Photo by Oran

It’s likely the evening commute will get hit by a snowstorm. South Sounder is running an early train from Seattle at 2:30pm and Tacoma at 3:50pm.

Metro just announced they’re expecting to move to snow routing in the next few hours, which you should check here when you leave.

Flee now if you can. Consider this the snow comment thread as well.

44 Replies to “Snow for the Evening Commute”

  1. isn’t predicting snow in the city proper until at least 5:00, then continuing through much of tomorrow.

    Anyone have more a reliable or up-to-date information?

    1. Sure they can, its an issue of having enough train sets. As you can see from the schedule, they’re leaving at 2:30 from King St. Station, getting to Tacoma at 3:30, then leaving for Seattle again at 3:50 so it can make it in time for the evening commute.

      There may be some scheduling issues with BNSF, but I doubt that’s the primary issue.

      1. It’s also an issue of Sounder costing more than twice as much per boarding as ST busses. Running it off-peak every day would be an absurd waste of money.

      2. Midday Sounder trains would have no more than maybe 3-4 cars, so I am sure that the cost would be lower than a 6-car set.

        However, an interesting situation occurs because EMD discontinued the F59PHI a couple years ago. ST would have to purchase MP36’s or P42’s instead.

      3. I think ST pays BNSF per train, as it’s their line. Given BNSF’s history of ass-raping ST and Amatrak at every opportunity, I’m sure that’s a major part of the cost.

      4. Sounder and Amtrak have track priority only for a small window around their regularly-scheduled runs. Unscheduled or special runs may be subject to delays.

        Both Sounder and Amtrak are planning to expand their schedule over the next few years. But midday Sounder is still farther off.

      5. Given BNSF’s history of ass-raping ST and Amatrak at every opportunity, I’m sure that’s a major part of the cost.

        Given that you’re so sure the contract is outrageous, what do you think would be a fair and equitable price for Mr. Buffet to charge ST to operate Sounder?

      6. Frequency is one of the many necessary but not sufficient conditions to build ridership; population density is another. The possibility of running trial service has to be weighed against the very high cost of running Sounder (~$17/boarding vs $7.50 for ST busses and $6.75 for Link IIRC). That number has to drop before I could consider Sounder cost-effective enough to warrant expansion to off-peak.

        We should consider the ridership on existing services that cover similar areas. To take one data point as an example, stats for the 150 and 180 don’t approach those for the 7x’s, 41, 174 and 358. I do think those routes (along with the 120) are good candidates for RapidRide at some point in the future when Metro isn’t hopelessly broke. They have medium-high ridership, cover a longish distance in local service and the expenditure seems proportional to the ridership potential; it might also drive Sounder ridership.

  2. What makes the cost so high to run sounder? Will we ever see hourly, or regular weekend service?

    1. ST doesn’t own the ROW for (most of) Sounder and has to pay BNSF for it. BNSF has no incentive to run Sounder unless ST pays them more than they’d get for running a comparable freight train. If there was sufficient ridership we could get more trains but that would require and enormous growth in ridership. I don’t see it happening.

      1. ST owns the right of way (or will own for D to M Street) for the Sounder extension to Lakewood and the Point Defiance Bypass. I wonder if they get track usage fees from Tacoma Rail?

      2. I don’t actually know what the ownership situation is with Point Defiance, although presumably WSDOT wouldn’t be paying for it unless the agreement to allow more Cascades trains run was in place. I do know that ST’s D-to-M street track down to South Tacoma and Lakewood will be entirely theirs.

      3. I thought the Point Defiance Bypass was going to be owned by the state, or the state and ST together.

      4. The entire Point Defiance Bypass route, from Tacoma to Nisqually, is owned by ST; they purchased the line from BNSF in 2004. Around the same time, BNSF transferred freight operating rights to Tacoma Rail for the South Tacoma-Lakewood-Nisqually segment, while retaining trackage rights between Nisqually and Lakewood so they could continue to access the stub of the Lakewood Subdivision they kept ownership of from Prairie Junction (108th St.) down to McChord AFB. (The forthcoming April issue of Trains Magazine has an article on the Cascades corridor which contains a number of inaccuracies, one of which is the line ownership situation.)

        WSDOT is providing funding for all PDB-related improvements, including portions of the Tacoma-Lakewood Sounder work completed last year that went beyond what the original ST plans called for. All PDB construction south of Bridgeport Way will be entirely funded by WSDOT.

    2. What makes the cost so high to run sounder?

      It’s a train. Trains are expensive to run. For starters the locomotives burn about 150-180 gallons per hour of diesel. If full this is slightly more efficient than buses (210 gph for 14 buses) but it’s nowhere near the magical numbers you hear on the Norfolk & Southern commercials for a unit coal train. The issue is trains scale up very nicely but don’t scale back at all well. The fuel used isn’t apreciably different and the cost for the train crew is the same. Note the token savings ST achieved by cutting Link trains in half off peak and weekends. The other issue is BNSF charges for the use of the track and given the FRA separation requirements a 3 car train cost BNSF just as much in time (time is money) as a six car train. ST Express buses get to use the roads for free any time they want to.

  3. So electrifying the run from Seattle to South Tacoma would be pointless? It would be up to BNSF for that? Would the wire’s over head have to be to high due to the freight trains?

    1. Brian Bundridge, STBs resident expert on heavy rail, has said that BNSF would never agree to electrification because of the overheight loads (higher even than double-stack containers) they run from the ports.

      More generally, electrifying that track is not even close to worth it. From an environmental point of view it would be better to spend a fraction of that money electrifying all of Seattle’s bus routes and building out light rail. If the Puget Sound region ever does turn into a giant urban megalopolis that needs North East Corridor-like heavy rail service, it would be better to build a completely separate electric line and there will be lots of money to do it.

      1. Correct,

        Also what makes it difficult for any type of electrification would be the BNSF tunnel. There is barely enough height for a double stack train, let alone enough height to clear OCS. Remember, we run a lot of special equipment here. While electrification was here at one point in time (GN and Milwaukee Road), trains were nearly as heavy, high, and wide. They also didn’t ship 737’s and Boeing Skyboxes at the time of the electric railways here.

        More importantly, there is no financial or true time gain for electrification at this time for Amtrak, BNSF, or Union Pacific. If we were running the frequency of Caltrain (San Francisco, CA) to the tune of 90+ trains a day, it would be more justifiable.

        As for Point Defiance, Tacoma Rail owns the track from L Street to D Street (and up the Mountain Division) Sound Transit owns the ROW from BNSF’s TR Jct to L Street and D Street to Lakewood Station. Tacoma Rail and BNSF pays Sound Transit usage fees per train – BNSF for military trains and Tacoma Rail from M Street to Lakewood for their switching ops.

      2. What about electrified rail? If I remember my history The Milwaukee Road had extensive electrification all the way into Tacoma but GN switched engines near Stevens Pass just for the tunnel. I’ve heard that it takes as long or longer to clear the air in the Steven’s Pass tunnel as it does for the trains to go through so electrification would save them time (more trains per hour) and relieve them of what has to be an expensive ventilation procedure. And in the mountain passes there’s the considerable benefit of being able to dump power back into the grid rather than through heat from resistors on top of the train (global warming ;-). Not that it would make sense for Amtrak at this point in time but doesn’t Eurostar switch back and forth between a couple different flavors of overhead and electrified rail?

      3. They used to. Now they’ve finished HS1 the Eurostar trains run on third rail all the way in to London.

      4. Bruce, Eurostar doesn’t use 3rd rail anywhere. It is all overhead catenary. 3rd rail doesn’t work much above 60 mph.

      5. Sound Transit should buy the Woodinville Subdivision and run electrified service on that.

        @Carl, third rail works fine above 60 mph; the DC Metro can reach speeds of mid-80s on it’s third rail.

  4. I could imagine that a freight train being as long as they are could have one overhead wire touching thing on the front of the train and one on the back. So in theory, while the front is off wire, the back is on, and vise versa? Then you solve the problem with fitting the wire inside the tunnel.

    1. Only for really long trains. It wouldn’t work for passneger trains. And it would require each train to have two powered units.

      Then, how high above the clearance is the contact wire? Do you need to lower the pantograph on the locomotives before you go through a tunnel?

      1. Yeah, I’m just having fun with this. For passenger trains, I could imagine that you could have some kind of batteries aboard the train for the short distance not on wire. idk….just fun stuff Anything is possible, it just comes down to money. :O)

      2. Do what Metro-North does and use underhanging third rail. You have to lift up from the ground to be zapped, not just stepping on it I believe.

  5. I notice that only two of these comments (nifty and tech-nerdy as they are) are actually about snow.

    Here on CapHill we agreed that we wouldn’t start drinking the hot buttered rums until snow was actually starting to stick to the ground, which didn’t happen until 6:29 p.m. About time.

    1. Well, it is more fun to talk about trains then snow. :)

      In any case, it snowed a bit in Woodinville around 5:30-7 PM, but it stopped and most has melted into slush. I have not been outside in a while, but the buses seemed to be handling what little fell quite well.

    1. The general point of rum is to render snow painless. But not too much rum–that ends up being far more pain than the snow is worth! :-)

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