Port of Seattle
Port of Seattle, photo by Red Yam Flan

The DJC is reporting that the Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle are going after stimulus cash for rail projects along the I-5 corridor that should help ease freight congestion along the BNSF line. These would also ease congestion and increase on-time performance for Amtrak Cascades. The four projects they want money for are:

  • Building a third mainline and storage track bretween Kelso and Martin’s Bluff. There’s only $53 million of state money currently set aside for this project but it is estimated at more than five times that.
  • Completing the Point Defiance bypass, which would shave a lot of time off of Amtrak Cascades and have a big impact on its on-time performance.
  • Building the Vancouver bypass, which would let Cascades bypass the heavily congested rail yard in Vancouver.
  • Improving the Blakeslee Junction, which is where the BNSF line meets the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad in Centralia. This has a bigger effect on freight and cars than on Amtrak, but congestion there is a problem for Amtrak as well.

These do seem like good projects for stimulus money if they can reduce congestion for both freight trains and Amtrak service.

16 Replies to “Ports Want Rail Stimulus Money”

  1. I don’t have access to the DJC complete article, so maybe someone can enlighten me.
    Are the ports going after some of the High-Speed Rail stimulus funding, or are these projects part of a diferent revenue stream?
    The later would be great.
    Confused!

    1. Yeah, this doesn’t have to do with HSR funding, it’s freight mobility money.

  2. All of this has already been requested by the State when I looked back at my post.

    I have no idea why they would re-request the same thing unless it is to cover a gap in funding?

    Heck, if anything, the Port should be eyeing the BNSF corridor before BNSF sells that.

    1. Different ‘they’ – this is the ports making requests. The state made requests for their portions of the projects.

    2. Right. There was amtrak money, HSR money, and freight money.

      This would be freight money.

      1. Huh, I didn’t know there was freight money available.

        At least the Vancouver Rail Project was saved in the budget. If the Newaukum River crossovers and Chehalis Jct crossovers were installed in 2010 rather than 2015 (or not at all according to the WSDOT page) it would drastically help.

        Still though, even if we were to get all of the money just for the rail projects, you come into a negative because the ridership has tripled yet you don’t have the train sets available, even with a 2 hour and 45 minute trip, you can only get 1 more round trip.

        This is especially true if WSDOT can actually get the second and third Talgo trains to Vancouver by 2010. The requested 4 trainsets would only cover the third round trip, 2 SEA-PDX round trips, and 1 PDX-EUG. At least according to the scheduled run times.

        If Oregon were to get bi-level equipment since the track between Portland and Eugene is fairly straight, it would free up the 1 (or 2) train sets used on that run. If ODOT and WSDOT played it wise, they would use the bi-levels even though it would cause a transfer in PDX for service to Eugene but it would allow Oregon to focus on their future service expansion instead of relying on WSDOT. Oregon could make a drastic change in the way passenger rail is done there if they could get funding for the passenger cars and locomotives, a small yard and maintenance facility, along with upgrades to the Union Pacific line would easily get the line up to 90-110mph.

        Anywho… =P

        If anyone is curious what is needed for our area, check out the WSDOT Rail Project Page.

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/?s=county,funding,location-rail,route#listing

        If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    3. Heck, if anything, the Port should be eyeing the BNSF corridor before BNSF sells that.

      If you’re talking about the eastside ROW the Port is eyeing that. They had a deal but the current credit crunch made it impossible to get the money. I don’t know of any other ROW BNSF wants to unload.

  3. I think it’s a great idea to go after all of this funding. Decreasing Amtrak Cascades SEA-PDX travel time from 3.5 hours to 2.75 hours would be huge, and would make the trip much more time competitive with cars, which would probably result in a doubling or tripling of the demand.

    I do wonder what is causing the ticket prices to be so high. This line is subsidized by the state and still the ticket prices are enough so it doesn’t make economic sense to take the train if you’re traveling with more than one person in the car(it still makes environmental sense, but at an added cost to the passengers). Is it rent for using the tracks that costs so much? Are they using outdated equipment that’s difficult to maintain?

    I would say if we succeed in getting federal and state money to pay for improvements to the line, the new lines should be federally or state owned. Allow Freight lines to use them, but at a cost, and require them to do maintenance in addition to a small fee for running on those lines (or charge a larger fee and pay for track maintenance out of that).

    1. I agree. I don’t understand why local and federal goverments are paying to upgrade lines they don’t even own when they could be building their own. BNSF, a privately owned and profitable business, will benefits from these upgrades yet we’re the ones paying for it.

      The only explanation I can come up with is that BNSF owns the property that the lines sit on, including the buffer space around the lines. So any track we lay on that property also becomes theirs. Doing this is still cheaper than buying a new right of way.

      Still, it doesn’t seem quite fair. ;)

      1. There’s nothing we can do about it without building our own track. In order to build our own track, we’d have to get more than $100m at a time.

      2. Right, Ben – new ROW would be extremely expensive – probably $10M-$100M per mile in more densely populated areas. And, BNSF does pay a chunk of change in Real Estate taxes to the counties through which it passes, lest we forget.
        Colin – ticket prices are set by Amtrak’s version of the airlines’ yield management system – the greater the demand the higher the cost. The supply IS limited, after all – there are only the 5 trainsets.

      3. We’ll do it eventually. It’s just a matter of time, and we have to start with rural upgrades.

  4. On the positive side, the Point Defiance track is a beautiful ride. Makes the trip to Portland worth it on it’s own. Matter of a fact I should put a trip to Olympia on my guest tours list…

    1. Do it before it’s gone! It’s one of the slowest parts of the trip, and it causes poor on-time performance. I love it, but I’d rather get to Portland faster…

      1. Well unless we get funding, nothing won’t happen until 2015-2020 =P

        If I heard correctly, the line between L Street Yard and D Street needs to be double tracked in order to support the expected amount of trains. That is going to such for that old Milwaukee Road bridge.

  5. Oh awesome. The Ports are backing these? These have been core elements of the Washington State rail plan for years now, and they’re key to faster, more reliable Cascades service. These projects include the three top priorities for the Seattle-Portland Cascades (Point Defiance Bypass, Vancouver Yard Bypass, and Kelso-Martin’s Bluff third track). Together, they should eliminate most of the causes of delays on the entire Seattle-Portland route, as well as shortening runtimes.

    Of course they also have freight benefits. But this is the first I heard that the Ports are actually actively backing them. This could help fill the funding gaps.

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