FRA Approves Point Defiance Bypass

permits.performance.gov

permits.performance.gov

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Monday approved the Point Defiance Bypass, allowing WSDOT to finish the design, begin construction in 2015, and potentially complete it in 2017.

The bypass, starting at Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square and rejoining the BNSF mainline at Nisqually, will reduce the travel time between Seattle and Portland from 3 hours and 30 minutes for Amtrak Cascades trains to 3 hours and 15 minutes. The time savings on the route comes from the decrease in overall mileage, increased speed, and improved reliability. The bypass also removes 5 minutes of padding that was needed due to the frequent interactions with freight traffic in the Nelson Bennett area. All passenger trains, including the Amtrak Coast Starlight, will move to Freighthouse Square, closing the old station currently in use.

This finding is open to appeal.  Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told The News Tribune on Monday that “the City Council will consider its options, including taking the project to court.” Mayor Anderson and the Lakewood City Council have a long history of opposing the project.

The bypass will allow the State to start 2 additional round trips between Seattle and Portland, assuming it resolves the uncertainty of funding for Amtrak Cascades.




Comments

  1. Ugh. Sure will miss the view on the old route. I wish they would’ve kept the Starlight’s on the current route, and only done the Cascades and commuters on the new line.

    • There’s no reason a private company couldn’t run a “Dinner Special” type tourist train on the current route, for sightseers if the demand is there.

      Amtrak’s goal here should be reliability and productivity, and the bypass further’s that goal.

    • The awesome view (best along the route) is worth an extra fifteen minutes, but probably not an additional two trip per day…especially if one of those trains is later in the evening. Actually, it’s only 10 minutes, adjusted for the padded 5 minutes.

      • Dan Carey says:

        It was (or still is at the moment) a nice view, but I’d trade it for more trains and a greatly improved on time rate.

    • Steve Wight says:

      The “view” is still there, and can be enjoyed to an even greater degree by going there and walking along the shore at Pt. Defiance.

      • Totally. Just take the Pierce Transit bus to the…

        Oh… wait… right.

        (I’m kidding, though. I’ll miss the spectacular Narrows view and the Steilacoom ferry dock as much as anyone, but not enough to sacrifice reliability and additional service.)

      • Mike Orr says:

        The weekend 10 survived the cuts (TCC – Pt Defiance). The 11 didn’t (downtown – Pt Defiance). So your trip to Pt Defiance will include a ride on the 1, which is not that much loss for transit/urbanism fans. And it means a crosstown grid route survived over a downtown one-seat ride, which is a good thing.

        (It’s also curious that Pt Defiance wasn’t given maximum priority because of the multimodal ferry connection, unlike the situation with RapidRide C vs the 120. But the Pt Defiance terminal is less important to Tacoma and Vashon than the Fauntleroy terminal is to Seattle and Vashon.)

      • Definitely no getting to Steilacoom, though, or to any other point along the western coast of the peninsula, as far as I can tell.

      • On our meetup trip to Point Defiance a couple Saturdays ago, the #11 had around 3 people on the bus that weren’t part of our group. So while it’s unfortunate that the #11 won’t be available to reach Point Defiance, it is understandable.

        For now, at least, Point Defiance is still access by transit via the #118 across Vashon Island, but pending KC Metro’s fiscal cliff in 2014, I would not be surprised to see Saturday service on that bus go on the chopping block too.

    • I to had hoped Amtrak would have kept at least one route per week on the old line. But the reason the bypass is being built is not because of passenger service per say but because of the increased demand for the existing mainline by heavy freight. If a coal terminal gets built up north it will be at capacity. As for excursion trains that’s going to be problematic for the same reason. If the SP Daylight makes another trip up to the Seattle area I’d guess it would stay on the coastal route.

      • Nathanael says:

        There is a strong desire, nationwide, to separate (fast, scheduled) passenger traffic from (slow, poorly scheduled) freight traffic. Especially on single-track sections where the contention for the rails is most acute.

        (This doesn’t really apply to one-off excursion trains, which can afford to be slow and poorly scheduled.)

        Knocking 15 minutes off the schedule of the Coast Starlight is nothing to sneeze at. People don’t take that train just for the scenery; people actually do take it to get from Seattle to California. Schedule reliability is a *huge* issue for ridership on long-distance trains, and this was one of the most consistent points of delay on the entire route from Seattle to Los Angeles. (Some of the other such locations are just north of Portland; most of the rest are in California.)

  2. Very good news indeed. Faster, more reliable service and a couple of extra trains. Excellent.

    I just wish they would bump the speed on the new section a bit — there is no reason the Bypass needs to be limited to 79 mph.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Federal law limits the bypass to 79mph until we build four-quadrant gates (the kind people can’t just drive around). That also requires a separate environmental review, I believe.

      • I think going faster than 79 mph also requires in-cab signaling equipment, but for all I know that area is already equipped.

      • More specifically, going faster than 79mph requires an Automatic Train Stop or Positive Train Control overlay on top of the signal system. That is planned for future development of the PNWRC, when the entire corridor (outside of congested areas) will be built out for 110mph operation of passenger trains on dedicated tracks.

      • I started writing my response before Orv’s was posted and it was intended to be a response to Ben. No, PDB will not have cab signals as currently designed.

      • lazarus says:

        such gates are not rocket science — build them and bump the speed up.

      • Unfortunately they’re expensive — an expense that must be shared (and negotiated) between the DOT and the railroad. Signal timing issues also become much more acute, because you have to make certain a car can’t be trapped on the tracks by the gates.

      • Matt the Engineer says:

        [Orv] I don’t buy it. There’s nothing in the hardware that’s expensive, including signal timing. And power’s already run to the location so there’s no real utility cost. Cut in a wire across the road on both sides, pour a bit of concrete to mount the hardware to, and hook the things up.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        I don’t know if the Bypass’ track profile is even suitable for >80mph operations, but a 4 quadrant gate at every grade crossing would be expensive. Looking at other projects, it looks like $1 million per crossing would be a good ballpark figure to start with. Four quadrant gates are much more complex than 2 arm gates because with a 4 quad gate it is necessary to install and maintain a system that can detect if a slow moving vehicle is caught inside the box when all 4 gates are down.

      • lazarus says:

        Na, they really aren’t that expensive, and they certainly aren’t that expensive in comparison to all the other investments that are being done on the line.

        Yes, WSDOT is right to focus on average speed over peak speed, but at some point we are going to want to step-up to the plate like big-boys and go for something beyond 79 mph.

        Other agencies have done it, we can do it too.

      • Ben Schiendelman: “Federal law limits the bypass to 79mph until we build four-quadrant gates (the kind people can’t just drive around).”

        Four-quadrant gates are required at 110mph. Trains could operate at 90mph with class 5 track and automatic train stop or PTC. And appropriate track geometry, of course. I think Brian has previously said in a post on ST’s Tacoma to Lakewood project that they were installing class 5 track.

        I wouldn’t expect ST and WSDOT to want to take on maintaining the track to that class and potentially pissing off the trackside cities to push the issue.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Thanks aw. So we still need automatic train stop or PTC. I think those both have costs – we need to ask for them!

      • Keep in mind that it’s not just the initial cost, either. The railroad has to test every crossing signal on a regular basis, to make sure they’re properly calibrated and so there’s a paper trail showing they did due diligence when someone gets hit by a train and sues.

        Railroads greatly prefer to just get road crossings permanently closed, when they can, like on secondary streets.

      • Nathanael says:

        Ben, not correct about federal law.

        The Point Defiance Bypass will be legally required to have “positive train control” by 2015. Sound Transit / Tacoma Rail has submitted a compliance plan. This means cab signals. Without PTC the speed limit is 79 mph.

        (BNSF and the other class Is have been illegally dragging their feet on PTC compliance. They deserve fines. ST and the state of Washington will probably not deliberately avoid complying with federal law.)

        However (sigh) installing PTC pretty much raises the speed limit from 79 to 80. Big whoop.

        In order to raise the speed limit to 90, the track must be maintained to a higher standard (FRA class 5 instead of FRA class 4).

        The 4-quadrant gates are required for the *Quiet Zone*, not for the speed increase. Although there is no specific law or regulation requiring 4-quadrant gates for speeds over 79 mph, the FRA has historically frowned on allowing speeds above 79 mph without 4-quadrant gates (with a “rule of special applicability” which applies to the NEC).

        So there’s a bunch of stuff which would probably need to be done to go up to 90 mph or 110 mph. In addition, some of the sections of the bypass are quite certainly not geometrically suitable for higher speeds, particularly the ones with sharp curves and steep grades.

      • Nathanael says:

        FWIW, with the “categorical exceptions” which were recently added to the regulations related to passenger rail service, it will probably be possible for WSDOT / Amtrak / Sound Transit to increase train speed from 79 to 90 simply by doing the work and testing it, without rounds of environmental paperwork.

    • Mike Orr says:

      What if, in the future, the feds relax the heavy train requirement and signal control to European levels? What would it enable that we don’t have now? How much cheaper would it make passenger trains, how much faster could they go, how much better acceleration would they have, etc? Would Amtrak realize any benefit immediately, or only after replacing all its trains? Would it basically double Amtrak’s/ST’s costs if it buys heavy trains now and replaces them with lighter trains in a few years, which would likely mean it wouldn’t replace them until end-of-life?

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        If we were to adopt the European standards for signal and train control, we wouldn’t be “relaxing” our standards–we would be strengthening our standards. But by implementing a more sophisticated signal system it might be possible to revise the crash standards and use lighter trains.

      • I think the different levels of ETCS are actually comparable to US CTC and PTC. Europeans use more cab signaling than we do, although they still have line side signals. The US buff standard is based off no scientific fact, just the buff strength of a 1920′s PRR heavyweight coach… There’s no real reason with CTC and PTC overlay that we cannot use lighter European trains and still maintain a very high level of safety.

      • Nathanael says:

        The benefits would be individually per-train. Amtrak and the states are buying a relatively small number of trains now, and they’re badly, badly needed.

        Due to the continuous expansion of passenger rail demand, if Amtrak can buy lighter-weight equipment in a few years, *both* the lightweight *and* the heavyweight equipment will likely operate simultaneously. We are not in a situation of 1-for-1 replacement, we’re in a situation where we need expansion of rolling stock capacity.

    • Chris I says:

      I agree. Even if the signaling system is not ready, this section should be built for 110mph operations. Why not take advantage of the lack of crossings (I only count 7 south of the Lakewood station), and make it grade-separated? If we ever way to get to 110mph operations on the Cascades route, we need to start somewhere. This would also eliminate much of the local opposition’s argument (traffic impacts, safety at crossings).

    • DWHohnan: “PDB will not have cab signals as currently designed.”

      Huh? PTC is required for lines hosting passenger trains by 2015 according to PRIIA, at least until such time as that requirement is relaxed by Congress. There are active ST, WSDOT and Amtrak projects to install PTC equipment on the wayside and in rolling stock.

      • Operative phrase: “as currently designed.” The final design set provided to WSDOT in 2010 did not incorporate any cab signal equipment in the signal plans. I cannot speak to what may have changed since that time.

        Also, only one ‘h’ in Honan.

      • Sorry on the misspelling of your name, I should have checked that.

        Luckily, WSDOT has until 2015 to design the project now.
        And referring to the original post, Brian said that “WSDOT to … begin construction in 2015, and potentially complete it in 2017.”

        I think that under the terms of the ARRA grant, WSDOT needs to complete the construction in 2017.

      • Nathanael says:

        Cab signals actually simplify the design in some ways. If they don’t get over-clever with the design. Track circuits, please.

  3. Bruce Nourish says:

    Arguably, even more important than the travel time reduction is the improved frequency and reliability this allows. 15 minutes either way will win or lose a few riders, but if a train doesn’t run when you want to travel, it doesn’t matter much how fast it goes. Apparently this will also allow the current trainsets to be used much more efficiently, too.

    This is great news. Good job WSDOT for pushing this forward.

    • You betcha they’re going to have to improve. Take this theoretical trip from North Seattle to Portland’s Union Station:

      Amtrak:
      $33.00 and 3 hours 30 minutes each way, plus time spent waiting to board the train.
      Plus $4.50-5.00 (depending on time of day) to get from Downtown which could take 15-35 minutes each way.

      Drive myself:
      $15.50 in gas and just under 3 hours each way door to door (according to Gas Buddy’s $3.90 average price per gallon).
      Plus the cost of depreciation.

      Seems the winner is pretty obvious; especially when I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s schedule.

      • And if you’re traveling in a group of 2 or more the savings compound significantly.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        I’m a train booster, obviously, but people like us too often downplay the added wait times involved. As long as Cascades maintains a 15-20 minute archaic seat-assignment queue procedure, train travel will be uncompetitive with driving. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to arrive <5 minutes before, have an e-ticket on a smartphone, and board immediately with open seating, just like Sounder, the Pacific Surfliner, or any train I ever took in the UK. Since not all doors open at all stations due to platform length, tickets could instead tell you which cars are best for your stop (“Centralia — Seating in Cars 4-5 Recommended”) instead of waiting 20 minutes to have someone put a sticky note on an index card.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        “…I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s schedule.”

        Right. If you’re going to use intercity mass transit, you are, to a greater or lesser extent, going to have to “conform to” a schedule of some sort. Frequency makes that far less onerous.

        The fact that there’s no southbound departure from SEA between 2:20 and 5:30, or that significant, unpredictable delays are not uncommon at the Point Defiance tunnel, costs Cascades far more riders than the 15 minute travel time differential.

        That is why this project is worth the money.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        Bruce, the draft schedule for southbound departures once the bypass is complete is 6:40, 8:45, 9:45 (Starlight), 11:45, 15:00, 17:40, and 20:00.
        Northbound arrivals into Seattle will be roughly 9:10, 11:45, 15:10, 17:55, 19:45 (Starlight), 20:00, and 22:30.

        Source here. This is obviously much better, but still leaves routine gaps of 2-3.5 hours. Also, this picture doesn’t reflect Oregon likely retooling their service. They’re looking at cutting the midnight arrival in Eugene in favor of an early morning arrival instead.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        just under 3 hours each way door to door

        Good luck with that if there accidents, construction projects, bad weather or if you plan to drive through Seattle, Tacoma or Portland during rush hour.

      • It all depends says:

        Tim, that’s assuming that if you stay overnight that you are parking your car on the street – something I would never do in downtown Portland, Vancouver or Seattle – and that’s $20-$30 a night, depending on where you stay.

        You could rent a car to go between the two cities, but for some reason that is hellishly expensive. Better to bring your own, if you have to have it with you.

        To me personally, I’d rather skip the hassle of driving and dealing with the car once I get there.

      • “If you’re going to use intercity mass transit, you are, to a greater or lesser extent, going to have to “conform to” a schedule of some sort.”
        What I meant is that if I get delayed as I’m headed out the door (like a phone call), I’m SOL until the next train in 12 hours. There are plenty of other rail systems that while they do not cover the same geographic distance have a significantly higher freqnecy.

        “Good luck with that if there accidents, construction projects, bad weather or if you plan to drive through Seattle, Tacoma or Portland during rush hour.”
        I wish you luck as well if there are mud slides, slow orders, track blockages, equipment shortages…

        “that’s assuming that if you stay overnight that you are parking your car on the street”
        Currently planning a day trip to east Portland. Will have at least 3 people and not more than 5.
        For the price of 5 roundtrip Cascades tickets I could instead park the car in the most expensive downtown parking garage, have it waxed, and get a limo to take us across the river.

        “You could rent a car to go between the two cities, but for some reason that is hellishly expensive.”
        $40 is hellishly expensive? Don’t forget Car2Go also has a fleet in Portland as well.

      • It All Depends says:

        As my handle implies, it really does depend on what you are doing and what you value. I happen to have the money and spare time to take the train. My employer used to fly me down there, but that was just silly, and I dislike driving long distances, so the train is perfect for me. Also, this way I can take the wife and kids, and my business trips become mini-vacations.

        That’s the whole thing about balanced transportation. There’s something for everyone.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        @ Tim

        “Drive myself:
        $15.50 in gas and just under 3 hours each way door to door (according to Gas Buddy’s $3.90 average price per gallon).
        Plus the cost of depreciation.”

        Your driving costs for a Seattle-Portland trip, according to AAA are $102.

        Depending on the price of the train ticket, and how many are in your group, the ‘savings’ are dependant on the mode you choose.

        Your only rationalization is that it’s your car you get to use.

      • And yet again someone makes the mistake of thinking their car has ZERO operating costs to drive. I spent two months in Portland and made the commute to the Puget Sound once a week and it cost me $30 even (and 3 hours even) to drive from Legacy Emmanuel Hospital to Edmonds just in gas. According to AAA or the IRS total cost including maintenance and depreciation is $100.

        Halfway through the two months I started taking the train for $31 each way -total. Even when I had to pay for two adult tickets and two child tickets it’s cheaper than driving.

        The train is full of business people because any decent CPA knows it doesn’t cost zero dollars to drive a car. It’s by far cheaper to take the train.

        Where the train falls down is in frequency and mudslides. I’d call Amtrak and if the train wasn’t running I’d drive. I did take the Amtrak bus once just to see how it compared – meh.

      • Tim,
        I didn’t see your other comment.

        ““that’s assuming that if you stay overnight that you are parking your car on the street”
        Currently planning a day trip to east Portland. Will have at least 3 people and not more than 5.
        For the price of 5 roundtrip Cascades tickets I could instead park the car in the most expensive downtown parking garage, have it waxed, and get a limo to take us across the river.”

        No actually Amtrak Cascades companion tickets are free thus you pay half. Not that you’d ever take the train anyway but you might as well have the facts.

      • Your drive time is kind of in a fantasy world….and is assuming mostly non-existent perfect conditions, at least when most people are commuting (Joint Base Lewis/McCord anyone?). On the train you can actually work and be in transit simultaneously (or nap). The train basically gives you time to work, instead of you having to work as driver/conductor.

      • David Seater says:

        “companion tickets are free”

        How do you get one of these magical free tickets? If I try to book a trip on the website the cost doubles when I change it from one adult ($24) to two ($48).

      • How do you get one of these magical free tickets? You have to live on Mercer Island :=

      • Zach Shaner says:

        The PCC in Fremont gives away free companion tickets by the handful. Just grab as many as you like at the register. They’re usually only valid October to April though. Or you can participate in the state’s annual Wheel Options campaign, and your employer will likely give you a free companion ticket.

      • Mike Orr says:

        I think companion tickets are available only a few times a year during sales, and you have to choose one of specified dates (mostly weekday).

      • Jim Cusick says:

        FREE Companion Fare Coupon:
        The offer is valid for sale between 01Sept12 – 27April13, and valid for travel between 01Oct12 – 30Apr13. Blackouts apply on … (the dates still to come) … 28-29Mar13, and 01Apr13.
        3 day advance reservation required.
        One free companion fare with the purchase of one regular (full) adult fare.

        You can travel any day of the week you want.

        The Chinook Book xx% off coupons have tigher restrictions, which you might be thinking of Mike, as far as restricted seating availability, but those coupons work throughout the year.

        As far as the when and where of handing the FREE Companion Fare coupons out, that’s up to the merchant and Amtrak marketing.

      • Nathanael says:

        Zach: it’s even possible to put signs up in front of the coaches saying “CENTRALIA”, or otherwise listing which stops are served by that coach. You know, it involves buying, uh, signs.

  4. Steve Wight says:

    Disappointing that this was one of those “shovel-ready” projects funded by the feds in 2009 for recession recovery, and it’s still not to start construction until 2015.

    But, yay! that it’s moving forward.

    • In order to make use of federal money, an environmental review had to be performed; the original exemption from the STB to rebuild the line for passenger service was no longer valid.

      • Nathanael says:

        The federal government is finalizing new “categorical exemption” rules which, if finalized, would have exempted the Pt. Defiance Bypass from the ridiculous-overkill environmental review.

        In fact, it’s pretty clear that the full environmental review was done in order to bulletproof the project against any lawsuits by idiot NIMBYs in Lakewood. Because the new “categorical exemptions” were not in place, they could have stalled the whole thing by demanding a full environmental review The project is now bulletproof, with all t’s crossed and all i’s dotted.

        So you can pretty much blame NIMBYs in Lakewood for the delay.

      • Nathanael says:

        FYI, the new categorical exemption rules basically say that improving tracks and adding passenger service on an existing railroad line, within the railroad right-of-way, doesn’t need environmental review unless it involves disruption of wetlands or endangered species, or large new bridges.

    • No kidding! How much time has gone into getting this far? And still another two years before breaking ground?

      Whatever the current process is, it seems be erring on the side of too much regulation/process.

    • Dan Carey says:

      I had that thought myself a few years ago. However, the economy is not fully recovered, and there is still a need to put people back to work.

  5. What in the world is the deal with Lakewood? I am starting to really dislike that town of NIMBYS.

    • Mike Orr says:

      They love their cars, they’re afraid of their children being hit by trains, and they’re afraid that any transit improvements will come at the expense of highway expansion which would make them have to sit in traffic longer.

      Ultimately it’s because we dismantled the streetcars and interurbans in the 30s, so these people have never grown up with them. Their parents believed “Futurama”, that cars were freedom and cul-de-sacs were progress, and they inherited this belief. And they wouldn’t want to be in the city where the schools are horrible and gangs shoot your kids and you have to pay for parking.

      In contrast, in metros with an intact commuter-rail network and frequent city subways-or-buses, they remain an important way to get around, people won’t hear of shutting them down, they want to expand them, and many stations retain walkable surroundings (some with healthy commerce now, others capable of revival).

      But this also gets into why Seattle/Tacoma lost its streetcars in the first place. They were small cities in the 1930s. Seattle was 200,000-ish. “Large cities like New York will need to keep their rail, small new cities will be mostly cars.” Even Los Angeles and San Jose were small cities then; all the large cities were in the northeast. So they thought they didn’t need the rail infrastucture and wouldn’t need it, because as their cities grew they would just get more highways and buses and low-density subdivisions.

  6. Hooray for Tacoma! Moving Amtrak to Freighthouse Square centralizes train service in Tacoma (and therefore connects Amtrak into T-Link and PT), and is only good news for the commercial tenants of Freighthouse Square itself and the surrounding Dome District. The only concern is that the station is single-platform; I’m not sure that train traffic is great enough to cause problems now, but who knows what the future holds for higher-frequency train service through there.

    • This also means that FHS is due up for some renovations, to handle the new passengers and to build the necessary facilities (ticket office, baggage room, waiting area, and at the top of my wish list, new bathrooms). Who’s gonna pay for it?

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        The state will pay for it if you lobby for it. If you weren’t at Transportation Advocacy Day this year, be prepared to take a day off next year to be there!

      • Well played, Ben.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        :)

      • Nathanael says:

        The Freighthouse Square renovations to accomodate Amtrak were part of the budget for the Pt. Defiance bypass. (I assume they still are.)

    • Also also – hooray for double-tracking Tacoma to Lakewood.

      • The second main track will only be built from just south of 66th Street to Bridgeport Way. The complete double-tracking of TR Jct. (connection to the BNSF mainline) to 66th Street won’t occur until a later phase of the PNWRC build-out.

      • Still – that’s a major upgrade, and reduces an otherwise lengthy bottleneck to a nominal distance. Will the first phase also include double-tracking from 66th north to Tacoma Dome? How about the single-track trestle that connects the mainline to Tacoma Dome in the first place? I know, I know – I’m daydreaming again.

      • No, 66th to Tacoma won’t happen for years; it’s one of the last phases of the PNWRC build-out. Replacement of the L Street trestle is a separate project from PDB.

    • Nathanael says:

      “The only concern is that the station is single-platform; I’m not sure that train traffic is great enough to cause problems now, but who knows what the future holds for higher-frequency train service through there.”

      There is a plan for that from WSDOT and Sound Transit. One of the next steps in the Cascades corridor improvement process is replacing and double-tracking the trestle east of the station, and last I checked, the plans for that show a double-tracked Tacoma station with a second platform, as well. This will allow for (yet further) increased frequency on both Sounder and Cascades, as well as slightly higher speeds.

      You will have to campaign for funding from the state in order to get this accomplished though.

      • Nathanael says:

        (66th to Tacoma Dome would remain single-track for the indefinite future; apparently you get more benefit from double-tracking Tacoma Dome to Reservation Junction.)

  7. Maybe STB could ‘educate’ the citizens? Have a giant outreach program, showing them the error of their ways? :)

  8. Aren’t Sounder trains already running to Lakewood? Is that part of the bypass?

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Yes.

      • Nathanael says:

        In fact, pretty much all the expensive civil engineering work on the bypass is done. There’s some grade crossings to improve, and then it’s just track and signal.

  9. This costs how many million dollars to save just 15 minutes?

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      How many minutes will Seattle’s deep bore tunnel save compared to driving on the surface streets? I’m guessing less than 15.

      Infrastructure is expensive for even small gains. But once it’s done, it’s done for a very long time. 15 minutes times thousands of passengers a day (and growing, maybe by a lot), more or less forever.

      • Ya, and time isn’t the only metric to measure value. Yes, you do save time, but you also increase reliability and capacity, and you can consolidate more transportation resources at FHS.

        Very good news, and very good news for a variety of reasons.

    • Steve Wight says:

      There’s nearly 850,000 riders annually on Amtrak Cascades, so the aggregate savings for passengers is about 24.25 fewer years that passengers spend on the train annually.

      • They could save a lot more time by not taking the train.

      • Steve Wight says:

        Actually Tim, they can waste a lot of time in mindless and stressful highway driving mode, rather than sitting comfortably doing work on a laptop with wifi connection or having a meal in the dining car.

      • Chris I says:

        Tim,

        That’s quite the blanket statement. Let’s go through a few examples that I have seen while riding the train:
        1) Person does not own a car. That $60 round trip ticket is a lot less than the thousands of dollars to purchase, insure, operate, and maintain a car.
        2) Person is staying downtown. $30/night parking adds up pretty fast.
        3) Person is traveling one way and carpooling back the other way. Obvious reason to take the train…
        4) Person is catching a plane, or a cruise. Again, obvious.

        And yes, we all know about Bolt Bus.

      • Yes, Bolt Bus. The one that’s cheaper and faster than Cascades and connects the same two points.

      • Breadbaker says:

        Why is it that the delays on Amtrak (this one and the one near Kelso in particular) are always counted against train travel, but the delays on I-5, traffic, construction, accidents, never are? Want to sit on the Bolt Bus on a very hot or very cold day when there’s an accident blocking I-5 near Fort Lewis? On Amtrak if there’s a delay, you can walk around the train, visit the buffet car, use one of many bathrooms, use the free wifi and relax. Try that on a bus, or in your car sometime.

      • “Yes, Bolt Bus. The one that’s cheaper and faster than Cascades and connects the same two points.”

        Yes but it’s a bus and is only as good as a bus can be. What if you got a ride in the back of a cattle truck for $10 and it got you there in 3 hours would it be a good deal or a bad deal?

        If you haven’t ridden a train then you won’t understand the difference.

      • Chris I says:

        Yes, BoltBus, the one that only connects 3 of the 19 stops that Amtrak Cascades serves, only uses electronic ticketing, doesn’t have a terminal, and is subject to the same freeway traffic that you get in a car.

        I like BoltBus; it works for a lot of people, but it also doesn’t work for a lot of people. The passenger numbers are an indication of that, yet you seem to ignore them and chalk it up to the Amtrak passengers collective ignorance and stupidity.

      • Chris makes a very good point. Of course, on the other hand, if you’re driving you aren’t forced to stay in an expensive downtown hotel, so you can offset that cost a bit. Also, my credit card works to buy gas anywhere, but my ORCA is useless once I leave the Seattle area.

        For one person taking the train can save some money. The bigger the group the more likely it is that driving will be cheaper, since it costs the same to drive no matter how many people are in the car. (This is the same reason I often take the Link downtown if it’s just me and my wife, but never when I’m in a larger group.)

      • Mike Orr says:

        “Yes, Bolt Bus. The one that’s cheaper and faster than Cascades and connects the same two points.”

        But it’s not a train! And it doesn’t address the niche of trips to intermediate cities.

      • lazarus says:

        The R’s love to talk up Bolt Bus as some sort of magic private sector option to “bloated” Amtrak service, but what they fail to mention is that Bolt Bus just cherry-picks riders traveling between major urban centers – Bolt Bus does exactly zero for anyone else along the line, and that is where 2/3’s of Cascades ridership comes from!!

        Yes, Bolt Bus could serve the intermediate stops just like Amtrak, but then it wouldn’t be as fast nor as cheap. Greyhound knows this, and this is why they structured Bolt Bus like they did.

        So, what do the R’s get by promoting Bolt Bus type solutions? Cheaper travel options for urban travelers (typically more “liberal”) and fewer travel options for more rural travelers (typically more “conservative”).

        They are throwing their own supporters under the bus (so to speak)….

      • I’ve driver to Portland a few times and my experience is it seems like you’re making a little bit better time than Amtrak until you get close to Portland and spend half an hour crawling the last few miles down I-5, followed by another half-hour to go down the exit ramp, plus a few blocks of streets downtown.

        Also, the drive time is based on the assumption that you can sit for 3 hours in a car without ever needing to stop to stand up, stretch, get gas, or go to the bathroom. I realize there are some people who can do it, but I am not one of those. Generally, the time Amtrak spends at station stops along the way roughly cancels out the time I would have spent at bathroom stops along the way had I been driving.

    • It’s 15 minutes + 2 additional trains per day + double-tracking.

      • Zach Shaner says:

        IIRC, it’ll only double track about 40% of the way. The 1.6 miles from Freighthouse Square to M Street will remain single-tracked, then 8 miles of mostly double track to Lakewood Station, then roughly 10 miles of single track from Bridgeport Way to Nisqually.

      • Zach, PDB will be mostly single track; as I noted above, the 2MT will only be in place between 66th Street and just south of Bridgeport Way, a distance of 3.7 miles.

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Again, the primary benefit of this is frequency and reliability, although the time savings are nice. There is no way to fit more trains down the current alignment.

      • Nathanael says:

        This is expected to bring Cascades reliability up above 90% if I remember correctly. Maybe it was 95%. Considering that it’s also making it 15 minutes faster, that’s pretty impressive.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      All our transit service, everywhere, probably only saves people something like 15 minutes per trip at best. That’s not a great metric to use the way you’re using it.

      • Sounds like it’s not that great of a metric to begin with

      • Mike Orr says:

        It adds up after repeated trips. Do you agree the freeways shouldn’t have been built either? They save a few minutes and are expensive to build too.

      • Arguably I-5 from Seattle to Portland doesn’t save any time since it’s mostly 60 mph anyway. You can drive that on a two lane road so going with Tim’s logic we should just have two lane roads between major cities. Heck if you don’t get there in half the time then it’s not worth it.

      • Transit actually costs me a good half hour of sleep compared to driving, because of sparse bus schedules and unreliable arrival times. I use it strictly as a way to save money. I used to say ‘and to get some reading done,’ but lately my bus is always standing room only, and I just can’t read while trying to keep my balance in a moving bus.

      • It is extremely odd and ironic to see Tim bemoaning inadequate speed improvements, belittling schedule and reliability improvements, and mischaracterizing the factors affecting mode choice over various distances, as he has been one of this blog’s staunchest long-time defenders of every one of Metro’s network-structure and operating-procedure deficiencies.

        Name any one of a Seattle’s Worst Transit Practices, and Tim has probably gone to bat for it. Urban service that fails to compete with driving have never had so dutiful an ally.

        Once and for all: Long-distance trips are not spontaneous. Ever. A non-driving option must therefore compete on price, comfort, reliability, and a schedule that works with your schedule. Not on absolute spontaneity. Not on raw speed (in the absence of reliability or a worthwhile schedule). Speed matters only when those other ducks are in a row — and, lucky us, the Port Defiance bypass project happens to increase speed too!

        In urban travel, spontaneity and total trip-time matter a great deal. I could save an hour driving from Ballard to Capitol Hill at some times of day, rather than using transit.

        But apparently Tim cares about a few minutes on a 3-hour trip, and not an hour on a short hop across town. Always good to know where priorities lie.

  10. Tim Whittome says:

    I have taken the Coast Starlight some 20 times in the past couple of years to Los Angeles and I can safely say that the track between Seattle and Portland is the best of the whole trip in terms of how busy it is and how much more reliable it is than so many other stretches of the line. The only other comparable stretch is really between Redding and Sacramento when the line is straight and not very busy.

    I don’t want to discuss the Coast Starlight too much here but the Point Defiance bypass will be a great addition to the overall experience of traveling between not just Seattle and PDX but between Seattle and LAX and between Eugene and Vancouver via PDX and Seattle. It allows us to speed all the trains up too, although Lakewood is complaining about that aspect, thereby joining what must be a highly elite club of less than 1% of folks nationwide who think that Amtrak trains are too fast! Whoever thought that day would arrive, right!

    • Nathanael says:

      “joining what must be a highly elite club of less than 1% of folks nationwide who think that Amtrak trains are too fast! ”

      This cracked me up. Indeed, who else is claiming that Amtrak goes too fast?

  11. Hoss Cartwright says:

    It is certainly a bummer the Lakewood mayor is fretting about a few passenger trains mucking up Lakewood’s “beauty”. [Ad hom]

  12. Mark Dublin says:

    Very tempted to sign onto the appeal for the same reason it’s worth a fight to get “wrapped” advertising off of bus windows: my view out the window is worth more than the compensation I’m offered for the loss of it.

    Advertising dollars? Raise my bus fare instead. A few minutes’ travel time? For this particular view, nowhere near worth it. Same for the two extra trains.

    But over and above that, really resent the sheer crappiness of the resulting new railroad. Single track? Grade crossings? What year is this, 2013 or 1913? Show me a single mile of single-tracked interstate highway, or a grade-level crossing across one I-anything.

    In letter to Federal Railway Administration, will propose that passenger service be kept where it’s beautiful until such time as we’re ready to bring it into the 21st century.

    Mark Dublin

    • Mark, the purposes of PDB are to a) increase reliability in the corridor, b) reduce actual running time between Seattle and Portland (six minutes might not seem like much, but it’s HUGE for scheduling), and c) prepare the way for the next phase of the PNWRC build-out. From the beginning of the Cascades program WSDOT has acknowledged that they can’t build the whole 110mph corridor in one fell swoop, so they’ve planned a series of incremental improvements which, over time, will be pieced together to complete the PNWRC. While views out the windows are a selling point for Cascades advertising, they aren’t the end purpose of travelers on the train — this isn’t an excursion ride to see pretty scenery, it’s a competitive mode of transport in a congested and growing corridor.

      Also, addressing your point about single track: Given improved corridor-wide reliability, meets can be scheduled to occur in the 3.7 miles of double track in Lakewood. It’s not at all an unreasonable plan from an operating perspective.

      • Mike Orr says:

        Dinner train, again.

      • lazarus says:

        Double track isn’t needed.

        Time savings, increased reliability, and more train options are.

        The view is for occasional riders. Go take a walk down there, or take the occasional passenger excursion, but don’t hamstring the frequent traveler for something as fleeting as a view that you can’t see at night, in the rain, or in the fog anyhow.

        And Sounder North still has great views.

      • Nathanael says:

        Cascades currently has on-time performance of 70% (on average). The Point Defiance bypass is expected to increase that above *90%*.

        This is HUGE. A lot of people don’t like to take a train which is late 30% of the time, but will happily take a train which is late 10% of the time.

    • Hoss Cartwright says:

      [Ad hom]

  13. Hoss Cartwright says:

    [Ad hom]

  14. biliruben says:

    As someone he rides this train frequently, I have to agree with Mark. Send the coal trains inland, and save some of the most picturesque track in the world for the passengers who enjoy it.

    If I would have to guess, this will lead to a decline in ridership. Train travel is wonderful partly because if it’s romance. 6 minutes doesn’t compensate.

    • Chris I says:

      First of all, the freight trains cannot climb the grade from Tacoma to Lakewood. I believe a Sounder train even got stuck here a few months back.

      Secondly, I think you are overestimating the draw of the 15 minute scenic stretch along the sound. Only a small portion of riders are doing it just for the trip and the scenery. Do you seriously think that cutting trip time from 3:30 to 3:15, improving reliability, and adding two additional round trips from Portland to Seattle will result in a decline in passengers because of a missed scenic section?

    • Steve Wight says:

      As someone who rides this train frequently, I completely absolutely disagree. Those 15 minutes saved, reliable arrival, and two more daily round trip schedule alternatives hugely outweigh the view. The view is not my destination and if it were my destination, I’d travel to it and walk along the shore line or on the world class golf course there.

      I’m just sorely disappointed that even with the Sounder Lakewood extension having been completed last year, that it will still take 4 more years to re-route the Cascades to it. The Lakewood-Nisqually connection for the most part does not pass through the Lakewood backyard, and shouldn’t take all this “process” to construct.

      • Part of PDB is constructing a second track between S 66th Street and Bridgeport Way, about three miles of which lies inside City of Lakewood limits (the subgrade for this track was completed under the M Street to Lakewood contract and was partially funded by WSDOT to prepare for PDB. Maximum operating speed would also be raised from 60mph to 79mph, although only Amtrak trains would operate above 60mph.

        It’s worth noting that under the original schedule PDB construction would have been completed later this year; the delay occurred because the estimated construction cost slightly exceeded the allocated budget and, in the funding climate of 2009/2010, the legislature wasn’t willing to shift money from another project to cover the gap. When the state DOT applied to the feds for full funding of the project more burdensome environmental reviews became a requirement, and here we are today.

      • Steve Wight says:

        Yes I understand the history; I’ve been watching the process unfold. It’s still sad that the legislature will get behind any rural freeway construction proposed but lets this back burner at any obstacle.

    • Nathanael says:

      Cascades currently has 70% on-time performance. Point Defiance Bypass will increase that to 90% on-time performance, as well as cutting 15 minutes off the schedule.

      This will increase ridership, by a lot, guaranteed. The NUMBER ONE determining factor for train ridership is reliability — unreliable service drives people away.

      (As Chris said, freight trains cannot go inland; it’s too steep.)

  15. Will the point defiance bypass make it easier to extend Sounder south to Dupont? The track will already be useable for Sounder, and it will be be public right-of-way (no easements needed from BNSF) so all that will be needed is a station, right? What are the odds this is wrapped into ST3?

    • Warren on Beacon says:

      Dave – Yep, Sounder could go to Dupont. I think the reason why does not, is because most of the patrons using the Dupont station would be coming from Thurston County, and they currently do not play any taxes directly (MVET) into Sound Transit.

      • I think most of the demand for Dupont would be reverse commute people coming from Lakewood and Tacoma to jobs at State Farm and JBLM (assuming the base would provide shuttle service). I suppose that could work if trains left from Tacoma before starting the run back to Seattle. Are they parking all or just some of the Sounder trains now in Lakewood? If people from Thurston County don’t create a capacity problem then the marginal cost is more than offset by their fare. And if they are willing to use transit then they are likely ST Express riders anyway. If Intercity Transit provided a bus connection it would ease pressure on ST P&R lots in Lakewood.

      • Mike Orr says:

        Joni Earl said at the meetup that there’s progress on a Seattle-Olympia express bus. Thurston County is getting closer to agreeing to pay for its portion of it.

      • If Sounder is going to be extended some day to DuPont, you may as well go ahead and extend it to Olympia and get some reverse commuters. The bypass of the JBLM traffic could make it an attractive option.

      • Nathanael says:

        Extension to Olympia proper would require more trackwork, unfortunately. Or did you mean Lacey?

  16. Transit Rider says:

    I agree with shotsix, it’s an awesome view (from Tacoma around Pt. Defiance). I just saw it a couple of months ago. That’s the best part about the route. However, Amtrak is in dire need of improving the customer experience. I took the train from Seattle, no cards describing their on-board bistro or its offerings. No safety information. No velcro to keep the curtains from blocking the views. The safety spiel came after Tacoma, then in an oddball order, not the order that most riders would be interested in, probably resulting in most folks tuning it out. Announcements that could have been repeated, e.g. for gathering one’s belongings prior to leaving, weren’t repeated at each station. Internet connection was intermittent. We had to stop for about 20 minutes north of Longview/Kelso to wait for the northbound train to pass, which made the train late for arrival in Portland by about that much. The ride was incredibly awful in Vancouver, WA, despite no apparent road crossings (a great place for track improvements). In Portland, one walked amongst trains about to depart, no warning provided by Amtrak, e.g., be cautious in walking to the terminal, which is located… In short, Amtrak could do a great deal to improve the customer experience and reduce the risk to Amtrak.

    • Nathanael says:

      Longview/Kelso is funded to get a third track. Vancouver, WA is scheduled to have a complete rearrangement of the tracks. They only just grade-separated the major road crossing, and are in the middle of grade-separating one of the lead tracks for the Port. After those are done most of the tracks are being moved to somewhat different locations within the right-of-way, which is probably why they’ve been allowed to decline in quality in the interim (since they’re going to be completely rebuilt).

    • Nathanael says:

      The Amtrak informational issues are an issue which should be raised with Amtrak. And the Portland level-crossing-in-front-of-trains situation is certainly odd in this day and age.

  17. Hoss Cartwright says:

    The gosh-darn scenic route from Seattle to Portland. Via Amtrak. Wow.

    If you want the scenic route to Portland, Mark Dublin, take Horizon Air.

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