Evening Cascades. Photo by Stephen De Vight.

Early 2010 included a new second daily Cascades trip to Vancouver. Not incidentally, it also saw new ridership highs:

Ridership for April, May, and June recorded the highest second quarter totals since 1994, with 214,641 passengers. Compared to the second quarter of 2009 this is an increase of nearly 12 percent, or more than 25,000 new passengers. The first quarter of 2010 also had record ridership with an increase of nearly 34,000 riders since 2009.

A first quarter increase is easily dismissed as an Olympic surge. But the second quarter numbers suggest that at current service levels, the ridership payoff of additional trips is significant.

63 Replies to “Cascades Ridership Jumps 17%”

  1. As a % of service how much is the added Vancouver trip? Am I correct in thinking that there were 2 Eugene-Seattle trips, 2 Portland-Seattle and 1 Seattle-Vancouver?

    So basically within 10 months of increasing service by 20% we have almost increased ridership. Not bad. Before too long it should overtake it. How fast was ridership increasing before the service increase?

      1. According to the Amtrak timetable [PDF], there are 4 southbound departures from Seattle on Cascades: 501, 513, 507, and 509. Of these, only two (507 and 509) continue to Eugene. The other two turn into buses in Portland to complete the trip.

        There’s also one Seattle-Eugene trip a day on the Coast Starlight.

        Coming back North is the same story: two trains originate in Eugene, the other two start in Portland.

    1. There are two Seattle-Vancouver BC trains a day. The second train to Vancouver was added late last year after a dispute about Canadian customs fees was resolved, temporarily. So the increase in service was one train, and to achieve that the state simply extended a train that stopped for the evening in Bellingham to instead stop in Vancouver for the night. Going to Vancouver probably bought more riders on that train than going to Bellingham did.

      In any case the increase in riders, especially during the second quarter after the Olympics is very positive.

  2. My wife and I returned from Vancouver on Wednesday (6:40AM departure from Vancouver) and by the time we hit Seattle, the train was almost full, according to the conductor.

    1. It wasn’t. 1994 is when WashDOT began what is now the Passenger Rail section of Pavement Paula’s “State Rail and Marine Office”.

      Before 1994 there was no state sponsorship of the Amtrak service between Seattle-King Street and Portland-Union.

  3. I was meeting with a group in Blaine yesterday, discussing historic restoration of the old station, and possibly a future stop for Cascades or a terminus for DMU regional rail south to Everett.
    Our Canadian contact hinted that despite meeting the 90 riders per day on the second train, CBSA my start charging the $1500 per day crossing fee, which would probably result in WSDOT pulling the plug on it.
    If anyone hears something more than my ‘rumor’, please post here. Otherwise, I’ll not get too excited for the time being.

    1. That is unfortunante. I wish the trip would be a 3 1/2 hour so that service could start later at around 7:10 and later. That might generate more ridership with a later start time but would require high-speed tracks and the Fraser Bridge being replaced.

    2. Does the Canadian government just hate having Washingtonians visit, buy stuff, and pay their sales tax? ‘Cause it sounds like it.

  4. I personally haven’t driven to Vancouver since 2000, it’s either been on the train, bus or boat. I mean, why drive? And if you buy something large, you can easily fit it in the train luggage compartment. The convenience, especially at the border, is the best part. Then you just have to walk a little ways and take the SkyTrain downtown. Look Ma, no car!! ;-)

    1. The train into Vancouver is excruciatingly slow, and the problem lies almost entirely north of the border. I find driving to Richmond and SkyTraining into downtown Vancouver is much much much faster.

      Which is unfortunate. I like Cascades for all other trips. If I ever go to Portland or Bellingham, Amtrak is my first choice. BC really needs to get its act together though and start taking Cascades service seriously.

      1. I’ve heard this before and don’t understand it. I thought Canada was supposed to be all liberal and progressive. Why does it seem they are doing all they can to NOT make rail feasable?

      2. When it comes to inter-city rail transport, Canada is well behind the other laggards among the English Speaking Nations.

      3. It does seem to be a jurisdictional problem.

        Remember that the federal Canadian government is somewhere between useless to and hostile to passenger rail, and has been for decades under multiple governments.

        The Ontario and Quebec governments have been…. moderately helpful. The BC government has been a criminal nightmare (look up the BC Rail scandal).

        The municipal governments have been pretty good.

        But the municipal government of Vancouver doesn’t have control over the Cascades route.

  5. Compared to other parts of the country, summer and holiday time Cascades tickets are really expensive, meaning that there is a lot more demand compared to supply.

    The more trains, the better. They are all filling up completely, even at sky high ticket prices. The northwest wants more trains.

    1. Chetan,

      There is no money for more trains. And if more capacity causes the average fare to fall, the extra trains might not bring in any new revenue.

      Quite honestly, I think that the state should buy a bunch of the nice hybrid buses we have here in Vancouver and run them between Portland and Bellingham as Ambuses. The Dog is just that, and it’s not going to get better because it has to squeeze a little profit from the stone that is the poor.

      The state can subsidize the Ambus service and get people into the habit of riding between the cities. Then, when (if) the economy and revenues recover — and the capacity projects have been completed — trains can be substituted.

      1. Oregon has just ordered 2 newer Talgos, piggybacking their order on that of Wisconsin and saving about US$6M in the process.

        They’ll be here in 2012.

      2. People dont want to ride intercity buses, if buses are the alternative they’ll stick with their cars especially in a corridor like I-5 where traffic isnt much of a problem (compared to say I-95 along the NEC). They choose to ride the train because it relaxing and enjoyable, competitive timewise with driving. I’ve ridden Greyhound in this corridor and elsewhere in the US and it is a truely miserable experience. You’ll also note very few women ride the Dog which says a lot about it (especially if youve read William Whyte).

        I’m not saying this is you, but I’m tired of people who dont use transit say that we should be using buses because they are cheaper than rail. They are also not as good as rail. I could make essentially the same argument, as someone who doesnt drive, that we dont need to have grade separated high speed freeways because local roads can carry the traffic but are cheaper to build.

        I dont understand why it is so difficult to get rail in this country. It has the public support and even many very conservative people support government investment in passenger rail. You could put a passenger rail investment measure on the ballot with a tax attached to it and it would pass. People want rail that badly. Even people who dont see value in transit, support intercity passenger rail. Give the people what they want, they’re even quite willing to open their wallets up to get it.

      3. Poncho,

        I did not SAY use buses like Greyhound does. I specifically stated “the nice hybrid buses like we have here in Vancouver”. Which I ride nearly every workday to downtown Portland, then transfer to Max out to Beaverton Creek station where I ride the Nike Shuttle (or walk) to my work on the Nike campus as a database analyst.

        So “Thank you” for “not saying this is (me)”, I guess.

        People are not “willing to open up their wallets to get it” (passenger rail). They’re willing to have the government open up its wallet to get it. But if the fares on Amtrak Cascades were double what they are today (about what it would take to cover the operating cost), most wouldn’t ride it. Those who have no car would take a plane; the rest would drive, especially when two or more people are traveling together.

        Nobody like congestion, regardless of political persuasion, but the vast majority of drivers want congestion lessened by removing “them” (i.e. other drivers) from the road. Yes, a few of us actually prefer trains, but the operating cost is much higher than buses, who have a right of way that is massively subsidized by “them”.

        I’m happy that Washington State is willing and — at least for now — able to subsidize the operation of the Cascades trains. I take them whenever I go between Portland and Seattle alone. It’s worth the extra expense versus our 30 miles per gallon car.

        But if my wife and I travel together it’s three times what it costs in the car, and that’s with a large subsidy that the state may not be able to continue, let alone expand to three or four times as many riders. And don’t get on my case for raping the environment: since Cascades is not electrified the CO2 emissions per passenger mile on it are about the same as those from our very efficient CVCC engine. We don’t drive a tank.

      4. I’m happy that Washington State is willing and — at least for now — able to subsidize the operation of the Cascades trains. I take them whenever I go between Portland and Seattle alone. It’s worth the extra expense versus our 30 miles per gallon car.

        But if my wife and I travel together it’s three times what it costs in the car, and that’s with a large subsidy that the state may not be able to continue, let alone expand to three or four times as many riders.”

        The part of this in Bold , which is what most people believe, is the part that amazes me. Driving a car costs $.54/mile. It’s not just the cost of gas.

        This is why we spend way, way too much money in taxes supporting pavement based transportation options, because people just don’t seem to understand the DOLLAR cost of driving.

        It costs LESS for two on the train, than it does driving.

      5. The cost number you’re quoting is from AAA. They estimate the annual cost for owning a passenger vehicle and driving it 15,000 miles, then divide to get the average cost per mile. (1)

        The problem with this argument is that it confuses average costs with marginal costs.

        AAA’s calculations includes maintenance, insurance, depreciation, fuel, tires, financing, license, registration, and taxes. Of these, four are completely fixed (insurance, financing, license, and registration), and three are partly fixed costs (maintenance, depreciation, and taxes/tolls), leaving only two (fuel and tires) that are strictly proportional to mileage.

        For someone like me, who doesn’t own a car, the numbers add up. My commute is about 14 miles each way; if I owned a car and drove to work, I could easily spend an extra $3,900 per year (if not more).

        But suppose that you already own a car (so the fixed costs are sunk). You bought it used (so not much depreciation) and it’s a Honda Civic (so not much maintenance), In this case, the only marginal costs *to you* of adding one extra trip come from fuel and tires (and possibly tolls/road fees), which adds up to much, much less than $0.54 per mile. And the marginal cost to putting an extra person in the car for that trip is just about zero.

        This is why I love Zipcar (and other car-sharing programs) so much. The high fixed costs and low marginal cost of car ownership creates a strong incentive either to skip the car entirely or use it all the time. By all but eliminating the fixed cost in favor of variable costs, Zipcar encourages people to use cars only when they make economic sense.

        (1) http://www.aaanewsroom.net/Main/Default.asp?CategoryID=6&ArticleID=600

      6. Yes you can lower that cost by buying used cars, such as I do, and by doing all of your own maintenance, such as I do, and a host of other things.

        I’ve calculated my costs, and I can get my beater truck down to approximately $.20/mile. Because I save on insurance costs, and if I desired, I could even save on emissions parts (it just turned old enough to not have to be tested).

        My nicer vehicle, however will still hover around $.35/mile if I want to keep it a nicer vehicle. However, I’m more of an extremist when it comes NOT taking my car to a mechanic. If I want realistic insurance coverage, that also keeps the cost up.

        When you drive the car, it WILL require maintenance, thus even if depreciation and/or insurance is no longer a factor, you will have to deal with keeping it in good working order.

        I agree with you that Zipcar is a good solution for the question of effectively dealing with automobile transportation cost.

        Maybe because I’m a gearhead I see the treatment of ‘marginal’ costs as NO COSTS is just … well, like the Elephant in the Living Room!

        Next time you want to have another person ride with you, charge them.

        Then you can see how they feel about ‘marginal’ costs.

      7. I had a long post typed up, but I accidentally hit refresh! So sad.

        Anyway, I just want to clarify that I’m using ‘marginal cost’ to mean ‘cost on the margin’, not ‘very small cost’. That is, if you drive 15,000 miles a year, and pay $8,100 a year for all car-related expenses, the marginal cost for driving an extra mile is the amount greater than $8,100 that you’d pay that year if you drove the extra mile.

        Fixed costs, such as insurance, financing, and license/registration, don’t factor into marginal costs. Driving an extra 500 miles a year won’t cost you a penny more on your insurance (and driving 500 fewer miles won’t save you a penny on insurance, either). The AAA numbers include these fixed costs, which means that the actual marginal cost should be quite a bit lower.

        I found a page (1) which walks through this scenario much better than I could. The author’s numbers are a bit different than mine (since he drives a relatively-new Prius and assumes gas costs $5/gal), but the basic point remains: Once you’ve made the decision to own a car, the cost to make an extra trip is much less than the AAA’s numbers suggest.

        (1) http://www.forthgo.com/blog/2007/05/24/marginal-cost-of-driving/

      8. “Once you’ve made the decision to own a car, the cost to make an extra trip is much less than the AAA’s numbers suggest.”

        And that’s exactly the point that I’m disputing. Basically, if you treat each ‘extra trip’ as ‘just a small fraction’ it still comes out over the long term … for most of the driving public who don’t maintain their own vehicles,… as the AAA cost. Essentially, it comes down to the problem of treating the cumulative effects of marginal costs as inconsequential in the big picture. There probably is a ‘sweet spot’ of yearly miles driven that keep the per mile costs down, since not driving a car enough can cause problems for a vehicle, too.

        Initially, I even thought the AAA figure was high, until I actually did the math myself. I even excluded the effect of a TAP. (If you do any serious car maintenance, you know what that means! ;-) )

      9. I just found a document where AAA gives a lot more details for these numbers (1). Note that these numbers are for 2010, so they’re higher than the ones I was using previously.

        For a medium sedan, AAA breaks the numbers down as follows. (See page 4 of the PDF.)

        Ownership costs per day: includes insurance, license, registration, taxes, depreciation, and finance charges. Total is $5,841 per year.

        Operating costs per mile: includes gas, maintenance, and tires. Total is $0.173 per mile.

        For 15,000 miles a year, this makes the total cost $8,436. For 20,000 miles a year, AAA estimates that you pay an extra $218 in depreciation costs, so the total is $9,519.

        What these numbers are saying, with no estimates or guessing on my part, is that if you drive 15,000 miles a year anyway (e.g. for work, groceries, kids, etc.), then the next 5,000 miles (e.g. for discretionary vacations) will only cost you an extra $1,083, or about $0.22/mi.

        Now, you can certainly take issue with the AAA’s numbers. In the above calculation, they estimate the annual maintenance costs at $0.042/mi, or $630 for 15,000 miles. You might think that this is way too low. Okay, then plug in your own numbers and see what you get. But I doubt it will be radically different from these numbers, unless you think that maintenance costs are actually more expensive by a factor of 10…

        (1) http://www.aaaexchange.com/Assets/Files/201048935480.Driving%20Costs%202010.pdf

      10. I’m not disputing the numbers actually.

        What I am disputing is the logic of rationalizing costs that way.

        However, I just haven’t come up with a good analogy to show why viewing the costs from that perspective is faulty.

      11. Washington State’s frequency increases on the Cascades are pre-programmed and largely funded.

        The thing is, thanks to the trouble north of the border, the Seattle-Vancouver improvements have been delayed in favor of the Portland-Seattle route. On top of that, there’s more track capacity south of Seattle, so the improvements needed are much greater on the north side.

        Expect to have 6, 8 trains per day each way on Portland-Seattle before you get a third train north of Seattle. :-P

  6. This brings up the point of when will Washington state get the high speed rail money? The state needs to start spending the $590m soon to continue to improve service.

    While I read some time back earlier this year that that money would not be availble until some time next year, I recently read a link on STB a few weeks ago that the US DOT was trying to get all the money spent by the end of September, which is the end of the fiscal new year. That would help pay for two more Seattle-Portland trains which would further increase ridership.

    1. It will help improve the ROW this year, and our work season is longer than in the Mid-West and Northeast. New trains will not arrive until 2012 at least – only then can we see an increase in services between Seattle and Portland, unless Amtrak were to free up some cars to replace the Talgo set which covers 510 and 517 so it doesn’t sit at Vancouver all day not earning money. There’s really no advantage in using Talgo equipment on that train, especially in the “off-season”.

      1. Amtrak just (like this week) ordered some new single level long distance cars, so I’d assume that should free up some of the pressure on the existing cars and allow those cars to be shuffled around.

      2. Not a single coach ordered!

        From Wikipedia and an Amtrak Press Release yesterday:

        In the 2009 budget, increased funding was provided to allow Amtrak to initially order 130 Viewliner II cars in the form of diners, sleepers, baggage-dorms and baggage cars with an option to purchase 70 additional cars.[1]
        On July 23rd, 2010 Amtrak placed an order worth $298.1 million with CAF USA, a fully owned subsidiary of Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles located in Elmira, New York, for the full order of 130 new cars. The order totals are as follows:[2]
        Initial 130 new cars
        25 sleepers
        25 diners
        25 baggage/dorms
        55 baggage cars
        Per the Amtrak Fleet Strategy Plan, released on February 1, 2010, the high number of baggage and baggage/dorm cars are to replace all Heritage Fleet baggage cars in service system-wide. The additional Viewliner II diners will also replace the problematic Heritage Fleet diners currently in use on single-level service. Lastly, the additional sleepers will provide Amtrak with a much-needed larger inventory of such single-level cars to allow for planned maintenance and a reserve fleet for unplanned events as well as the rolling stock required for expanded long-distance overnight service in the future.[3]
        The first car is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in October 2012.[4]

      3. i like that last part…” rolling stock required for expanded long-distance overnight service in the future”

      4. One of Amtrak’s problems is the lack of dorm cars. As a result, their employees end up sleeping in rooms that could have been used by paying customers. That’s less revenue.

        There’s also political pressure to add service on routes such as the old North Coast Hiawatha (central/southern Montana-Spokane-Seattle) and the Pioneer (Salt Lake City-Boise-Portland). So additional cars would help that. However, Amtrak wants additional money from the states on those routes, and Idaho and Montana don’t have much to give.

      5. There’s also political pressure to add service on routes such as the old North Coast Hiawatha (central/southern Montana-Spokane-Seattle) and the Pioneer (Salt Lake City-Boise-Portland). So additional cars would help that. However, Amtrak wants additional money from the states on those routes, and Idaho and Montana don’t have much to give.

        Maybe not state money to give, but maybe federal money (with the help of ID & MT senators) and political support in ID, MT. I think Amtrak being a national rail system that has to ask for federal money every year sees a lot of advantages in increasing rail service in underserved states or passenger rail-less states and especially red states.

      6. It is this political pressure that causes most people to see Amtrak as a money pit. Amtrak should focus on routes that get the greatest return, where it has a comparative advantage, medium distance routes between dense urban areas.

      7. I think if Amtrak focused on routes with the greatest return, then most of the country would be without train service, long distance or medium distance. Then few in Congress would have much incentive to continue funding it. Like Poncho says, since Amtrak has to go to Congress for money, the more political allies it has the better. Sen Crapo (R) from ID is very much in favor of resurrecting the Pioneer, I don’t know about the other from ID or those from MT. Sen Crapo probably likes spending money on new train cars and such as long as ID gets the Pioneer back.

        Still, the more Amtrak can get states to pony up, the better, though few are in the class of Washington, which has spend a few hundred million in infrastructure improvements as well as operating subsidies.

      8. On the otherhand the less Amtrak has to spend on less productive routes the less they have to go to Congress hat in hand. I agree that some compromises have to be made but we really need to think long term and just this session. What happens when you build a route through Wyoming and then a Tea Bagger takes over?

        Form Amtrak to be successful long term, we really have to find a way to divorce it’s funding from politics.

      9. ARRGG! Is an edit feature really that complicated?!?!
        ‘and NOT just this session’ and ‘FOR Amtrak to be.’

      10. If Amtrak makes enough off tickets then it won’t need support of Congress or state legistlatures. I don’t see that happening. The railroads gave up passenger service because they couldn’t make enough money off if, so I doubt the government can do better.

      11. I don’t think it will happen any time soon either, but the less political routes and more sensible routes the less money Congress has to play God with (as a larger percentage of the budget will come from revenue) and the more people will have access to quality rail transit (Wyoming? Idaho? Really?).

      12. This Amtrak order is critical, but it’s not going to help you in the Northwest. The “single-level sleepers” — basically the sleepers for any train going to New York Penn Station — have been really crowded. Dorms are needed to allow all the space to be sold to customers, and on top of that more space would easily sell; sleeper customers generlaly pay the incremental cost for themselves, and make a small incremental ‘profit’, as long as the trains are running already with coaches. The “single-level diners” were inherited from pre-Amtrak railroads (the oldest date from the 40s) and are getting totally clapped out, and need replacement. Same for the baggage cars.

        This is basically an emergency order which will benefit very-well-patronized trains to and from NYC — and will increase their revenue while reducing their operating costs.

        If Amtrak gets decent funding, they plan to do much larger rolling stock orders which might actually help Cascadia.

  7. Does anyone know if BNSF has a specific time frame to complete double-track between Seattle and Everett as well as to the border? I think it is imperative to complete double-track between Seattle and Everett ASAP because single-track in this segment is preventing additional and reverse Sounder trains and slowing down Amtrack.

    1. There is not much pressure to expand service northwards, either for Amtrak Cascades or Sounder. I know that Sound Transit and Amtrak as well as BNSF want to add some track between Seattle and Edmonds, and I think that is about it. There aren’t enough population density to justify major investment to improve the rail lines. The state has put most of its money in improving the Seattle-Portland rail lines. For example, the state’s original plan is to have 12 trains a day between Seattle and Portland by 2023 but only four a day between Seattle and Vancouver BC. That says a lot about where the WSDOT’s priorities are. The two trains a day between Seattle and Vancouver will likely stay that way for a good while.

      1. In the agreement between BNSF and Sound Transit, when the Seattle-Everett Sounder service was in place, to keep enough capacity on the line for freight, that segment was to be double tracked all the way (Sea-Evr).

        Right now, they are working on the roadbed for the second track between MP 16, (where it goes from 2 tracks to 1 Eastbound), and MP 18 (back to 2 tracks just after the Main St. RRxing.

        If you visit the off-leash park at Edmonds near the Marina, you can see this construction. Right now, they only are up to Dayton Street, but rumor has it, in August, the will start work on the Edmonds station area. Keep you on on the Sound Transit website for the groundbreaking.

        As far as double tracking north of Everett, extra sidings would be what could alleviate the congestion and improve travel times. Especially around the rail yard in Everett. Double track to Stanwood!!

        Yes, the bulk of travel is in the Seattle Portland segment, but a lot of people I talk to would love to have a mid-day train to Vancouver BC. That presumes the CBSA even comes through on the second train issue. Right now, about 1/3 of the new riders on #’s 513/516 are coming from the Portland area.

      2. Thanks for the info! I was thinking the completion of double-track enables the reverse trip and then extra trip with very minimal cost because the first train could go back to Everett as an reverse-commute train and comes back to Seattle as the 5th peak-direction trip. For instance, the first train leaves Everett at 5:45 and arrives Seattle at 6:44. With 15 min of refueling and passenger on/off load, it returns to Everett on the second track with passengers (probably not many), which should be able to arrive Everett at 8 ish. The train then heads to Seattle again with slow morning passengers. I am not sure if it is technically feasible, but if yes, we can add a reverse trip and the fifth trip without capital or labor cost.

      3. I suspect that as long as Canada and BC remain unserious and/or hostile about the Cascades service, two a day is going to be the max. There’s so little between Seattle and Vancouver that only the full-length trip justifies the train; but Washington State can’t spend money on track improvements in Canada (which are badly needed) so until BC or Canada or perhaps Vancouver fronts the money, it will continue to be very slow. And then there’s the hostile CBSA attitude, which may finally evaporate (we can hope).

  8. When are we going to get real and build a high speed track that doesn’t run along the ridge of a sand cliff!

    Just put an elevated track on trestles along I-5 from Vancouver to San Diego that handles passenger only traffic.

    Even with the slowest “high speed” train in America, running at 120mph, we could do Portland in 1 hour. San Francisco in 6. If you subtract all the time getting to the airport, parking, and waiting around for takeoff and landing, it would still be competitive.

    1. We could take out a lane in each direction and put it at-grade in the median!!! and then deviate to central cities along the corridor. But that would be fairly expensive. Not nearly as expensive as elevating it though…

  9. Still need more Portland-Vancouver BC service…

    There have been several times that I’ve wanted to go to Vancouver from Portland for a brief trip but havent been able to because of the one train available… I’m not going to spend two extra nights in a hotel given that the only Portland-Vancouver train arrives into Vancouver late at night and leaves Vancouver early in the morning.

    For a Portlander to spend a day in Vancouver I have to spend 2 nights in a hotel, if I want to go up for a weekend, I could only spend one day in Vancouver by leaving work early on Friday and taking the Friday afternoon train (arriving late Friday night in VBC) and then the Sunday morning train back which takes up my entire Sunday.

    1. Even with an early morning departure from PDX, the trip would still not get you to VAC until mid-afternoon; you’d have to turn right around and go back. These schedules won’t get below 7 hours for at least 20 years, due to DHS and CBSA policies, and the reluctance of both the US and Canada to fund new ROW for VAC-EUG – easily US$12-15B in 2010 dollars.

      1. thats fine, at least then I’d have a full evening and can have dinner and check into a hotel a decent time.

        a 1-2pm departure from vancouver would get me into portland at around 9pm, now i’d have a full morning in vancouver.

        they definitely need to work on bringing the travel times down, but in the immediate period, more trips are needed.

      2. Yep – we should be getting 450-600 miles/day out of each trainset, and we aren’t currently.

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