News Roundup: New Station Edition

Blue Lights Over Duwamish, With Train by Atomic Taco
"Blue Lights Over Duwamish, With Train" by Atomic Taco

Passenger Rail Roundup (III): News Reports

The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP
The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP

New Studies: Amtrak has completed the studies to possibly return two long distance trains back in service. The North Coast Hiawatha (Trains 9 and 10), which would run from Seattle to Chicago via Stampede Pass, lower Montana, and North Dakota. The cost of the train would be steep at nearly $1.2 billion dollars but has a farebox recovery of 58% and serve nearly 380,000 passengers a year, putting it in Amtrak’s top 5 best performing trains.

The Amtrak Pioneer (Trains 25/26), which would has several different options. The first 2 options would serve Seattle to Denver or Salt Lake City via Portland, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, (Wyoming or Colorado, optional route) This however would be around $400-500 million dollar start up, 40% farebox recovery and serve between 107,000 to 111,000 passengers a year, putting it in tier with the lower performing trains. I will have more about this 2 trains in a 2 part series starting next week.

Washington State DOT: I was pleased to come across this report on an HSR workshop that WSDOT hosted but was displeased with some of the notes:

Shared corridors will only allow trains a maximum speed of 79mph, even after the installation of Positive Train Control. This means trains that run together, freight, Sounder, etc, will be restricted to only 79mph. My opinion is passenger trains and freight trains should increase speeds accordingly, meaning, where applicable, 90mph passenger trains, 70mph intermodal/container trains, and 60mph non-tonnage restricted freight trains.

I was pleased with the rest of the report as WSDOT is looking proactively at all manufactures for future tilting equipment. Requirements such as 8 inches of cant deficiency, 290 to 350 passengers a train, powered locomotives at both ends of the train and faster acceleration above 79mph. This still of course fits within the range of Talgo but it also allows bids from other manufactures, such as Alstom and Bombardier.

Gobble Gobble: Amtrak will be running the special “Turkey Trains” for the Thanksgiving week, November 25-29. These trains will use conventional Horizon or Amfleet (or a mix) with a journey time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. The extra trains will only run between Seattle and Portland. There will not be any extra Seattle – Vancouver BC service. Trains are now available for reservation but as I scanned through already, several trains are sold out or near sold out!

Not on our bus

Pierce Transit, the Tacoma Police Department, and Tacoma Public Schools are partnering to crack down on youth misbehavior near local high schools, starting this morning:

Starting Friday, Oct. 30, Pierce Transit, the Tacoma Police Department, and the Tacoma Public Schools are partnering for “NOT ON OUR BUS,” a three week zero-tolerance enforcement operation of unlawful and disruptive conduct on bus routes, at transit centers, and at bus stops near certain high schools.

Uniformed Pierce Transit Police and Security Officers along with Tacoma Police Officers will increase their presence on buses and conduct spot checks of identified bus stops and boarding areas near high schools. Undercover Pierce Transit Police and Security Officers and Tacoma Police Officers will also be riding buses and monitoring transit centers to enforce the State of Washington and the City of Tacoma’s Unlawful Transit Conduct Codes.

Emphasis areas:

Pierce Transit Routes: 1, 10, 11, 16, 51, 53

Pierce Transit Facilities: Lakewood Mall Transit Center, Tacoma Community College Transit Center, Tacoma Dome Station, Tacoma Mall Transit Center

Tacoma High Schools: Foss, Lincoln, Mt Tahoma, Stadium, Wilson

Riders [in violation] may be held immediately accountable by exclusion from Pierce Transit services for 90 days.

According to spokesman Lars Erickson, this effort was inspired by an incident with some students last September, as well as an increase in criminal and disruptive behavior by minors over the last three years.

As for how a transit ban is enforced, he said:

Our Pierce Transit Police Officers or Security Officers regularly issue exclusions.  An alert with names, photos and violation information are posted in the operator’s lobby.  Each violator’s info is put into a database, so we can track individuals and incidents.  Our recidivism rate is less than 3%, which we consider exceptional.

Kitsap Transit to Replace Paper Transfers with ORCA

Kitsap Transit “No More Paper Transfers” flyer
Kitsap Transit “No More Paper Transfers” flyer by Mike F

This Saturday, October 31, 2009, will be the last day Kitsap Transit issues paper transfers for cash paying customers. Beginning the next day, Sunday, November 1, cash paying customers must pay for each leg of their trip or use an ORCA card to receive a two-hour transfer. [Update: Commenter Mike F notes that there is no Sunday service in Kitsap Transit so the new policy will take effect on Monday.] ORCA cards can be obtained for free online or in person at various locations until the end of January 2010. The cards will cost $5 afterwards.

Kitsap Transit is not the first local transit agency to eliminate paper transfers. In 2006, Everett Transit stopped issuing paper transfers and reduced their fare by 25¢. With Everett Transit as part of the ORCA system, transfers are once again issued and honored. Community Transit and Sound Transit will follow Kitsap Transit in replacing paper transfers with ORCA cards beginning January 1, 2010. Also starting in the new year, ORCA will be the only way for cash paying customers to transfer between transit systems. So if your trip involves services from more than one agency and you pay your fare in cash, you’ll need to get an ORCA card and put money in your E-purse to get a two-hour transfer. While King County Metro and Pierce Transit will keep paper transfers for use within their systems, I recommend getting an ORCA card while they’re free.

Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle

Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle
Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle

Continuing yesterday’s article with projects South of Downtown.

Seattle: I may have been seeing things this morning but it appears the the King Street Station clock has stopped working. I’ll e-mail the City of Seattle on Monday if it appears that way.

Construction bids for the new Seattle Amtrak Maintenance Facility seem to be slow. So far, only McGraw-Hill Construction appears to be the only bidder Construction is estimated to take 36 to 40 months. This would provide about 382 jobs according to More below the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle”

Swift Opening Day

Click to Enlarge (pdf)
Click to Enlarge (pdf)

As the countdown clock in our sidebar indicates, we’re 30 days away from Swift’s opening day on Sunday, November 29th.  They’re borrowing some pages from Link Opening Day:

Swift will begin service at a community celebration from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29 at the Swift Crossroads Station at Highway 99 and 196th Street SW in Lynnwood. The family event will feature music, games and a christening of the Swift buses. As a special treat, customers can ride Swift buses for free until midnight on that day.

Anyone interested in being one of the first 200 passengers aboard the first run of Swift on Nov. 29 are encouraged to send an email to with the subject line “Swift Bus Ride” and include their name, phone number, email address and city of residence.

There are 80 passengers per bus, so with VIPs and media I’m guessing that ticket would get you on one of the first 3.

Swift is the region’s first branded bus rapid transit line.  Find out everything you ever wanted to know about it at the comprehensive Swift website.

Pierce Transit Receives National Award

The National Transit Institute has recognized Pierce Transit and one other agency (LA County’s Metro) with the Model Program Award:

The second recipient of this year’s Model Program Award, Pierce Transit, … developed and implemented Project Innovation in 2008. Project Innovation is a multi-faceted program that creates an employee volunteer-based research and development arm of the agency. During a Project Innovation cycle, five teams of employees from across the agency participate in intensive training and then work independently to brainstorm ideas for projects or initiatives focused in the areas of increasing ridership, making transit “cool,” and green or sustainable practices. The ideas are then vetted and tested for applicability, cost, and benefits to Pierce Transit, before being presented to the Board of Commissioners.

In 2008, 19 ideas were presented to the Board, including “Real Time Bus Information System,” “Customer Appreciation Days,” Energy Star Certification,” “Workplace Wellness Initiative,” and “Big Belly Solar Trashcan.” Of the original 19 ideas presented, the Board approved 16 for further study or immediate implementation. These 16 ideas were provided resources through the budgeting process. The 2009 Project Innovation team ideas will be presented this fall.

The NTI, based at Rutgers University, is funded by the “Federal Transit Administration to develop, promote, and deliver training and education programs for the public transit industry”.

According to Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson, Project Innovation has already resulted in operating savings that avoid service cuts, many of the seed ideas for PT Tomorrow, the pilot “Big Belly” solar trash can that saves on garbage collection costs and reduces litter, and the plan to install cameras on buses beginning next summer.

Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown

Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow
Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow

It’s time of the month again for the latest updates for BNSF trackwork around the Pacific Northwest. If you are new to this type of post, this covers news for Sounder, Amtrak, BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads and covers passenger rail throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In Part I I’ll discuss all the work North of Downtown Seattle.

Blaine: BNSF and WSDOT finished the new Blaine Customs Siding and related construction several months in advance. This project will allow for faster and more reliable Amtrak Cascades trains and less delays as freight trains are inspected.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown”

Election Open Thread

The No on I-1033 campaign points out where the initiative is located on the ballot.
The No on I-1033 campaign points out where the initiative is located on the ballot.

We’re just six days from an important off-year election.

This is an open thread for all things election related.

Transit Websites

Sound Transit Web Site Review from ian lurie on Vimeo.

Ian Lurie’s comments on the Sound Transit website are basically sound, constructive ones.  I’d quibble that his search critique ignores that a search for “Seattle Bus Schedule” should turn up Metro before Sound Transit.

However, I think a grade of F- is a little harsh.  Trip Planner and schedules are on the front page.  The content available on the site (in terms of reports and data) is light years ahead of Metro.  That doesn’t matter to most visitors, but it’s important to openness and transparency.  I’m not a fan of letter grades for this kind of thing but that deserves at least a D.

I don’t know much about the graphic design of websites but there are three things that would be prominently featured on my ideal agency front page, below the jump.

  • Getting started/New Riders – text and video, in multiple languages, on how to use the service.  Ask them where they’re going, a couple of questions to determine their fare classification, and then serve them a custom video (built out of some standard building blocks) showing them exactly what to do and what fares to pay.  I’ll let the user interface people figure out the best way to do that.*
  • Trip Planner/Schedules/Maps – Lets me quickly access information to create my own trips, assuming I know what I’m doing.
  • Personalized Accounts – I should be able to register for an account with the site where I can indicate what routes I care about and at what times.  I should also be able to indicate a preference for RSS, email, robocall (?), or SMS alerts, which will tell me about service disruptions on those routes, and buses that are late over a certain number of minutes (via onebusaway).  When I go to the website with my cookie stored it should give me a summary of alerts and next bus/train information for those routes.

* Here’s one workflow for this:

1. Pick a language.

2. Input start and end points, via either a map or the text interface

3. Are you under 18, 18-64, or 65+?

4. Produces a graphic/text trip representation much like Google Maps.

5. Prominently display two options: (a) Watch a video on how to ride the bus/train – showing fare payment (customized for either boarding or off-boarding), asking for transfers, etc.  This should be customized for the inter-agency policies as necessary.  (b) If applicable, learn about a cheaper way to take this trip by using ORCA.  Do NOT mention ORCA otherwise — too much choice makes it confusing.

Route 16 Stop Consolidation

Click to Enlarge
North End (Click to Enlarge)

Metro is in the middle of a project to consolidate the stops on Route 16, eliminating 33 of the 109 stops between Denny Way and the Northgate Transit Center.  Those 33 stops represent about 12% of the route’s riders.  The consolidation will bring the mean stop distance from 850 feet to about 1,225 feet (3 blocks), which is closer to Metro’s ideal separation.

The changes are expected to improve reliability and save about $50,000 a year in operating costs.  Metro has done similar projects on Routes 7 (as we covered), 48, and 120.

Rider alerts are already posted at the stops.  Customers have until Nov. 6 to submit comments to 206-296-4511 or  There is no webpage for the project.  The 16 will cease serving those stops on Nov. 28th.

There’s also a map of revisions on the South end of the line.  Thanks to Julia Hanke for the tip.

That WSDOT Viaduct Video

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The video above was released as part of a public records request. Or so they say. It’s apparently all a big conspiracy.

Color me skeptical.

Certainly it’s possible that the video was released intentionally to sway the election. But to sway it in whose favor? Neither candidate for Seattle mayor supports leaving the viaduct intact. I don’t see how this clearly benefits either of them.

I’d be curious to know how videos are typically released as part of public records requests. It’s obviously easy enough to send the filer a PDF of a text document. But what do you do with a video? Send a VHS tape or DVD? Putting it up on YouTube is an interesting, low-cost way to comply with the request in a way that benefits the public. I can’t turn up any evidence on the internet on how videos are typically released.

Anyway, the video is best viewed with Metallica playing really loudly in the background.

The Deep Bore Couldn’t Be Rail Later

As I apparently haven’t posted about the Viaduct since May 12th, I guess it’s time for an update!

Some have suggested that the tunnel could be used later for a new transit corridor. I want to explain why that’s so unlikely – and it’s a simple explanation.

The viaduct deep bore tunnel would run from 60 to 200 feet underground. The points where it’s deepest are also where we need transit – under the center of downtown, where the endpoints of all the potential transit trips in such a tunnel would be. Unfortunately, these would also be where station platforms and entrances would be most expensive to construct.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “The Deep Bore Couldn’t Be Rail Later”

Editorial: Hutchison is Wrong on Transit

Hutchison at the Washington Policy Center dinner. Image from Publicola.
Hutchison at the Washington Policy Center dinner. Image from Publicola.

There is no doubt that the most important election concerning transit this year is between Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison for King County Executive. The Executive runs Metro transit, nominates 10 of the 18 Sound Transit boardmembers, and signs off on land use policies throughout the county.

Constantine serves on the Sound Transit board and chairs the Regional Transit Committee. His master’s degree in urban planning bolsters his wonky side — he noted at our last meet-up that “infrastructure creates demand,” a fact that escapes most politicos. Constantine is a great advocate for our two largest transit agencies and will be an effective leader. We have endorsed Constantine for Executive, and we urge those who want a better future for our region’s transit to donate to his campaign. But this election is notable not just for Constantine’s impressive credentials, but also his opponent’s reckless misunderstanding of transportation and transit issues. Susan Hutchison is wrong on transit.

Read on after the jump…

Continue reading “Editorial: Hutchison is Wrong on Transit”

On Environmental Impact Studies

To follow up on Martin’s post I just want to make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to Environmental Impact Studies. This has yet to be done for the deep-bore tunnel, with the draft EIS to be released in February of next year and the final EIS completed in the spring of 2011.

As defined by the International Association for Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as:

The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.

Emphasis mine. Furthermore from the Washington State Department of Ecology;

Q: What is SEPA?

A: SEPA is the abbreviation or acronym for the State Environmental Policy Act, Chapter 43.21C RCW. Enacted in 1971, it provides the framework for agencies to consider the environmental consequences of a proposal before taking action. It also gives agencies the ability to condition or deny a proposal due to identified likely significant adverse impacts. The Act is implemented through the SEPA Rules, Chapter 197-11 WAC.

So when is a SEPA review process needed?

Q: When is SEPA environmental review required?

A: Environmental review is required for any proposal which involves a government “action,” as defined in the SEPA Rules (WAC 197-11-704), and is not categorically exempt (WAC 197-11-800 through 890). Project actions involve an agency decision on a specific project, such as a construction project or timber harvest. Nonproject actions involve decisions on policies, plans, or programs, such as the adoption of a comprehensive plan or development regulations, or a six-year road plan.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “On Environmental Impact Studies”

Take Down the Viaduct Now?

This WSDOT simulation is really alarming.  Via KING5, the agency emphasizes that it was released due to a public records request and not to impact the election.  However, they make the case that it means we have to proceed on the deep-bore tunnel without delay:

“It is weak at its core and we must replace it as soon as we can,” said [WSDOT Engineer Jugesh] Capur.

Of course, what the video shows is that we have to remove it (and replace the seawall) as soon as possible.  Whether we replace that with another highway or not is another question.  The current plan envisions taking down the viaduct in 2015, not 2012 as the Governor originally pledged, to avoid traffic disruption in the meantime.

Remember: subjecting new highway projects to due process and environmental review: reckless disregard for people’s lives.  Leaving a brittle viaduct up to make sure auto trips into downtown are convenient: good transportation planning!

In other news, the memorandum of agreement signed last week by Governor Gregoire and Mayor Nickels contains no mention of overruns whatsoever.

Also: Skepticism about WSDOT’s motivations here and here.  My nuanced position on the merits of the tunnel is here.  I wrote the above before I saw that five viaduct “stakeholders” agree with me.

Sound Transit Board Appointments

Sound Transit
An old picture of the board (Sound Transit)

I realize that Erica Barnett is using this post at Publicola to be humorous and make the point that all the anti-rail usual suspects are donating to Susan Hutchison.  Still,  that effort ought not to spread misinformation about how the process works:

So who might those board members be if light-rail opponent Susan Hutchison is elected? Hutchison’s spokesman Jordan McCarren did not responded [sic] to an email asking that question, but here are some educated guesses.

1) Kemper Freeman. The Bellevue developer and longtime light-rail opponent…

It goes on like that.  For the record, here is the requirement from the State law authorizing Regional Transit Authorities like Sound Transit:

The regional transit authority shall be governed by a board consisting of representatives appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the council or other legislative authority of each member county…

Each member of the board, except the secretary of transportation or the secretary’s designee, shall be:

(a) An elected official who serves on the legislative authority of a city or as mayor of a city within the boundaries of the authority;

(b) On the legislative authority of the county, if fifty percent of the population of the legislative official’s district is within the authority boundaries; or

(c) A county executive from a member county within the authority boundaries.

When making appointments, each county executive shall ensure that representation on the board includes an elected city official representing the largest city in each county and assures proportional representation from other cities, and representation from unincorporated areas of each county within the service area. At least one-half of all appointees from each county shall serve on the governing authority of a public transportation system.

None of the figures Barnett lists is actually eligible to serve on the board.  King County controls 10 of the 18 seats, with a two-thirds vote necessary for most major decisions.

Pointing this out may make me humorless, but gives me an excuse to actually put this information in a post.

Viaduct Tolling: Tailored for the Tunnel?

A few weeks back McGinn held a press conference where he asserted that WSDOT’s tolling figure are inflated. He released this folio.

I did a little more research and dug up a 2002 tolling study as well as 2008 draft study. Both studies were done by Parson Brinkerhoff (See Publicola’s article). The 2002 study estimated that the optimal toll rate (i.e., toll rate that minimizes system delays) could cover between $35-$95 million (2009 dollars) in construction costs. This study showed that on average drivers would pay 31 cents during peak periods, and 16 cents during off-peak periods (2009 dollar).

The 2008 draft study, which was released several weeks after the announcement of the deep-bore tunnel, however, estimate that tolling could support roughly $330 million (2009 dollars). Toll rates were set at a predetermined level to maximize revenue, with peak rates at $1.50 to $2.25 and off-peak rates at $1.10 to $1.25 (2007 dollars).

The 2008 results represents an approximate 4- to 10-fold increase over the 2002 study.

This shows that WSDOT is significantly “over pricing” the tunnel in order to generate the revenue it requires for the deep-bore tunnel. However the additional revenue comes with a significant side-effect, diversion. The high toll rates will cause an estimated 40% of traffic that would otherwise use the tunnel to divert to other routes such as Alaskan Way, downtown streets and I-5. In very rough figures the viaduct carries around 100,000 cars a day, so that works out to roughly 40,000 diverted cars a day. That’s nothing to cough at.

This is yet more evidence that the impacts of the tunnel have been poorly vetted due to WSDOT’s expedited and politically motivated choice of the tunnel.

UPDATE: I want clarify the take away of this post. I’m not disputing the tolling model, rather I’m arguing that the models themselves show that tolls will be significantly higher than what the optimal toll should be. The 2002 study describes the toll rate methodology as;

Assuming that users have perfect information about pricing, that toll revenues are used to make cost-beneficial highway investments, and that pricing is ubiquitous, then short-run marginal cost toll pricing allows the road network to operate with maximum net social benefits from the resources used to build and operate roads. In this case, the economically efficient toll rate maximizes travel time savings, which for a given volume of traffic, minimizes total network travel time.

This means that using the toll rates from 2008 will significantly change travel patters, destabilizing the system, and resulting in increased delay on city streets and I-5 while not fully utilizing tunnel capacity.

The Highway vs. Fixed Transit Debate

40mph, by Mike Bjork
40mph, by Mike Bjork

There is a lot of manipulation and fact distorting when it comes to the debate between highway and road benefits versus fixed rail transit.  One of the biggest claims to have been made against Link is that it’s a “boondoggle,” a “waste of money,” and that “no one” ever rides the trains.  I pulled up an old document from the American Dream Coalition (ADC), a big anti-rail group, which compiled a laundry list of “facts” against what it calls “myths” of rail transit.  It’s a long list of points, many of which we’ve already debunked, but I thought I’d highlight a few that are relevant to the comparison often being made between roads and rail.

Rebuttals below the jump.

Continue reading “The Highway vs. Fixed Transit Debate”

News Roundup: Rail Moves Forward

Couplers, by Mark Dublin
"Couplers", by Mark Dublin