'Racing Amtrak Cascades' by Oran

By way of an official press release from the White House, the Cascades corridor is expected to receive $598 million from HSR (high-speed rail) funds, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  President Obama will be on hand in Tampa (guess who’s cashing in?) today to make the announcement of grants toward thirteen major corridors, the Pacific Northwest being one of them:

Improvements will be made to the corridor using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to provide rail passengers in the Pacific Northwest with faster, more reliable and more frequent service.

Seattle – Portland: Two additional daily round trips will be added between Seattle and Portland, for a total six; travel time will be reduced by at least 5 percent; and on-time performance will increase substantially, from 62 to 88 percent. Major construction projects include building bypass tracks to allow for increased train frequency and multiple upgrades to existing track and signal systems. Several safety-related projects will also be funded, including grade separations, positive train control, and seismic retrofits to Seattle’s historic King Street Station.

Portland – Eugene: Investments include upgrading Portland’s Union Station, and engineering and environmental work for track and signaling projects that will increase service reliability and reduce congestion.

Along with WSDOT and ODOT, other regions/corridors that have also been earmarked for HSR funds include the Northeast Corridor, Florida, California, the Chicago hub network, and Ohio.  The White House website has individual releases for each regional grant.  The Infrastructurist had speculated that out of all the contenders, Texas would likely get the shaft, but Fort Worth is expected to receive just a tiny bit.  We’ll bring you more as soon as we figure out exactly what projects our $598 million will go towards.  [UPDATE 7:26am: Here is a full list (PDF) of the grants from the White House.]

151 Replies to “Pacific Northwest to get $598 Million in HSR Funds”

    1. Over the last several months several commenters have related 3:20 trips from PDX to SEA on the Talgos; I’d bet after a couple of years we’ll see 3:10 or 3:15 in the timetable with more 3rd track, closer relations w/ BNSF to improve dispatching, closing some grade crossings and general improvements in roadbed and ROW, esp in the Vancouverto Portland stretch. It’ll take time, but more important is getting more equipment, ASAP.

  1. The big improvement is 6 trains a day at 88% reliability. That’s approaching air travel, and once trains are as reliable and frequent as an airplane to Portland it will be the easy choice – it’s already cheaper and far more comfortable and convenient. And when you consider all travel times, it’s just as fast as flying.

    1. I disagree. I have taken Horizon many times between SEA and PDX. I have never taken more than 2 hours from curbside in one city to curbside in another. Horizon has special security lines in both cities that are quick to get through, allowing you to get to the airport much closer to departure time. I have never had to wait in security lines more than 10 minutes. And the flight is only 35 minutes air time, with free beer/wine.

      I know this sounds like a commercial, but I don’t find it much of a hassle, or time consuming, to fly at all.

      1. Who said I want to go city center to city center? It is still quicker to fly than to drive, although I enjoy a train trip every so often.

      2. Add to that 36 minutes from Westlake Station to Seatac Station on Link. By this time, the Horizon flight is adding up to 3 1/2 hours.

      3. You guys act like the only way to go is public transit on either side. Why take the train on either end? It’s much quicker to drive if its a time critical matter.

      4. That last one didn’t come out right…we need an edit function. What I wanted to say is if it is time critical, someone drives you to the airport and someone picks you up. Transit isn’t the only way to go.

      5. It’s actually interesting that you’d bring that up, because all you’re doing is wasting *other* people’s time instead.

        What you’re doing there is having someone else spend time for you. The trip still takes over 3 1/2 hours when you include the other person’s driving-back and waiting time, you’re just paying them somehow to do it instead of you.

        When we’re talking about hours lost, like we do in traffic, their hours count too – it’s all lost productivity of some kind (not necessarily work). Plus, then you generate four car trips. Pick-ups and drop-offs are worse than you driving to the airport and leaving your car there!

      6. Actually this discussion can never be an apples-to-apples. There are too many variables involved when trying to prove which is faster. On any given day one may be faster than the other. Variables such as time of day, starting and ending location, and personal schedule, all make this an endless discussion.

        I completely agree that in some senarios the train would be faster. But in others driving is faster. Yet others, taking an airplane would be faster. There is no right answer.

        We have to keep in mind that what is important to one person is not always important to another. Some care about the amount of car usage, others don’t. Some care about their own time and not others.

        The scenario I was arguing is actually fictitious in my life. I am not that important. But my point was that, what is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. That’s all. Just playing a little devil’s advocate on this one.

      7. Um, no. It is faster to fly from Seattle to Portland than to take a train. You can get from King Street Station to Union Station faster by taking Link or a cab to Sea-Tac, flying horizon to PDX and then taking MAX or a cab to Union Station. When you factor in airport to city center travel and extra security time at the airport and flying is not a lot faster, but it is faster. Until Cascades gets down to 2 hr travel time, flying is going to be faster. If anyone does not believe me, let’s make a bet. We’ll race from any starting point in the Seattle to any point in Portland. I’ll use air transport, you use Cascades. Loser pays for both party’s transportation expenses + $1000.

        This does not mean flying is a better value, the cost difference is substantial and trains are more fun, but if it’s a race you’re looking for, flying still wins, at least for now. I look forward to the day when that is no longer the case, but we’re not there yet.

      8. It’s 180 miles to Portland. I drive there several times a year.

        If I take my car and push the speed limit its a 2 1/2 hour trip (during late hours, little traffic).

        And if I take my car, I get to have a car when I’m there.

        Trains are a great option, but we’re going to really have to improve speed a lot to get people off I-5.

        Why can’t we get a 200 mph train going!?

      9. Convenience already gets people off I-5 – and onto airplanes. Thousands of them fly down and up every day.

        I’m not sure even a 200mph train would really get people off the roads. But wait a decade and gas prices certainly will.

        Wait a second, 180 miles / 2.5 hours = 72 mph average. Are you sure you aren’t speeding? I’m guessing you’ll get closer to 60 mph average, when you factor in city driving – even in the middle of the night. That’s 3 hours. Add traffic, and that could go up much higher.

      10. So… the speed limit increases outside of cities to 70mph. While he might be speeding, he’s not really speeding that by that much.

      11. Right, but it’s not 70 the whole time and those times under 70 really eat into your average. Let’s use a neutral source. Google says it’s only 174 miles between cities, and takes 2 hours and 44 minutes without traffic. That’s an average of 63.6mph.

      12. A 200 mph train over a distance of 180 miles would put the station to station trip time at about 1 hour. That beats both air travel and driving hands down. Some people will still drive, but their reason for doing so will be so that they can have their car with them on the other end of the trip. For those folks, faster travel times are not the solution, marginal pricing of auto-travel + car sharing are the keys.

      13. the only way you can get a real high-speed line built is to start from scratch and have a dedicated ROW for the service.

        now if you think there is a lot of NIMBY flak over people who move into an area next to an airport that has existed for 60+ years … just imagine what happens when they try to build a dedicated high-speed ROW in their neighborhood.

      14. There are some stretches where real dedicated high-speed ROW would be possible, because the existing RR ROW is straight and wide (allowing for dedicated HSR tracks) or because there just aren’t that many people nearby.

      15. There are already a lot of people taking the train between Seattle and Portland already. Those trains are pretty full most of the time. Also remember that the train serves every city pair with a station in the corridor not just Seattle to Portland.

      16. True, but 90%+ of the passengers are traveling from Seattle to Portland, all the other city pairs in between combined amount to less than 10% of the ridership. Perhaps this will change over time. I think that Tacoma and Olympia in particular will become major trip generators over time.

      17. Sure, 2 hours curbside to curbside. But then you look around and you’re at SeaTac. Add half an hour to get to your car, drive to Seattle, park. Add half an hour on the other side to do the same.

        I’m like you. If I don’t have to run through the airport to catch my plane, I feel like I’m wasting time. But most people really show up an hour before their flight because they don’t want to risk missing it. Then there’s the actual time in the airplane – although you list a 35 minute flight time, Horizon lists 50 minutes, likely due to taxiing.

        Let me just run through this:
        30 min to airport
        10 min bag check
        10 min security
        5 min walk to gate
        60 min wait before flight
        50 min flight (including taxiing, from Alaskaair.com)
        15 min walk to baggage, get baggage
        30 min to city

        Rail: currently 3:20, potentially 3:10

        Yes, you could do the run-through-the-airport thing and cut an hour out of the flight time. But then sometimes they leave early (I’ve missed a flight because of this). And because of the time variables in each of these steps (traffic, problems in security), you might miss a flight. And maybe it’s a good idea to show up for your train a few minutes early as well. But we’re talking about roughly equivilent times – equivilent enough that if frequency and reliability on the train were increased then rail would be a real competitor with flights.

      18. Another thing to look at is people making the Sea to PDX trip without a vehicle.

        It is important to note that giving up a car entirely is a huge cost savings for people. Unfortunately this can be tough to do because even if your commute and most daily activities can be done without a vehicle, getting to farther out places can be very difficult. Luckily we are doing a lot with rail and transit improvements to make this easier.

        For the car-less to get to PDX, the train is far easier than taking a flight. The train stations are both closer to city centers, which are substantially easier to get to for the majority of folks, as well as quicker. In addition, there is the potential to throw your bike on the train for like $5-10 extra. Then you can just hop off in PDX and ride off into the heart of the city.

      19. SeaPort Airlines, a small and relatively unknown carrier, promises a “downtown to downtown” travel time of 90 minutes on Seattle-Portland trips, but you’d probably have to take a taxi (or a car) instead of transit to/from the airport. They operate from PDX to BFI (not SEA), and passengers don’t have to go through any TSA security lines. The cost is probably prohibitive for many travelers (including me), but the option exists.

      20. MTE,

        You’re cheating. You must show up 10 minutes before the train leaves or they won’t let you on and if we’re going with the typical person, they show up 20 to 30 minutes early. You don’t get to compare a typical, cautious bag-checking amateur traveler taking an airplane to a high-strung over-caffeinated under-the-wire train rider. Compare apples to apples and it’s still faster to fly by about 20 minutes.

        Furthermore, you are assuming a destination pair that is purely optimized for train travel (train station to train station) and giving Cascades credit for the travel times and reliability improvements they have not yet implemented.

        I also run though the airport and the train station and I have missed flights and missed trains because of it, but with only 4 trains a day between Seattle and Portland, and most of them being sold out on weekends, it’s actually a lot more inconvenient to miss the train than it is to miss a flight.

      21. I’ll concede a most of your points. Let’s say 20 min early to catch the train (though they never leave early and there’s no security, so even that’s a large buffer). And yes, I’m cheating with the destinations both being at the train station (but I’m not sure where a fair starting point is – let’s say a 5 minute taxi ride on either end?).

        So adding those two buffers, the train is currently 20 minutes slower and will soon be only 10 minutes slower. But that’s certainly close enough not to worry about. And earlier you claim that the train would need to be an entire hour and 20 minutes faster to be competitive – you must be either exaggerating or I’m missing something.

        Regarding missing a plane being less painful, I completely agree. The main reason my wife flies down to Portland is that she can just show up and hop on the next plane. Frequency is a big selling point, and we need more trains to make rail competitive.

      22. It isn’t really just a question of time, but also one of environmental concerns at the impact on the quality of life we have in the northwest of flights every 30 minutes between airports in the Puget Sound and PDX. It justn’t shouldn’t be the case that we have that sort of frequency over such short distances but should be restructuring this sort of journey around trains every 30 minutes instead – an idea only feasible if we can have a dedicated passenger main line.

      23. Blah, blah, blah, treehugger. Next you’ll be telling us we should insulate our houses, use compact florescent lightbulbs and cut back on barbecuing endangered animals over a pit of burning rubber tires.

  2. So we are getting $598M, does any one know off the top of their heads what precentage of the overall list of projects between Eugene, and Vancouver BC, this will cover?

    Lor Scara

    1. In 2006 dollars, the complete build-out of the PNWRC (defined as Portland-Seattle-Vancouver BC) was estimated at about $6.2 billion. There’s still a long ways to go on this; the federal funding just helps speed up the incremental improvement process that has been the foundation of WSDOT’s 20-year plan all along.

      -Dave Honan

      1. $.598B/$6.2B is about 9.6% of the total estimate (not adjusted for inflation, or other market changes)
        In essence this can be ready as the fed giving us 10% of the total cost in a lump sum

    1. At this point, The Legislature must step up and appropriate money, much more money, to continue Washingtonm State’s long history of state support. Some of that money must be for trains to/from/within the eastern half of the state, again working closely w/ BNSF on the details. The use of Talgo equipment on 510 and 517 should be reconsidered to keep that trainset in operation 12-16 hours/day rather than just over 8. We must not rely on the federales for all the money.

    1. That’s a complicated question. We don’t even know what projects they funded yet.

  3. The reliability improvements are huge. I think people get too focused on speed. The proper order of focus in my opinion is reliability, frequency, and then speed.

    I’m very pleased with the $600M — I was thinking we’d maybe get only $400M for the Track 1A projects. Hopefully this is just the start.

    1. Agree.

      The PDX-SEA-VAN corridor could be every bit as important as the Bos-NY-Wash if we had true HSR running.

      It’s a total straight line!

      Why can’t we get real HSR running?!

      At worst build a brand new passenger only track following I-5 and use IMAX/LINK access to the stations to get people in and out of downtown.

      1. I think I remember reading that building new high speed rail track would cost around 50 Million per mile and that was in either 1993 or 1994 dollars. So that would work out to be 8 billion (in 1993 or 1994 dollars) for just the Seattle to Portland section.

      2. There’s no comparison between Cascades and the Northeast Corridor. Not only are the populations larger, but the cities have mature transit systems that the cities grew up around (well, maybe not DC) so that a car is generally unnecessary when you get there.

        We’re a long way from that.

      3. The corridor might look like a straight line on a big map, but you have actually looked at the geometry of the railroad? In the areas of shore running — primarily Ballard to Everett and Bow to Bellingham — the railroad is tremendously constrained by the topography and as a result has frequent, sharp curves. For example, in the 20 miles from Samish to just south of Ferndale, the longest stretch of tangent track is 1 (o-n-e) mile, with curves as sharp as 7 degrees.

        This is a very small example of why “real HSR running” in the extant BNSF corridor isn’t really feasible.

      4. Yeah, you’d have to get new ROW. I’m thinking you could run HSR at lower speeds in the parts of the metro areas where there is no space for new ROW, but between Tacoma and Vancouver (WA) there is plenty of room around the freeway, a lot of it in the freeway median, where you could run trains at 200+ mph.

      5. I love the advertising benefit of a train flying past motorists at 200 mph. It really makes people think, “Why am I driving again?”

  4. I think the plan is by 2023, to get travel times down to 2:30 between Seattle and Portland. If they can do that with 88% reliability that would be approaching a no-brainer over driving or flying.

  5. Aren’t there actually 5 trains to Portland and back daily? 4 Cascade trains and 1 Coast Starlight? I don’t hear many people talk about this 5th train. Does anyone know if people use this as a means to get to Portland or is it mostly frequented by the long distance passenger heading to California? Don’t they use the old doubledecker trainsets on this route? Maybe some people prefer those over the Talgos. I’d be curious to see ridership figures on all 5 trains and see if this Starlight train has a lot of Portland riders.

    1. I don’t have direct experience riding to Portland, but the Starlate is routinely off schedule (often by hours, or in a few cases days) on it’s way north after coming all the way through California and Oregon. This may work for people that are already at the station and just hop on the firts train that comes, but just isn’t an option if you’re scheduling a trip.

      1. The Starlight has actually done pretty well the last year or so (aside from a massive snowstorm last week). Its performance is now easily better than the Zephyr or the Sunset Limited, for instance. I wouldn’t book the Starlight coming from PDX to SEA, but I’d take it SEA to PDX without hesitation, as almost all of its problems occur between Emeryville and Eugene.

      2. I think a lot of the on-time performance improvement is because of reduced freight traffic on the UP. It remains to be seen if UP can dispatch trains efficiently once traffic picks up.

      3. Having to “know” you should only book it one way makes it unusable for most passengers. Most people are not transit wonks.

    2. My family took the Coast Starlight to Portland last summer and the Cascades back. The upper-deck view from the Starlight was fun, but you can really get tossed around while walking down the aisle. For our needs, the route schedule matters more than which train type. In the Times coverage today, we simply mention “five trains,” since the ARRA/WSDOT projects would benefit both types.

      — Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times

    3. I think the Starlate works as a Seattle to Portland train, but IIRC, it is not listed on the Portland to Seattle schedule because of its reliability issues and the extra work of rebooking passengers onto the evening Talgo by staff at Portland-Union.

      The same can be said for the Starlate in the Los Angeles to Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo Surfliner Corridor. Book it north out of L.A., but then remember that it is the only all-reserved train between those points, and don’t count on it being ontime for the trip back to L.A.

      Also the Starlate has, IIRC a 4 hour running time from Seattle to Portland, though this is somewhat mitigated by having the full dining car.

      1. The Coast StarLIGHT has a running time of four hours SEA-PDX to allow for padding of the schedule to make up for all the screwing with it that happens on the UP coming north. Scheduled time for Tacoma is 7:11pm, and Seattle is 8:45pm?! That’s TOTAL padding there, give me a break, an hour and a half to do what a Cascades train can do in 45 minutes…

        Meanwhile, I for one am very happy about this. We are getting 2 more round trips per day, and schedule adjustments accordingly. I’ll be interested to see where the chips fall. Anybody think we will need another trainset? Maybe a set of Amfleets to fill in?

      2. There is crazy padding on the Coast Starlight. I took it from Emeryville to Portland a few months ago and it was on time, on time so much that we had to wait in the station over an hour in Klamath Falls and then arrived an hour before scheduled in Portland.

      3. I wonder if it would be fesible to remove padding by removing schedules. Just list that the Starlate will arrive in Portland between, say, 1pm and 4pm and give a number to call for updates.

      4. The dining car is expensive with few options and not that great food, unfortunately… but the cars are nice, especially in the summer when it’s light out most of the way.

    4. Southbound, though, it is the second departure of the day, and a traveler can actually have a modestly good sit-down lunch in the diner along the way. Coaches need wired for computers, though.

      1. Agreed, as the Superliners come up for overhauls they are installing HEP outlets at every seat, which is nice.

      2. Yeah on my last Coast Starlight journey there was one AC outlet on the entire train, luckily they had a power strip plugged into it to get a little more capacity out of it. Regardless it was a bit of a wait to charge batteries.

  6. So are funds Obama mentioned last night in addition to these funds allocated today? Sorry if this question a known fact among regulars here

    1. Obama last night was referring to today’s announcements. It’s all one pot, although I think there is still the $2.5B FY2010 appropriation to be handed out.

  7. Does this money bring us closer to HSR by European standards or just by American? So basically my question is, if a 200+ mph HSR Line from Seattle to Portland would cost us 6 billion (in 2010 dollars) are we now 5.4 billion away? Or will this upgrade our current system (which of course is great!) and a 200+mph line will require a completely different set up?

    1. The media is mixing up the distinction between high-speed and medium speed. It’s not HSR for us but it’s a welcome improvement. HSR would require new tracks not shared with freight trains. I haven’t read through the attachments closely enough to see if the entire term “HSR fund” is incorrect, or if the Northwest is just getting some of the scraps. There is an HSR line being built in California. I’m not sure if the Florida one is really HSR or not.

      1. Yes, the Florida money is for bona-fide HSR. Except for CA and FL, all the other money is for higher speed rail (or in the case of OH, new service).

      2. The Florida line will only serve a very short distance in its initial configuration though (less than 100 miles) so I think it winds up being more like a quickly-built demonstration project than a really useful transportation tool. As they extend the line (assuming they do) it will be more helpful.

      3. But the Tampa/Orlando corridor is absolutely jammed with auto traffic and even some air traffic. Though I have to wonder if maybe doing something like Cascades with Talgo gear might have been more cost-effective.

        The real win is when this connects to Miami and all the people and cities between there and Orlando.

    2. Mike, the PNWRC is not designed for 200+ mph operation; the $6.2B from PDX to VBC gets you 2.5-hr travel time PDX-SEA and <3-hr from SEA to VBC (assuming BC provides the necessary funding north of the border) at 110 mph top speed.

      Much more on what the PNWRC will (and, by extension, will not) comprise when built out is available from WSDOT.

      1. I personally don’t want 200 MPH–I’d think I was flying. 110 is plenty fast for me. I want to enjoy the scenery.

      2. And to add on to Dave’s comment, we would have a maximum speed of 110mph. The study shows it would not be worth the extra money/fuel with the minimal savings to do 120/125mph.

        It is possible to do a 2 hour run between Seattle and Portland with some curve straightening and electrification.

      3. Thanks for the info! It strikes me that as train speed, frequency and reliability increases and it becomes more competitive with air travel (if not superior) it will go a long way towards building a customer base that could be a boon in getting a full scale HSR rail project going years down the road. The more people “on board” the better!

      4. That’s what I think too. 110 mph is fast enough for the Cascades for now. I don’t think the Talgo trains can go faster than 90 anyway, and I’d rather spend the money on getting service to eastern Washington than on replacing the trainset.

        HSR to California and Chicago is not in the cards now, but it may be later after the other HSR lines are operating.

      5. Mike Orr,

        HSR will never make sense from here to CA or Chicago. Even at 300 mph (and that’s mag-lev speeds, not european HSR), you could never be time competitive with air travel over those distances, and the amount of energy you need to get a train going that fast is comparable to the energy you need to power a jet. The cost of infrastructure over those distances is so high that even if there were operational cost savings, it would not pay for itself for 100 years.

      6. Tony,

        Under conventional assumptions you’re certainly right. There’s a signficant tail risk, however, that the economics of flying change over the next few decades so that it’s out of reach for most people.

      7. Part of the equation is air drag. Planes, once at altitude are very efficient. The SR-71 was more efficient the higher and faster it flew (still, never an economy flight but WAY faster than trains ;-). Trains have to push through the same density of air over the whole route. Long distance trains also have to put up with elevation gain. True, an overhead electric line can put power back into the grid when descending but it’s far from a 100% return. I’m not sure how the trade-of between rolling friction and lift equate. My hunch is the advantage goes to the plane. Another thing to keep in mind is that HSR as implemented in Europe and Japan is not a “cheap ticket”.

  8. Any chance on electrifying the corridor? Or would that be a pointless investment if we decide to go full HSR (200mph) in the future?

    1. A true HSR right-of-way requires long stretches of straight track specifically built for HSR trains. The existing right of way contains too many curves (and quite a few hills) for a true HSR right-of-way. Also, FRA regulations require that all grade crossings (the places where autos cross the tracks) be eliminated. The reality is that between Vancouver BC and Portland OR there isn’t very much railroad ROW that could be upgraded to true HSR. About the best we can hope for is 110 mph, which would bring the trip times down to about 2.5 hours.

      1. Hills aren’t really that much of a problem for HSR as long as the train hits the grade at speed. In fact that was part of the reason for the French starting their HSR project was to save on tunnels, cuts, fills, viaducts, etc.

      2. You can’t build a line where you can’t stop and start the train anywhere on the track.

      3. I should have said hills won’t slow the trains down all that much as long as they hit the grade at speed. Obviously the trains need to be able to stop and stop anywhere on the line. But for any train it is going to accelerate much more slowly on a grade from a stop than on level ground.

        Still passenger rail has a much higher tolerance for grades than freight. HSR even more so. I don’t think the experience with HSR in Europe and Japan has resulted in all that much less earthwork than a conventional passenger line, but that was as least part of the inspiration for the French HSR program. I do believe the Paris-Lyon line was built with steeper grades than were common for passenger lines at the time, but I suspect that was as much a function of power/weight ratios of TGV equipment compared to conventional trains than anything else.

      1. The captial investment isn’t justified for electrification on a mixed-use corridor where top speed continues to be restricted by geometry. Unless the freight railroads take the plunge on electrifying long distances, save the money until a dedicated HSR R/W can be constructed.

        (If anyone wants to say “but they run freight on the NEC, too,” the comparison isn’t valid because the quantity of passenger trains vastly outnumbers the few freights, whereas the Seattle and Bellingham Subs will continue to serve as mainlines for BNSF.)

  9. This ARRA grant will mainly improve schedule reliability by building new tracks and reconfiguring the exising railroad tracks to allow the passenger trains to avoid interference with freight trains that are often slower and sometimes stopped on the existing tracks. The money will also buy new trainsets and new locomotives that will boost capacity of the existing trains and add 2 new roundtrips between Seattle and Portland.

    The 3.5 hour schedule between Seattle and Portland contains about 15 minutes of padding to allow for freight train interference en-route. With the new tracks, some of the padding can be eliminated from the schedule and with the new routing through south Tacoma (instead of around Pt. Defiance) another 6 minutes can be cut from the current schedule.

    Unfortunately, there will still be a top speed of 79 mph on the route, but at many locations where the current speed limit is less than 79 mph, these improvements will allow the trains to run faster than they currently are permitted.

      1. Mostly federal regulations including crash safety requirements with the current Talgos, track maintenance rules and the need for a new signal system.

  10. I avoid the Starlight like the plague because of it’s horrible on-time record. The Cascades Train on the other hand is an excellent way to get between Seattle and Portland.

    One note too: The “Chinook Book” (Charity Coupon Book) has a couple Amtrak coupons – Buy 1 Cascades ticket – Get 1 for free. My wide and I end up spending under 60 bucks for a trip to Portland. It’s a great deal!

    1. They also had these coupons a month or two ago at the Fremont PCC near the checkout counter (haven’t been back since – they may still be there).

      (Oh, and I don’t think your wife would appreciate that typo.)

    2. Also don’t forget points: amtrakguestrewards.com

      It’s only 1000 points each way for Cascades.

    3. The 2010 Chinook doesn’t have the buy-one-get-one-free coupon, sadly.

      But PCC has the singleton coupons.

  11. I too applaud anything we can get for rail – $600m is less than we need of course, but we can get something with it. This together with the eventual restoration of King Street Station will make for a pleasant enough experience along the corridor. I urge the Canadians however, to do more to improve conditions at the cage known as Vancouver Central Station. They apparently are not into the grand arrival and departure vistas of European stations such as Waterloo for the Eurostar or even American stations at their best. Arriving in Vancouver by train is a disgrace quite frankly but we have discussed this before and gotten nowhere.

    Last year, Olympia spoke of funding for a third train to Vancouver so does anyone know what is happening with this?

  12. Isnt there a plan to build a stretch of dedicated HSR track around Chehalis/Centralia and then gradually expand this new track north and south?

    1. Kind of. A passenger-only track would be built in that corridor for 110mph operations, but none of that is funded. Not even now.

  13. Remember everyone it isn’t about the top speed it is about average speed. The places you really want to focus on first are the slowest sections, not necessarily building 110+ MPH track. Also improving reliability is very critical for travel time. One minute sitting still and one minute traveling at 120 MPH only averages out to 60 MPH.

    1. I agree. But aren’t some of the slowest sections not slated to be improved even in the long-range plans? For instance, are any of the dozen or so single-track bridges between Ballard and Vancouver BC due to be replaced or double-tracked?

      1. Correct; for example, a bypass inland of Blaine and White Rock is proposed, reconnecting to the New Westminster Sub at Colebrook. The big bottleneck for SEA-VBC projects is BC itself, which has been reluctant to fund projects north of the border — just look at how long it took to get Oliver Siding constructed. I suspect most of the focus will go towards improving the PDX-SEA corridor until WA/BC can come to a firm agreement on how to fund projects in the north corridor so that service can continue to expand.

    2. Agreed that eliminating slow sections is the most important thing.

      I’m still surprised this money provides only a 5% speedup. For a 3:30 route, 5% is only about 10 minutes — which is about what the Pt. Defiance Bypass was supposed to buy us, and I’m assuming that’s already included in the 10 minutes.

      Which is not to say that it’s not good to invest in frequency and reliability — I just thought that Pt. Defiance + the Vancouver Rail Project would be enough to see bigger speed increases, too.

      1. Velocity improvements are difficult to achieve without constructing segments of 110 mph track and the attendant signal system (which requires ATS at a minimum, such as has been operating in Michigan for a while now; at this point, any new installations will be PTC). As has been stressed elsewhere in these comments, improving service reliability to ~90% of trips arriving at destinations on-time will create a perception of increased speed by reducing delays from conflicting traffic.

        Point Defiance Bypass, once constructed, will have most of the physical plant in place to upgrade to 110 mph operation; really, all that will be required between Lakewood Station and Mounts Road is the realignment of a few curves and modification to the signal system. A bypass of the current line from Mounts Road to Nisqually will be constructed to eliminate the slow-speed curves in that section.

        Remember: All these projects are incremental steps on the way to building out the entire PNWRC corridor. While any one project may seem to return only a small immediate benefit, in the long term it will play a role in helping achieve the desired travel time goals.

      2. Pt. Defiance buys us 5 minutes. Pt. Defiance phase 2, meaning a 110 track, would be another 6 minutes, but we can’t get that until we do a big corridor-wide improvement for automatic train stop (I think).

  14. Why replace the Talgo trains? Or if they do, can we keep them for another line (say to Spokane and Walla Walla).

    1. We’ll be riding those Talgos for another 15-20 years – the are NOT going away, they are our key to higher speed service.

  15. One thing I don’t see commented on – all the focus is on the Amtrak trips. Doesn’t this also fund the improvements that ST needs to extend Sounder? Or am I getting my projects confused?

    If so, does that free up ST money for something else?

    1. It presumably fills the funding gap for ST’s D street to M street project. I wouldn’t expect it to otherwise affect the extension beyond accelerating the WSDOT work on the M street to Lakewood segment.

      1. It makes it much easier to extend Sounder South of Lakewood too. Dupont would only really require the money for a station.

      2. Nobody at ST wants to do it. It would fill the trains with people who don’t actually pay the ST taxes, meaning no seats when you get to Auburn or Kent.

      3. I didn’t say there would be the political will for a Sounder extension just that it would make it cheaper to build.

        I know there is a pissing match over who’s rice bowl it will come out of but there clearly is a demand for decent transit between Thurston County and King County. I’d like to stop the fighting over who pays for it and just provide the service to get some of those cars off of I-5. Another clear need is to try to get some sort of trip reduction program going with Ft. Lewis and McCord. Part of that effort would require providing better transit service to the bases at the times their shifts begin and end. Sounder could be part of that since any extension to Dupont or Olympia/Lacey goes right past the main gate.

        Obviously the best thing long-term is to either annex Thurston County to the ST district or for IT to engage in some sort of service partnership with ST and other transit agencies to provide Sounder and Express bus services between Thurston County and the rest of the region. You’ll note IT already does this with PT for the Olympia Express routes. It would be nice to see direct service between Thurston and King County.

        For that matter I suspect a fair amount of the ridership on the Dupont/Seattle (594?) ST Express route is to/from Thurston County.

      4. While it would be awesome to have transit to Ft. Lewis, I don’t think it is really feasible. You can’t onto Post without a military ID, and everything is so decentralized. You’ve got CPs spread all throughout Main Post and North Post. Also take into consideration that First Formation is at 0630, which means by the time it gets down to your team you have to be there at 0545. That is one early train. Then fact in that while there are some POGs working 9-5s most people are Infantry and so have no set release time. You get off when you are done (as long as it after 1700 Mon-Thu, 1600 Friday). And by get off when you are done I mean it is common to not get off until 2000 and not uncommon at all to be calling your wife saying you aren’t coming home tonight.

        It would be great if you could somehow pull it off (it was only 45 minutes from my house in Bellevue to Main Gate during the early morning, but sometimes 2 and a half hours in the evening), but I just don’t see it happening.

        Although Bragg just installed it’s first HOV lane at Yadkin Gate last month, which is a first in the Army to my knowledge so maybe in a couple decades they will get around to being more transit friendly. It’s ironic that the only public transit I’ve ever experienced in the Army was a (half decent, surprisingly) bus system at FOB Victory…. in Baghdad! LOL

      5. Train service wouldn’t be so much for military. It would be for spouses that have jobs in Tacoma, Auburn, Kent, Seattle, etc. And for dependents that say are going to TCC, UPS and UW (and every other school I’ve left out, sorry). Of course it would probably help out a lot of National Guard members doing weekend duty.

        I doubt the ridership from Dupont is going to fill the train. I’d be surprised if it warranted an additional car. I suspect the number of people getting off in Tacoma would be substantial and despite not paying the ST tax the added ticket revenue might end up being a plus. Since Dupont isn’t in the taxing district it would be fair and easy to implement an additional “zone” fee to boarding there. Of course most people in Dupont do a lot, if not most shopping in Lakewood and Tacoma where they do pay the tax. Except of course active and retired military that shop on Post/Base. But then I’ve never had a problem with supporting veterans benefits.

      6. I don’t know how you could pull of the ID check thing, but you are right. I could really see demand for buses to Madigan Army Medical Center, the Commissary and PX, and Waller Hall (tons of retirees there, all the time. I think mostly for car tabs, but maybe other services).

      7. Anc,

        There already are Pierce Transit buses throughout Fort Lewis. The service isn’t great but it’s there.

        I’m not sure how the ID thing works.

      8. The Greyhound local used to stop at Fort Lewis in the 80s. Those were the days.

        ST can rightly ask DuPont or Thurston County to pony up money for operations and an extra train, without annexing them to the ST district.

        A couple questions about Fort Lewis:

        Is DuPont really inside the base as it looks like on a map? Do non-military people live there?

        Where is the Cross-Base highway supposed to go? I thought it would be an extension of 512, but 512 is north of the base. It looks like it could go from DuPont on the west to the sprawl around Spanaway on the east. But why would that be a high-traffic corridor?

      9. No, DuPont is outside the base. The area to the South and West is part of the Ft. Lewis Military Reservation, not the Post, so it isn’t access controlled IIRC.

        I know of no ‘cross base highway’ the only highway is I5 and that is not considered post. The main road is 41st Division, but it isn’t a highway at all, just the main artery. The Fort Lewis exit dumps you onto a section of 41st Division, under the interstate that isn’t considered part of Post (also where visitors center is located). Going South takes you to Main Gate Main Post, North to Main Gate North Fort.

      10. Cross base highway: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr704/crossbase/

        “When complete, the Cross-base Highway (SR 704) will provide regional travelers with a new six-mile-long, multi-lane divided highway beginning at the I-5 Thorne Lane Interchange at the west end, connecting to 176th Street at SR 7 at the east end.

        This new alternate east-west route will ease congestion on I-5, SR 512, SR 7 and Spanaway Loop Road by providing a route through the Fort Lewis and McChord military bases.”

      11. Ah…. it’s going through the Reservation, not Post. I was wondering how the heck that was going to work.

      12. The cross base highway restores the connection that used to go past Woodbrook (Brookwood) around the end of the runway at McChord. The problem with the old route is that it ran through Air Force housing and after 9/11 the gate was moved to include the housing. Even without 9/11 there were crime issues that warranted that move. And of course having open access right at the end of the runway was just plain dumb. Still, I think it’s a better use of money to push the “improvements” (i.e. traffic) back over to 512 and 7. The area 704 would push through has been used for decades for horseback riding by people boarding horses at the stables in Woodbrook, McChord and Spannaway. Carving it up, at great expense is a great loss.

  16. I was on a Cascade train in PDX departing for Seattle this noon when a camera crew from Channel 2 in Portland came aboard and interviewed a couple of people in Business Class. The gist of the interview was “Washington gets 500 Million and Oregon gets 8 Million — do you think that’s fair?). Wow! No I didn’t, Oregon should get more, but don’t knock WA.

    The train was late by 45 minutes into SEA because of track work around Kelso — major trackwork had the line down to a single track and we were held about 45 minutes for the Southbound Starlate. Oh well — the reverse of most of the comments about 11/14 being late.

    For my money the train to PDX beats flying any day. I can keep my shoes on when boarding, can show up 5 minutes before departure or an hour before, especially when I spring for business class as today. Its more comfortable by far, I can read, move around, and keep my tray table down when entering a station.

    Cut some time off and continue to separate grade crossings, add Positive Train Control (its coming anyway and is the federal lock that keep speeds at 79 or less), and work on incremental speed increases (and reliability). But the Cascades are a great way to travel between the three main cities of the Northwet.

    1. when we have PTC how much of the current 79 mph trackage would increase and to what speed would it go to?

      whats the story behind this 79 mph speed limit, when was it implemented? who/what caused it?

      1. The 79 limit was put in place about 50 years ago by the ICC after a series of railway accidents. Most locomotives don’t have a device to display the current signal in the loco cab, the engineers and conductors are supposed to remember the last signal and operate accordingly. Sometimes that system fails, like at Chatsworth where the Metrolink train collided with a UP freight train and about 25 people died. Trains can go faster than 79 if every locomotive on the tracks has a cab-signal system in place, but that’s an expensive proposition. Every BNSF loco would need to have cab signals if Amtrak wants to run >80. Neither BNSF nor Amtrak has the desire to pay for that. The PTC mandate may enable faster running, if BNSF is agreeable.

      2. Higher speeds also need a higher class of track and crossing modifications. The track work was one of the things the state asked for, and probably got.

      3. i get the sense this rule was probably a major component (though among many reasons at the time) for the decline of rail, no? i mean rail was having a hell of a time competing in the 1940s with cars, trucks, buses, planes and then to have a speed limit thrown on most of your existing fast rail service. call me a conspiracy theorist but you have to wonder if competing transport modes were behind this speed limit rule.

      4. The Milwaukee Road Hiawathas used to do some amazing speeds between Minneapolis and Chicago back in the 30’s, with steam power no less! The official record was 112 mph, though unofficially much higher speeds were achieved.

      5. But the AVERAGE speed between Chicago and St Paul was never much more than 60 MPH, still far, far better than todays Amtrak 7 and 8 (50 MPH), which DO make more stops than the Morning or Afternoon Hiawathas made. Most of the reading I’ve done indicates these short bursts of high speed were either publicity stunts by the PR department of the railway, or hot-shot engineers showing off. Brian could tell us for sure, but it is unlikely that even a “technologically advanced” steam locomotive of the 1930s could run at sustained high speeds (90 MPH+) for hours at a time.

    2. The feds also look at how much each state has invested in rail. Washington has put a lot of its own money into rail, while Oregon hasn’t. The last time I rode the Cascades south, it was fast all the way from Seattle to the Oregon border, then slowed down significantly and managed to spend half an hour meandering into Portland.

  17. Would it possible to do an ‘Express’ run straight from Seattle to Portland, and what kind of time savings would you be looking at?

    1. You wouldn’t get enough passengers to justify it, and it would cut something like 15-20 minutes off the trip.

  18. Any way that a very small proportion of this (like a few million dollars) could be put towards a study on the possibilities for real (200+mph) HSR for the Vancouver-Eugene corridor? Yes, I know it will be expensive, but I think that the frequent assertions here that it will never happen are false. There is plenty of ROW in the I-5 median outside of the metropolitan areas, and in the metropolitan areas it could use a mix of going slower on current rail corridors and using elevated and underground guideways. It will happen someday, and we should start planning now.

    1. We need to use every last cent of what we got and whatever the legislature might appropriate to improve the service we have.

    2. No, it couldn’t. The feds choose specific projects to fund, they didn’t give us a lump. We’ll find out what the projects are in the next few days.

      One of the projects we asked for money for was a study of real 200mph+ service, but Scott Witt told me yesterday that we won’t likely get it.

    3. But alexjohn is right, we should do an HSR study soon, even if it’s not part of this appropriation. That’ll position us better for any opportunities which may come up.

  19. IMO, if we want a national HSR network, we need to experiment with non-electrified HSR motive power. The Bombardier Jet Train was not a success, so back to the drawing board! HSR will help determine the outcome of the war between rails and rubber between PDX and VAC.

    1. I don’t think that there are very many power sources other then electric the really work on rails. No one in us government is willing to risk it because there to afraid that electrified rail could fail which in my opinion is wrong electrified high speed at 125mph plus would probably be very successful in the US and the benefits way way out do the risk.

  20. I think what’s important is that we have a variety of options to get around.

    Personally, I hate to drive, and I swear they put out a bulletin to all the idiots in the tri-state area to get on 5 and either get in a horrible accident just in front of me, or drive like a moron whenever they know I’m going to make the trip from Seattle to Portland. However, it’s nice to have a car to get around once you get there.

    Flying is great, but in addition to the security hassles, airports are designed to separate you from your money. That’s fine if you are on an expense account, but depressing if it’s your own money, and you don’t have that much of it. Plus, they’re always out in the middle of nowhere, and there’s nothing more depressing than an airport hotel.

    The bus is not an option. I’d rather stay home.

    That leaves the train. It works well for someone like me, who is in no particular hurry, likes to read, and pretty much hangs out in downtown areas anyway. It’s affordable, which means I can splurge on someplace classy like The Benson or The Hotel Vancouver.

    Oh, and Amtrak or the airlines is the only way to cross the border. I hate being stuck at the border with nothing but myself (or even worse, my antsy, carsick-prone kids) for company.

    So let the people who like to drive, drive. Same for the flyers. I’ll be one of the train people, and we’ll all get to where we need to go.

Comments are closed.