An interesting consequence of an Auburn station is that part of the Sounder corridor would instantly have all-day, seven days-a-week service.

      • Replacing the Tukwila stop with an Auburn stop makes an awful lot of sense to me, just looking from 50,000 feet at the map.

    • Same here. Hear, hear!

    • How many Republican-held state Senate districts include a Cascades stop, and which ones?

      • OK, I’ll start counting.

        District 20: Centralia
        District 10: Stanwood, also near Mt Vernon
        District 42: Bellingham, also Blaine

        Hmm. North Cascades seems to have a Republican constituency.

        There seem to be multiple Republican-held districts (31 and 47) with big chunks of Auburn. Adding Auburn as a stop is a good idea.

        There is also a Republican-held district (28) surrounding DuPont and near Lakewood. Lakewood stop for Cascades? Probably worthwhile. And another district (25) around Puyallup which might also benefit from a Lakewood stop.

        I suppose it might be possible to sway the Republicans in districts 17 and 18 around Vancouver, WA, but that sort of suburb usually elects really hardcore road warriors, though I don’t know if that’s true in Washington.

        In short, yes to station stops at Blaine, Auburn, and Lakewood, remove Tukwila unless people scream about it, and figure out how to get all the State Senate Democrats on board. Hope for the best in British Columbia. Then pass the $9 million a year before October.

  11. D.p.,

    To truly compare you’d have to amortize the cost of the car minus the sale price, add maintenance costs in the future once it starts to wear out, add insurance and licensing costs, and then add gas costs. Once you due allthat the math looks much different.

    • Brian, curiosity led me to crunch the math with the car-owning friends. The cars they own were bought used, from certified dealers, at reasonable prices. They have been reliable and were specifically chosen for the expectation of low long-term maintenance needs. They were paid off within three years of purchase.

      As long as they continue to have no need to pay for parking or to drive gas-guzzling distances on a regular basis, the monthly costs associated with their car ownership have proven shockingly low. Again, sub-Metro-pass low. Really.

      At that point, the choice to drive to Portland DOES come down to variable costs: gas and parking. That’s it. The long-term maintenance cost accrued from such an occasional trip truly are negligible.

      This may not fit conveniently with the narrative that us transit proponents tend to tell ourselves, but it happens to be true. We need to be aware of that the next time Metro is encouraged to jack up the fares for its crappy services, or when Cascades feels pressured to fill this gap by significantly shifting its price point.

      • Interesting. Does that also include the initial purchase price (and if so, how many years does it take for that to be under the pass price), or is it only the recurring monthly costs?

      • Certainly the averaged monthly cost of ownership would be greater in the 3 years or so during which the car is being paid off.

        But a full-priced monthly pass in Seattle is now $1,080 a year. So perhaps not much more. An $8,000 used car, financed at a decent rate and paid off over 3 years might only cost $250/month. And then you own it for many years more.

        By year 8 or 9, you would have given the entire cost of the car over to Metro. Getting (again) something not particularly good in return.

        It’s just worth being aware of when Metro tries to hike the fare yet again. Or when anyone claims Metro’s services are “good enough” bang for buck.

        I would never in a million years own a car in Boston, New York, or SF proper. Vast swaths of those cities cannot be parked in cheaply, so you would wind up spending a hefty additional chunk of change on parking or on public transit.

        But, alas, I finally get the appeal of cars in Seattle. If you’re crafty and willing to walk a few blocks, 100% free multi-hour parking can be found almost anywhere in the city — even Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, and Chinatown. The only reason anyone pays for short-term parking in those places is because most drivers are too lazy to walk at all. But if you’re used to busing+walking, you can park for free and still save time and walk less far than if you took the bus.

        As long as you don’t work 9-5 downtown, parking in this city is largely free.

        (The irony, of course, is that I live in central Ballard, one of the few places where parking as a resident is exceedingly difficult. If I finally bought a car of my own, I actually would have to shell out for monthly parking somewhere. Or move.)

        Anyway, this is worthwhile food for thought in a city with high transit fares, even if it challenges many of the common talking points about the economics of carlessness.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        Which infrastructure do you want to pay taxes for?

      • I would rather pay taxes for transit!

        I would also rather those taxes not be thrown into a black hole of transit that is perpetually useless. (And yes, that includes a good chunk of our capital-expenditure taxes — yay for my money buying super-express tracks to the Snohomish border!)

        (Luckily for me, when I have driven a car recently, it generally hasn’t been at rush hour. So the existing roads have had plenty of excess capacity.)

      • Jim Cusick says:

        That’s the whole tax conundrum, D.P.

        What has happened for years is that we’ve paid gas tax, which was put into the state/federal highway trust fund. Where and how those funds were spent had no rules as specific as that spelled out in ballot measures.

        Although, I suppose one might make an argument that it resembles the county transit agency’s ballot measures, as opposed to the Sound Move measures which were more specific.

        Two issues with that.
        Only a small portion of the gas tax was put up for a vote, in the form of Initiative 912, which sought to repeal the 9 cent increase by the legislature in 2005.
        Also, gas tax increases have no set project lists associated directly with thim, the money gets spread around where needed, or perceived to be needed. There are project lists, but not tied intimately with the increase, just that ‘new revenue in’ should cover x number of projects.

        In the days when a dollar bought a lot more (Pre Y2K), the gas tax covered projects for creating more highway capacity.

        In order to create a competing infrastructure, we had to pass additional taxes to create opportunity for more transit users to join that system.

        A user of the transit system buys into it long term, by purchasing monthly or yearly passes.

        So, as a current road user, where I don’t get to vote on whether I think road capacity increases are a good use of my gas tax monies, I am required to tax myself more for a different option.

        My ‘yearly pass’ to the road based system is the sunk costs of that vehicle.

        I would be a lot happier if I had more opportunity to vote whether additional tax increases went to specific road projects, so I could make a well informed decision.

        In the meantime, my automotive costs are certainly represented by all the costs involved, sunk or otherwise.

        Claiming that the only evaluation to make is the incremental costs hides the fact that it is still a cost.

        What people should be deciding is what flavor they want their transportation needs to be.

        Does the Governor’s latest Transportation Budget answer that?(that’s a rhetorical question)

      • d.p.,

        Don’t forget your friends are lucky. I’ve had friends who’ve run through a few lemons in a row on the used car market, despite taking precautions. The kind of low-maintenance cheap car ownership scenario you describe is possible, but it requires a favorable roll of the dice.

      • I think transit advocates often overstate the cost of driving. I don’t blame them, especially since a lot of people are clearly Doing It Wrong.

        I had a job in 2008 that required a lot of driving, and I tracked all my mileage and expenses for tax purposes. At the end of the year I took advantage of the records to calculate my actual cost of driving, and it turned out to be $0.21 per mile. That includes everything except depreciation, but depreciation on a $2000 used car is minimal*. It wasn’t even a particularly efficient car; it was a ’95 Crown Vic, a former police cruiser, that got 20 mpg on a good day.

        The idea that car ownership is massively expensive comes mostly from people who are silly enough to buy new cars. That same year AAA estimated cost of ownership of a new car at $0.61/mile, but the majority of that was depreciation.

        * I drove 20,000 miles that year, so even if you figured the car had lost half its value, that still would have only been an additional $0.05/mile. A couple years later I sold it for $1500, so in fact I only lost $500 to depreciation in three years.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        All cars should start life as old and plain, and after we run them within miles of going into the ground, then everyone else can buy them, and drive the costs down even more (and into the ground).

        At a certain point, walking can become more expensive than driving!

      • Someone has got to buy new cars in order for good used cars to be available.

        In my experience most used cars have pretty high maintenance costs. If you’re clever you can find ones which don’t, but most people aren’t that clever.

        Of course many new cars have pretty high maintenance costs too, but people can check Consumer Reports to figure out which ones.

      • Part of the question of maintenance costs depends on what you’re willing to put up with in a car. There are lots of fairly expensive repairs you can just let go without even affecting resale value or fuel economy that much. If you keep up all that maintenance you can keep a car going just about forever but the likelihood of something unexpected happening is great enough that in purely economic terms you might as well just neglect the car and let it slowly degrade and die in 20 years (especially if you’re not going on the freeway much).

        Of course this is lousy for the environment (building a car has a pretty big impact), but until we get serious about including the costs of environmental damages in prices, environmentalism doesn’t play much of a role in economics.

  12. Oops. Meant to add… People tend to only compare the variable cost of car ownership with the full cost off transit.

  13. Trains have to stop at the border anyway for customs, right? If the Blaine station could be built so that the train only needs to stop once, there’s little harm in doing it. But even better, we would have the option of running trains all the way to Blaine if the Canadian government doesn’t want to fund the rest of the way to Vancouver, and people could get off and walk through the Peace Arch and catch a bus to Vancouver. Which would mean that Canada would need to pay for extra customs agents to deal with the train traffic anyway, and they couldn’t exactly tell us not to run trains to Blaine so they don’t have to handle the surges in pedestrian crossings. Having that option could really increase our leverage in getting more Vancouver trains.

    • Currently, customs clearance is done at the Vancouver station. Trains don’t have to stop at the border. As a consequnce of that, the train can have no station stops north of the border except at the Vancouver station.

      • If that’s the case, then it’s a change in procedure.

        The one time I’ve taken the VAC->SEA train (spring 2011), customs was in VAC station, but border control was a separate stop at the border: police in riot gear boarded with drug dogs, checked passports again, asked questions of every passenger. Remaining in your seat was mandated for the duration of the 15-minute stop.

        It is not fun.

      • North bound trains don’t do Canadian customs and immigration until they arrive in Vancouver. South bound trains do some US customs and immigration in Vancouver, and the rest at the border. It was that way nearly 10 years ago when I took the train and it still sounds like it today. The net result is that there are no stations between the border and Vancouver. Given the distance between Vancouver and Bellingham, it makes sense to place a station on the US side of the border somewhere between, and Blaine makes the most sense.

  14. What ticks me off about this is that they are doing this now, the Cascades is making huge progress but needs a few more years to become more self sufficient as a result of more trains and faster speeds to attract more customers. Its not there yet. I believe I read the goal was 85% farebox at 2018 from the improvements including Point Defiance.

    The Feds throw every possible hurdle up to make passenger rail as difficult as possible to have in this country.

  15. In the short term, the Washington Legislature should just fund the $9 million a year — and if it doesn’t, WSDOT should just pull the money out of whatever “discretionary” pots of funding they have (I’m sure they have some).

    So write your state legislators. Tell ‘em $9 million a year is worth it and they should just FUND THE TRAINS.

    Economies of scale mean that the operations cost is actually going down as capital improvements get built and more trains run per day. The $9 million a year in October 2013 is going to be less in October 2014, and so forht.

    • IMPORTANT CORRECTION

      That chart appears to be for the BIENNIUM.

      That’s $9.8 million for TWO YEARS, or $4.9 million per year.

      Oregon could pay for part of that, and probably will, since part of the service is running in Oregon.

      If there’s a new government in BC in May, BC could and should pay for part of that.

      This is really a small amount of money from a government budget point of view. The Washington legislature should plan on appropriating the funding to the extent that Oregon and BC don’t.

      • Actually, given popularity and increased fares (sigh, I know) it’s perfectly possible that this will be an even smaller gap by the time October 2013 comes around.

    • It’s also notable that nothing needs to be done until the NEXT budget. The current WA State Budget runs out on July 1, 2013, and the PRIIA requirements kick in in October 2013.

      So Washington State has to provide the extra funding for the NEXT biennium. Just do it, guys.

  16. OK, to sum up, this should be the statewide Amtrak agenda for the next state budget, in this order:
    (1) After asking OR and BC to pay their fair share of the running costs, appropriate the remainder of the $4.9 million per year needed for existing operations.
    (2) Appropriate money to buy the Wisconsin Talgos cheap.
    (3) Appropriate money to study alternatives for and design an inland bypass of the Everett-Seattle line as cheaply as possible, either via the Eastside Line or I-5 or whatever, for the purposes of Vancouver, BC service. It’s time to start designing this in light of mudslides and sea level rise.
    (4) Fund a stop for Cascades in Lakewood. Yes, buy them off.
    (5) Finish funding the capital projects on the priority list — the ones which need to be built before the next two Seattle-Portland frequencies can be run. I believe IIRC the top unfunded priority is the trestle replacement / double-tracking east of Tacoma.

  17. Steve Wight says:

    I’ll chime in with a dissenting voice on adding any additional stop on the Amtrak Cascades route, especially any already well served by Sounder. If any change be made, it should be to eliminate low utilization intermediate stops (e.g., Tukwila) in favor of decreasing trip times and schedule reliability between major destinations. Lakewood is already getting Sounder service in exchange for the Bypass, so no need to offer more. Any added stop lengthens trip times up to about 5 minutes, and will significantly decrease competitiveness against non-stop PDX-SEA Bolt bus service or driving on I-5. If better intra-Pudget Sound service is desirable (e.g., between Auburn and Tacoma or Seattle), add more Sounder service not intermediate Amtrak stops.

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  1. [...] WSDOT has to cut Cascades service to reflect a drop in Federal funding, probably by sending fewer trains to Vancouver. [...]

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