PNW Amtrak Thanksgiving trains update

Cascades and Amfleets by K_Gradinger
Cascades and Amfleets by K_Gradinger

Those of you traveling via Amtrak this Thanksgiving weekend, be glad you purchased your tickets early!

If you want to take the train to see your friends and family, Wednesday will be your best bet, however, Seattle – Portland trains are starting to sell out very fast.

Those traveling between Seattle and Portland, the 5 Cascades trains and extra Ambus are all sold out on Thanksgiving day with the Coast Starlight still available for coach passengers only.

There are 2 trains available currently for Portland to Seattle passengers. Amtrak Extra #514 and the Coast Starlight. Train #514 will most likely be the last resort train since it arrives into Seattle at 11:15pm.

Trains are available in all directions on Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday, there will be 6 scheduled Cascades trains and the Coast Starlight. Most of these trains are starting to sell out now. Make your reservations soon in order to ensure you have a spot. Sleeper service on the Coast Starlight and both sections of the Empire Builder are selling out rapidly.

For passengers going to Vancouver, BC from Seattle, WA, all trains and Ambus’ service is available throughout the entire weekend.

For passengers going to Seattle, WA from Vancouver, BC, all trains and Ambus service is available throughout the entire weekend. Business class is sold out on Train #513 at this time however.

For passengers going East to Spokane, WA, both Empire Builder’s (Seattle and Portland Sections) are available throughout the entire weekend.

For passengers going West to Seattle, WA, both Empire Builder’s (Seattle and Portland sections) are available. Lower level coach seating is sold out on Train # 7 and #27 at this time however.

For those that haven’t made reservations, go to and follow the easy steps. It takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes and you can pick your ticket up at the station or have it mailed to you. It would probably be best if you pick it up at the QuikTrak kiosk at the station.

Extra train equipment will be a mixture of Horizon and Amfleet coaches with a snack car available. The cars will be later used for the Alki Tours Leavenworth Snow Trains.

McGinn Wants Your Ideas

Earlier this week, the Mayor-elect asked us to reach out to you for your thoughts on how they can succeed in the coming few months. He asked three key questions:

1) How can they build the strongest team possible?

The incoming mayor has strong values and a set of policy objectives that became clear throughout the campaign. McGinn noted when meeting with us that someone had compiled all of his policy papers into a list of 93 particular campaign goals – their work is cut out for them. So who can best help make these goals happen? What can the transition team do to ensure that the people they choose are successful at being inclusive and ensuring that the way these goals are achieved is best for the city?

2) How can they build public trust in the new administration?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer concisely – but I’ve seen lots of comments about transparency and process that would be great to mention here. The new mayor’s office already has the trust of many, but how can they ensure that grows, and how can they ensure that their actions and policies improve it?

3) What do we view as their greatest challenge – and what should they do right away?

This is where I’m starting to think in a transportation mindset. The other two are more about process, and more high level – but here’s our opportunity to say “Here’s a big thing we’d like to see done better” or “here’s where money should be going immediately”.

Your responses don’t have to be transit-related, of course. We’ve been asked to compile the responses into a sort of executive summary, so there won’t be room for everything. With that in mind, if you like an idea, definitely reply to it to say so! On Sunday I’ll be putting them together.

Free Companion Fare on Amtrak Cascades

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I noticed the coupon at the Fremont PCC grocery store. Travel by May 21, 2010, anywhere Cascades runs (Eugene to Vancouver BC). There are a handful of blackout dates – mostly at holidays. The discount code is H815, but it says you have to present the coupon when you travel. They had a pile of them at the checkout counter at PCC, or I’m sure you can call Amtrak to find out where else you can get a coupon.

Long News Roundup (II)

Escalators, by Oran
"Escalators", by Oran

The constant rainstorms seem to have really slowed down the accumulation of great pictures in the Flickr Pool:

Long News Roundup (I)

Map by Oran, of course
Map by Oran, of course

Stories we didn’t have time to get to or didn’t have anything to say about are below.  There are so many that another installment is coming soon:

Report: McGinn to Place O’Brien on ST Board

Mike O'Brien (
Mike O'Brien (

[UPDATE 9:36 am: McGinn staffer Aaron Pickus says McGinn would “like to see Mike O’Brien on the Sound Transit board because he knows transportation issues as much as anyone. Saying that, the mayor-elect thinks that the mayor of Seattle needs to serve on this board and plans to do so.”]

[UPDATE: For a more thorough breakdown of coming changes to the Sound Transit board, Andrew Villeneuve has the goods.]

Publicola reports that Seattle’s Mayor-elect Mike McGinn may skip taking a role on the Sound Transit board, instead giving his support to incoming city councilmember Mike O’Brien for the position. Richard Conlin, the city council president, plans to remain on the Sound Transit board. The Sound Transit board is the group of elected officials that makes most major and financial decisions for the agency.

O’Brien would be filling Mayor Nickels’ seat on the ST board. Nickels lost his bid for a third term in the August primary and is currently the chair of ST board.

O’Brien’s financial background (he has an MBA from UW) could be a strong asset on a board looking to scrounge every dollar from the projected revenue shortfalls affecting the Sound Transit 2 expansion plans approved during the worst recession in a generation.

O’Brien and McGinn have a close relationship after working together in a private law firm as well as the Sierra Club and it’s possible the Mayor-elect’s priorities could come through an O’Brien seat. (Publicola has a great article on their relationship.)

Seattle Transit Blog endorsed Mike O’Brien for office, in part for his honest and strong advocacy for transit. He’s a charismatic spokesman for the promise of mass transit and we’d be happy to see him serve on the board.

Streetcar Expedited

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m a few days late on this, but I’m very glad to see that the First Hill Streetcar is being expedited for a 2013 launch.

I’ve been bullish on the 12th Avenue alignment in the past, and I have reservations about the efficacy of streetcars on North Broadway (all it takes is one double-parked car to shut the system down), but even running along Broadway the entire time, the line makes sense. It will be good to have it here earlier.

Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact

Last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) held a public meeting on the future of the Point Defiance Bypass project. This project, as we’ve discussed before, would cut 6 minutes from Amtrak Cascades travel time to points south, reduce delays caused by congestion with freight traffic, and allow for more service by getting passenger trains out of the single track Nelson Bennett tunnel under Ruston.

Unfortunately, WSDOT’s outreach attempts appear to have fallen flat. WSDOT mentioned that some of the funding for this project could come from a high speed rail stimulus grant – and media has already claimed that these trains move twice as fast as Sounder. These trains would run at 70-79mph, just like other passenger rail, this project would just allow for a later, unfunded, project to increase train speeds in the corridor. There’s also been little explanation of what a six minute improvement, or the other benefits, really mean, and residents came away concerned that loud, fast trains were going to block traffic and cause safety problems for little benefit.

In reality, because Amtrak Cascades is already close to time-competitive with car travel between Seattle or Tacoma and Portland, a six minute reduction in trip time and an improvement in reliability would do quite a bit to increase ridership, and it’s required to create the capacity we need for more round trips. 70-79mph service is exactly the same as what runs through Sumner, Puyallup, Kent and Auburn already without incident. And because this track would only have lightweight passenger trains, noise would be reduced significantly relative to often under-maintained and very heavy freight equipment.

Thankfully, WSDOT has posted three YouTube videos that help demonstrate the planning that’s going into the Point Defiance Bypass project, and help dispel the biggest concerns. Have a look after the jump. Continue reading “Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact”

Vision Line Comments and DT Bellevue Workshop Recap

The C4A Preferred Alternative from Sound Transit
The C4A Preferred Alternative from Sound Transit

I attended last night’s workshop for the Downtown Bellevue segment of East Link.  After the meeting, I talked to Kevin Wallace briefly about the Vision Line.  I will be meeting with him on Friday to further discuss details about the plan.  I’ll also compile a list of questions or concerns that you might have, so leave a comment below if you have a question you want to ask Kevin about this new proposal.  As much as you may disagree with this proposed line or even the premise of it, keep the comments civil and practical.  Avoid statements like “What’s with the circusy station?  It’s ugly!”  I won’t be able to ask him all of your questions, but I will bring forth the most pressing issues.

Below is a recap of the workshop written in real-time.


I’m currently at the Downtown Bellevue workshop for East Link at Bellevue City Hall.  Like the three neighborhood workshops that came before this one, public comment booths for each downtown alternative are out with strip plots and maps detailing the plan and elevation of each alignment.  Vision Line Coalition folks are aggressively lobbying outside the meeting area and handing out literature to attendees about Kevin Wallace’s proposed alternative.  The turnout is fairly high tonight with at least 100, give or take, in attendance.  The minutes of the presentation are below the jump.

Continue reading “Vision Line Comments and DT Bellevue Workshop Recap”

C9T to Cost $300m Extra

The C9T alternative (click to enlarge)
The C9T alternative (click to enlarge)

[How’s that for a wonky headline?]

Thanks to intrepid reader and commenter Bernie, we have an account of Monday’s City of Bellevue “study session” on East Link alignments. The agenda is online and includes an information packet.  Below, a synopsis of his notes.  Consider this a preview of tonight’s East Link Workshop.

Sound Transit’s preferred alignment runs along the surface on both 108th and 110th Avenues to bracket the Transit Center, and is projected to cost $700m (in 2007 dollars, as all the figures below).  Longstanding tunnel option C3T costs $1.175 billion.  Sound Transit on Monday presented the first cost estimates for the relatively new C9T option, which travels under 110th Ave NE and comes in at $980m – $1.01 billion.  As Sound Transit has committed to fund the surface alternative, this reduces the funding gap for a tunnel to about $300m from an earlier rough estimate of $500m.

ST is considering lowering the South Bellevue station below street level or moving it away from the street to maintain car and bus access to the lot.

The Sound Transit board will re-evaluate Segment C (Downtown Bellevue) in the first quarter of 2010.

Metro Begins to Open Transit Feed Data

One Bus Away is powered by Metro's GTFS feed.

We reported last week that the innovated Walk Score website had added support for valuing transit access, but didn’t mention that this feature wasn’t available here in Seattle. Why’s that? King County Metro hadn’t provided open access to it’s transit data and instead required each project to be approved on a case-by-case basis.

That’s slowly changing. Metro has began releasing its GTFS (Google Transit Feed Specification) data to developers who sign a disclaimer without individual project approval. Eventually, access to this data should be even easier.

“The goal is a click through agreement that permits the development community direct access to our data,” said Stephen Krippner, a program manager in Metro’s IT department. “We obviously are not there yet, but we are headed that direction.”

Metro has been doing some sweeping efforts to improve its relations with third-party developers, including hosting a workshop last month. Other agencies in the region could stand to learn from Metro’s efforts. Metro itself could stand to learn from Portland’s Tri-Met which requires neither a disclaimer nor a click-through agreement to access its developer resources transparently.

The GTFS data is the same information that powers the Google Maps transit functionality and third-party apps like One Bus Away. Developers interested in accessing the GTFS data should contact Stephen Krippner at

County Budget Committee Advances 2010 Metro Budget

180 by Atomic Taco
"180" by Atomic Taco

Last summer we described Executive Kurt Triplett’s proposed response to the Metro budget crisis, which involved a 9% (310,000 hour) cut in the 2010-2011 biennium.  The Budget Committee of the King County Council has softened the blow by deferring most cuts till 2012-2013, in the hope that the state legislature will provide the additional taxing authority to avoid the blow altogether.

The bottom line for riders, although this budget has not yet reached final approval:

  • no significant reduction in service frequency or span on any routes, at least for the next two years;
  • a 25-cent fare increase (except youth) in 2011 to go with the one long planned for 2010;
  • full speed ahead on RapidRide, including the F line; and
  • return of bus wraps, but with a 15-inch gap that allows riders to actually use the windows.

Details below the jump.

Continue reading “County Budget Committee Advances 2010 Metro Budget”

Legislators Back SR520 Option A+

The Times reports that a 12-member panel of legislators endorsed Option A+ (pdf) for the 520 bridge, which basically makes it a 6-lane road but eschews any sort of direct connection to the University.  The ‘+’ indicates some pedestrian and HOV/transit access enhancements not shown in the video.

This option is bad news for transit in two ways: it doesn’t provide a good connection from SR520 to the UW Light Rail station, and it’s underfunded by $2 billion.  (The more transit-friendly options are even more expensive.)  There’s much speculation that this shortfall is behind many Olympia shenanigans (by Seattle rep Frank Chopp, no less) to soak Sound Transit for the I-90 crossing.  Of course, no one is questioning $157m in lids through extremely wealthy neighborhoods on the Seattle side alone.

Yesterday’s meeting materials are online.  A video of the much less controversial East end of the bridge is here.

Comment of the Day: The Wife’s Cell Phone

Picture of derailed Link train from KOMO.
Picture of derailed Link train from KOMO.

Yesterday’s Link derailment near the O&M facility in SoDo caused no injuries and no passengers were on-board, but the incident did cause significant delays for riders on other trains. Unfortunately for those elsewhere on the line, communication with at least some riders as pretty abysmal:

Comment by Gary — 2009-11-17 — 16:31:13
I flew back into Sea-Tac last night and took the light rail from Tukwila to the International District, boarding at 9:45 pm. Let me share my own experience. It was not a “minor delay of 10-20 minutes.” The trip to the International District took 1 hour and 20 minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes. The train would just stop for extended periods without moving in the Rainier Valley. There were no announcements of what was going on. I only found out what was going on by calling my wife on my cell phone and asking her to check the news. I pressed the intercom button on the train to call the operator and ask what was going on, and no one responded. There was no alternate bus made available, we were just stuck on the train. While I understand this was an accident, Sound Transit really needs to do a much, much better job of communicating with its ridership and reacting to a contingency next time if it wants to attract and retain riders.

We’ve been harsh on transit websites recently, but what about Link’s speaker systems? Link’s still working out its kinks but there’s just no excuse: It should be policy to tell riders when any substantial delay occurs and why it’s happening.

Bellevue Light Rail Workshop Tomorrow Night

Transportation Choices Coalition let us know about a workshop being held regarding Bellevue’s light rail alignment that Sound Transit is holding tomorrow night:

Light rail is coming to downtown Bellevue and Sound Transit wants to hear from you. Join Sound Transit’s project team for an interactive workshop in downtown Bellevue. Up for consideration are several options to bring light rail to downtown including a possible tunnel. Learn more about the preferred route and stations, provide feedback to staff, and tell Sound Transit how light rail can best serve you.

WHEN: Wednesday, November 18, 4 – 7:00 pm, presentation begins at 5:00 pm.
WHERE: Bellevue City Hall 450 110th Ave. NE, Bellevue

Kevin Wallace’s ‘Vision Line’

Painting of the proposed 'Vision Line'
Painting of the Vision Line © 2009 J. Craig Thorpe commissioned by Vision Line Coalition, LLC

The Bellevue Reporter released details this morning on Kevin Wallace’s proposed alignment of East Link— what he dubs the ‘Vision Line.’  The proposal essentially calls for the use of the BNSF corridor (B7 alternative), which would bypass the South Bellevue Park and Ride, and an alignment along 114th Ave NE through downtown before crossing I-405.  This alternative would run right along the freeway and is furthest from the downtown core than any of the other DEIS alternatives.  To address the distance factor, the plan calls for a covered walkway that leads to the Bellevue Transit Center.  Wallace has stated before that he believes a surface alignment would be too disruptive and a tunnel would be too costly.

From the Bellevue Reporter:

The Vision Line aims to protect residential homes and downtown businesses. But it adds another option to a growing list of alternatives for Sound Transit’s East Link light rail project.

Wallace is asking that Sound Transit consider his plan as part of the East Link environmental-review process.

Arup, the San-Francisco based consulting firm that undertook the study, has full details of its Phase A study here.  One important thing to remember is that this first phase of the plan has not taken ridership into account, an integral factor into making East Link cost-effective.  However, Wallace believes that the ridership will be comparable with the other alternatives while still bringing down the costs of the Bellevue alignment.  We’ll have a follow-up soon with these concerns and questions addressed directly by Wallace.

Streetcar News: First Hill and SLU

Map by Oran
Possible alignments for a First Hill Streetcar. (Map by Oran)

Via Capitol Hill Seattle, Sound Transit and the City have agreed to accelerate the opening of the First Hill Streetcar from 2016 to 2013.

“We are now anticipating a Fall 2013  opening for First Hill Streetcar service,” Ethan Malone of the City’s Department of Transportation told us.

Earlier in the year, the City optimistically put forward a plan for opening the line in 2012.  Sound Transit is responsible for capital costs up to $132m. The City will begin construction in 2012  and is responsible for any construction overruns. Sound Transit will fund the line’s operating costs.

As the map at right indicates, the actual alignment of the streetcar is not yet determined, and will go through the Environmental Impact Statement process until 2011.

In other streetcar news, Ben reports that operators on the SLUT are announcing that on Thursday and Friday this week, Metro and SDOT will be experimenting with 12.5 minute headways instead of 15.  SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan said that the plan is not yet confirmed because “Metro Transit is still finalizing some details.”   In terms of the rationale, Sheridan said:

With ridership continuing to increase and more businesses moving into South Lake Union, the city wants to ensure that it can accommodate any additional ridership growth. By ending layovers at the end of each run and reallocating current staff, this experiment tests the line’s ability to increase frequency and capacity through slight modifications.

Regular Link Service Restored

[Attention RSS Readers: an early draft of Sherwin’s piece was accidentally posted and distributed this morning.  Please disregard it.]

According to KING 5, Tuesday morning’s service should suffer no adverse impacts from last afternoon’s derailment.

The Sound Transit website put a note up as I was typing this message.  Sadly, as of now there is nothing about this at all on the Sound Transit website: no acknowledgment that this happened, and no “everything is OK” message for the thousands of people that went to bed not sure if their service was going to be functional this morning.

Indeed, RPIN, Metro, and ST have nothing on this at all.

Breaking: Link Derailment @ O&M

[UPDATE from Brian:] I went up to check out how the clean up was progressing. The LRV is now back on the rails and clear of the SB track Damage to the pantograph and skirting is pretty bad and will most likely need to be replaced. The brandt rail truck is still blocking the SB track with several men and equipment working on the rails and/or checking out the damage to the guideway. Two BNSF trucks were also around with a heavy boom/crane truck. The wind and rain is really starting to pick up. While it has taken them a long time to get this mess cleaned up and ask a lot of questions, I have to hand it to the crew that is cleaning up the incident. I for one would not want to be in it!

[UPDATE: KING 5 reports that there may be disruptions on the Tuesday morning commute. Buses may run between Stadium and Mt. Baker whenever they decide to move the train, temporarily blocking both tracks.

Martin is planning to update here at 5:30 am tomorrow.]

A Link light rail vehicle has derailed on the wye switch on the elevated section of the Operations and Maintenance facility. The cause of this is unknown at this time but it appears that the vehicle “picked the switch”. No passengers were involved and the operator is fine. This train appeared to be going out of service when I saw it. I was curious as to why it stopped! Saw it all from my window. (pic to come later)

Expect minor delays of 10 to 20 minutes to light rail service. Trains are crossing over at the O&M and using the northbound tunnel for Beacon Hill and Mt. Baker Stations. The trains will cross back over at South Walden Street.

King 5 has aerial pictures of the incident here.

Future Link Headways

With University Link under construction and Sound Transit 2 to follow, service frequency has become a hot topic.

Today, Link operates at peak frequencies of 7-8 minutes, dropping to 10 and finally 15 minutes during off-peak periods and on weekends. With average October weekday ridership of 16,200, today’s peak frequencies meet demand and will likely continue to through the next few years, but U-Link will change that.

The North Link Final Supplemental EIS operating plan summary (PDF), which only covers S. 200th to Northgate, the extent planned for in Sound Move, calls for 6 minute peak headways end to end by 2015, with an eventual increase to 5 minute headways between Northgate and Rainier Beach (referred to as “Henderson” in the document) sometime prior to 2030.

With Sound Transit 2, we’ll essentially get a new line – running from Northgate or farther north to Bellevue. Currently, the East Link DEIS operating plan summary (PDF) suggests four car trains every 10 minutes in 2020, with headways down to every 9 minutes in 2030.

An overall Sound Transit 2 operating plan I saw on paper suggested three 9 minute headway lines – One from Lynnwood to SODO or Rainier Beach, one from Northgate to Bellevue/Redmond, and one from Northgate to Sea-Tac/Federal Way. This would cause three minute headways between every other train south of downtown, and could cause problems in at-grade portions.

There’s another possibility here, though. Sound Transit could operate two lines, one from Lynnwood to Federal Way, and another from Lynnwood to Bellevue. This would keep headways south of the International District more stable, and make Bellevue headways higher overall. Either way, frequency from Northgate to the International District will be down to four or even three minutes with Sound Transit 2.

The limiting factor is largely the uncertainty associated with the MLK portion of Link – missing a light can add a minute or two to a trip, making it impossible to really shoehorn more trains in without degrading quality of service significantly. If we want another line through downtown, it will need to either go on the surface, or in a new tunnel.