'Amtrak' by Atomic Taco

Yesterday, an official funding agreement was signed between WSDOT and the Federal Rail Administration for $145 million in additional high-speed rail funds originally destined for Ohio and Wisconsin.  The agreement effectively guarantees that Washington will get the money regardless of any political maneuvering that goes on at the federal level.

According to WSDOT, the amount is slightly lower because of an FRA decision to exclude one project from receiving funds:

Earlier WSDOT reported the most recent award amount as $161 million. After review, the FRA chose to exclude the Centralia Station Modifications project, dropping the award amount by $16 million to the current $145 million. WSDOT resubmitted the project for funding as part of the application for the Florida money.

Earlier this week, WSDOT announced that the State officially applied for Florida’s rejected rail money.  If the same agreements are signed for those funds, Washington pool of federal funding for upgrading the mainline may potentially increase to a total of $855 million.

55 Replies to “Federal Money for Intercity Rail Piles On”

  1. Excellent! Thank you very much Wisconsin/Ohio/Florida. This is all very good news for Washington.

    Question: What about on the Oregon side of the boarder?

    1. I’ve heard Washington is basically responsible for everything from the Canadian border to Portland Union Station. But yeah, ODOT would have to go for their own funding.

      1. Yep. The bridge is apparently good enough nobody’s rushing to upgrade it, Portland Union is still in great shape, and the Portland yard and approach trackage was being upgraded last I checked. I think there’s not much else that OR can do for Portland-Seattle service, since everything in WA is WA’s responsibility according to the way the deal seems to work in the Northwest.. (Not like in some places; NC has applied for funding for trackage in Virginia, Illinois for funding for trackage in Missouri, etc.)

    2. Meanwhile, Oregon is applying for $13 million of the former Florida money. Half of that will go to buy three locomotives, the rest to some other stuff. Otherwise, they were awarded $8 million in the first round, mostly to do some engineering work prior to construction and put a new roof on Union Station. In the second round they were awarded $8.9 most of which will be spent planning. It looks like the southernmost part of the Cascades is still a ways from seeing improvements.

  2. Now, I hope we get to see ACTUAL results from all this money, not just some shallow pointless ‘improvements’ that don’t really change anything. I know the money is already set to be spent on projects but I hope those projects don’t get screwed over.

    1. Why are you worried? There’s a reason on time performance has gone up dramatically.

      1. As long as they can keep the F59’s running (or at least have some sort of backup power around) things should continue to improve. I will say that seeing the 3 Amtrak F59’s and two P42’s don’t give a lot of hope for that…

      2. The beauty of the Talgos (of which Oregon has two on order) is that they are self-sufficient; they do not need Head End or Hotel Power.

        So they can be pulled by old GP40s (I think thats what they are) still painted in Burlington Northern green (As pictured in the most recent Amtrak America travel magazine)!!

      3. @Erik: The reason the Talgo sets are permitted to run faster than “Passenger” speeds is because of their tilting mechanism; a set of “Talgo” speeds was defined to take advantage of those capabilities. However, only Amtrak locotmoives of the F59PH, P42AC and B32-8W (whatever the passenger-equivalent designation is) types are included on the FRA waiver to operate at “Talgo” speeds, so whenever a freight engine has to be used on a train its speed limit is immediately reduced to “Passenger” speed, and the schedule can no longer be maintained.

    2. The state has seen considerable improvements in service from the $331 million that has been spent since the mid-90’s. So I don’t think that will be a problem with this money.

    3. I think this money should only be used for real high speed rail…even if that means doing mostly the planning for it. We should not spend it fixing up Warren Buffet’s privately owned BNSF tracks for him for free. I wouldn’t spend a dime of it fixing the ridiculous Seattle North tracks built on sand cliffs.

      Besides planning, I would purchase right of ways, and do initial grading, surveying, etc for a real high speed passenger only line that does a straight run paralleling I-5.

      1. And 800 million would buy you about 12 feet of ROW. But hey at least we’d be able to have true high speed rail on it.

        Maybe a better choice would be to pull a Mexico/China/1960’s US and just make the tracks between B.C. and Portland state owned then dump money into them. BNSF would of course be allowed to add tracks to the ROW as long as they paid for the work. Considering that land was probably given to the railroads by the state to start with it’s not so far fetched.

  3. The problem is, it’ll take way more than $855 Million to truly get the speed up without changes at the FRA in regards to the “rules”.

    Last estimates I read, it’ll take at least about 3 Billion just to get PDX + SEA + VAN connected with true (180mph++) HSR. That’s based on private efforts to get a HSR line built. If it is up to the Feds/State it’ll easily run into the 4-6 billion dollar range.

    Then of course, any of those scenarios would be better than spending that much on the stupid hole underneath Seattle, or the silly Interstate + LRT Bridge from Vancouver WA to PDX. HSR would really get the region moving, those other options are irrelevant but amount to over $10 billion today. :(

    1. unless the State constitution changes the moneys for the hole in the ground or the massive decking of the Columbia can’t be tapped anyway for non-road based uses…

      1. We should designate the corridor as a state highway, as has been done with the ferries. It is a railROAD after all.

      2. Why not? It’s already a post *road* for federal purposes, just like every railroad in the US.

    2. Construction cost for HSR is 15-20m Euros per km in France for example. They are fairly efficient in building those things. About 540 km from Portland to Vancouver. Result: ~11.7 billion to ~15.6 billion dollars for the Pacific Northwest line which would be built on a challenging terrain.

    3. Adron – I am not quite sure where you got that cost figure at but the Amtrak Cascades long range plan has an estimate of $6.5 billion dollars, just for 110mph and 2 hour and 30 minute trip between Seattle and Portland and 3 hours between Seattle and Vancouver BC.

      If it is $3 billion on top of the 6.5 figure, then I can see it but there is simply no way we will see anything over 125mph in this region. Not with the BNSF mainline as close as it is and our terrain simply will not allow it to happen.

      Realistically, Oregon has the best chance of seeing any type of high speed rail and only between Portland and Salem, Oregon on the old Oregon Electric railway route. In all honestly, I would be happy with just 14 daily trains between Seattle and Portland and 7 between Seattle and Vancouver BC. The idea of being able to go from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver BC in less than 6 hours (try that driving!) would be quite amazing.

      1. Doesn’t the old Oregon Electric ROW pass right through some towns along city streets along the way to Salem and Eugene? Why in particular would the route be good for high speed rail?

      1. As a result of the $590 million in Recovery Act high-speed-rail funding:

        Two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round trips will be added between Seattle and Portland, for a total six, by 2017.
        On-time reliability is expected to increase from 62 to 88 percent.
        More consistent speeds will be possible throughout the corridor, resulting in faster travel times between Seattle and Portland.
        Major construction projects will be completed that will include building bypass tracks to allow for increased train frequency and multiple upgrades to existing track.
        Several safety-related projects will be completed, including grade separations and the latest technology in advanced-warning signal systems. This will reduce passenger/freight congestion, making passenger travel times shorter with more reliable on-time service.

      2. Those are results, not projects, but I guess that’s what counts in the end. The link has further links. thanks.

  4. What the heck?!!!! We’re paying to upgrade Delta yard for BNSF? What a bunch of……

    I can understand grade separation and safety, maybe even the bypass tracks at Vancouver(though I’m starting to suspect its another money grab by BN.

    I hate to say it, but I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ll support an agenda and politicians who’ll use the threat(and actual procession to) of nationalizing the rail network if that’s what it takes to ensure passenger rail gets its right to share the mainline.

    Clearly we have some grubby, money-hungry execs in the freight arena taking advantage of the public.

    As to Centralia, does it need that much work for the passengers it provides to the Cascades and the Starlight? Hard to see it needs that much dough. I’d prefer to see smaller stops like Mukilteo or Blaine get a stop. Increasing ridership by pushing for more stops at key locations would be much more beneficial than wasting money on locations that already have decent service.

    1. Nobody’s making that threat. You kind of have two choices:

      1) Support incremental improvements that help freight. The later projects in the Cascades incremental plan involve building passenger only tracks – much like the Point Defiance Bypass.

      2) Look for politicians to support… with no results.

      1. It’s actually utterly reasonable to buy the tracks off the freight railroads NOW and make them tenants; they often seem to be happy to do this. Then you can make incremental upgrades which do help freight, but with the security of control.

        New Mexico did the purchase for RailRunner. North Carolina got lucky and *already owned* the track for its route — it was merely leased to the freight for 99 years. Then the lease expired. Heh.

        New York was unutterably stupid and failed to snap up the New York Central route either when Penn Central went bankrupt or when Conrail was federally owned.

        Now, frankly, it might be quite expensive to buy the Portland-Seattle line off BNSF, as it is a major, major trunk route for them.

        Clement Atlee in the UK bought out all the shareholders of all the private railways when he created British Rail (and yes, they were all well paid for their stock). It’s a perfectly legitimate thing to support.

        Just try to get politicans sane enough to do it, though. Maybe in North Carolina (!?!).

      2. It’s actually utterly reasonable to buy the tracks off the freight railroads NOW and make them tenants;

        What a terrible idea. First of all, the US Treasury is broke, busted, out of money, teetering on collapse if they don’t ween government off the credit-go-round. Second, the railroads hold all the cards so any deal would assure they get even better treatment for freight priority and funding. People should realize that having our railroads suffering from freight congestion is a “problem” that’s good to have. I keep asking but never get an answer; why can’t regulations be changed to allow railroads to run a mixed express freight and passenger consist? Then BNSF for example could couple passenger service with a bunch of UPS 2nd day “air” freight and serve Spokane, SF, etc.

    2. I’d rather improve on time performance and speed than more stations. More trips a day between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Vancouver B.C. will increase ridership more than adding stations. Mukilteo? No, I don’t they need a Cascades station when Everett and Edmonds are relatively close. Blaine? Maybe, but I’d rather see some more improvements north of Everett to improve the route.

    3. Anthony wrote:

      What the heck?!!!! We’re paying to upgrade Delta yard for BNSF? What a bunch of…..

      I can understand grade separation and safety, maybe even the bypass tracks at Vancouver(though I’m starting to suspect its another money grab by BN.

      Delta Yard is a HUGE bottleneck on the Everett-Vancouver segment because of all the hand-thrown turnouts on the mainline. If just one of those is inadvertently left open by a yard crew, or if the track circuit is broken by an improperly-maintained switch, Amtrak is reduced to running at restricted speed through the entire yard limits, which destroys the schedule.

      Vancouver Bypass is essential because it moves BNSF trains turning the corner between the Seattle and Fallbridge Subs away from conflicting with Amtrak trains trying to hustle through the congested yard zone.

      Increasing railroad capacity is really a much more complex subject than simply building a few miles of track here and there. Tom White has a number of interesting books on railroad operations that discuss this concept; you’d do well to read them (http://www.vtd.net/) before continuing to make such uninformed outbursts bemoaning the supposed waste of these funds and/or that they’re merely gifts to BNSF.

  5. Anthony, the expansion of the BNSF yard is a double goal actually. It keeps trains off the mainline between Everett and Blaine by adding new storage tracks and it also adds a new passing siding in that area, which is much needed. So it seem like another grab for the BN, it is a benefit to Amtrak and BNSF.

    The same thing was done to Sound Transit but this is the cost of running on a private railroads right of way. Not a lot that can be done.

  6. “$145 million in additional high-speed rail funds originally destined for Ohio and Wisconsin.”

    Thanks y’all.

  7. My friend in Ohio is still whining over this, and rightfully so. I’d be damn pissed. But, hey, look at us, nearly $1 billion of the original $8 billion. On a per capita basis, we’re outshining everyone. How about another $6 billion, please!

  8. Once the Advanced Signal System (A.S.S., hehe) is in place will speeds be able to increase? How long until that is all setup?

    1. The Advanced Signal System would imply Positive Train Control and constant warning time crossing signals, which should allow 90 mph operation where track conditions permit. PTC is supposed to be mandated in 2015, I believe.

    2. For straight track areas, it should permit speeds of 90 mph. Once speeds are improved to 110 mph, the train will be fairly competitive with the air shuttle. I would like to see in the future a 150 mph corridor.

      1. Downtown to Downtown the train is already competitive with flying even using my very aggressive times through security and to the gate. If they knock another 30 minutes off train times they’ll equal the best time in a car (no congestion, pit stops, fueling up). Anything faster than that the train will be the quickest way between the cities (again downtown to downtown). I personally would rather have more trains per day (a late train both ways please) before faster service. I’d rather be able to get back home than to have to stay over night then get home in less time the next day.

      2. Definitely with Grant of service frequency. I’d be more akin to taking it if I knew I didn’t have to fully schedule my trip around the train.

      3. I was looking at schedules today and it seems there’s only about one hole in the current schedule going north and none going south which virtually guarantees a late train in both directions unless they move all trains around. I’d like to have the northbound train leave an hour earlier and the late train head back about 8 pm. If they can get travel times near 2 hrs I’d want that late train at 10 pm and/or connecting bus service that runs later (Snohomish county).

        There’s nothing anyone can do about it now but the northbound Link really should have crossed I-5 at Tukwilla and then turned north after it crossed the BNSF tracks instead of turning north before I-5. This would have allowed a combined Link/Sounder/Cascades station at I405/BNSF tracks cutting Portland to Seatac trips down by about an hour. Plane tickets out of SEA are sometimes half that than out of PDX (say to SNA) so a 3 hr train Cascades/Link ride to SEA could be justified. Same for Cascades to YVR, Trains could INCREASE plane travel….

  9. Never thought I’d say this but thank you Scott Walker and John Kasich.

    I hope some of this money will be used to lessen the number of mudslides that have slowed the North Sounder down in the past.

  10. I really believe that the Florida money should all go to California. The Cal system is the only real HSR project other than the Florida stub being cancelled. The Ohio and Wisconsin monies are fair game for higher speed rail like Cascades, because they were similar in nature and scope. Yes, Milwaukee-Madison was to be built to “HSR” standards, but Milwaukee-Chicago is essentially a Cascades-level of service with no real plans for replacement. So Milwaukee-Madison would have been pretty extravagant.

    Spending the Florida money in California MAY make it possible actually to connect Bakersfield all the way to Modesto, which would be the entire central backbone of the proposed system. Of course without the LA to Bakersfield or Modesto-SF segments its not super useful yet. However, if money can be raised for the route over Tehachapi there is sufficient capacity south of Mojave to extend the Bakersfield trains to LA. The main reason they DON’T go to LA is that the UP cannot accommodate them over Tehachapi. In truth it might have made more sense to build that section first rather than the stretch north of Bakersfield, but when the decision to fill in the middle was made they were still hoping for some way to use the I-5 route through the Grapevine. The length and depth of the required tunnel and the fact that it would have to pierce the San Andreas finally convinced them that 25 minutes extra run time (at HSR speeds) was worth the longer route.

    Give credit to California for actually taking a very important step toward creating a genuine alternative to air travel.

    1. Sorry, should have said “Merced”, not “Modesto”. Merced is where the junction between the two branches is to occur.

    2. I disagree. The money from Florida isn’t even a drop in the bucket to what California needs. If ALL of the money went to WA we’d be able to do true high speed rail from SEA to PDX and have it DONE and operational. California is a large project and I think funding will have to go on for many years.

      1. “we’d be able to do true high speed rail from SEA to PDX”.

        No, we wouldn’t. The Florida money is about $2 billion, which you’re right is a relative “drop in the bucket” of the $45 billion needed for the whole Cal system including the branches to Irvine, San Diego and Sacramento. But it’s nearly half of what’s allocated to Bakersfield-Fresno, and so should be enough to get to Merced.

        Will the system begin true HSR operation over that stretch when it’s completed? We’ll have to see. It might make more sense to use it for diesel locomotive hauled trains with higher gearing to avoid the inconvenience of a transfer at Merced. In Germany there are several lines which haven’t been electrified but have diesel-hauled trains that hit 135, which counts as “emerging HSR”. That would be a 40% reduction in the travel time from Merced to Bakersfield. Remember that the combined population of Bakersfield and Fresno is 850,000, which is nearly equal to that of Portland/Beaverton/Vancouver. Bakersfield is nearly twice as far from the Bay Area than is Portland from Seattle.

        On the other hand, $2 billion is not nearly enough to do true HSR between Seattle and Portland because BNSF has the good topography south of Chehalis already. How are you going to negotiate Napavine Hill without some major earth moving? And of course once you get to the Cowlitz north of Castle Rock you’re “cribbed, cabined and confined” by the freeway, railroad and lots of development all the way to Vancouver.

        No, we should be happy with “emerging HSR” at the best here in the Northwest. Double track the UP between Black River and Tacoma for greater freight capacity, add another track to the BNSF ROW separated by a few extra yards for dragging equipment clearance and run the Cascades trains on that with occasional cross-overs to the BNSF for meets. One-ten with four stops is practically speaking twice as fast downtown to downtown as is I-5 except after 8 PM.

        The biggest problem with the train is that it fits very poorly for families. It’s about the same cost Seattle-Portland for one person, but it doesn’t scale like the car. Two people cost twice as much on the train but only a few pennies more in a car. Add the kids and it’s ridiculous. But for business folks who are close to a station at each end, it would be much better than driving.

      2. Families of more than 2, all travelling together, are a remarkably small proportion of the travel market.

        The train is already far preferable to a long car drive for lone travellers. At some gas price and ticket price and speed, the train will become consistently preferable even for budget-conscious pairs of travellers. At some higher gas price, it will become preferable even for a budget-conscious couple with a kid. Those prices are coming fast.

      3. Actually, kids aren’t THAT much more so long as they’re young–kids under 2 are free (you don’t get a seat for them, kind of like on a plane) and kids ages 2-15 are half price.

        And frankly, there are a lot of conveniences for families on a train that one doesn’t have with a car. For example, if you have a kid who is recently potty trained and/or needs to make frequent bathroom trips, with a train, you don’t have to pull over every time they have to go. Same thing for kids in diapers, you can change it in the train’s bathroom without having to pull over, and frankly, train bathrooms are a lot nicer than most gas station bathrooms. Also, little kids don’t do well being strapped into a car seat for hours on end, especially if one hits very bad traffic, which we all know happens a lot between Seattle and Portland. A train means they can get up and move around, or sit on Mommy’s lap when they want a hug.

  11. Sort of peripherally related to this, the 2011 budget deal reportedly has HSIPR funding set at $1B. Previous versions of the CR had it at the 2010 amount of $2.5B, although the President’s budget request was for only $1B (as it was in 2010). So the repubs can now claim that they “saved” $1.5B of HSR funding. New Starts was said to take a hit too.

    1. Well, that was for the 1 week CR. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee now wants to cut all $2.5B from 2010 and recission of $400M of previously appropriated funds. More here: http://www.cahsrblog.com/2011/04/learning-more-about-obamas-hsr-cuts/

      The following note has some problems with addition:

      Transit also takes a hit, but highways are funded at 2010 levels.

  12. Whats the status of this now?

    I’m extra concerned because I just got an alert from NARP and the damage is worse than expected…

    On Monday NARP wrote to tell you that a temporary funding bill slashed $1.5 billion from the successful and highly oversubscribed high-speed rail grant program, calling it a step in the wrong direction. Yesterday, however, congressional appropriators revealed details on the budget agreement between the House and the Senate, and the news is much worse than originally reported.

    Congress will be eliminating all high-speed rail investment from the 2011 budget, and will actually take back $400 million in FY2010 high-speed money. That adds up to a total of $2.9 billion in cuts to the popular program. The hits don’t stop there—Congress will chop $128 million from Amtrak’s budget for capital improvements and debt service, and $502 million from New Starts transit funding (as compared to last year’s budget).

    1. bill slashed $1.5 billion from the successful and highly oversubscribed high-speed rail grant program

      Define successful. Any program that gives away free money is going to be over subscribed. Hell, AK will build a bridge to nowhere if it’s not on their dime! BTW, AK is #1 in the ~35 States that get more money back from the feds than they pay in (WA is a “donor State”, anybody have the stats on how we did when Scoop and Maggie were running the Senate?) yet I’m quite sure “true believers” would support an Anchorage to Fairbanks HSR project just on principle (rail good | everything else | rail better | 200mph rail, better yet!). I’m glad the money appropriated went to WA which is using it to pay for projects the State deemed worthy enough to fund “in house” as money could be made available. Thank you WSDOT for having these projects “shovel ready”.

    2. Washington will still get all the money written as promised. This includes the original $590M from the stimulus & the $145M from OH and WI. Florida, money, however, may be going out the window.

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