New Projected Times
New Projected Times

The Washington State Department of Transportation, Rail and Marine division, held a meeting at Clover Park Technical College regarding the Point Defiance Bypass on Monday, May 17th. The meeting highlighted several key and important factors regarding the project, including the highly debated issue of the 10 grade crossings along the route.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), not the State of Washington, is requiring a project-level Environmental Assessment (EA) before Phase 2 of the funding can be made available for construction. The EA should be completed by the end of 2010 with the FRA issuing a finding in 2011. Construction of Phase 2 will start in 2012 with an estimated completion time of 2014. This will push back the 5th and 6th round trip of the Cascades to 2014/2015 as well. This does not affect the estimated start of Sounder service to Lakewood in 2013.  More after the jump.

Talking with several people at the meeting, I asked what their biggest concern was with the bypass. Everyone mentioned safety with trains going so fast, the second issue was noise from the train horns, the third is why WSDOT moving trains from the scenic route. WSDOT and Sound Transit has opted to install automatic wayside horns that will do a “long, long, short, long” grade crossing sequence, instead of the trains engineer blowing the horn on the locomotive. This reduces the community noise by isolating the sound to just the area of the crossing. Volume of the wayside horns are adjustable and can be set according to noise background, etc. All of the new crossings will feature electronic bells as well. Most of the grade crossings between FHS and DuPont will feature the wayside horns.

BNSF Railway will not allow for additional passenger trains on their mainline between Tacoma and Nisqually via the waterfront. In order for WSDOT to realize its long range goals, the move to Point Defiance is beneficial for many reasons, such as additional trains, faster and more reliable service, a mostly dedicated corridor for passenger trains (local freight and military trains will run mostly at night)

With the move from Point Defiance, Amtrak will move ALL operations to Freighthouse Square. This includes the Coast Starlight, which is slated to save about 4 minutes over the route vs the Cascades 6 minutes. There was some speculation that the Coast Starlight would continue onward via the waterfront route but that is simply not the case. The short 2.3-2.9% grade from Freighthouse Square to M Street will not be an issue for the train. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, for example, runs up Raton Pass, which exceeds 3% for over 10 miles and maintains 25mph with a similar train consist. The D to M Street connector is slightly over a mile long.

Amtrak was also on hand to discuss the service. Installation of wifi has begun and will be finished in October. It hasn’t been established yet if it will be a free service or an additional fee. The redesign of the bistro and lounge car will be made public soon. Construction on the new Amtrak coach yard in Seattle begins in August/September for Phase 1 and 2. Phase 3 and 4 are in the works for additional funding.

With the new trains running, there will be some major schedule adjustments to all of the Cascades trains. While this is not yet official, I was told this will be very near the new schedule.

New trains, 502, 505, 518, and 519, will introduce train service every 2 to 3 hours between 6:30am and 10:30pm, if you include the Coast Starlight. When the seventh and eighth round trips begin, it will allow for train service nearly every 2 hours.

Trains will reduce scheduled run-time using the bypass by 10 minutes thanks to the removal of 4 minutes of schedule padding.  The trip can be done in 3 hours even if there are no delays in route (I have personally seen 3 hrs and 15 minutes several times thanks to schedule padding)

Overall, the corridor plan is solid. While I will personally miss the waterfront views, the benefits and realization of more trains and more reliable service outweighs the scenery. I also fully disagree with Lakewood and DuPont that the trains will cause major traffic disruptions. We are not talking about a 1.5 mile long, 100 ton, 30mph freight train. We are talking about 600 foot long, light weight, modern passenger train traveling at 79mph that will take less than 60 seconds to pass through each crossing. That already happens in much more dense communities, such as Kent, that has 8 grade crossings in less than one mile. There is also Puyallup, which the train runs directly through the heart of the city at 79mph.

I do understand where Lakewood and Dupont are coming from, however, about safety, which is a huge concern for me. WSDOT is doing as much as possible to mitigate safety to ensure people remain safe and don’t trespass on the railroad and only cross the tracks at crossings. Even if every crossing is separated, train vs. car or train vs. pedestrian will be possible, regardless of the measures taken to prevent the incident. Someone walking along the tracks with their headphones is a potential fatality. The City of Lakewood and Dupont need to take measures themselves as public officials to protect their citizens with an education period, including Operation Lifesaver, along with police and firefighter  training for an emergency.

The bypass is a critical part of our passenger rail network. Without it, the trains will remain as they are now, well into the future.

52 Replies to “Point Defiance Bypass Report”

  1. Thanks, Brian – good report. I’ll also miss the trip through the Narrows, but the trade off is a more modern, higher speed railway.
    Do you know if modifications have begun on the factory in Wisconsin werhe Oregon’s Talgos will be built? Any timeline for delivery?

  2. Did they mention at all if they were going to o 4 quadrant gates? That is I think the only way I would trade off a locomotive horn for wayside horns.

    Also, you list 503, 503, 518, and 519. I assume you meant 503, 504, 518, and 519?

    It makes me very happy to have final confirmation that Amtrak is moving to FHS, it makes bus connections easier (right down at the bus platforms as opposed to 2 blocks up the street as the current arrangement is now), as well as having the Tacoma Link right outside the door. I expect that it will serve to make it more useful, especially if they extend it up along Sixth. Which in turn will only serve to boost ridership in Tacoma on Amtrak…

    1. Nathan,

      Thanks for catching that. It has been fixed to reflect the proper train numbers (502 and 505).

      It will be very nice when Tacoma Link is extended. Tacoma Dome Station will be the regions true multi-modal stations. The future TOD and LeMay Auto Museum will be wonderful additions as well.

    2. While it will intergrate slightly better than the current station, it remains to be seen if Amtrak and WSDOT can construct a suitable facility at freighthouse square. You need atleast one more platform if not two, plus more passenger waiting room space, and suitable enclosed ticketing and baggage room space (enough to get the carts in and out). at Everett Station they grafted this on after the fact, i would hope its designed right from the beginning in Tacoma.

  3. Only a 2 hour window between trains from Seattle to Portland compares favorably to flying Horizon from SEA to PDX. I would rather hop Link to KSS and take Amtrak then go through the hassles of flying that short distance.

    This leads me to another point…if Amtrak can run trains off-peak (9am to 3pm), why can’t Sounder run at least a couple trains during this time? I know BNSF has rights to these rails for running freight, but since they allow a couple Amtrak trains, why not a couple Sounder trains. Wasn’t a couple of the trains approved in ST2 going to be off-peak? This applied to possible weekend Sounder service as well. I’m not talking a whole host of trains, just a couple r/t’s on the weekend.

    I’d also be curious if Greyhound and Trailways will be operating from TDS unless they already do?

    1. Michael,

      My understanding though not confirmed with ST is still in talks with BNSF is 2 mid day trains using the Everett trainset (3 car train) running between 9am and 1pm. According to a source whom operates Sounder, there are 2 time slots reserved for Sounder already but ST does not have the available equipment.

      ST is ordering 4 new locomotives and several new passenger cars in joint with Tri-Rail of Miami, Florida. With MPI being the only manufacture of passenger locomotives at this time, it is a safe bet we will be seeing MP36 or MP40 locomotives in the 2012/2013 time frame, along with more Bombardier bi-level cars.

      WSDOT buys time slots for the trains. ST was looking at this method to accelerate the 4 round trips sooner but again, it is still in talks and nothing solid as been confirmed.

      1. Thanks for the info Brian about mid-day Sounder service!

        This change will really make TDS a true mutli-modal station what with Amtrak, Sounder, Link, ST, PT, IT buses along with Greyhound and Trailways. Only thing they lack is ferry service which would be pretty difficult to achieve…lol!

      2. The answer for Seattle to Tacoma is to double track the UP and run some through BN freights that way. They already operate as a single triple-track railroad north of Black River Junction, so upping the UP to double track reverse-signaled priority with some of the crossings overpassed would improve both freight and passenger operation.

        Not saying it’s cheap. It’s not. But if the state is serious about developing a high speed corridor, this would be the first step toward raising the current BNSF to mostly-passenger.

      3. The state is serious about developing a high speed cooridor, but the Seattle to Tacoma stretch is not one of the priorities. The Point Defiance Bypass and work down around Kelso and Vancouver are the priorities and with that work completed, Amtrak will be able to run two more trains a day as the article that led this discussion says.

    2. I know I sound like a broken record, but I’d love to go to Tacoma on the weekend. All I’m asking for is one or two regularly scheduled weekend Sounders. It may not have been part of the original planning, but the equipment is in storage, sitting idle two days out of seven, and not creating any revenue. Hopefully some kind of justification can be pencilled in for at least bare-bones weekend service, like [name any other city with commuter rail]. I can’t believe BNFS cannot find a couple of slots for Saturday/Sunday, heck even Saturday alone Sounder–if that’s the main issue preventing such service.

      1. Or if you live in Seattle, Sound Transit already operates every 30 minutes between Seattle and Tacoma on ST Express.

      2. Sounder is much more reasonably priced than the Cascades and one doesn’t have to make an advanced reservation. This for a spur-of-the-moment decision–show up at KSS without a res and the train might be sold out. Sounder? No worries–just hop on–and no waiting on line for seat assignments as is the case with all Cascade trains (a major irritant for me). I know I can take the bus, but I like trains and WANT to take the train. Maybe get off and explore Auburn, Sumner or Puyallup also.

      3. May I point to this comment as a nice example of why trains get higher ridership than “similar” buses, every single time?

  4. ” We are not talking about a 1.5 mile long, 100 ton, 30mph freight train.”

    That is one light freight train.

    So this is 100% funded, all that is required is the Environmental Assesment?

  5. Thanks for the info Brian. I work for Amtrak and they don’t tell us anything!

    Does anyone know a rough schedule for when the 502, 505, 518, and 519 will leave Sea and Pdx? Will any trains go past Pdx to Eugene?

    So glad the coach yard construction won’t start till August/September as all of Amtrak’s parking will be taken away then and there is not much street parking in the area except for some 2 hour parking and plenty of private lots that fill up early whenever there is a Sounders, Seahawks or Mariners games, or any concert or home show type event at the WAMU theater.

    1. Tim,

      I’m not too sure for the new schedule but I would assume things will move around about an hour or so to make room for the new trains. With the time for Amtk 501 changed, I would assume it would depart Seattle around 6:00am – 6:30am now instead of 7:30am. Amtk 500 is listed going through the area at 8am, which also sounds like a 5:30-6am departure from PDX.

      I was wondering how parking would be affected for you guys. Perhaps you all will use 3rd Avenue with security personnel (ha, I know, that is a laugh…)

      I’ll be sure to post when I get a more solid idea on the new schedule(s)

      1. As we have been so graciously told by the higher ups “parking is not a condition of employment” and “other Amtrak cities have no parking and use public transportation”. Which is all well and good but if you work out of Penn station you can take a plethora of subway lines at any time of day. I live in West Seattle and if I have to report to the yard at 6am I’m not sure if I can do it. And if I’m done at King street at 10:30pm it’s gonna take me a long time to get home, if I even can.

        All that parking on 3rd avenue is completely taken whenever there’s a football game or a sold out Mariners game and there are always tons of degenerate heroin addicts lurking around by the Jack in the Box breaking into cars.

        Luckily I’m moving to Portland in September. I don’t mind taking public transportation to get around, in fact I prefer it but there’s no way to do so in this town unless you work something closer to a traditional 9-5 schedule.

      2. I don’t mind taking public transportation to get around, in fact I prefer it but there’s no way to do so in this town unless you work something closer to a traditional 9-5 schedule.

        I think that statement is dependent on the premise that wherever it is you choose to live, transit should provide you the opportunity to get there at any time you desire.

        In reality, that’s impossible; if you want a place with exceptional all day transit service you should live somewhere with exceptional all-day transit service. West Seattle isn’t necessarily it.

      3. Seattle really isn’t it. I lived in NYC my whole life, that’s how you do transit. Here you have swathes of the city with no service for quite a few hours. You simply can’t have everyone live in say the U district if they want reliable or frequent public transportation. Seattle can keep digging it’s head in the sand and pretending it won’t become a large city or doesn’t need adequate public transportation but its Los Angeles like traffic should be a wake up call.

      4. Well you already have 13 link station areas, with more coming, so it’s hardly “just the U-District”.

        If you chose to live in a neighborhood anywhere near as dense as NYC, you’d have almost the span of service. But instead, you chose West Seattle. If you lived in Bayonne, NJ or something you’d have similar problems with on-demand transit service.

        There’s nothing wrong with choosing West Seattle or Bayonne, but you can’t do that and then complain that transit agencies aren’t giving you wall-to-wall service. WS is way down the priority list.

        But if your standard is “must be as good as NYC” then I propose you move to NYC. There really is nothing else to compare, and Portland won’t satisfy you.

      5. how about you get off your high horse and open your eyes and realize seattle is in the dark ages when it comes to public transportation. but it’s ok because your all or nothing approach to where i live is laughable.

      6. This entire blog is dedicated to the idea that transit in Seattle needs to improve, so I’m not sure why you think I disagree with that.

        I don’t know what you mean by “all or nothing” approach. West Seattle has lots of service and I’m glad it does. It just doesn’t have something that precisely fits your unique requirements.

        It’s simply not possible to meet all possible transportation needs in all neighborhoods, and I’m not sure why you think it is. That’s even true of NYC if you consider the region as a whole.

      7. Seattle has excellent transportation…have the people who don’t think so lived in places other than NYC? Cities with better transportation than Seattle are truly few and far in between. San Francisco, Boston, DC…maybe Chicago (but with the exception of the L, you’ve got horrible transit). And Martin is right, Portland isn’t transit nirvana, their bus service is not up to our frequency. So if you think you have it bad in Seattle, try Phoenix, Vegas, Denver, SLC, Atlanta, Miami, on and on…

      8. Been riding around San Frans system the last 2 days and being well versed in Chicago, Portland, DC, NYC, Boston’s, and very soon to be LA and San Diego’s systems, Seattle really is in the dark ages. And we have been since the region rejected the BART-like system in the 60’s. Transit has a long and strange history in the Emerald City.

        I would hardly count the Links 2 stations in 2016, and 6 ish in 2020, and however many in 2023 as “coming”. To me, coming would have to be shovels in the ground.

        No way Seattle will EVER have NYC’s transit system. We’re not a region of 25 million. I suggest moving back there if you don’t like it because we’ll never have something like it.

    2. Since Oregon is buying a couple of Talgo trainsets, let’s hope we’ll see an increase in PDX-EUG rail service, perhaps a southward train in the AM and a northward train in late afternoon?

      1. I heard there were problems with getting UP to give up time on their rails between Eugene and Portland, true or not?

  6. Brian, I’ve been looking forward to a heavy rail thread for a while, thanks! Do you know what impact the current Sounder North projects will have on the schedule for those trains? I know Sound Transit is working a new storage yard in Everett and upgrading signals along the route, but can’t find any information on Sound Transit’s website about how those will actually impact passengers. Will they make the trip any shorter? Reliability is already pretty good for that route (unless there’s a mudslide), so I’m not sure how the signal work will help things. Is there padding in that schedule too? And what service changes does the Everett layover yard allow?

    1. Dave,

      Your most welcome! Right now there are no scheduled impacts or major slow orders for the North line. There may be a temporary slow order just before Edmonds for projection of workers but I have not heard of it yet.

      There won’t be a dramatic increase in travel time, perhaps 2 to 3 minutes max increase because a lot of the slowing that is done at the equilateral switches at a few remaining locations will be eliminated.

      The biggest factor with the new signals and track work will be the future ability of having more trains for the North segment in the long range, along with increased reliability for all passenger trains and more efficient movement of freight goods. Mudslides will still be a large factor in the route unfortunately and there isn’t a lot that can be done without a very large amount of money.

      There is padding in the schedule but it is fairly common to get into the station early (54 minutes run time but scheduled 63 minutes I believe)

      The change at Everett will allow for longer trains as ridership increases. Currently, the trains only allow for a max of 3 cars each. The extension will allow for 5 car trains each. (unless this has changed again)

      1. Brian, in the Snohomish thread, someone made the statement that BNSF would not allow Sounder North to be anything more than a peak-only commuter rail system. Is this true?

      2. I haven’t heard of this before. The big issue is that Marysville and Stanwood for example are not in the ST taxing district. If Marysville and Stanwood wanted service, they could pay for the service and associated improvements, or they could join the ST taxing authority and service will go from there.

        The biggest expense for Sounder heading North will be siding extensions and a storage location for the trains. I would handily support seeing 2 Sounder trains to Stanwood and 2 trains to Monroe or Sultan.

      3. Well, as I understand it, the barrier to more passenger trains is the high number of freight trains heading north out of Seattle and then due east from Everett over Stevens pass. As much as I’d love to get rail to Snohomish (I grew up there), I think it would be a lot cheaper to send all 4 existing trains north to Stanwood and Marysville. Too bad they aren’t part of the Sound Transit district, and Community Transit has absolutely no cash to subcontract for the service.

      4. I’ve never heard of Sounder trains going to Monroe or Sultan, is that in some plan someday or just a wish?

      5. It’s just a wish, but it’s a logical one because the tracks already exist and the trains already exist (and they have the capacity to hold more passengers). All we need is a whole bunch of money to build stations and buy access from the railroad that owns the tracks. In addition to Snohomish and Monroe to the east, Stanwood and Marysville to the north are also logical extensions of Sounder because Stanwood already has an Amtrak station, so only one new station would be necessary, and because the track in that direction has many fewer freight trains, so access would be much cheaper. Since there are 4 Sounder North trains, they could split 2 and 2 in each direction or all 4 could go to one direction.

        As Brian mentioned, those two northern towns aren’t part of the ST district, and I don’t think the boundaries have ever been expanded before, so it would be a difficult process to bring them into the taxing authority (especially if the new tax revenue they might provide isn’t enough to pay for the marginal cost of the new train service they’d get). The towns are also on the rural side of the suburban spectrum, so they might just provide extra no votes against any future Sound Transit ballot measure, even if they were in the taxing district. Instead of increasing the Sound Transit boundaries (and making it more difficult to pass future transit ballot measures), it’s also hypothetically possible for Community Transit, which already taxes those areas, to pay Sound Transit to extend the Sounder North route into Marysville and Stanwood, but Community Transit is dead broke, so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. But we can dream!

      6. Extending Sounder service to Stanwood was explored a few years ago and BNSF required such an outrageous cost number for the infrastructure improvements necessary to add the service that the concept for adding service at Stanwood was changed to Stanwood Station.

    2. Big pet peeve of mine.

      Sounder is not heavy rail, its commuter rail. BART, LA Subway, NYC Subway, etc. are heavy rail (aka metro). Heavy rail is 100% grade separated, extremely high frequencies, very high capacity, certain distances between stops, electrical powered w/ electrical multiple units (EMU).

      Commuter rail typically is 3-5 miles between stations, very large trainsets, uses passenger cars + loco but occasionally uses MU’s, service is usually infrequent.

      Heavy rail =/= commuter rail

  7. You should add FHS to your glossary. Pretty sure you mean Freighthouse Square, but not completely sure

  8. Isn’t the money for this coming from the stimulus money? If so, waiting a few years doesn’t seem like much of a stimulus now.

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