Reflections by Rich Murphy

Washington and Oregon recently announced a new partnership that will develop a plan for managing passenger rail services between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, B.C., as a single corridor, rather than two separate corridors as today. Transportation officials in Washington and Oregon signed an agreement that begins the ground work for faster, reliable, and more frequent Amtrak Cascades service.

What does this mean for passengers? Right now, little will change on the ground, but cost management, productivity, capital planning, and scheduling will be under a single office. John Sibold is the new Cascade Corridor director. Sibold has been the Rail and Marine director at the Washington State Department of Transportation since August and will focus on improving the reliability of passenger-rail service and managing the state’s freight lines.

Plenty more information after the jump!

Spokeswoman Laura Kingman was able to answer some questions regarding this new partnership:

Will Amtrak/WSDOT/OregonDOT be replacing and/or rebuilding locomotives to help improve reliability and performance?

WSDOT will purchase eight new locomotives by 2017 through a competitive bid process and in alignment with national procurement guidelines.

Is WSDOT still looking at purchasing a new Talgo trainset?

WSDOT has funding to buy two new trainsets by 2017. The manufacturer of the trainsets will be determined through a competitive bid process in alignment with national procurement guidelines.

Is there an RFP (Request for Proposal) available for the purchase yet?

The guidelines for the passenger rail equipment is currently ongoing and evolving under a PRIIA (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act) 305 Committee. Until the committee has come up with guidelines, an RFP cannot be put out to suppliers.

With the ongoing situation with Wisconsin and their trainsets, if they are put up for sale, would WSDOT look at purchasing them?

At this time, we are monitoring the issue but we are not in a position to purchase these at this time. It is unfortunately what is happening there, however.

Will WSDOT be leasing and/or purchasing a location within Freighthouse Square for future passenger rail operations? How will baggage be handled here?

In order for WSDOT to use this station, the Point Defiance Bypass would have to be completed. That potential project is still going through the environmental process so the Amtrak Cascades route may or may not change based on the outcome of the environmental process. Details regarding baggage will be determined if we will be using the station.

With the joint venture, will Oregon’s new trainsets be used on all Amtrak Cascades trains or only Oregon bound trains?

Oregon’s trainsets will be cycled throughout the corridor. A new fleet management plan is being developed, which will help ensure the most efficient use of equipment for the corridor and manage maintenance requirements to keep equipment running optimally.

Will British Columbia be adding any additional funding for increased train service North?

British Columbia has not notified us of any additional funding at this time.


A few other miscellaneous items:

  • The new WashDOT Passenger Rail website has a wealth of information on the Amtrak Cascades, including stats for operations, passengers, safety, system planning, facts, and much, much more. The Amtrak Cascades website will link to this page so passengers can understand how Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia work together to maintain the Cascades service.
  • For those curious about Amtrak Cascades performance, WSDOT provides a Dashboard of revenue, operations, and more, monthly, available on the new website mentioned above.
  • The on-board display screens on the trains will be updated from their current simple scheme to a more user friendly map.
  • Movies haven’t been shown since the interior relaunch back in 2008 because the on-board audio system was damaged during prior refurbishment . While audio is available via the PA system, it is not feasible to play movies over this system since it is used by train staff and other important announcements. Currently, there is no money to repair these audio cables, but WSDOT is seeking money for this in the future.
  • The other reason Cascades no longer shows movies is because of complaints by passengers of disruption with station on/off’s. On an airplane, a captive audience with minimal amount of people moving about, minimizing disruption; that is not the case on the train.

There will be plenty of changes for the Cascades in the coming years and things continue to look bright for the system.

99 Replies to “Amtrak Cascades Integrated Passenger Rail Corridor”

  1. Supply a better data pipe via an upgraded Wi-Fi. People can then bring their own devices to watch whatever they feel they need to watch. Use the screens for information.

    1. Indeed. That’s how people do it these days. Just let people bring whatever devices they want and watch whatever they want. Even those airport in-flight-entertainment things are falling out of use.

    1. *shudder*

      I can’t believe how ugly the cabbage cars turned out. I’m sure the FRA crash requirements had something to do with it…

  2. What’s happening in Wisconsin truly is sad. I really feel for the residents there that were looking forward to their improvements.

    It is important that the Cascadia region continues to strive for improved rail travel. 10 years from now, we will be the benchmark for states like Wisconsin. They will be able to see the effects of rail disinvestment on their economy as fuel prices continue to increase.

    If they do end up mothballing their new trainsets, I hope WSDOT can get their act in gear and buy them up. Of course, we need the Point Defiance Bypass to happen before we can improve service. Does anyone know why this is taking so long to complete? It really doesn’t seem that complicated.

    1. Engineering plans were completed about two years ago, but by that time the cost of materials had increased beyond the original budget allocated by the state legislature, so the project was shelved. When the state received ARRA funding for the project, a attached caveat was that an EA had to be performed to make use of the federal funds (this had been waived under the original state-funded project since this is essentially just rehabilition of an existing rail line), thus the delay.


    2. Oh, I’ve followed Pt. Defiance in detail.

      First, it was going to be state-funded.

      Then it was going to be part-state, part Sound Transit.

      For either, they needed a less comprehensive environmental assessment than federal law requires, so they did that.

      The state repeatedly postponed its funding. The state funding is still scheduled for, I think, 2018?!?

      Discussions in Tacoma led to the need for a bridge over Pacific Avenue, which blew the budget in Tacoma for Sound Transit.

      Then the ARRA funding came along, and Sound Transit and the state quickly applied for it.

      This was sufficient to finish Sound Transit’s part, with the bridge. And Sound Transit’s part satisfied federal environmental requirements, or at least nobody was out there claiming that it didn’t.

      However, now certain Lakewood officials started having hissy fits over the possibility that their train line might become safer and block traffic less often. (?!?) It has been suspected that they really just want Amtrak to stop in Lakewood, but they refuse to say this.

      So the federal government, in order to approve the ARRA funding of the state’s part of the project (south of Lakewood) required that the state do a more thorough environmental assessment document.

      This has delayed the receipt of the ARRA money.

      The environmental assessment outcome is partly foreordained; the project will be approved, because there are no legitimate objections to it. However, they now have to *prove* that there are no legitimate objections to it. And of course getting everyone’s agreement may require funding for another road bridge or something, which will delay things even longer.

      If the Lakewood NIMBYs could be made to realize that the project is 100% beneficial to them — crossings closed for LESS time, with BETTER protection — they might be convinced to lobby for Amtrak service to Lakewood rather than being obstructionist. That would probably speed things up.

      1. And Amtrak should be stopping in Lakewood. Hopefully with the Military offering connecting buses to Ft. Lewis and McChord AFB i mean JBLM.

    3. They got the government they voted for and now they reap the consequences. I pray Washington State voters aren’t so stupid as to fall for the same schtick.

  3. While I praise WSDOT for being a leader in corridor trains with continued success, I’ve always felt the state never engaged in the big picture for passenger rail, travelling at higher speeds (90-150) between PDX-SEA.
    Being forever tied to BNSF ROW for ‘permission’ to run more trains at higher speeds has and will cost this state dearly for improved capacity on the corridor. Most of the HSR money is going to BNSF for improvements to support a few more trains (1/2 bil).
    Sound Transit knows all too well the cost of running more commuter rail trains on BNSF tracks. Everett to Seattle trackage rights cost over 1/4 bil. driving cost per boarding to over $100 per day per rider. Adding each new run on S.Sounder tracks will be over $50 mil lump sum each, on top of already skyhigh operating costs.
    WSDOT has pretty much ignored ‘acquiring their own ROW’ in deference to BNSF. The ROW is there in many of the areas, but require buying the pieces of old railroad beds, and then connecting the links. A good example is the old ROW from downtown Olympia going south. a short connector to the ROW along I-5 used to store old SP double stacks gets you to Centrailia. Others exist if you look. For those areas without old roadbeds, there’s highway ROW in many places being unused, or God forbid, a greenfield ROW.
    Weening ourselves off the BNSF tit not only secures a ROW without ‘forever cash payments’ to others, but keeps costs in line for those segments we MUST lease. It’s competition at its best.

    1. BNSF isn’t preventing the state from building a 110mph ROW. BNSF’s policy is that if the state wants trains to go 110 mph, the state will have to pay for the infrastructure upgrades and the state will have to pay for the maintenance of the HSR infrastructure. As soon as the state comes up with the money we will have 110 mph train service in WA.

      1. I don’t disagree with the your explanation of the current plan. It’s the ‘How Much’ money will BNSF want today, tomorrow, and forever to keep the trains rolling.
        They can smell blood in the water just as any other predators can.

    2. Mic, one key point is that there really ISN’T an alternative ROW from Tacoma to Portland.

      It’s not like in the East, where there are always alternative abandoned railroad routes due to massive overbuilding back in the day.

      There never was more than one route from Tacoma to Portland. A new route would be greenfield, slicing through farms and mountains, or running down the highway — which doesn’t have the right curve radii or grades, so would need greenfield diversions, *and* is actually pretty much next to the railroad line a lot of the way anyway.

      WSDOT felt that the cost of this wasn’t worth it.

      From Seattle to Tacoma, there were three ROWs; two are still in use by freight, the third is the Interurban Trail. Which would YOU choose? WSDOT chose the BNSF ROW and is trying to triple-track it.

      Through Seattle proper, any alternative other than the Great Northern tunnel would be prohibitively expensive. Well, actually, Seattle lost a chance during the Waterfront rebuild discussions, but that was the only other possible route.

      From Seattle to Vancouver, there actually are alternative and viable abandoned ROWs, but the trick is getting to them, since they mostly only connect to the East Side BNSF line, not to Seattle…. and they’re longer.

      Note that WSDOT is assembling passenger-priority ROW from Tacoma to Nisqually. Would you be surprised if a proposal shows up to assemble passenger-priority ROW from Nisqually to Olympia to Centralia? I wouldn’t be surprised at all; that would make sense.

      1. If you want to see the cost numbers for doing greenfield instead of using old ROW, look at California HSR. Yow. It’s right for them because they absolutely need 220mph service and they need new mountain crossings… but it’s definitely more expensive than paying BNSF.

      2. You completely ignored the point I was making, instead making the case for all BNSF forever or nothing. ROW exists today. Saying it doesn’t is just wrong. I gave you two examples of unused roadbeds. Others exist if you look at a map.
        Is it a complete system? No. You need to work towards that in pieces and parts, rather than just throw up your hands, bend over and say “How much BNSF?”
        How many trains a day use the UP line from Seattle to Tacoma, which runs parallel to BNSF? Could freight use one and passenger use the other. Well, not now that everything is squished onto just one of them.
        How many trains a day use the old NP line running along the west side of the Columbia river between Longview and Portland.

      3. About the line along the west side of the Columbia between Longview and Portland, Oregon did a survey 10 or so years of different rail lines in their state. The problem with that line, and many others, was that trains could not go very fast along it due to curves and grades. I cannot remember the exact speed, but I think it was barely 50 MPH. They concluded a train to Astoria would take longer than a car ride. So it is now just the ROW, but the right sort of ROW that can accomodate 110 MPH trains.

      4. Thanks Dan, it’s been a while since the Ave good ole days. I’ve looked at that ROW and it’s pretty straight and level, except for 4 places where a slow order might be needed for less than 150mph trains. The study done probably didn’t use maximum cant of 7″, nor the Talgo tilt technology to straighten out curves. Anyway, there’s nothing tighter than some of the curves on the BNSF track which will not allow maximum cant so that long freights can chug their way along the new tracks also.
        Also, 8/10 mi single bore tunnel is needed near Kelso to get under the Columbia River.

      5. You almost convinced me you had a good argument until your tunnel under the Columbia. Who will pay for that?

      6. Sorry I lost you Dan.
        The Columbia is dredged to max 43′, whereas the Lewis and Clark Bridge is 210′ clearance. So it’s either a 3/4 mile tunnel, or a 2 mile long bridge, counting the approach spans and gradual grades for rail.
        I’d look at both, but suspect a tunnel would pencil out better here for single bore.

      7. No, no, you ignored the point I was making.

        WSDOT *is* assembling passenger-priority ROW from disused ROW in some of the places where it makes sense, and I agreed with you that a route diverting the trains to Olympia would make sense.

        In the places where it would be fabulously expensive, WSDOT is triple-tracking the BNSF line or otherwise moving the freight trains away from it (Vancouver, WA projects are of the latter variety).

        Using BNSF looks expensive, but WSDOT really did consider the alternatives. In the case of Pt. Defiance, WSDOT decided it was more cost-effective NOT to use BNSF; elsewhere, it appeared to be more cost-effective to use BNSF. So far they haven’t tried to actually get to Olympia. The BNSF line is quite straight. The alternatives aren’t.

        I actually think they know what they’re doing. I did sit down and read all the Alternatives Analyses. Sometimes those look suspicious on their face (the one for Columbia River Crossing is not an honest Alternatives Analysis), but the ones for Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, BC high speed rail *were* honest and *did* look at the alternatives carefully.

      8. Track maintenance costs are much higher at 200 mph so you need to run a lot of passenger trains for it to be worthwhile to operate at that speed; plus tracks need to be very straight so new ROW will need to be acquired. We can get the Seattle-Portland time down to 2:30 at 110 MPH, but the WSDOT plan to do this still leaves plenty of track running at much lower speeds. If we want to get down under 2:00, chances are the most cost effective way will be the current plan, plus new ROW between Kent and Tacoma and between Vancouver and Portland, and making some of the trips express.

  4. Good ROW costs money. I think WSDOT has purchased ROW in Vancouver(WA) to get past a rather large freightyard.

    1. The Vancouver Bypass is (mostly) on existing BNSF property and is actually re-routing BNSF trains “turning the corner” between the Seattle Subdivision (Seattle-Vancouver) and Fallbridge Subdivision (Portland-Pasco) to run along the east side of the yard, reducing conflicts with Amtrak trains running on the current mainline tracks by the passenger station.

      1. There’s also a second project funded to grade-separate the trains from Port of Vancouver heading for Pasco, so they don’t interfere with Portland-Vancouver-Seattle trains.

  5. How will baggage be handled here?

    Yes, how will people ever handle ‘baggage’ in train stations? Is it unusual for people to carry their baggage with them onto the trains?

    1. For long-distance travel, passengers often make use of checked baggage on trains (kind of like on those airplane things, though without the ridiculous fees). Some trains even have an entire car dedicated solely to the conveyance of baggage. Amazing, eh?

      1. but that only works if a station you are going to actually has baggage service … if it doesn’t you need to take your bags with you onto the train car

      2. I would expect Tacoma to keep checked baggage service. It’s up to Amtrak where to provide checked baggage service, but Tacoma fits their standards for it.

        WSDOT is required to be cagey about post-Pt. Defiance Bypass plans because the final EIR hasn’t been submitted. Some horrible environmental problem could show up. None will show up, but WSDOT is required to act as if one might, until the FEIR is done.

      3. Is that really necessary? Seems to me more like an ole-tyme North-American railroading practice. People elsewhere manage just fine without that added layer of processing and delay. If you need help there is a conductor. And why waste a car solely on baggage when capacity for passengers is more important?

      4. Because the beauty of the whole railroad concept is that when you need more capacity for hauling goods, you simply add more cars — and if that gets too heavy for the locomotive to move the train with the desired velocity profile, you just add more locomotives.

      5. @DWHonan
        Hmm, is that really true anymore, though, on modern well-run long-distance passenger rail systems? My experience is that almost everybody just takes their baggage with them and uses whatever space is provided in the passenger area; “baggage cars” seem something of an anachronism these days…

      6. Either way, you’re having to devote space on the train to storage. At least the ability to add baggage without the fuel penalty is a big advantage. Amtrak Express is a good value. But you need a staffed station for that.

        I can’t wait until the day everything is self serve.

        “Okay folks, we can move this train/plane/bus/ferry once everyone has deposited enough money. If you need assistance during your trip, please call 1-800-…..”

      7. Baggage cars still exist on long train runs even in Europe. The longer the trip, the more likely people are to take huge piles of baggage. Consider that most people don’t check luggage for a short plane flight, but for an intercontinental vacation, most people do.

        The only train serving Tacoma with baggage cars is the Coast Starlight, and it’s going to keep its baggage cars; people use ’em.

    2. Since it is cheaper to check baggage than on a plane, and since the allowance is more generous, some people DO check baggage on the train. This is a particularly helpful service, especially for seniors and families. Since we seem unable to have “level boarding” in the US, checked baggage is all the more important for physically challenged and older passengers.

      1. Cheaper as in free checked baggage up to 3 pieces 50 pounds each. Plus, two carry-ons+handbags and they have onboard luggage racks *and* overhead racks for those on the long distance trains.

  6. This is good news in my opinion. Hopefully the partnership will foster a long term transit relationship that helps the public in more than just passenger trains.

    Regarding getting a separate ROW for passenger rail, forget it, The cost is so high now to build new lines up to that capacity, that its way cheaper to continue to give the cash to BNSF.

    1. The future requires much higher speeds that can be accommodated on BNSF. I’m talking 200+MPH.

      1. @Charles; I understand what you’re saying, but in my opinion the American public isn’t ready for that. 200 mph is fairytale land here, all due to cost imho. If it could be demonstrated that some decent budget could be had for a project like this, as a taxpayer I would support it. Otherwise we’re wasting valuable time and money talking about high speed rail. Let’s end the discussion of HSR for the next twenty years and concentrate getting a viable passenger network BACK first.

      2. I’ll take 90 mph now and 250 mph in thirty years, rather than nothing now and 250 mph in thirty years.

      3. I agree with Mike. The whole purpose of the PNWRC program, and the state has never said anything otherwise, has been to incrementally build infrastructure which will permit 2.5-hour service between Seattle and Portland. At that stage there’s direct competition between airlines for downtown-to-downtown trips, and at 16 round trips/day travelers will be offered a wide range of travel options. It becomes entirely feasible to start one’s day at an office in Seattle, attend mid-day meetings in Portland and be home in time for dinner without having to go through the hassle of airport security, with the added benefit that one can be productive throughout the entire trip instead of only those portions of a flight above 10,000ft.

      4. Who said anything about 150mph or nothing. How about the state starts working towards a seperate ROW for the future before we end up with another Woodinville subdivision clusterfuck of of hacking a good ROW into pieces.
        Just working in that direction as a vision sends a pretty clear message to BNSF.
        I’d love to play poker with you guys. I keep my cards close to the vest, and you guys are all face up and jabbering about how the game is lost.

      5. BNSF doesn’t give a flying fur ball if the State continues passenger rail or not. They probably prefer not. The more trains we get out of their way, like with the Pt. Defiance bypass the better. If you ask for a game of poker they wouldn’t even make an effort ante up.

      6. Thank you for making my point Bernie. That ‘take it or leave it’ attitude is the starting point in their game. Ask ST how that’s working out.
        Mudslide? Freights OK, Passenger rail, maybe in a couple of days — if we feel like it.
        Get rid of schedule padding to ensure bonus money on damn near every train? Fagetaboutit.

      7. After mudslides freight is allowed, I think after 24 hours but they run dead slow and there are long waits on sidings to clear the back-up. You wouldn’t want to be on the tracks as a passenger even if BNSF said “come on down the water’s fine.” That ‘take it or leave it’ attitude is also their “final answer.” It’s like negotiating with the airlines to fly cattle; not their line of work, not interested, not now, not never. Oh, there’s a federal law that says we have to. Well, OK but it’s going to cost you way more than you think it should.

      8. Those crazy Canuks! That looks pretty deluxe; I was thinking something more like Southwest Airlines :=

      9. Charles, it doesn’t.

        That’s precisely what the WSDOT studies studied. They studied whether ridership between Seattle and Portland would change between 110 mph and 220 mph.

        The answer is, basically, no.

        With long stretches of 110 mph and no really slow zones, you can make the trip faster than driving and faster than flying (counting airport hassle), and good enough for people to routinely take day trips. It’s not worth it to go faster.

        Higher speeds are more valuable on the Seattle-Vancouver, BC corridor.

      10. If you’re going to argue that it’s important that the state have *control* over the corridor, I won’t dispute it; GO Transit is buying up rail in Canada, the state of Michigan is buying the line Amtrak runs on there, NY is leasing the Albany-NYC line, North Carolina already owns Charlotte-Raleigh and is buying Raleigh-Petersburg, etc.

        The only reason Washington hasn’t bought the BNSF line outright is that BNSF actually does want to keep running freight on it. The State would be happy to move BNSF off to one side if it could find a suitable freight ROW.

        The rail plan also involves a new passenger-only line in British Columbia (where the BNSF route sucks) but of course Washington State isn’t allowed to fund infrastructure in Canada for some reason.

      11. Who says the state can’t buy the tracks and lease it to any freight operators that want to run on it?

        The free market isn’t so magic when it comes to transportation networks; tracks are so expensive and so efficient that competition just doesn’t happen except on the very busiest corridors. Just because free enterprise will build railroads and won’t build highways doesn’t mean it’s particularly efficient to leave either to the market.

      12. BNSF actually does want to keep running freight on it. The State would be happy to move BNSF off to one side if it could find a suitable freight ROW.

        We’d better hope they want to keep running freight or all those port jobs in Seattle and Tacoma will dry up fast. If the State wants to do something they can help pay to crown the Stampede Pass tunnel. That would give the RR an option besides Stevens and the Columbia. It was on the “to do” list but then it hit home that we’d been overspending like crazy during the boom years and, well…

      13. “Who says the state can’t buy the tracks and lease it to any freight operators that want to run on it?”

        Obviously the state could! However, the Seattle-Tacoma-Portland line is a big moneymaker for BNSF, so their price to sell-and-become-a-renter is very high.

        If the state three-tracks or four-tracks the line, I would hope the state would take ownership of the “new” tracks.

    2. The net effect of this seems to be to put WSDOT even more in charge than it already was, and it already was pretty much running the show in the Cascades corridor.

      Now if BC would also agree to take direction from WSDOT, the way Oregon just did….

      1. Agreed but the direction of Canada becomes more complex because how funding is allocated. Vancouver WANTS to fund up to 8 trains a day but the difficulty becomes the Canadian Government and not so much the British Columbia providance. Issues such as border crossing staffing, ownership of the railroads, and convincing that we Americans spending money up there is “good” and not “bad”.

        Vancouver B.C., is the third highest used station out of the Cascade system and that is only with 2 daily trains. There is a big desire to go up there and experience it, but when it comes to getting the funding secured, it is a very, very difficult battle.

        In all honestly, I would almost rather see WSDOT move forward with the Scott Road Station at the SkyTrain station. When factoring all of the improvements needed needed to continue into Downtown/Pacific Central Station, the overall program could save $2-3 billion using Scott Road, since it would eliminate the need for an all new bridge…among other things.

        See the long range plan for more information.

      2. There’s no need to make a decision on Scott Road vs. a new Fraser River bridge yet; so far Vancouver/BC/Canada have been unwilling, and WA unable, to fund the bypass of the curvy track between there and the border.

        That was either equal priority or higher priority than the new station / new bridge if I remember the Long Term Plan correctly.

  7. What happened in Wisconsin is tragic. It’s also what is going to happen here in Washington if Rob McKenna is elected governor.

    1. Because Inslee is not going to be Gregoire 2.0? I wish we actually had a Seattle candidate for once….. Dow!

  8. A few things to note;

    There is no room between Seattle and Nisqually for a new, dedicated passenger right of way. Even if one were to use the existing Union Pacific railroad between Black River and Fife, there still wouldn’t be the capacity. Though, as an alternative to freight traffic and INCREASE Sounder to run daily, could be a feasible plan but that would mean that the Union Pacific ROW would need to be double tracked, new signals, updated crossings, overpasses to comply with city/traffic requests, etc. You suddenly look at a multi-billion dollar project.

    As for Nisqually to Vancouver, there is ground work already for 110mph running. WSDOT does not see a need or purpose to go any faster than 110mph because of the cost of maintenance, cost of new locomotives, infrastructure, new trainsets, and much, much more. The biggest thing however is that travel time at 2 hours and 30 minutes, city center to city center, means it beats driving, and it beats flying when factoring security and having to arrive at the Airport 1-2 hours early.

    While we all would love to see 150, 200, 220, 250mph rail trains, it just is not a feasible, realistic option for us. We are landlocked by many things here and as the density increases, getting space for any massive rail project will be fought tooth and nail.

    90-110mph is perfect for our region and it is a far more realistic goal for the State to shoot for. Not only will this speed make the train a great choice, it also brings the train in line with 100% Farebox Recovery (@13 daily trains)… right now we are at 70% with only 4 trains… That is a grand achievement!

    1. Please elaborate on how you get multi-Billion for double tracking the UP from Argo to Tacoma yards?
      A couple of points.
      Argo is a two track ‘choke point’ in the Seattle to Tacoma corridor, if you consider both UP/BNSF as one. From Argo southbound BNSF goes to two tracks and the UP to one, with double tracks in sections.
      After Tacoma, both RR’s share tracks to PDX.
      To what degree can dispatch route trains on either of the three mainlines as if it were one consolidated corridor. I can’t remember seeing BNSF trains on the UP tracks. This would go a long way to increase capacity. Adding additional double track on the UP starts to make it a four track line, with ample space for more passenger trains.
      HSR in urban areas, like SEA-TAC is not realistic, but corridor congestion relief is a big help to scheduling. Once trains hit the open country, they can kick it up to higher operating speeds between stations on consistent schedules to get rid of the massive padding of schedules.

      1. For reasons of station location, WSDOT prefers to run passenger trains on BNSF between Tacoma and Seattle. WSDOT has been talking vaguely about trying to get BNSF onto the UP ROW in the long run, but there are a bunch of hassles in doing that.

        Note that WSDOT’s *entire* high speed rail plan is premised on getting rid of chokepoints. The entire thing. Have you read the list of projects?

      2. The State of Washington purhased the Union Pacific mainline between Argo and Black River several years ago in order to improve passenger and freight performance and eliminate the common choke point as UP trains come out of Argo and have to double over to pick up the rest of their train. With the air test and everything else, it would usually delay any train from 5-40 minutes, baring no issues.

        Argo to Black River is BNSF controlled and noted in the BNSF timetable as 3 main track. I’ve been on the UP main on Sounder and Amtrak many times since that has been changed. Along with all of the new crossovers at South Seattle and Black River, it has eliminated that choke point completely.

        The future project will make it a continuous third main line from King Street Station (I believe the Sounder platform at the tunnel portal will become Main 1) to Pacific (Control Point Ellingson at Ellingson Rd). This project will be done in phases with the first segment, starting at King Street Station to Argo, followed by Black River Jct to James Street in Kent (using the old Orillia siding/running track) The new Tukwila Station will have a provision built into the project for the third mainline, which will be located on the Renton side of the station. The next will be through Downtown Kent, starting after the Willis Street underpass is built, to the Green River. Lastly will be the “easy” section from the Green River to Ellingson.

      3. I forgot to mention, the billions dollar estimate is just that, an estimate, however once you factor in adding what the city would require for a massive double track project, especially with all of the Union Pacific mainline between Tukwila and Fife, single track, and the need for Environmental and Traffic Assessments, especially for the Kent valley, the project itself will be rather expensive. It wouldn’t mean ALL freight trains would go on the new mainline neither since grain and coal trains are commonly held in Auburn Yard on the BNSF for holding for room, inspections, and power changes. It would however allow for all day Sounder service and increased Amtrak service.

        Thinking outloud though, if the UP main was double tracked completely from Fife to Tukwila, the BNSF main would be mostly a passenger railroad, at least between Tukwila and Tacoma since the UP main comes in just South of TR Jct. If the passenger trains will be using Point Defiance, there would be little interaction with any freight trains, other than what comes off the Stampede Subdivision, grain/soybean/corn trains and coal trains.

      4. I had to look up the control point names to figure out what you were saying!

        It’s the section from Black River to Reservation where the BNSF line has better station locations than the UP line. That was the area where WSDOT was vaguely considering moving more freight to the UP line and leaving the BNSF line “mostly passenger” (after three-tracking, as you describe).

  9. While high speed rail is nice, I would generally consider speed improvements to trips we made everyday within the city a higher priority than speed improvements to trips between cities that a typical person might make, at most, every couple of years.

    If we got to choose between building the Seattle subway and build 200mph trains to Portland, I would unquestionably choose the Seattle subway.

    1. On a related note, I would like to point out that a large percentage of the door-to-door time between Seattle and Portland is spent on local transit within Seattle and Portland, rather than on the train itself. Factor in a 45 minute bus ride to downtown on the Seattle side, 30 minutes of wait time at the station, and a 30 minute bus and/or train ride on the Portland side and the 3 1/2 hour train ride has suddenly turned into a nearly 5-hour long trip, which is supposed to compete with a 3-hour car ride.

      Making Amtrak run at 110 mph might shave at most a half hour off this figure. Bulding a better transit network within the cities (including good crosstown connections so people living in south King can use Tukwila station, rather than backtrack all the way into downtown) has the potential to reduce this total time by an hour or more. This in addition to being useful for the 99.9% of all trips that are much shorter than the 200 miles between Seattle and Portland.

      1. asdf – While true, factor in taking the bus or light-rail to the Airport. If you are in the Central Business District or coming from any of the outlining communities, you can typically take a single bus to King Street Station. If you take the bus and/or light-rail to Sea-Tac, it’s 34 minutes and 5-10 minutes to walk to whatever terminal, not including the 1-2 hours that Horizon (Portland) or Air Canada Jazz (Vancouver, B.C.) requires.

        Right now, it is 3 hours and 15 minutes, without schedule padding, 3 hours and 30 minutes, with padding. When the track improvements are made between Seattle and Pacific (full 3 main track) and the Point Defiance Bypass, along with the “corridor hardening” along the entire Cascade corridor is finished, travel time will be 2 hours and 50 minutes and 3 hours and 5 minutes with padding and some segments of 90mph.

        110mph will require separated main line but will bring a solid 2 hours and 30 minute (2′ 15″ without padding) trip between Seattle and Portland and 3 hours between Seattle and Vancouver BC. While there is extra travel time needed to get to your ultimate final destination, either by bus, streetcar, light-rail, gondola, etc, it is hard pressed to beat 3 hours between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Vancouver B.C. especially when you add in traffic, border delays, and collisions. Yes, trains are subjected to this as well but how often does it happen?

        For more information, please check out the WSDOT Rail site and look under system planning.

      2. Not forget the random TSA VIPER team ready to ensure the safety of the train travel ;(

    2. Agreed, I’d rather see hourly service from say 6 am to 9 pm first. Also, going 200 mph takes a lot of energy and time to get to 200mph, by which time you either skip all the stations between Seattle and Portland or you have to start braking to slow down in time for Tacoma. and Olympia. and Centralia. Et Cetera.

      I really think the USA ought to be looking at countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Poland, and the Netherlands and build up an hourly dependable 80 to 90 mph network with easy and seamless (fare-medium-wise) connections before making the leap to TGV/ICE standards.

  10. Is there any sense to making a new “Main Line” which is that rail corridor that runs from Redmond to Renton that they are buying.

    Can it be used as a way to avoid all the mudslides and track difficulties on the North Seattle route.

    I mean, if LINK intersected with it at any point and could ferry traffic to Seattle, maybe it would be better to make our main passenger route in King County be that instead of what it is now.

    1. To do so would mean building a bridge over I-405 where the Wilburton tunnel used to be. Also, when that route was in use by the dinner train, speeds were very limited.

      1. Interestingly enough, the top speed on the line was 30-40mph after Renton if I remember correctly.

      2. They had a few slow spots, that trestle was one of them, mostly for the view though, it always was fun to ride in the cab when the engineer would go to full throttle after getting off the bridge and blasting across NE 8th.

    2. It might be a viable idea in the long run, even though it would mean trains wouldn’t stop in Seattle, or would reverse to get there (either is bad).

      The fact is that WSDOT did not seriously consider the problem of repeated mudslides in its initial network planning. The mudslides may be a good reason to seriously redesign the Seattle-Vancouver, BC plans.

      1. Our terrain doesn’t allow much flexibility in planning or even considering mudslides. As homes have been built up on the hillsides though, more and more frequent mudslides have occurred. Thankfully BNSF, ST, Amtrak, WSDOT and others are stepping up and finally up and getting the mudslide addressed.

      2. I’m not sure how permanent these fixes are going to be. That coast-hugging line north of Seattle is in a poor location, and with sea level rise coming, it’ll be prone to flooding…

        Well, we have similar problems along the Hudson & Mohawk Rivers in NY.

  11. Heck, I’d like to see reliable 79 mph rail between Seattle and Portland. I ride the Cascades a lot and until recently it was always late and half the time through the Winter it isn’t running anyway. If they put me on a bus I might as well drive.

    On the couple of occasions where we didn’t sit idle on the tracks waiting for junk made in China headed for Walmart we were able to do the journey in 3 hrs 15 minutes now. I think the best improvement would be to make the journey as reliable as possible and shave another 15 minutes off. At that point it’s as fast as ANY method from downtown to downtown, more comfortable and cheaper. Suburb to suburb is still faster driving though.

    From what I heard from the conductor the movies were not taken off due to the reasons above but rather the movie rights were costing about $5 per passenger. This is similar to what we have to pay in IFE field but there the ticket prices are higher and the discomfort larger so it makes sense.

    1. First off, I would make the Cascades trains stop at each and every Sounder station, not just Longacres.

      It’s ridiculous not to take advantage of all these stations where people can park for free, or even better, take a short local transit trip and jump on a Portland train.

      By not stopping, your basically forcing all your customers to have to go to Seattle, deal with parking or a 30 minute reverse trip to catch a train which then returns past them 30 minutes later!

      1. Better to create timed Sounder connections, with Amtrak ticketing. This would allow one to buy a Portland-to-Kent ticket, with a transfer to a Sounder train at Tacoma. This increases potential origin/destinations, while preserving speed downtown to downtown.

        A similar connecting service could be made between Centralia and Tacoma. A local train (possibly more-economical DMUs) on the old ROW through downtown Olympia could serve smaller communities and connect to some or all Cascades trains. Stops served could be Centralia, Rochester, Little Rock, Black Lake, W. Olympia, Downtown Olympia, Lacey, DuPont, Lakewood, S. Tacoma, Tacoma. Cascades service could serve nine more communities (plus five more between Tacoma and Seattle) without increasing stop time.

        Another interesting possibility with an integrated rail corridor is eastern expantion. Maybe a few Seattle-Portland trains run through to The Dalles?

      2. I wouldn’t be in favor of Cascades trains stopping at all Sounder stations. The station stops would just take too long and would impact the trip times.

        However, once frequencies increase, maybe it would make sense if instead of all trains stopping at Tukwila, other Sounder stations could also be used. Take a selection of the high useage stations, say, Tukwila, Kent Auburn, Puyallup and Lakewood. Any one train might stop at only one or two of these. This shouldn’t slow the trains down too much, but could add some flexibility.

      3. I could see some use in an Amtrak stop at either Kent or Auburn (pick one and only one), but Sumner and Puyallup just don’t seem to have enough of a population center to justify the overhead and additional travel time.

      4. Sumner and Pie-al-eye-you-p are both way bigger than Stanwood := Seriously, I think a Kent stop might make more sense than Tukwilla.

      5. With all-day Sounder and a three-tracked Seattle-Tacoma corridor, timed transfers at Tacoma would be viable. I like the idea….

    2. WSDOT believes that the reliability will shoot upwards of 90% when Pt. Defiance Bypass is put into service.

    1. They are apparently working on it, but UP is much more difficult to work with. If our priorities were in the right place, we would be building a new 3 or 4 track railroad bridge to replace the existing one (or build a new one), with at least one track dedicated to Amtrak/commuter rail. But instead, we are focusing on massive freeway expansion, tearing down perfectly functional bridges that are 50 years newer than the rail bridge. This is what I want:

      (see phases 1 and 3)

      Commuter rail from Vancouver to Portland would take 12 minutes, beating all current transit options and even driving time on I-5.

      1. Holy crap, that is awesome! That really would be a MUCH better approach. The commuter rail aspect is something that should be done rather than MAX.

        I’d be curious if Vancouver/Clark County would be more inclinded to do commuter rail vs light-rail and even if BNSF would allow them to do commuter rail in a viable sense that commuters would take.

      2. I believe, at least in the afternoon, we already have commuter rail to Vancouver in the form of the last Amtrak train headed to Seattle. Doing it the morning, though, would be more difficult – the train would have to leave Seattle no later than 5 A.M. to hit rush hour by the time it gets to Vancouver.

      3. That’s the *third* “community” design I’ve seen which is better than the CRC.

        Though the “local bridge to Vancouver” design is problematic; it probably needs a lift span because it has to be able to clear the tallest vessels which can fit under the I-5 bridge lifted.

        The CRC needs to be killed dead. It’s just bad design.

  12. If they could find a way to grade-separate the trains from the vehicular traffic through Marysville, that would increase the speed northward considerably for trains, for vehicles traveling east/west, too. Meanwhile the incessant closures to mudslides need to be dealt with to improve reliability, and better access to the trains in Mukilteo, Edmonds, and between Edmonds and downtown Seattle, where no stations are, but could be to boost ridership.

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