• Work continues on King Street Station.  The remnants of the baggage area and the Jackson St. Plaza have been demolished.  (Slideshow above, picture of the ’empty hole’ here.)
  • Body found inside the Great Northern Tunnel.
  • Amtrak Cascades ridership between Seattle and Vancouver BC set a record in July, with nearly 25,000 total passengers for the four daily trains.  Ridership is also up 21% on the original trains (510/517).  CBSA has apparently reached a decision whether or not to continue free inspection services, and will be notifying WSDOT shortly.
  • To celebrate the popularity of the service (and to put timely pressure on CBSA?), Tourism Vancouver has partnered with Amtrak to offer 25% off Cascades travel between Seattle and Vancouver BC  for all of September, along with discounts on hotels and city attractions.
  • Leveling and grading work has begun on the new 3.2 mile bypass track in Vancouver, WA.
  • WSDOT and BSNF have received approval to begin work on the Stanwood siding.  On August 17 the Army Corps of Engineers issued the necessary wetland permit, the last major environmental hurdle.
  • WSDOT has applied for $80m in additional high-speed rail grants available under the $2.3b USDOT Appropriations Act. A 20% local matching commitment was required in order to apply.
  • The new Edmonds Sounder Station groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 18.

This is an open thread.

89 Replies to “Rail News Roundup: Jackson Plaza”

  1. You missed one.
    European style, intercity passenger rail between the newly refurbished Blaine Station, built in 1903, and Everett Sounder Station begins shortly, using DMU locomotives and bi-level coaches, stopping at mostly new transit centers along the way to relieve congestion on I-5.
    Oh wait, the dateline on this is 2030. Me Sorry!

  2. On the return leg back from a week vacation, I spent 5 hours Sunday afternoon 8/22 on I-5 driving from Portland to Seattle. This included about 70 miles of stop and go traffic. The only discernable reason for the jam was simply the freeway narrowing from 3 to 2 lanes for the stretch north of Longview up to Olympia, and then speed enforcement between Olympia and Tacoma causing chain reaction slow downs as drivers slowed to gawk.

    A 3.5 hour PDX-SEA trip on the Amtrak Cascades would have been much better. In fact, anticipating a repeat on Labor Day weekend, I’ve just booked my ticket for Amtrak Cascades instead.

      1. And sadly this has been happening way more than usual unfortunately. I hope to never have to experience that again but sadly I know I will.

    1. I’ve found I-5 particularly bad on pretty much every August weekend (and major holidays like Thanksgiving), I assume due to it being peak vacation season. Even in Seattle I try to take arterial streets instead of I-5. Coming back from camping near Leavenworth over the weekend we took SR-522 from Monroe and it was really smooth. Speed limit is lower but you keep moving!

    2. Checking Amtrak for Cascades schedule,


      I didn’t realize that they are claiming 3.5 hour transit times.

      That’s quite good, although I would still have to get myself to Seattle or Tacoma to catch the train from Kent.

      Departs: 11:25 AM
      Tue Aug 24 2010
      Seattle, WA (SEA)
      Arrives: 2:55 PM
      Tue Aug 24 2010
      Portland, OR (PDX)
      Station News
      Duration: 3 hr, 30 min

      1. You can catch the Cascades at Tukwila, but you need to have your ticket in hand, or get the conductor to bring it from Seattle.

      2. Wait, seriously? What a pain. Seems like such a missed opportunity to make South-King-to-Portland on Cascades a viable spontaneous option for people.

        The Acela equivalent, Route 128 Station, is heavily used.

      3. What a pain. Seems like such a missed opportunity

        That seems to immortalize my experience. Every time I’ve looked schedules were so out of whack or they wanted you to transfer to a bus which just silly. I’ve noticed recently since being told that a friend’s son is working for the cruise ship industry how many offices there are here on the eastside; yet there are zero Amtrak offices outside the stations.

      4. Can’t see why it would have wanted you to make a bus transfer. Every Portland train stops at Tukwila. You might have been trying to buy Tukwila-Vancouver, which is only possible on the train once per day.

        But there’s no reason one shouldn’t be able to buy a ticket an hour in advance and have it waiting on a QuikTrak or in a conducter’s hand (automatically, not by request) when the train arrives. It’s a potentially major station for the Portland line.

  3. Great to see the Jackson Street plaza rehabilitation coming along so well. Does anyone have the renderings of what this plaza will look like when finished or a link to that site? I know there’s something out there, just can’t find it.

      1. Thanks, that’s one of the renderings I was thinking about. It’s nice that one of the First Hill streetcar stations will also be quite close to the plaza as well. Reminds me a bit of the McGraw plaza going in for the South Lake Union Streetcar. Connections between transit modes…Seattle is working on it!

      2. What a ridiculous idea not to put a streetcar stop there. I guess Seattle is content with being ‘close-but-not-quite-there’.

      3. The streetcar is still in the planning/design stages, so I suggest you contact SDOT and advocate for a station here. Convincing them to put a station here and in front of the light rail station might be a tough sell, but not impossible. If you are really serious about it, I suggest you get a campaign going and try to get some support from nearby neighborhood businesses and organizations.

      4. I think that opening up that staircase will also provide a shorter walking connection to IDS than the Weller St. Bridge, too.

      5. Yeah that’ll probably be the fastest way from the historic part of the station, but the Weller St Bridge will probably still be faster for the Sounder Station. When can we get a straight underground passage from the Amtrak station to IDS with entrances at both IDS platforms, the Sounder platform, and the King Street waiting room?

      1. oh wow, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the removal of that terrible 2nd Ave Ext. That would seriously do wonders to vastly improve the feel and safety of this area.

      2. Yes please. That would be so awesome. BNSF should also sell the air rights over the tracks north of Jackson to developers. Not to mention that the acres of parking around there really need to be developed on. Please, economy, get better!

      3. What stood out to me is that they are planing to build 886 parking spaces. Really? King street station has a walk score of 92 and with 121 bus routes (according to walkscore.com) Amtrak and Link with in a quarter mile why would you need any parking at all.

      4. I think that part of the deal between the developer and King County is that the amount of parking currently there will be preserved for events at Qwest Field.

  4. Sadly, the cost for 2 coach tickets from Seattle to Vancouver are still $126 round-trip. Plus, the trip would take 4:00 up and 4:25 back, as opposed to 2:33 by car. Granted, last time I came back, the line for the border sucked, but I don’t think I was stuck for 2 hours…

    That said, if I were traveling solo, I’d be spending ~ $40 in gas vs. $63 in train, but with one other person, it’s $40 vs $126, which is a lot cheaper.

    Frustrating, because I’d really like to take the train more for medium-length trips.

    1. Somewhat ironic I suppose considering passenger rail competes with auto travel, but there’s a 10% discount available on Amtrak coach fare for AAA members – which makes the train ticket closer to comparable with the price by car (solo anyway).

      1. It doesn’t work for Vancouver BC, but Amtrak sells 10-ride tickets that are quite the bargain.

        Portland-Eugene: $12.20
        Seattle-Bellingham: $12.00
        Seattle-Mount Vernon: $8.40
        Seattle-Stanwood: $7.80

        etc etc…

      2. Would be great if Amtrak made the Seattle – Tacoma and Seattle – Everett runs more competitive price-wise to the Sounder. In the Northeast, Amtrak is a great commuter train and it would be nice to mirror that success out here in the northwest.

      3. You mean like the existing Sound Transit/Amtrak RailPlus program which allows you to pay Sounder-level fares for riding Amtrak trains in the Everett-Seattle corridor? (Also described on p28 of the current ST “Transit Guide.”)

        While some might say, “wouldn’t it be nice if this service was also offered in the Seattle-Tacoma corridor,” consider that:
        – there are more than twice as many south corridor Sounder trains as compared to the north corridor;
        – Amtrak would be giving up a substantial portion of its fares for off-peak Seattle-Tacoma runs if the service is extended to all trains;
        – it would be confusing to allow the service on only selected trains in/near the peak hours;
        – #516 is the only northbound that runs in the peak hours (16 minutes behind the last Sounder if it’s on time);
        – #501 would be viable, leaving KSS 40 minutes after the last morning SB Sounder and getting into Tacoma at 08:15;
        – #509 would serve only as an “express” in the heart of the evening peak, running between #1513 and #1515;
        – most importantly, the Amtrak and Sounder stations in Tacoma are not co-located, which could (ok, would) cause all kinds of confusion.

      4. Well, the RailPlus programme is a start. Amtrak ticket checkers just need ORCA readers and the deal needs to include Tacoma/Seattle travel.

        I do see more of a demand for Cascades commuting once headways are up. The success of the 80X/90X county connector buses between EVR/MVW/BEL proves people arewilling to commute at least by bus between these smaller towns in large numbers.

        It’s amazing how many WWU students commute from Mount Vernon by bus.

      5. My son uses Public Transit if he comes home (Bellevue) from WWU on weekends. It works well for travel on Friday. Going back Sunday he’s usually on Greyhound. The ten ride ticket sounded good except:

        One Ten-Ride Ticket
        The ten-ride ticket is valid for ten rides within a 45-day period.

        So even if he took the train both directions he’d have to come home almost every weekend. I don’t want to see him that much :=

        Too bad that in some corridors they’re good for as long as 180 days. And, in Oregon you can give a ticket to a friend but not on the WA part of the route. At least that’s how I read “transferable”. As Agent 86 said, “Missed it by that much.” If they made available a 180 day version for $200 I’d buy him a book for Xmas.

      6. There seems to be a fairly good draw on the ‘hound from Bellingham & Mt Vernon to seattle. It’s too bad the state cant fund some additional hound trips statewide on both busy corridors, and re-adding some locals that make EVERY stop to provide basic rural transportation.

      7. Actually, Amtrak isn’t really priced like commuter rail in the Northeast, though there are commuters who take it. A monthly pass between New York and Philly is something like $1000 per month (yes, really!).

      8. Z: There already is local transit all the way from Bellingham to Seattle, from Bellingham to Mount Vernon, then Mount Vernon to Stanwood or and Stanwood to Mount Vernon, or Mount Vernon to Everett.

      9. Yikes! Have you ever done that? Take 3 transit agency routes for a long distance destination like that? I have! Once… One day. Then it was back to driving. Until I found space on a vanpool.

      10. It is possible to travel from Phily to NY on SEPTA and NJT, transferring in Trenton. Price is a fraction of Amtrak, but you typically add 45 minutes to the trip.

      11. Yes, I took local transit all the way up to Bellingham and Blaine and crossed the border and went up to Vancouver. It takes a long time, but that’s because it’s meant to be local transit for communities along there, I just took it all the way to Vancouver for the fun of it and because it’s so cheap. But it’s not actually meant for long-distance travel; if you’re actually frequently going from Bellingham to Seattle and don’t have all the time in the world, you have Amtrak and Greyhound.

      12. @Bruce – that’s the only way for college students to travel between NYC and Philly. Amtrak isn’t necessarily affordable between those two cities for poor students. Let us not forget about Bolt bus or the Chinatown buses, either :)

      13. If only the four/five agencies could talk to each other and pool their money for a single limited-stop route from Bellingham to Seattle …

        Likewise Seattle to Olympia. That wait at SR 512 P&R is both a nuisance and an expense to taxpayers for the time it takes buses to exit and sit at the P&R. Does anyone coming from Olypia ever get onto a bus at SR 512 P&R going anywhere other than downtown Tacoma or Olympia?

      14. If only the four/five agencies could talk to each other and pool their money for a single limited-stop route from Bellingham to Seattle …

        Likewise Seattle to Olympia. That wait at SR 512 P&R is both a nuisance and an expense to taxpayers for the time it takes buses to exit and sit at the P&R. Does anyone coming from Olypia ever get onto a bus at SR 512 P&R going anywhere other than downtown Tacoma or Olympia?

      15. The 3 most popular destination for NB passengers from Olympia seem to be DT Tacoma, DT Seattle, and the 574 (presumably Sea-Tac). Going South most passengers seem to be coming from one of those three sources.

      16. If Amtrak offered RailPlus to Tacoma, I’d ride it every morning. A 45-minute Talgo commute to Tacoma would be 15 minutes faster than Sounder and considerably more comfortable than the 590s, especially since they often don’t run the MCI coaches in the reverse-peak direction. I’d seriously ride it every day, and I could leave home 30 minutes later in the morning. Please, Amtrak?

      17. Actually, when I took the train from Boston to Seattle, I ran into a couple from Manhattan who didn’t drive, but had AAA just for the discounts.

    2. “I’d be spending ~ $40 in gas vs. $63 in train,”

      And you think the cost of driving is only the gas?

      1. Sadly, once you’ve decided to own a car, the cost of any one given trip is mostly priced by the gas.

      2. No, considering those costs as only “incremental”, is merely a rationalization.

        You make the same argument as road-building proponents when they separate the capital costs from the operating costs to justify their infrastructure choice.

        It’s still THE COST.

        What people ignore is the added costs of maintenance and upkeep.

        Insurance costs might not change in direct relationship to miles driven. The purchase price is a sunk cost, but it is maybe only about 1/5 to 1/4 of the cost.

        People who claim to spend little on their cars basically drive beaters. I know, because I used to sell parts to these people.

        A well maintained car, that 1) runs flawlessly, 2) doesn’t pollute, 3) looks good (no paint problems), 4) SMELLS okay.. 5)etc… etc… will cost money to keep that way.

        Driving more miles adds to the maintenance and upkeep side of the equation.

      3. Steve: Jim and I have had this discussion before.

        Suffice it to say, even AAA says that the operating costs for an average car are about $0.22/mi, which includes a lot more than gas. That puts the round-trip cost — assuming that you don’t drive at all once you’ve reached Vancouver — at closer to $60, rather than $40.

        In other words, by only counting gas, you’re missing out on 1/3 of the cost, and that’s according to the very pro-automobile AAA.

      4. My 2000 Accord is no beater and I don’t put much into her. Only work I’ve ever done was 900 bucks for a 160k tune up earlier this year.

      5. Yeah Jim and Aleks, I didn’t disagree with you. I used the word “mostly” not “only.” Yes, driving incremental miles do bring you closer to another oil change, tires change, as well as closer to all the other components reaching their individual end of life for replacement at the next maintenance visit to the mechanic. So, it certainly is fair to consider maintenance on a per mile basis to arrive at the real cost of an incremental trip. Your 1.5x the cost of gas alone seems a realistic estimate.

        My comment was an observation about how sad/unforunate it is that when you’re deciding whether or not to take the car out on that incremental road trip for a weekend, it’s typically only the cost of gas that comes to mind. It’s sad for exactly the reason you pointed out, it deceptively underestimates the real cost.

      6. And let me know what kind of 160k tires you have. How do they ride?
        Never leaks oil? Never have to put fluids in?

        Just a quick wipe with a wet sponge once a week, inside and out, and she’s ready to go!

    3. The 25% discount doesn’t seem to be showing in Amtrak’s res system yet, but the lowest undiscounted fare bucket SEA to VAC is $35 OW/$70 RT. Plan ahead–as the train fills up, the fares go up.

      1. It was there at 3 a.m. Under promotions, I think it was, select Adult. RT $52 after discounts.

  5. That’s a lot of space being cleared out underneath the Jackson Street Plaza. I know that the part of it closest to the waiting room will be the new ticketing area, but I hope the rest of the space can be put to good useas well….

      1. hahaha. last time i saw him he said he had an apartment. he seemed to be doing well and on meds. he even remembers that i don’t smoke so he doesn’t ask me for cigarettes any more.

      2. Is he still ‘shopping’ at KSS with his entourage, or was he just visiting for old-time’s sake?

        You know, when I first got word of a body in the tunnel, (before I knew any details), I was actually worried it might have been Terry.

        “A momemt of complacency around the railroad will get you killed in an instant.” (paraphrased from a RR trade publication)

      3. I thought the same thing when I heard about the body in the tunnel. I have watched him step in front of so many sounders and freights and he never even gets a scratch. unbelievable.
        he was making his rounds but quickly got kicked out of the station. i usually have absolutely no compassion towards the homeless because of how many there are in portland in seattle and the free reign they are given but after seeing terry on meds and seeing that he could/was a functioning human being it was sad to me seeing what mental illness/drugs/whatever has done.

      4. Unfortunately, it’s well documented that the number of homeless people skyrocketed when everyone in the mental institutions was dumped out on the streets under Reagan.

        States are only just starting to provide the mental health care that most homeless people need, in environments other than institutions (which is better in general than institutionalization, though institutionalization is generally better than homelessness).

  6. So my question is when will Washington State get the $580 million grant for the Track 1 high speed rail projects? It seems ridiculous that the state has to go through another round of environmental surveys and such. We need the money now, to start work, and put at least some people back to work.

      1. No, the Federal Railroad Administration is to blame. None of the money, even for projects unrelated to the Point Defiance Bypass has been released.

      2. At least construction has started on “D to M St” and the Vancouver Rail Yard Bypass. Wish y’all luck with getting construction finished….

    1. The proposed service changes for Feb are already out (and posted on STB a week or so ago)…there’s some reorganization around the new Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, but that’s about it. No meaningful change in service hours.

      1. i hope you are right, but they started having ‘state of agency meetings’ yesterday warning employees of impending cuts.

    1. From the article:

      “The railroad said it tried to keep riders informed with email alerts and by communicating with crews. But crews didn’t get crucial information about other nearby transit options that might have helped people get to their destinations.”

      Gee, where have we heard that one before?

  7. Could SDOT please repave 15th NE between 45th and Pacific? This is one of the roughest sections of road I’ve encountered anywhere in the city.

  8. 200-fold boost in fuel cell efficiency advances ‘personalized energy systems’


    The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst that is a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held here this week.

    “Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

    What does this have to do with transit? When the grid turns into a widely dispersed cloud, we won’t have to live on top of each other just to be near an electricity tower. That depresses the need for “mass transit” and lets everyone be their own filling station.

    1. Some of us actually prefer to live in apartments and condominiums. It’s a whole lot less hassle than dealing with land maintenance. It’s also more convenient to live closer to a major city because getting there and back by any means will take less time. Cose to the city, apartments and condominiums are pretty much always cheaper.

      Not everyone wants to live in the boondocks like you.

    2. I don’t think people are living close together because of electricity needs. Unfortunately, people still need (or want) to be close to their jobs, along with other services. If I had a power plant at home it would not change my commute, which would still be 19 miles one way. It might make it easier or cheaper to buy an electric car though. It would also help a lot of third world countries too.

    3. People living at high densities can much more efficiently receive goods and services than those living spread out. If you live at a very low density and you need some food or something from a hardware store, you’re going to to need to get into your car and drive a ways to get it. If you live a a high density, you will have all your daily necessities within walking distance, and you’ll have mass transit within walking distance too to take you to those things that aren’t within walking distance. So basically, the electrical grid was not even close to the top of my list of the benefits of density.

    4. “Another step toward reality” means it’s not there yet. But assuming it does happen in 10-20 years, that doesn’t necessarily mean land-use patterns will change much. Electricity and gas stations have been available in rural areas for 50+ years. You have to go beyond rural to emptyness to find a place without these. Most people live where they want to unless they plain can’t afford to move. Personal solar power would cut the high cost of living in the exurbs (energy and gas, if not house price), but probably most people who want to live there have already moved there.

      There’s an interesting curtain between Seattle and the Eastside. Most people on both sides do not want to cross it unless they have to. One prefers city shops and recreation; the other prefers suburban shops and recreation (or doesn’t feel safe in the city). E.g., the person who travels from Bellevue to Lynnwood if their local big-box store is out of what they need, even if the same big-box store in Seattle is closer and has it. And conversely, city dwellers will do without rather than going to Southcenter.

      People everywhere miss “Main Street”, the walkable downtown and neighborhood schools. Some people have realized this, and are moving to walkable city neighborhoods, suburban downtowns, or lucky rural locations. A few others want an isolated house above all, and they love the exurbs. But many others long for a good community (a good walkable neighborhood and friendly neighbors), but don’t see how their suburban-automobile lifestyle is preventing it from forming. They still see their cars (one for every family member) as a civilizational achievement and personal advantage, and don’t see how the automobile infrastructure (driveways, parking lots, six-lane highways) pushes away the things they want to be nearby.

    5. While distributed energy is a *very good thing*, it’s not going to remove the need for public transportation.

      Density is driven by things like jobs and marketplaces, and it’s the Internet which was supposed to remove that need.

  9. Michael Ennnis of the Washington Policy Center has made a blog post suggesting that WSDOT has overstated the number of riders on the 2nd train to Vancouver BC.


    What Mr. Ennis fails to understand is that the 2nd Vancouver trains (513/516) begin and end in Portland and that WSDOT is stating the ridership for the entire length of the corridor. Not every passenger on trains 513/516 rode to or from Vancouver BC, however.

    1. And his napkin-math is embarrassing:

      “It gets better: There are 31 days in July. 25,000 monthly riders equals about 800 per day. Since the second train consists of two legs (one trip from Seattle to Vancouver and one trip back), each segment served about 400 people. Amtrak estimates its trains can only carry about 250 people.”

      Besides the fact that 513/516 are both PDX-VAC trains, he apparently hasn’t considered the simple fact that EACH INTERMEDIATE STATION adds a theoretical capacity equal to the number of seats on the train. In an idealized model with equal station demand, each 250-person PDX-VAC train could carry 3,250 per run if a full-train-equivalent boarded and alighted at each station (13 segments). Of course this isn’t practically possible, but it makes the theoretical point that 400 people per train is readily available on a 250-person trainset. This is very basic stuff.

      1. Basic stuff for us, but for those like Ennis or the NIMBYs on the SF peninsula or the Senior Senator from Arizona, it is Sci-Fi because it does not fit their illogical and non-rational mindsets.

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