Photo by Stephen Rees, Amtrak Cascades in Surrey, BC

Continuing onward from Part One of this series, we move forward and take a look at the Seattle to Vancouver Cascades service.

The Vancouver service is dominated by NW Trailways service which provides connections from the Northbound Portland – Seattle service. With 1 train and 4 daily buses, you’d be half way surprised to hear that the train takes almost 30 minutes longer – until you factor in the delays at the border which can be up to 3 hours long.

The planned second train is on hold until the Canadian border patrol can come up with a resolution to provide staffing for the second train. It is unclear exactly where these agents come from, either Vancouver International Airport or one of the many border crossings near the rail line. Once this is resolved, the second train will proceed to Vancouver, BC instead of stopping at Bellingham and then busing up to Vancouver, BC.

Like the Seattle to Portland line, the Seattle to Vancouver line is seeing many projects in the works. Most of this work has been completed and some have yet to start. Most of these benefit freight, Sounder, and Amtrak Cascades.

Starting off in Seattle;

The Waterfront Realignment isn’t as major of a project vs. what was done between Royal Brougham and Holgate Street but it will be similar scope. BNSF will remove the 2 crossovers and install a longer and faster single cross over. This will allow grain trains which frequently block and cut off access to the waterfront to be completely eliminated. This will also prevent people from climbing on rail cars to get over the train. There have been several injuries and I have personally seen people get knocked down and nearly run over by doing this idiotic move. The mainline will be moved over to the Eastern most tracks called the “NP Main” which will become Main 2. Old Main 2 will become Main 1 and the grain trains will use old main 1 and the grain lead tracks. All of these tracks will be powered to prevent delays.

Moving northward, work will continue on the above project through the Interbay rail yard. Interbay is currently single track with 2 staging tracks for inbound and outbound trains. This section will become double track with the move of the mainline and the 2 leads will remain. A third may possibly be installed. Speed will slightly increase which will benefit the Cascades more so than Sounder. A new crossover at MP-4 (Just under Dravus Street) has been constructed and will be installed soon. Reconstruction of the crossovers just North of MP4 will be rebuilt to allow faster trains through. The Ballard Bridge (Salmon Bay Bridge, Bridge 6.4, Bridge 4, etc) will remain at 20mph for all trains. The curve leading into Interbay may be straightened out some which will retain 60mph between MP 2 and MP 6. This should all be completed by summer 2009.

The first major project was to install the new crossovers and install the second track between Milepost 7 and Milepost 8. This project was completed in September 2008. With this project complete, it ends a major bottleneck of trains that had to wait to make the section of single track railroad. Once Interbay is completed, there will no longer be any significant delays in the Seattle region.

A new crossover will be installed in the Richmond Beach area. This will give trains more options to switch between main lines. This will be a 50mph crossover.

At Richmond Beach, installation of a new second track between Milepost MP 16 and MP 18. This will be in line with the Edmonds Crossing project that is dependant on WSDOT. Initial surveying and utility work will start this winter with completion in 2010/2012.

A new tentative crossover will be installed at Meadowdale. This will give trains more options to switch between main lines. This will be a 50mph crossover.

A new crossover will be installed at Picnic Point. This will give trains more options to switch between main lines. This will be a 50mph crossover.

Mukilteo was completed this summer with the opening of the Mukilteo Sounder Platform. The mainline was relocated closer to the roadway and a second track installed. This was also a considerable bottleneck when the Boeing local needed to do work which requires the mainline to be shutdown due to the high/wide loads. This now eliminates that need. The new Boeing barge slip also helps greatly since trains used to come down from the Port of Everett.

Howarth Park will be rebuilt to a 50mph crossover from a 35mph crossover along with the rebuilding of Everett Jct. This will allow trains to come down the hill at maximum posted speed. This also would eliminate a known issue with the close switch points which are very rough.

All of the above projects will reduce travel time between Seattle and Everett upwards of 5 minutes and remove 3 minutes of schedule padding making for an 8 minute reduction in travel time.

PA Jct Realignment will straighten out some curvature on the lower section of the main which connects back to the mainline to Seattle or continues up to Canada. This work alone will reduce travel time by upwards of 2 to 3 minutes. Speeds will increase to 50mph from 10 to 35mph. This also includes several new tracks in BNSF’s Delta Yard which is quickly running out of space. Bayside Yard on the Everett Waterfront is not suitable for storage of rail cars and is a slow bypass.

English Siding was extended in 2001 to accommodate longer trains.

Stanwood siding extension and station platform is currently under construction with both to be completed in June 2009. The siding extension is pending the closing of Logen Road in Stanwood. A new Amtrak station will be built just off 271st St SW in Stanwood. The siding extension will allow longer freight trains to hold in the siding without blocking opposite end of the siding.

Mt. Vernon siding extension is on hold until the WUTC comes back with final determination on the closing of Hickox Road. BNSF would like this road closed to conform to safety regulations but the WUTC rejected this initially. The full use of Mt. Vernon siding can not be done without the closure of Hickox Road.

Bellingham at the old Georgia Pacific plant will be the site for the next major project. This work will have the mainline relocated slightly so the City of Bellingham may redevelop the Waterfront district. The new Waterfront area would be a few miles from the current Bellingham Transportation Center which hosts Amtrak, Greyhound, Local Transit, and several ferry runs, including the Alaska Ferry.

Blaine will be the last bit of work in Washington State which hosts one of the biggest delays to passenger trains. Freight trains typically hold in the siding or the main line to do the Customs inspection. This inspection can take hours to complete and I personally know that it is common to wait anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours. The project here will build 2 additional sidings next to the main line which will allow freight trains to do their work without interrupting Amtrak service. With this delay resolved, schedule padding can be greatly reduced. Estimated time with Washington State Rail Projects would reduce time from 3 hours and 55 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes with padding.

I am only aware of one major rail project in Canada with 1 completed which was required by the Canadian government to allow the second Cascades train to Vancouver. BNSF, Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National Railways will be embarking on a major track project from White Rock, BC to Vancouver, BC. Starting in White Rock, new CWR (Continuous Welded Rail) will be installed along with replacing of worn ties. This project will improve the ride quality greatly in this section as it is very common for the “rock and roll” motion to get people sick on this section of track. Train speeds through White Rock will not be increased because it is directly on the shoreline and beach front. After White Rock, train speed will increase to 50mph from 35mph.

The new siding at Colebrook which was the requirement by the Canadian Government was finished in Jan 2008. This was known to the final issue for getting the second train to Canada. Colebrook is a frequent bottleneck with trains running to the Ports and to the main lines for points east.

Work along the rest of the line will replace jointed/bolted rail with CWR increasing the speeds between 40 and 60mph. There are still some hushed talks about Amtrak moving to a new Scott’s Road Station and having passengers which to SkyTrain which would be 5 to 10 minutes faster than going directly into Vancouver Station. There has been no formal discussion or decision but it would be interesting to follow up on. I frankly wouldn’t care either way since you’ve already been on the train for 3+ hours, what is another 10 minutes to kill and soak up the scenery?

Moving forward, there is one thing that is stopping the projects North of Everett; Funding. A lot of these projects were thought of in 2005/2006. The costs of materials have gone up, delaying the projects even further. Until a solid funding solution is made, I can continue to see these projects delayed further.

This concludes Part Two of the Amtrak Cascades projects scope, in Part Three, we’ll get more in-depth into the funding situation currently holding back serious expansion of the Amtrak Cascades, the issue with the Canadian Border Patrol, and looking at the possibly of new service over Stampede Pass to Ellensburg. I will also be live blogging from Amtrak Cascades #501 this Saturday and #506 on Sunday.

There will be a Part 4 which will be a draft proposal I may consider submitting to inject funding for expansion of service and purchase new trains and locomotives. While I doubt it will come up for Nov 09, it will probably come Nov 2010 but there is plenty of time that could allow 09 to happen. The goal is to make the train self reliant on its revenue which is very possible.

I will be working with the original creators of the WSDOT Amtrak Cascades draft proposal which will identify how much will be needed for a low-build 90mph version of the Amtrak Cascades. The current version of the proposal is for full-build out, 110mph which approaches a very high $10 billion dollar mark (track, signal, new trains, locomotives, etc) more on this soon….

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback! I saw several questions regarding funding for Sounder to head North to Marysville, English, and Stanwood and unfortunately that will not be possible without including those cities into the taxing district. There will probably be a need to increase the amount of trains between Seattle and Everett but that may not be possible until ridership increases. If I were to look at this in a bigger light, I would have all of the trains terminate in Stanwood and build a storage facility there or 2 trains to Stanwood, 2 to Everett. This would be an excellent question to ask Sound Transit since it wouldn’t require adding a new county to the taxing district.

20 Replies to “Amtrak Cascades SEA-VAC – Part Two”

  1. Not sure if it’s feasible but I’d love to see these laid out on a google maps overlay, I think it’d be much easier to follow.

  2. BNSF made $695 million last quarter. The ‘funding’ argument rings really, really hollow.

    The new administration says it will be the most ‘pro-train’ administration ever. Hopefully, they mean train passenger-friendly and not ‘train-company’ friendly. It’s about time someone holds the carriers accountable for the lack of maintenance which leads to slow orders, delays, padded schedules, etc.

  3. There is probably as much call for Sounder to go East out of Everett as there is to go North. have two Northend Sounders Originate/Terminate in Monroe, and the other two Northend Sounders Originate/Terminate in Stanwood. This does spread the overnight servicing of Sounder North across two sites, however, it would greatly improve service, as well as possiably link the ESR to Everett/Seattle Sounder service.

    Lor Scara

  4. Agreed. I would love to see Sounder to Monroe and Stanwood. I’m not sure how much it would cost to get trains out there but it sure would help commuters out there.

    1. Packaging expansion projects carefully may get north and east Snohomish County into Sound Transit. Extending rail service to Stanwood and even as far as Gold Bar would strengthen Everett as a hub, with frequent connecting sevice to Seattle, Vancouver and beyond.

      We will hear the “population is too small” argument again. But Hwy. 2 is a mess and is the only option for residents of the valley. A fast, frequent reliable rail connection to Everett, Seattle and Bellevue would be highly desireable to those who live in the Skykomish Valley.

  5. Thanks Brian – very informative.

    I’d welcome seeing Sounder get extended to Stanwood or Monroe, but preferably both. It surprises me actually how narrow the ST teaxing district in fact is – even in my part of Issaquah – four miles south of the Issaquah P&R and just east of Renton, we found ourselves outside of the Sound Transit district and yet my wife’s commute benefits from 554 buses at Issaquah P&R.

    I hope the delays on a second train to YVR are not interminable as so many of these things tend to be.

    Thanks again, Brian


  6. a little trivia …

    White Rock BC … is used in lieu of Santa Barbara, CA for the waterfront scenes in the TV Show Psych on USA Network

  7. I look forward to you writing about Seattle to Ellensburg. A few years ago, heavy avalanches closed off a lane of I-90 at Snoqualmie over Thanksgiving weekend, which subsequently caused WSDOT to advise travelers to stay home. So, we skipped Thanksgiving with my in-laws who live in Spokane.

    After that episode, I wrote Gov. Gregoire about the potential of running an Amtrak Cascades-style train to Spokane (other than the Empire Builder, which leaves at 2am and takes eight hours – twice the time of driving), and received a very raw draft study that WSDOT did about the feasibility of a decent passenger train between Seattle and Spokane. They thought they could get it down to six hour travel times, but had no funding to pursue anything due to passage of I-695.

    If you know of anything new happening along that route, I’d love to know.

    1. Phantom,

      If I remember correctly, WSDOT was looking at upgrading the track between Quincy, WA to Spokane, WA to Class 5 rail that would allow 90mph running (which is the Maximum speed the Superliners can do)

      It is correct that I-695 stripped the funding for that program, along with most of the Amtrak Cascades funding. I’ve been examining how California, Chicago, Maine, and North Carolina does their funding and due to some of Tim Eyman’s prior initiatives, things will be difficult to say the least. More on this later.

  8. E-mail the government and tell them you want more passenger trains and ride the trains and fill out the comment cards.

    I’m not sure if anyone has driven down I-5 as of recent but it’s a pretty brutal drive down and it is mostly 60mph where it was previously 70mph for construction and widening.

    By the end of the year, I’ll have a lot of information on the trains which will provide any information that may be needed for presenting towards the government and possibly submitting a proposal for getting additional funding.

    Since I will be taking a HTML and Flash class this Winter, I plan on making the website during the class which will get the information out. I don’t want to involve STB fully involved in a campaign in this unless they want to be involved.

    My goal is by pushing the subject, it will encourage the State that people do want more of it and want it more frequent and service more communities. For an excellent example, train service on Stampede that could serve Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima, and Pasco with a connection Empire Builder would be great for the college students, especially if it is a daily train. How about daylight service to Spokane as well? There a lot of ideas but working on the corridor trains first and foremost is important.

    New routes over Stampede, restarting Amtrak’s Pioneer, and daylight service to Spokane are all on my wish lists but money becomes the number one issue.

      1. Unfortunately, there are no tracks anywhere near the Ski Areas, or over Snoqualmie Pass itself, since 1980/81 when the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt and the line was torn up.

        In fact, the original Snoqualmie Ski-Bowl was opened by the Milwaukee Road around the early part of the 20th century.

        The nearest alternative would be a station near the top of Stampede Pass and a bus connector.

      2. Probably not. If there was to be a station serving the pass I suspect it would be near where the Stampede Pass line meets I-90. But since that would be a station in the middle of nowhere a Cle Elum station with a shuttle to the ski areas would be far more likely.

        There is also the time factor I’m not sure taking a train from King Street to Cle Elum then a bus to the Ski Areas would be any better than running a coach from Seattle directly up I-90.

  9. Until that day where we can travel from VanBC to PDX in a reasonable amount of time, how about instituting overnight service between the endpoints (Eugene and VanBC)? Then people wouldn’t have to worry about slow speeds north of Blaine.

    Haven’t worked out a schedule, but trains that arrive in VanBC at 7-8am and in PDX at roughly the same time – and then modify the Sea-VanBC daytime run be midday.

    Just a thought.

  10. Say, pardon my enthusiasm, but these are absolutely GREAT posts about the Cascades.

    I hope you will make a place on your sidebar so it will be easy for readers, old and new, to find these posts for reference.

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