President Bush isses FY 2009 Budget for Amtrak

Same ole song…

Taking Steps to Rationalize the Nation’s Intercity Passenger Rail System
Curtails Federal subsidies. $800 million for Amtrak, which represents a significant but
necessary cut to the railroad’s Federal subsidy.
Requires that Amtrak control its operating losses and focus on services that offer the most
Reserves the bulk of funds for capital investment so improvements may continue along the
heavily trafficked Northeast Corridor.


Reflects that Amtrak has taken few steps to and that it consequently continues to hemorrhage taxpayer
Provides State matching grants. $100 million for State matching grants for intercity passenger
rail capital projects to empower States, not Amtrak, to address their transportation goals and

President Bush continues to starve the Passenger Railroad of the critical funding Amtrak needs to return to a Good State of Repair. Thankfully, the Senate and House will allocate the 1.3+ billion needed.

Another thing that should be noted. Nothing on assistance for Freight Railroads to relieve congestion, nothing on High Speed Rail or Maglev projects. Really seems as if these people don’t care about alternatives that are readily available.

Capitol Corridor

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice article in the SF Chronicle about the intrepid souls who commute by train from SF to Sacramento each day:

The Capitol Corridor is a line made possible by the voters, who in 1990 approved Prop. 116 to provide state funding for intercity passenger rail service. Until 1998, there were only four trains each direction per day and the morning commute was essentially westbound only. Now there are 16 roundtrips. The State of California owns the rolling stock, Union Pacific owns the tracks, BART supplies administration, Amtrak staffs the trains and stations and a joint powers authority oversees it. The Capitol Corridor is like Caltrain with more layers of agencies.

Between four morning trains, 1,000 passengers ride from the Bay Area to Sacramento daily. Emeryville is by far the busiest station, with 135 daily commuters. They may be unhappy about spending four hours a day on a train, but they are less unhappy than they would be spending three hours a day in a car. By either mode of transit they are less unhappy than they would be living in the great Central Valley.

Read the whole piece for the stories of SF denizens who take the Muni bus to the Transbay terminal, then the Amtrak bus to the East Bay, and only then begin their journey. It reminds you how small the Puget Sound region really is. I’m sure there are people with 4-hour commutes here, but one has to really want to live or work far out there to have one.

Sales Tax Exemption

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Exempting the state from paying itself sales tax on transportation projects seems eminently reasonable:

The tax exemption would apply only to transportation projects that use tolls to pay for at least $1 billion of the total cost or use tolls to pay at least 50 percent of the cost. The $735 million Narrows bridge qualifies because more than 90 percent of its cost will come from tolls that will be paid through 2030.

For the replacement Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington, the exemption would cut $180 million from the cost of a project that is now estimated at $4.38 billion.

Other projects that could be eligible for the sales tax exemption are a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, which will cost $3 billion to $5 billion, and the north-south corridor in Spokane, which is expected to cost between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.

The reason this matters for the Columbia River Crossing, of course, is that WSDOT would have otherwise bought the bridge in Portland to save the sales tax.

Reading the tea leaves

Daimajin did some excellent reporting by publishing the presentation from the Sound Transit workshop. Here are some observations from thinking about it for a few days.

First of all: this is basically ST thinking out loud, so let’s not get too worked up about the details. Still, it’s good to see which way they’re thinking.

I like the plan. It ain’t 50 miles of light rail, but given the political constraints it’s actually a bit better than I expected.

Light Rail

On the light rail front, the plan meets this blogger’s twin priorities of getting to Northgate and Bellevue, throwing in the extension to Star Lake (and maybe Overlake) too.

As for the Tacoma and Everett systems: I can’t imagine that the ridership is huge, but I’m fine with it for two reasons. First, they’re between a rock and a hard place: the criticism of Prop. 1 was that it was “too big” although it just barely got to all three counties. At the same time, they can’t leave themselves open to the accusation that they’re sending “all the money to Seattle”. Secondly, at least the tracks are generally pieces of the long range plan. I can’t think of any reason to go to Fife accept that it eases the job of eventually connecting the two systems together.


On the South line, more trains and more parking. Meh, it’s good, but pretty obvious.

On the north line, I’m liking the new stops, and Broad Street in particular. The Ballard station does something for disgruntled voters in that area, and Broad Street is critical to picking up commuters to growing job centers in Belltown and South Lake Union.


I found this part really intriguing (no, really!). I’ve been working on a post about how LINK will affect bus service, and this really started the wheels turning.

It would appear, assuming they were careful with the way the diagrams were drawn, that the general operational concept will be that express buses terminate at outer light rail stations and dictate a transfer to get downtown. The line from Lakewood and Tacoma seems to terminate at Tukwila (except during peak hours); the Snohomish and Lake City lines at Northgate; and Eastside lines at UW or Mercer Island.

In general, I support this approach. The traffic on each of these corridors is going to get worse and worse, while rail commute times remain more or less constant. Introducing a transfer, while kind of annoying, will both free up bus assets and probably save time for commuters.

[Aside: I’ve also been toying with the idea that it might make sense to route buses deeper into the city, but directed to locations not well served by light rail. For instance, the 545 from Overlake could drop downtown-bound passengers off at Husky Stadium (faster for them anyway), and then continue on to SLU/Queen Anne, or Ballard, both of which it’ll be somewhat inconvenient to get to from Link, SLUTs nonwithstanding. However, that’s nothing but pure speculation, unencumbered by facts, on my part.]

The bus service is listed here as BRT, which as we’ve discussed ad nauseum can mean a lot of things. To me, it embodies two key attributes: dedicated (or at least restricted) right-of-way, and extremely frequent service. The current ST Express makes a decent effort of the former, and pretty much gives up on the latter except on the 545, 550, and 590.

I see a ton of direct access ramps here, and that’s a big deal for the ROW issue. But is ST considering increasing the frequency on all its routes by a factor of 3 or more?

Buses vs. Rail

In response to an endless comment thread that was devolving into buses-vs-rail, a brief recap of STB’s position, which we probably ought to put in a FAQ:

1) Transit does not “solve” congestion in the sense of causing highways to flow freely, but does give people an alternative to staring at the brakelights in front of them.

2) Any train route can, of course, just as easily be served by a bus. However,

  • The train is on a dedicated right-of-way and therefore is essentially unaffected by traffic congestion. In many cases this makes it faster than driving.
  • Trains have higher capacity. You can put 800 passengers on a 4-car light rail train. When you put buses too close together, they tend to bunch up (see: Route 48). You can space trains a couple of minutes apart and have them stay evenly spaced.
  • More people are willing to ride a train than a bus, so you get higher ridership, which has positive externalities for society.
  • The permanence of a train line encourages dense, transit oriented development.
  • Trains don’t clog up the roads for everyone else.

That is all.

Metro Mybus on iPhone

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I found this web application for the iPhone last week ( It takes all of its information from the UW ITS Mybus program, however it improves the interface by leaps and bounds. All you do is choose your location and it will show you estimated real time arrivals for all buses that stop at that location. The design and user interface is very good. I have used it a few time and it from what I can tell it works great. Best of all, you can run it on your PC at home or work.

Despite this there are a few interface issues. For example it sorts by route not arrival time. Also the destination identifier has redundant information that makes it hard to read the important information. I would also like it if you could pick stops using presents, google maps, or neighborhoods.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Shhh…. don’t tell Kemper Freeman, but even Bellevue’s getting out of the SOV game:

The city has come up with two plans: a Commute Trip Reduction Plan aimed at employers with 100 or more workers; and a Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center plan aimed at employers with fewer than 100 workers.

Both plans, Bellevue officials said, are aimed at lowering the number of solo drivers on the road and they stressed that neither plan “would compel residents or workers to give up their vehicles.” Instead, the plans aim at getting people out of their cars by offering alternatives such as walking, biking, bus riding and others.

West Seattle RapidRide

I concentrated my fire on Eastside RapidRide last month, largely because I don’t know anything about West Seattle. However, at least one STB commenter attended the West Seattle open house and came away unimpressed.

Look, I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m opposed to bus service. I take the bus every day and usually have a pretty pleasant experience. I was broadly supportive of Snohomish County’s Swift plan because it seems to improve service while being creative with funding sources, rather than sucking the oxygen out of light rail.

However, the key to good rapid transit is dedicated right-of-way. Failing that, restricted right-of-way (like an HOV lane) is a reasonable alternative. When a ballot measure promises BRT, and includes a large chunk of funding that could have been used to rapid transit like rail, I expect at least one of the above. In many cases, RapidRide provides neither.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Looks like the plan to save money by building smaller, light-rail-incompatible pontoons for the new 520 bridge has been scrapped. Instead, we’re goign to save money by building the pontoons now, before the design for the rest of the bridge is complete:

Gov. Chris Gregoire last month commended WSDOT’s Early Pontoon Construction Project, part of a $4 billion fiscal plan for the bridge, citing emergency preparedness, and an estimated $400 million savings from reduced pontoon size and lower inflation-related construction costs.

The plan calls for completion of the pontoons by 2013. A bridge replacement is not expected before 2018.

Engineers are designing pontoons as long as 360 feet — the length of a football field — and strong enough to support a state-mandated, six-lane freeway — two general-purpose and one HOV lanes each way — with potential capacity for future light rail.

Sounds good to me. Not unlike the Viaduct solution: agree on what we agree on, and kick the can down the road on the rest.

ST Visioning

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I wasn’t able to attend the ST workshop but I did look through the pdf that STB has on his page ( I wasn’t really surprised by most of it. There was one glaring omission though.

In ST2 there was money to do a study for HCT from the UW to Ballard via NE45th. I don’t see anything about that. Everyone know that getting East/West in this city is a nightmare and ST and Metro really need to address this. I think that they should have at least 3 high quality E/W BRT routes that help people get from one side of the city to the other and allow them to transfer from LINK to RapidRide or other local service. If we aren’t going to have light rail for a while we have got to have a good BRT network.

(Full size

I have done a quick little overlay (see above) of what this would look like on their map. All of these routes exist so service hours could be taken from those routes. Also with LINK some current bus service can be redistributed to help pay for this. Possibly on busy streets like denny the buses could go a block or two north and use bus only streets.