Amtrak Cascades by Brian Bundridge

The Oregon Department of Transportation moved forward with purchasing two 8th-generation Talgo trains on  February 26th,  joining Wisconsin’s train order and saving roughly $6m in the deal. The trains are marketed for North American operations and meet FRA requirements. The trains will consist of 13 cars (instead of WSDOT’s planned 14-car trains), seating 285 passengers (instead of 300) and will have free wifi, a bistro/lounge car, coach and business classes, along with baggage and continued bicycle services. These will be built at the new Milwaukee, Wisconsin Talgo assembly plant. These will most likely not use the Talgo-Siemens BT diesel/hydraulic locomotive; however, the Wisconsin trains may use the cab car from the BT locomotive. The stimulus funded rebuilt GE P40 locomotives will be used to power these trains.

The way these trains will be integrated into Cascades is still to be determined.  The WSDOT mid- and long-range plans did not consider that ODOT might purchase their own train-sets, even though the mid-range plan was drawn up during the time Oregon was looking at purchasing bi-level coaches and used locomotives, similar to what is seen on the Amtrak California and Surfliner corridors.

ODOT will continue to run 2 daily trains and is in negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad to increase service to 4 daily trains; increase speeds to 79mph for the majority of the route (which mostly just involves improving grade crossing circuit timings); improve reliability between Eugene and Portland, including extending sidings and add double track in key bottlenecks; and reduce run times.  Oregon continues to study the Portland and Western Railroad for a 150mph double track electrified corridor.

ODOT staff did not given any clues as to how they will deploy these trainsets when they enter revenue service in 2012, except that they will be used only in the Eugene-to-Portland segment.  Given that constraint, one sensible choice would be to replace the two bus round trips that currently connect with Cascades trains that terminate at Portland.

The press release can be found here.

63 Replies to “Oregon DOT purchases two Talgo trainsets”

  1. A couple of questions. From the press release,

    Oregon’s current passenger rail service relies on trains owned by the Washington state and Amtrak. As Washington state fulfills its plans to increase daily Portland-Seattle service, the trains would no longer be available to Oregon.

    My understanding is that the plan is to increase from 4 daily Portland-Seattle roundtrips to 6. Was part of this plan for WSDOT to purchase new trains as well? Or just use these five existing trains?

    Given the above quote, and your comment that these new ODOT trains would only be used on the EUG-PDX segment, it sounds like suddenly there would be no trains that actually get to run through Portland. Would we end up with four daily trips in the Oregon section and six daily trips in the Washington section? Or are there other ways around this?

    1. Jeffrey,

      To answer your first question, yes, WSDOT has plans to purchase two to four new train sets. It is TBD which trains they will be since the State of Washington has opted to do a competitive bidding process, allowing other manufactures to put their hands in the pot. This may end up costing the state more money instead of immediately purchasing the trains with Wisconsin and Oregon.

      Oregon purchasing these new trains weren’t factored by WSDOT, this is a separate deal. These 2 new Oregon trains would retain Train # 504; however # 504 becomes Train # 516 to Vancouver BC with that same train set, which would mean the ODOT train sets would have to leave Oregon.

      We won’t know until 2012-2015 how things will change or how run through trains will be affected by this as both Oregon DOT and Wash DOT is seemingly disconnected.

      One thing I forgot to mention is that the 8th-gen train sets are good for 217mph.

      1. Why is it that the Cascades schedule shows #504 “connecting” to #506 at Portland whereas #500 and the two Southbound trains from Seattle are shown operating straight through?

      2. This strange looking scheduling is needed to assure each set gets an overnight visit to the shops in Seattle on a weekly (or more frequent) basis.

      3. But how does separating the two trains on the schedule accomplish this? Just seems like it would be a lot clearer if they just showed it as one train with a 45 minute stop in Portland.

      4. on the 500/504 you actually have to switch trainsets. on the other trips its the same physical trainset.

    2. according to the press release linked to above:

      “These new trains will greatly enhance service in Oregon and on the entire Cascades corridor”

  2. With the exception of the NE Corridor Acela trains, WA and OR have really been leading the nation in making gradual improvements to our Cascade Corridor passenger train service. Ridership is up 700% since service began in the mid 90’s, with new or refurbished stations and intermodal transit centers, and tilt trains capable of 125mph. Way to go!
    This next influx of improvements will dramatically improve ‘on-time’ performance and begin the long process of shaving precious minutes off the schedule, and offering more trains, over longer periods of the day. Again, Kudos to our states and FRA for recognizing good deeds.
    I do worry about the long range plan. Getting to 79 mph consistently, with more trains is great, but the prospects for going faster, 110-150 is decades off, if ever under the current long range plan.
    There’s been a bill floating around Olympia for several sessions, designed to look beyond 79 mph, and east-west as well as north-south. It hasn’t gone anywhere, but should.
    I see real problems down the road with BNSF as freight traffic picks up, and the cost of adding additional trains in the corridor skyrocket with demands by the class 1’s to do “this, this and that, before any more service can be accomodated on OUR tracks”. ST found out the hard way when trying to make communter rail improvements.
    Seperate ROW is hugely expesive also, and I think the state should be looking long range at the day it’s needed.

    1. Do we have an idea of the $’s it would take to make many of these changes? Has anyone made Cost-benefit analysis of many of these steps? I know there are the general plans that have been part of the high speed rail submission to the DOT. We really need some Rail network master planning in the region (interstate level) to start linking together the regional with the local (ST and City) and how we spend our finite resources to improve our transportation network. Better integration of Sounder and Amtrak service strikes me as one area of opportunity.

      1. Yes, Brian, about $6.5B USD (2006), which includes all of the improvements north of the border. Note that the PNWRC plan calls for 110mph operation, not the commonly mis-stated 125mph.

      2. Note that the north-of-the-border improvements are actually very expensive. Essentially no work has been done north of the border. The routing is very indirect — it requires brand-new ROW. It also requires a new bridge, replacement of major junctions, etc.

        And there is *zero* money for it from BC so far.

        SEA-PDX, the bottleneck removal is now basically fully funded with the current HSR funding; the next step is an 110 mph third track along most of the distance (though I expect it will be built piecemeal).

        Incidentally, the popularity of the service should skyrocket when the bottleneck removal is done, as it should be competitive with plane and car timings and be extremely reliable — so it may provide an impetus to put in a lot more money and maybe even make more aggressive plans.

      3. While the tracks are indeed in poor shape, I actually think the ROW into Vancouver BC isn’t that bad. It’s no different than driving into Vancouver via Highways 99 and 91. The running speed is tolerable through most of South Surrey, New Westminster, and Burnaby. There are three exruciating sections, all of which wouldn’t require boatloads of loonies from BC to fix:

        (1. From Pacific Central to the CN Junction we need welded rail and better switches. Also, I’m one of the few who thinks we can double-track under the SkyTrain ROW between Commercial Drive and Sapperton.

        (2. The Fraser River Bridge needs either to be rebuilt or able to accommodate higher speeds.

        (3. The section between Hwy 99, Crescent Beach, and the Peace Arch either needs rerouted or double-tracked.

      4. Washington State has done a study of the entire Blaine to Vancouver, WA corridor. Improvements were identified along with costs and benefits. Those improvements were then prioritized. That’s the plan we’ve been working off of whenever any money is invested in the corridor for passenger rail.

        Furthermore as best as I can tell Sound Transit, the WSDOT rail office, and Amtrak have done a pretty good job of coordinating their efforts, at least on the capital projects side.

        I’m not sure what you mean by better integration of Amtrak and Sounder service. Puget Passes can be used to ride Amtrak between Everett and Seattle. It might seem logical to extend that to the Tacoma to Seattle service but I think the trains are a bit too full for that to work well.

      5. Sounds like there might be more coordination occurring than I originally thought. I’m really thinking along the lines of riders having a single portal or focal point to be able to decide on travel. with all these different authorities it seems like I need to go to metro for one thing, ST for another schedule, and amtrak for another. It would be great to have a NW transit network that from a customer perspective is straight forward and easily navigable. Think Trip Planner regionally where you could see how long you’ll have to wait to catch the connecting transit option at a location. I guess google maps can kind of do this for you already.

    2. Mike,

      I wouldn’t so much say that it is decades off. I would however be willing to bet that ODOT will have an 150mph corridor before Washington does, simply based on how they are further along with their HSR studies.

      With that said, I also would gather things are subject to dramatically change over the next few years.

    3. Well, thankfully practically all of the investment in the current improvements is stuff which would have needed to be done regardless.

      Bottleneck improvements, mostly. We can’t get fully separated right-of-way at King Street Station, at Vancouver, WA or Portland stations, and are unlikely to get it for a very long time at the bridges across the Columbia River; Seattle to Tacoma, the best we can practically do until there is *huge* demand (demand sufficient for another tunnel or aerial) is extra tracks in the same ROW, due to the very built-up nature of the area. So all of these sections would need to be done even with a true HSR plan. A similar situation holds for most of the north-of-Seattle work. And for the area around Tacoma, they *are* getting separate right-of-way! (And for north-of-Seattle, they’re basically double tracking.)

      The next step after the current “bottleneck removal” plan is, basically, a third track designed to 110-150 mph along the entire mainline from Vancouver, WA to south of Tacoma. If they have any sense they will *own* this third track; I wonder if they’ll actually be willing to run it along different ROW.

      1. Nathanael,

        A third track won’t work by itself either adjacent to the current tracks or in its own right of way. Trains cannot navigate turnouts at anywhere near HSR speeds. Even #30’s would be good only for 75 or so.

        Sharing ROW is questionable for HSR not only because of the danger from collisions with freight trains, but also because to get to true HSR there must be two grade separated tracks. That would mean grade separating every existing crossing for the freight trains too.

        The bridges would have to be higher and longer to accommodate the freight tracks, which will have to be separated by at least thirty to forty feet to allow for minor to medium severity derailments on the freight tracks.

  3. Hopefully Oregon will take a look at integrating their sets with the WSDOT funded sets. I think it provides better service for Oregon passengers to make the Portland-Eugene and Eugene-Portland service part of a longer train beginning or ending in Seattle, Bellingham, or Vancouver.

    Besides over the years Washington has allowed the sets we funded to be used on service in Oregon.

    Also I believe there might be a bit of an issue with maintenance. I don’t think Oregon has any real Amtrak maintenance facilities to speak of while Seattle handles the routine maintenance for the equipment on the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Cascades, and Sounder.

    1. WA and OR have so many interests in common here it seems stupid for us not to be coordinating this to our benefit. We could do it cheaper and smarter together rather than alone. Do we know who the people leading the rail efforts are on either side of the border (at WSDOT and ODOT)?

  4. So the Talgo sets used on the Cascades were not really “built” here in Seattle, but rather just “assembled”. In other words the Milwaukee plant will be something different–and more substantial–than the Seattle plant? I just hope and pray that Talgo does not decide to move its North American headquarters out of Seattle, shades of Boeing and numerous other companies through the years, who wanted to relocate to a more “central location”. Just how many employees does Talgo currently employ in Seattle?

    1. technically “pacifica” put the parts together on the shell here in washington state. they changed names but kept owners i believe but are still in WA.
      i don’t know exact number but between mechanics, laborers, cleaners, on board techs etc talgo in WA employs at least 50 people. those are mostly jobs that wouldn’t go anywhere. maybe the few people in management but the majority are hands on guys who work on the trains every night, they need to be in seattle. (or portland or eugene)

  5. Maybe this has been pursued already, but has anyone considered an initiative to require some type of mass transit comparison or analysis be complete with any major roads project? At a minimum we might get some useful studies done that make the case for expansion down the road, but we also might be able to redirect some money and energy to non-roads projects or force the discussion.

  6. “The trains will consist of 13 cars (instead of WSDOT’s planned 14-car trains), seating 285 passengers (instead of 300)”

    Is that 285 seats per car, or 285 seats for the entire 13-car train? If the latter, does that mean that each car has 22 seats?

    Can you provide a link to specifications for these cars? I did a search, and got a Talgo website which did not even give seats-per-car, or show a seating diagram.

    1. No, not 22 seats per car, because the cafe/lounge and the baggage cars do not have passenger seats. The cars are also shorter than normal coaches, so they wouldn’t have a similar capacity.

      I’m thinking that the curent trains have 35 seats per coach in second class.

    2. Wow, 285 seats per Talgo car! Can you imagine what that would look like? Maybe if they were planning to cram in that many unaccompanied three-year-olds in a double-deck, six-wide configuration… But I think that would be pretty much entirely impractical given parental concerns. Anyway, I digress.

      WSDOT has a couple photos on their website depicting the interior configuration (work on your search keywords, Norman — that was the third link when Googling “WSDOT Talgo seating“). Based on visible seats in those images, the 2nd-class cars hold at least 32 passengers and business class at least 14.

      1. So, an entire 13-car Talgo train can carry only 285 people? lol What’s the point of that?

        ST claims a 2-car light rail train can carry 400 people!

      2. Yeah, 285 people for 5 trips per day on those puny, diminutive Talgo sets are SO inadequate. I mean, it’s only equivalent to flying 5 sold-out Boeing 767’s on the same route, or 15 sold-out Horizon Air Q400s! How inconsequential!

        Category mistake, Norman, we shouldn’t compare intercity and urban services that way. The scales are radically different. People wouldn’t be willing to tolerate crush loads of standing room only (aka 400 on Link) for 3 hours between Seattle and Portland. 39 minutes is quite different.

    3. the current talgo cars are 36 seats for a regular car, 19 for car 3 and an ADA car 4 is 25 i believe?
      business class is 16 i believe? i rarely work business class so i forget.

  7. WTF, rebuilt GE P40 locomotives?

    Those are DC drive and are going to be over 20 years old when these Talgos arrive.

    We really are a third-world country now, aren’t we?

      1. American rail operators have generally had very bad experiences with diesel-hydraulic locomotives. The one exception I can think of is the Budd RDC cars.

        The Talgo diesels might be a good idea, but only if they are as reliable in day to day operations as rebuilt P40 series locomotives would be. Note that this is more than just the breakdown rate, but also the ability of the maintenance staff to work on them, spare parts availability, and manufacturer support.

        Not saying Talgo can’t do this (and they seem pretty serious about selling into the North American market), but that it is more complicated than just ordering some motive power.

      2. Just kidding about the XXI’s. It’s a long way off before the P40’s are maxed out. I vaugely recall the P40’s had tracking problems at the high end, but can’t remember where I heard that.

    1. The P40s are capable of 110 mph, and because they make up the bulk of Amtrak’s fleet there are already tons of available parts, tools, and maintenance know-how. There are no plans for increasing speeds beyond 79 mph in the near future, so other than the XXIs looking cool I can’t think of any tangible benefits in using them over the P40s

    2. I believe the Washington DOT plan is to limp along with ancient diesels until the 110 mph track actually gets built, at which point they will buy *good* locomotives.

      They figure there’s no point in buying them until they need them, and that they’ll save money this way. There was also some indication that they were thinking that when the time came, they might conceivably want to electrify and buy electrics, and they didn’t want to prejudge the decision.

      1. As an opinion, I think this is the right thing to do — NY bought spiffy fast trains with no track to run them on some years back, and it was a big fat waste of money. Don’t bother to buy new fast trains until you have some fast tracks for ’em.

    3. Erik,

      DC’s actually a very good choice for passenger locomotives. The reason to choose the complexity and extra cost of AC is that the motors can’t overheat at stall speed, so they can pull bigger loads for the same tractive effort.

      TE is pretty much irrelevant for the Cascades. What matters is horsepower and rapid loading. Those old P-40’s will probably still have their 645 two-cycle engines which load (“rev up”) far faster than the four strokes used in the modern Amtrak locomotives on the Coast Starlight.

      I think Oregon knew exactly what it was getting when it chose them.

      Now 645’s do have air pollution and fuel economy issues because they’re two strokes and burn the fuel less completely. One would not want them for commuter service. But the Talgos are light and most of the run they’ll be operating at full turbo charger boost with a lean fuel/air mixture.

  8. “Oregon continues to study the Portland and Western Railroad for a 150mph double track electrified corridor.”

    I don’t know very much about this ROW, so I have lots of questions…

    How would it affect overall routing? I’m pretty sure it would remove Oregon City as a stop, but would it add Wilsonville? Would it remove any stops south of Wilsonville, or just move stations? Would Amtrak interline with WES trackage at all? Would Corvallis service be possible?

  9. In related Cascades news, trains 513/516 to Vancouver BC are now showing up in Amtrak’s computer through September 30. I guess my 6 trips up there so far this year helped after all. ;) Last week the conductor told me that CBSA will be approving it on a month-to-month basis indefinitely. Let’s hope for permanence soon.

    One further question related to this post…with these new sets what is the likelihood of at least one scheduled through-train from EUG-VAC?

    1. Month to month doesn’t make me feel warm and cozy! It’s a transportation corridor, not a sleeze-bag apt.


    2. Could easily be done: the first train north from EUG could go all the way to VAC, and 510 could head back south about 1300 and go all the way to EUG.

    3. found out at work yesterday that the canadian government has graciously allowed the 2nd train through september 30th without the $1,500 a day fee. i believe they are talking now about keeping that permanent but last i heard canada won’t budge at all from that number and washdot won’t/can’t budge.

      1. That’s the most they can do in return for us letting them win the Olympic hockey gold?

      2. with the canadian dollar being up against the us dollar more canadians would be going to america to spend money than vice versa so i can see why they wouldn’t want to “subsidize” the train per se. also that game was a heartbreaker, we still got more medals! take that eh!

  10. Why is Oregon insisting that the trains only be used in the Eugene, Portland corridor? Did WSDOT do the same with our trains?

  11. I think its a smart move.

    The real effort should not be the long range, but mid range.

    79 mph, on a regular basis, without any delays beats most mid range driving conditions.

    Maybe Oregon is thinking about building a “Linear City” — a corridor with INTRA-state transit.

    To me, this makes a lot more sense and has a lot more Rail ROI than Vancouver-to-Eugene type trips.

    I can see someone building housing all along the corridor so people can live in Eugene, work in Portland — or places along the way.

    In between, some Sounder type commuter rail running the more local stops.

    1. You were asked by one of the admin John Bailo/T. Undretti/Crazy Guy/Blue Swan/forget the other ones, to stick to one name.

  12. I’m sorry it’s silly. WSDOT and ODOT should have worked together to share the infrastructure and build high speed line in both states. I don’t think running them in Oregon and stop in Portland makes any sense at all.

    1. I think part of the problem in working together is that WSDOT has had much better funding year in, year out. WSDOT has been able to subsidize regular operations, then spend tens of millions of $’s to improve the rail line, as well as more money to buy four trainsets. ODOT seems to have stuck to the operations subsidy only.

      Still, it does make no sense to run them only in Oregon, and that may be something to help sell it in Oregon. Then again, service between Eugene and Portland is not that good and needs to be improved.

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