An Amtrak Cascades train meets the Portland Rose steam special
An Amtrak Cascades train meets the Portland Rose steam special in Tacoma

Its that time of the month for another rail roundup;

Passenger News

Amtrak is planning, yet again, to purchase new locomotives and passenger cars to replace the aging fleet. The NEC still will not be a true HSR route, even with the planned “Acela II” with a maximum speed of 180mph, now the low end standard of HSR.

Due for replacement are 412 Amfleet I, 122 Amfleet II, 122 Superliner I, 184 Superliner II, 50 Viewliner, 92 Horizon cars, as well as Heritage baggage and dining cars. Among the locomotives are 20 AEM7 d.c. electric locomotives (the remaining 29 have been rebuilt with a.c. propulsion), and the railroad’s F59PH, P42, P40, and P32DM fleets. Currently, an RFP is out for 125 single-level coaches/baggage-dorm cars/diners and 20 electric locomotives.

Plenty more after the jump!

Want to take Amtrak to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? Better do it soon, tickets are going fast. There is only 31 days remaining until the Olympics start. Ridership on the trains are steadily increasing with the morning train seeing nearly 100 passengers, up from 40 to 60 passengers which leaves good hope to keeping the second train running after the Olympics.

With all the craziness at the airports, Amtrak has a clever ad…in an airport… to get you to ride the train.

WSDOT is listening to the voices on the Amtrak Cascades bistro car redesign. There was a loud outcry regarding the new design and was 90% disliked by commenter’s.. The DJC has an excellent article on what the State is doing now to address the concerns but in short, the bistro car will retain its seating and the water dispenser will be moved to a different, new user friendly location. (Subscription required)

Construction on Phase 2 of King Street Station starts in Q2 2010. This will seismically retrofit the building and bring the interior back to its majestic glory.

On Friday, January 8th, Amtrak  had a groundbreaking ceremony for the upcoming expanded coach yard and maintenance facility. This project, some 10 years later, is finally becoming a reality, which will bring increased reliability to locomotives and better working conditions for employees.

A Sounder engineer has a near miss with an elderly gentleman in Edmonds and tells his story.

Sound Transit is in talks with BNSF for the next 4 round trip weekday Sounder South trains. ST will purchase time slots instead of doing track improvements to allow the trains to be put in service faster. (Can be found in the WSDOT 2010-2030 Freight Rail plan)

(Updated by Brian B: 1:55pm) Construction is expected to start on the new Edmonds Crossing multi-modal station in February. This project includes adding a second track between MP 17 and MP 18. A “Form B” was issued today for the mile long stretch of railroad to start civil work and grading. At milepost 27 and 28, near Mukilteo, construction will start for the civil work for a second track. A new crossover at Richmond Beach near milepost 14 will be installed to increase the railroads flexibility. Each of the new sections of double track will have new crossovers installed.

Mukilteo’s northbound platform and pedestrian walkway is also rumored to start this year.

Construction on the permanent Tukwila Station should also began this year tentatively.

Tourist Railroads

The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad will be returning to its normal run out of Elbe, Washington this Spring. The Nisqually River bridge, which was washed out in October 2006 is finishing up construction and Tacoma Rail is doing repairs to the line for the return. Freight service to Morton is still suspended due to several washouts from the January 2009 washouts between Divide and Morton, WA.

The Northwest Railway Museum is moving forward with construction of the “Train Shed” which will house several of their steam locomotives and finally get them out of the weather. The museum also received a $180,000 grant to restore the 1898 Baptist Chapel car from Save America’s Treasures.

Freight Railroads

WSDOT has revamped the 2010-2030 freight rail plan. This plan outlines rail traffic between now and 2030. It also identifies several key bottlenecks and what they are planning on to fix the issues.

BNSF currently has no funding available in the 5 year outlook for Stampede Tunnel, which would have lowered the tunnel bed to allow double stack and autorack trains. It was originally assumed that after the sale of the Eastside Rail Corridor that BNSF would use this funding to lower the tunnel bed. It is unknown now where this funding will go.

The Eastside Freight Railroad started service yesterday between Snohomish and Woodinville, picking up a few cars and greeting the business owners along the line. This new railroad takes over the BNSF line and hopes to improve freight rail service that BNSF Railway ignored or shooed away to get out of the branch line. Byron Cole, owner of the railroad (along with Ballard Terminal Railroad and Meeker Southern Railroad) is hopeful that he’ll revive the line and gain access to Bellevue to serve Safeway.

The FRA issue rules on Positive Train Control Systems

83 Replies to “Rail News Roundup!”

  1. Thanks Brian!

    I really look forward to your columns – the least controversial and problematic as there is usually nothing to disagree with and plenty to hope for!

    Just a couple of points. Good news on King Street Station obviously. Any idea on why or when that yellow band around the clock tower is coming down? Its been there for about ten months I should think. Surely whatever it is supporting is dry now?!

    Secondly, any news on the proposed tourist line from Woodinville to Snohomish and will this be the Spirit of Washington train again?

    Lastly, any updates on the Pioneer Service?

    1. No problem Tim!

      I’m not sure what the yellow band is or what it is covering, I’ll e-mail the city to see if I can get an answer.

      There isn’t anything on the new tourist railroad yet but the Spirit of Washington Dinner trainset is still up for sale, along with the locomotives.

      Amtrak won’t make a decision on the Pioneer or the North Coast Hiawatha for some time. It all comes down to money at this point and if the states will support the train(s)

  2. Nice roundup, Brian. I’m completely out of the loop with Amtrak, but are there any plans at all to replace the Taglo trainsets on the Cascades run?

    1. There won’t be any plans to replace the Talgo equipment for the next 10 to 20 years with the refurbishment going on. If we get approved for the ARRA funding, we will see more Talgo train sets or train sets with better tilting capabilities.

    2. Brian probably has a better source, but the Talgos are pretty much refurbished now. IF the state gets ARRA stimulus money, in significant amounts, then maybe start the transition to Talgo XXI’s down the road, but the state is just talking generic at this point, so as to not taint the bidding process. Anyway, new trainsets, HSR dedicated tracks, and the guts of what it takes to go over 80 is a long uphill fight for the long term.
      Short term, the state is broke!

      1. Since Talgos supply their own “Head End” or “Hotel” power, when are we going to see one hooked up to either that SP steam loco or the UP Big Boy behind it??

    1. lazarus,

      The final plans are coming together nicely and nearing completion. M Street to Lakewood still has a lot of work to go before it is ready for passenger service. There has been some new rail and ties placed along with some concrete tie switches but there is still a lot of utility work, crossing work and the new alignment to be built near South 100th. Signals still need to be put up as well.

  3. Why does Amtrak occasionally run out of seat space on trains? Is it a matter of buying more train cars, or are the Talgo’s limited in their length?

    1. Short answer: supply & demand.
      Longer answer: There are only 5 sets of cars for the Talgos – each has to Business Class cars, the Bistro/Diner/Lounge pair and a set number of coaches. I think that Brian mentioned a while back that after the refurb project was completed that all trains had the same number of coaches now – there are no more to be had – the state is broke.

    2. Matt, our trains can have 250 passengers are train. Unlike the Acela, the Talgo is capable of being expanded. In fact, IF we get the ARRA funding (this will be repeated I am sure), WSDOT is planning on expanding the trains to 14 cars long with 2 locomotives on each end, eliminating the cab car we currently use.

      In Spain for a great example, Hotel Trains that use Talgo equipment can frequently run 25 cars long.

      1. Um, two locomotives total, one on each end?

        For expanding the trains, I think that would entail getting new trainsets, then breaking up one of the existing sets and distributing it among the other four. Not only does the state not have money, but Talgo doesn’t make the cars we have any more.

      2. A locomotive on each end eliminates having to turn the train around (very time consuming) in Vancouver, BC, Portland or Eugene – thereby promoting more efficient use of the trainsets.

      3. They don’t turn the trains around – the current configuration is a push-pull setup. The cabbage car is used to control the train when the functional locomotive is in push mode. The reason they’d add another locomotive would be for the extra power.

      4. The Acela is perfectly capable of being expanded. I’m not sure if they use couplers or drawbars between cars, but either way it’s certainly possible and not too difficult, and there are occasional runs with 7 cars (the extra car is some kind of inspection car). There have been persistent rumors about expanding the Acela trainsets to 8 cars pretty much since the service started. The articulated design of the Talgos is actually rather less flexible in this respect.

      5. Acela trainsets cannot be easily expanded. They use drawbars between the cars. The drawbar could be removed and the trainset length increased, but that would require a few days in the shop. It’s not simply solved by coupling a couple cars onto an existing set. And I have heard those rumors as well.

  4. Re: Sounder, I heard we got some coach cars back from Metrolink in LA recently. I suppose those will be used for spare for now, but one of the ST2 projects is to expand trainsets on the south line. That requires extending platforms I believe.

      1. At what point do they add a second locomotive? I thought I heard somewhere, that a second locomtive would be added if you have more that 7 cars…..is that true, or is 8 or 9 cars?

      2. Casey,

        I would think that after 8 cars they will require a second locomotive. That does seem a bit silly to me though considering that West Coast Express and GO Transit run 10-12 car long trains with a single locomotive.

      3. Do they use the same locomotive, or do they use a 4000 hp one where Sounder (and pretty much everyone else) use a 3600 hp one? And you can certainly have a longer train if you’re willing to have really low acceleration.

      4. WCE uses the same loco type as Sounder, F59PH.

        GO Transit in Toronto just got some MP40’s from Wabtec-Motive Power and these are 4000 hp. I am not sure what the ratings are on locos GO Transit had before the Wabtec purchase.

      5. Erik,

        GO Transit still are using some of the older F59PH and F59PHI which are both 3000HP.

        MP40PH-3C with a 10 car train.

  5. I would love to take Amtrak to the Olympics. But there is no train (or bus, as far as I can tell) coming back to Seattle in the late evening, at least, late enough that I can catch it after the event I am attending, which ends at 8:45 and is at least 30 minutes away from the station by transit. This astounds me, actually. We need later service away from Vancouver since the hotel rooms up there are so scarce and expensive.

    1. I know it doesn’t help for your event at 8:45p, but for the duration of the Olympics train 517 from Vancouver will depart 2 hours later (at 7:45p) for the very reason you mentioned.

      Really, given how long the 510/517 trainset will sit empty up in Vancouver during the Olympics (from 11:40a to 7:45p), the trainset could have offered another daily roundtrip; in addition, the Coast Starlight has 12 hours idle time in Seattle, and extending it to Vancouver would have offered a late night/early morning arrival (1:00am) into Vancouver and another early morning trip back down (5:00am).

      Damn the world of single tracks, provincial/state border politics, inflexible union labor, and inadequate staffing …otherwise we really could have increased service to great levels.

      1. Agreed Zach, agreed.

        I would say it is more of a money issue with provincial/state border issues the biggest. Amtrak is ready to roll with extra trains…provided funding is made available.

      2. Brian, Oran, or whoever might know…

        One more thing… How does Amtrak decide where its thruway buses stop, and is there any way to suggest that they update them? Hardly anyone coming to Vancouver BC needs to stop at the Pacific Inn in White Rock/Surrey or the Sandman Hotel in Richmond. Those choices for stops are far from onward transit and seem antiquated at best. A useful thruway service would eliminate those stops and sync with TransLink services they currently drive straight past, such as the Bridgeport Canada Line station.

      3. Could be due to the fact that Thruway contractor on this route is Cantrail (fomerly Canadian Trailways) who are jointly owned by Pacific Coach Lines. Both are Canadian firms.

        Quick Shuttle buses stop at River Rock Casino which is attached by sky bridges (and a spiffy spiral escalator) to Bridgeport station. Also have Wifi on board. So use them!!

        Agree on the need to serve either Canada Line, or King George Station on the Expo Line.

      4. Coast Starlight: No.

        The reason that the Coast Starlight stops and spends 12 hours in Seattle is that the train needs to be cleaned, serviced, turned, and inspected. This is NOT “idle time.” Having that padding there is important as the CS can sometimes be several hours late (shortening the amount of time available to clean, service, turn, and inspect the consist). Truth be told, especially in the coaches, the whole thing starts smelling like human cattle and really needs that TLC that Amtrak does.

      5. I’m not ‘blaming’ unions per se, nor am I a right-to-work-state apologist, but I’m merely citing them as one factor among many for the inefficiency of Amtrak service.

        You have to admit that unions exist, in part, to restrict the ability of an employer to make demand-responsive changes to service levels by narrowing the scope of allowable demands an employer can make on employees. Qualitatively that’s a good thing, as some employee protections stabilize communities and provide dignity and representation to employees. Quantitatively, it too often become excessive as unions structurally reject the idea that reduced compensation (salary, reduced break time, vacation, etc…) is ever necessary in order to operate a better service.

  6. It would be nice if Amtrak bought some more Talgo gear for various routes. While maybe not as flexible as Amfleet/Horizon/Viewliner cars they’d offer better comfort and speed.

    For an even more radical idea perhaps Talgo could design a Superliner replacement based on the Talgo 22 but designed for long-haul service and North American loading gauge.

    1. It would be a great idea for the coast starlight to use Talgo equipment since we already use Talgo equipment on the cascades. That way they need pull a cascades train set out of service there will still be more cars to spare and we won’t lose the comfort and time savings of the tilting capabilities.

      1. First of all we don’t have any talgo sleepers, second it takes around 6 hours to cut oradd one talgo car.
        Terrible idea.

      2. First, Talgo does make sleepers, and since we’d almost certainly be talking about new equipment here sleepers presumably could be included in the order.

        Second how often does the Starlight cut or add cars? For that matter how many Amtrak trains do cuts and adds? This isn’t to say that the reduced flexibility of a Talgo type train doesn’t have its problems, but that it might be worth it for the increased speed possible and for interiors designed in line with European best-practice.

      3. i work the night yard quite often and we cut and add cars almost daily. we had to cut out ANOTHER bad baggage car last night. we now have 4 sitting in the yard with no available parts to fix them.

      4. So what happens when a ‘bad order’ car is found on Talgo now?
        Are the XXI’s more flexible for cut outs?

      5. The original demo set that was over here did have one sleeper car on it. Unfortunately you could not book it, even as a state room for the trip.

        I’ve taken the DB night Talgo from Dusseldorf (I think) to Berlin. It sure was nice!

      6. Tim,

        I was wondering why there was 4 baggage cars here when I went by on Sounder! Wow.

        Say, do you know anything more on the groundbreaking for the new coach yard?

      7. The new coach yard (for Sounder I presume) has stalled for the time being. Political issues between Amtrak, Sound Transit, and BNSF Railway are to blame.

      8. I guess what I meant to say was that if they were using Talgo equipment on the coast starlight it would give wsdot/Amtrak more of an incentive to have a spare train set.

        I never really thought of the whole needing sleeper cars for the coast starlight. I am sure that talgo could design some but it would be waste if we were if they were to put those train sets (Talgo sets with sleeper cars) on Amtrak cascades.

        And finally, wow it takes 6 hours to add or cut one Talgo car!

      9. DB’s City Night Line overnight Talgos were discontinued last month – I believe they are the same “model” as “our” trains – I wonder if they are for sale? And if we could get them, would the always meddlesome FRA would allow their use in the US?

      10. In Christmas 2008 I rode the DB City Night Line from Prague to Amsterdam through Berlin. Great roomettes(couchette) for a single-level car! And only €75 for the 16-hour trip.

  7. We’re going to one Olympic event, and, unable to find accommodations anywhere near Vancouver, we decided to stay at Harrison Hot Springs, and drive over to and park in Mission, where we’ll get on one of the extra WCE trains they’re running. After our event, which will end at like 9, we’ll still be able to get back because they’re running WCE trains until quite late (like 12:30 or 1 AM).

    Also, there was a rumor a little while ago that one of the added Sounder South runs was going to be midday. Any indication if that’s true?

    1. I don’t have any Olympic plans in Vancouver, except to see how they work out the whole extra transit service and the demo streetcar line. Anyone interested?

      I haven’t heard of that rumor before.

      1. I’ll likely be there on the first day of streetcar service taking pictures (Jan. 21st). I’m up here in Vancouver permanently now, so if STB ever needs any Vancouver or other TransLink related photos, feel free to ask!

      2. I’m going to be up there with a camera, but don’t really know yet what sort of pictures I’ll be able to get. Since it looks like I won’t be able to get transit home from Vancouver that night, I am probably going to have to drive to a Park-and-Ride, and I am starting to get awfully worried that if I do that, the P&Rs might be full-up. (No parking is available at any of the venues and I wouldn’t want to drive in the city during the Games anyway.)

        Any Vancouverites have any suggestions for where I should go? My event is at Pacific Coliseum. http://www.vancouver2010.com/pacific-coliseum/ has directions via transit, so it looks like I need to get to the Expo Line or Millennium line somehow, then transfer to the Games shuttle.

        I would much rather not drive at all, but if there is any extra transit at the time I need it, I haven’t been able to find it.

      3. Yes, the Flexitys look nice, though there are any number of options for equipment (not to mention the possibility of getting something semi-custom).

        I would like to see future streetcar lines in Seattle (except for a revived heritage line somewhere to run the W-Class trams on) be at least somewhat Link compatible. Obviously turn radii will be different but things like platform height and platform distance from the center-line should be the same. Even better would be if the voltage and signaling was compatible and the cars could MU with the Kinki-Sharyo cars.

        I suppose one of the big advantages though of the Inkeon/Skoda/OIW trams is that they are fairly simple and therefore cheaper than the typical LRV.

      4. Are there any old Seattle streetcars sitting around somewhere in a boneyard? If there are, that would be so cool to refurbish them and put them back into service here on the Waterfront Streetcar.

      5. According to the MEHVA web site they have a 1919 Seattle Municipal Railway Birney Safety Car manufactured by American Car Company. I agree it would be great to see this back in operation on a heritage line in the area.

      6. Glad I won’t be the only one enjoying the Flexitys!

        I am doing a day trip up there. Amtrak up and back and riding as much of SkyTrain, WCE, SeaBus, Canada Line and the Flexitys. Should be fun!

      7. Somehow it seems there must be night service of some kind that could get me back to Seattle, but I’m still not finding it on any of the websites. Looks like I’ll be driving to Canada after all, darn it.

    1. Cool. Pretty big study area though, the eastern third of that appears to be surrounded by litterally nothing, and is probably well outside the GMA.

    1. Yes, Brian’s reports provide a nice relief from constantly having to worry about tunnels, alignments, mayors, car parks and whether streetcars are necessary or not – they are, but some folks think they are not.

      I like to make a cup of tea and sit down and read Brian’s accounts which usually interlace problems with some drams of hope

  8. Zach’s quote, “Damn the world of single tracks, provincial/state border politics, inflexible union labor, and inadequate staffing …otherwise we really could have increased service to great levels.” did hit a few accurate points. Funding and politics play a big role is explaining what we have or do not have.

    I have often heard we have enough equipment to run a second train across the boarder, but that a shortage of border crossing folks remains a big issue.

    Last year the I was bringing tour groups from Seattle to the Skagit Tulip Festival, and heard from several folks at the display farms that more than 60 motorcoaches full of day trip tourists from B.C. had to turn around at the border and never made it across because the lines were so long they ran out of run time. The lines were so long because there were not enough folks to work the US side.

    Agri-tourism is a tough one to build tours around. Nature does not make it easy. Having to turn around because the drivers would run out of hours due to the boarder back up is just doubly frustrating for all the time, energy and money we spend to get folks to come.

  9. Brian, Oran, or whoever might know…

    Speaking of train sets and tulips… What prevents Sounder sets from being utilized on the weekends beyond the occasional Seahawks and Mariner games?

    Can the units be pulled beyond Pierce, King and Snohomish County? Is there anything that prevents them from being used to take folks on special excursions… say a weekend day trip to Olympia, or north to Anacortes? By design, are there limits as to how far they can travel? Are there limits as to if they can be “rented out”?

    If I wanted to create a private charter train to go to Shelton for the Oyster Fest, or Marysville for the Strawberry fest… or have a train load head to Tulalip Casino?

    I know I need a siding to stow the train off the main line… and LOTs of insurance… but is the equipment available?

    1. Greg,

      The main reason is just cost. The equipment sits idle on weekends except for special events (Mariners, Sounders, Seahawks, concerts @ the Tacoma Dome,etc)

      I am sure you could charter a train but I would not know the cost (equipment, fuel, crew from BNSF, track time) or even if Sound Transit would be willing to do something like that. In short, yes the equipment is readily available and most likely the insurance would state that you would have to load/unload at a station. If you go anywhere up North, there are a ton of places to store the train.

  10. Okay, this is completely a “What If” statement, but I believe that if ST had the money to put in midday, evening and weekend Sounder service, those trains would operate between Everett and Tacoma/Lakewood—ONLY a few commute time trains would originate or terminate at King Street.

    1. SR Das,

      I would assume they would be Everett to Lakewood. That would be a pleasant 2 hour and 20 minute trip during the Summer months =)

  11. 180 mph will do Portland in 1 hour. (Hello Trailblazers).

    But can the Acela actually run that fast on our tracks?

    1. You’d need a few things before that can happen. Cab signals, better track maintenance, electrification, and complete grade separation. And of course new FRA rules that allow speeds above 150. In any case, the average speed would be somewhat lower than 180, but something like 70mph average is well within reach without having to build full HSR, and that’s like 2.5 hours Seattle-Portland.

    2. If by “our tracks” you mean the tracks that Amtrak cascades run on then: no. With current track conditions the allowable top speed is 79 mph and wsdot only has a long range goal of 110 mph (and the tracks would have to be electrified for Acela to run on them.)

      It would be really awesome if Amtrak cascades could go 180 mph but until wsdot takes the risk and electrifies the line we will never see those kind of speeds

      1. The risks are far greater than electrifying the line – you’ll have NIMBY’s and lawsuits every mile of the way as an entirely new, far less curvy double track railway will have to be built. Major changes in land use law at the city, county and state levels will be needed even to get to a top speed of 225 KPH with elimination of grade crossings, fencing, noise abatement, etc, etc. You can bet the a huge chunk of opposition will come from those who see private property as sacred, those groups fueled by the petroleum, auto and asphalt industries and many more who see private property and the automobile as sacred and unviolable. Decades of groundwork will need to be done here in WA before the first spade of dirt is turned. The cost will be in the 10s of Billions of 2010 dollars and will take 6-10 years to complete once permitting is done. 2050? If we are lucky.

      2. Actually, Bombardier DID experiment with non-electrified HSR in 2002 with the jet train. Too bad it never caught on. I’m sure there’s bound to be a solution to this sometime.

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