Photo by WSDOT (2008 mudslide)

After a brief respite where the trains actually ran yesterday morning, Sounder is yet again grounded through the weekend. The Jan. 3rd morning trips were the first North Sounder runs since December 17th, according to spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.

The previous seasonal record was 70 canceled trips in the winter of 2010-2011. This winter we’ve annihilated that mark, with 122 canceled trips and more than 2 months to go. It’s not your imagination; it really is worse than usual.

Note: Between writing and “publication” of this post, the Times printed similar information and much more.

97 Replies to “North Sounder Mudslides Breaking Record”

  1. It’s time to get serious about a landslide mitigation plan for these areas. This affects both freight and passenger traffic, and we can’t have either.

    1. You’re right. If it isn’t safe for passengers, then it isn’t safe for coal, oil, or other hazardous materials.

      Also, if track maintenance is BNSF’s responsibility, ST should get a reimbursement of a huge chunk of its perpetual easement. Unfortunately, government agencies are not known for suing to collect on undelivered goods and services.

      The extra engines and passenger cars could be put to better use on South Sounder. BNSF may not want to pay out, but they could reach a deal for a bunch more South Sounder easements.

      1. Yep, this problem needs to be fixed for a variety of reasons – many of which affect BNSF and the local economy, not to mention potentially also affecting the environment.

      2. So… how? Could you organize the riders of Sounder North? Who would they demand the money or a plan from – I’d say WSDOT?

      3. What would be the point of organizing the riders of Sounder North? They have no interest in demanding ST get its money back for reinvestment in some other corridor. The few that remain seem amazingly unconcerned about their own safety.

      4. As a rider of Empire Builder about once or twice a year (plus my fiancee is riding it next week!), the safety issue is huge. Mostly though it is just a pain to get to King St Station only to be bused to Everett for boarding of the train there.

        Something needs to be done.

      5. Thanks to the 510, I can actually bus to Everett station in the same amount of time as it would take to bus to King St. station, in spite of Everett station being more than 4 times as far away on the map.

      6. Brent,

        You can be very confident (~100%) that BNSF indemnified itself from “acts of God, weather, freight-related delays”, etc, etc. If the trains don’t run, BNSF don’t pay.

        Not that they’re bad people; they’re not. As a whole, BNSF has been much more receptive to hosting rail passenger services than has UP. (CalTrain, the Capitol Corridor, METRA, and the whole Amtrak California system wouldn’t exist had UP owned SP when they were established).

        Still, railroads have very good lawyers who are paid very good money to avoid “externalities”…….

  2. In that picture, there is a retaining wall, but it’s only a few feet high.

    Wondering if they need to increase the height.

    Alternatively, get rid of the current wall to let the mud completely wash away or even do the opposite, build an underground “mud drain” to let if flow beneath the tracks.

  3. Makes me wonder about the continued viability of these tracks, barely above the Puget Sound, given climate change and increasing rise in sea level.

      1. Oh yeah. Again. There were two super alternative routes available. One is now a bike route. I got trashed by certain people for suggesting the need for these routes for rail.

        One ding-a-ling even suggested students might trip over the tracks where the line went through the University of Washington campus. I, and all of my friends, were stoned on dope, acid, and alcohol, and we were never run over by the trains through the U-dub in 1969.

        The eastside rail line was used in its entirety until just a few years ago. 100 car freight trains. The Burke-Gilman trail was used into the late 70s, early 80s. You bet, these corridors are best used as bike and pedestrian paths. ROFL. They are now history as rail corridors. Deader than Dodo birds. Deader than Gen X Xperts on utter BS.

        Thank you, and god bless.

    1. Fear about sea levels rising is overstated. Scientists are projecting that sea levels could rise up to 6 feet (worst case scenario) within 100 years (source: In comparison, the tides in Seattle rise and fall over 10 feet twice a day. In Olympia, the tides rise over 15 feet daily. The local infrastructure is generally ready for these long term sea level changes because they have been built to withstand extreme tides. I think the North Sounder line is generally 25 feet above sea level. So, even if we hit a high tide of 18 feet (typical 12 ft daily high tide + 6 ft sea level rise), the railroad would still be above water.

      1. These numbers add up. A climate-induced sea level rise of 6 feet will add on top of the current extreme high tide. And even worse, it is not simply additive. As Hurricane Sandy has shown, climate change increases the total energy in the atmosphere, leading to more extreme extremes (fatter tails). So a sea level rise of 6 feet at average could result in an increase in extreme high tide of 10 or more feet.

        Still, I agree with your bottom line that the railway engineers of the early 20th century built a very solid line that could withstand all sorts of storms and floods.

      2. That’s not the worst case scenario. You have to add 1 foot for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets (read the page you linked to), so 7 feet is the “worst case scenario” — such scenarios have routinely been underestimates so far.

        And tthat’s the baseline. The high tide increase will stay the same (12 ft), but the storm surge levels will go up even more than they currently do, as Chad points out. The railroad, being only 6 feet above the new high tide level *on average* — less in some places — will flood routinely during storms.

    2. It’s easy to raise the tracks in place, and the predicted rise is gentle enough to where it never has to be an emergency. I imagine a rail line already well into it’s second century will remain viable for a long time.

      That’s of course completely independent of the slide problem.

      1. No it isn’t. Raising the tracks would lower the slide problem, or eliminate it. Imagine the tracks in the picture above bermed 6-10 feet higher.

      2. I have worked on projects on that hillside, the sloughing isn’t from the toe being undermined as it was when the bank ended at the beach, it’s happening from water soaked ground at the face dislodging.

        Raising the tracks a bit would provide a bit more room for the slide debris, but not nearly enough to prevent it from still reaching the tracks. I think the best answer remains to elevate the tracks on a trestle with a fence to catch the trees, allowing the debris to run under the tracks.

      3. BA: that’s an interesting idea and might work. The elevated causeway would definitely have to shut down in storms, though.

  4. A solution is simple, at least to me:

    Build mudslide train-sheds over the tracks in the most vulnerable sections, similar to the avalanche-sheds built over sections of I-90 on Snoqualmie Pass.

    Yes, it would take a few years of environmental permitting and mitigation to build along the shoreline, but the project is worthwhile and sorely needed.

    1. It would be far cheaper just to fix the drainage problem. Dewater those slopes and the problem will go away.

      And who knows, maybe if you can show that a given slide was caused by a homeowner, then maybe you could recover the costs from that homeowner.

      1. Figure about $6-8m/mile to dewater. Upland homeowners would likely appreciate and chip in to keep their land…

      2. “And who knows, maybe if you can show that a given slide was caused by a homeowner, then maybe you could recover the costs from that homeowner.”

        In a perfect world, that would be justice, but we don’t live in a perfect world. I wouldn’t count on any homeowners paying up.

  5. It would be far cheaper to end this Sounder line and use the money to further expand Link further north.

    This line is a disaster. Its ridership is very low.

    Throwing more money at it is totally irresponsible.

    Money is better spent elsewhere like Link.

    1. This Sounder line should absolutely be eliminated and replaced with improved bus service (more buses, with higher frequency), which is faster, far less expensive and more reliable than the Sounder trains, and which can deliver commuters to several stops in downtown Seattle, instead of only to King Street Station, which I doubt is where most commuters want to go.

      1. The line’s needed for Cascades service to Vancouver. There is no “just end this line” option. Either you reroute the service to Vancouver on an inland route or you fix the line.

    2. Kinda bothers me that if Sounder North had never been built, Link probably could have been built on 99 instead of I-5. Would have been much better that way.

    3. N. Sounder doesn’t matter on this issue. These slides are a problem for a major rail corridor for freight and passenger rail. This needs to be fixed whether N. Soudner exists or not.

      1. Slides are a major problem for freight, that is a private company’s responsibility, not the taxpayers.

      2. Amtrak could truncate the train at Everett. With the 510 bus, getting to Everett really isn’t that big a deal. A good chunk of north Seattle is actually closer in time to Everett Station than King St. station because the bus is so abysmally slow getting through downtown.

      3. Truncating the Empire Builder at Everett is a non-starter. Now, the Empire Builder could be rerouted over one of the southern passes.

        But truncating Vancouver,BC service at Everett is ALSO a non-starter. Forget it. You might as well just end Vancouver, BC service completely.

    4. You can’t just look at Sounder North and the 99 corridor in isolation. If Sounder hadn’t been built, you have to look at what else would be different too. We can’t fully predict what might have been, but there are a few clear factors. If ST1 hadn’t included Sounder, it might not have passed. For many voters, one of the main attractions of the package was that it would launch commuter rail “quickly”, with “low capital costs”, and “using existing tracks” (which was seen as fiscally prudent compared to Link’s high capital costs). In other words, they saw it as something it would be foolish not to do. And now in the current day, a larger percentage of Snohomish County residents seem to want Sounder rather than replacing it. Since they’re paying for it, it’s mainly up to them, and ST board members who oppose it may have trouble with re-election. Still, I hope ST does a fresh survey to see whether Snoho’s opinion on Sounder may be starting to change, and not give undue weight to current Sounder riders. And of course, a citizens’ group like Seattle Subway (“Snohomish for Modern Transit”?) could make a big difference in terms of changing the public opinion.

      The issues of Sounder North vs the 99 corridor really have nothing to do with each other. If Sounder hadn’t been approved in ST1, Link might never have gotten started (it’s amazing that it’s gotten as far as it has, considering the total inability to get a metro built in the previous 75 years [1]). If Link hadn’t gotten started, it wouldn’t have been extended to Lynnwood in ST2. The decision of 99 vs I-5 was made in 2011 or 2012, 1 1/2 decades after Sounder North was approved. The cost of Sounder may be close to the cost difference between I-5 and 99, but remember that there were two other factors supporting the I-5 alignment. One was the “four minutes” travel time savings that resulted in higher ridership estimates than 99 (because every minute causes riders on the margin to make different choices), and the other was Shoreline’s preference for I-5.

      So yes, we should cancel Sounder North and put the money into replacement buses and accellerating Link to Everett. But there are reasons it’s not happening yet, and it doesn’t mean “Throwing more money at it is totally irresponsible” as a blanket statement. ST is not putting money into upgrading Sounder North, but is just keeping it running, as its voter mandate says it should do. The time to cancel Sounder North is in ST3.

      [1] Since the 1910 Bogue plan was defeated.

      1. I still think operational improvements (through-running with South Sounder, reverse-peak trips, later-evening trips, etc) would make North Sounder a viable operation.

    5. Ending Sounder North is not in the cards — the pols from SnoCo would never stand for it.

      Best get ridership up so cost/rider goes down.

      1. Beware of foreclosing opportunities prematurely. We don’t know what Snoho pols will think in four or ten years. Something unexpected could easily happen between now and then, and it might be something that pushes people in a more transit/density direction. Mideast trouble, climate change, federal fiscal collapse, shutoff of overseas shipping and thus big box stores (due to climate change, oil shortage, or a Pacific war), etc. Or even just the rising awareness of how many people want to live in walkable transit-rich communities. It’s not like zero people in Snohomish County want convenience and less auto dependence. It’s just that they don’t have a choice. Is there any place in Snohomish County that’s as walkable and mixed-use and bustling as even Crossroads? Build it and they will come.


    Here is a great article from the Everett Herald from March of 2012 comparing Sounder Northline to ST Express buses along the same route.

    “It costs taxpayers more than $57 for each rider to take the Sounder commuter train from Everett to Seattle — and that’s just one way.

    “For Sound Transit Express buses, it costs taxpayers $4.33 for each rider between the same destinations.

    “The standard adult train fare between Everett and Seattle is $4.50. The bus fare is $3.50.”

    “Last year, nearly 10 times as many trips were taken on Sound Transit Express buses between Everett and Seattle than on the Sounder — roughly 2.3 million versus 280,000.

    “The Sounder figure includes an average of 515 riders each way per weekday in 2011. It also includes 48,000 riders who took the train to sporting events on weekends during the year.

    “By contrast, Sound Transit Express buses between Everett, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Seattle carried about 3,950 people a day each way, according to MacIsaac’s figures.

    “Sounder trains runs eight trips per day, four each way, while the 510 and 512 routes from Everett run a combined 161, according to a Sound Transit schedule.

    “Those 500-plus-per-day round trip riders on the Sounder line could be moved to new buses and commute for that much less, MacIsaac says.”

    1. Don’t know where I’ve heard this before

      Sounder North sucks. The money would be better spent expediting North Link, building a SnoCo feeder network to existing (SRO) express bus service, beefing up existing express bus service, or on just about any other transit project you can imagine. But it is politically entrenched and here to stay; Snohomish county politicians, who decide where that subarea’s money gets spent, are absolutely in love with it.

      Perhaps the record-breaking mudslide shutdowns will turn public opinion against it, but it hasn’t hurt it in previous years.

  7. “Mudslides have been particularly prevalent between Everett and Mukilteo,”

    Have ST and BNSF considered truncating Sounder in Mukilteo in this situation, with a bus shuttle from Everett or some in-between P&R? If there’s no layover space in Mukilteo, the train could head immediately back to Seattle to clear the track. (Although there would probably be no-one else on the track anyway since freight and Amtrak can’t get through.)

    1. Right, run a train and a bus… double your money, double your fun? Other than that the trains are almost always stuck on the north side of the slide zone otherwise ST may well have pitched this scheme in order to keep playing with their train toy even though the added cost does nothing but buy you a much longer commute.

      1. During the 48 hour moratorium, the trains aren’t stuck. Passenger trains without passengers can go through the slide zones.

        During these times, they may be able to get by with fewer buses. I’m not sure how they handle the buses when they need to run, but they can run buses directly to Everett saving time, compared to stopping along the way.

      2. You aren’t comparing a short shuttle to Mukilteo to a 30-mile commuter run, are you?

      3. I’m saying would-be Sounder passengers going to Everett should ride the 510 when there are mudslides, because it already exists (likewise the 416 and 417 to Edmonds and Mukilteo). These commuter runs probably cost more per rider than a short shuttle, but they’re already budgeted/paid for so there’s practically no marginal cost. Running the train just to run the train doesn’t make a lot of sense.

        I would hope, but have no information to confirm, that ST can recoup some money from BNSF for the cancelled runs. If they’re not, they should be.

      4. Once you spool up a bus and driver the extra 15 minutes it takes to get from Everett to DT Seattle vs the long and winding road to Mulilteo is nothing. OTOH, bringing out a train crew, firing up a locomotive, likely deadheading it back to Seattle where maybe you can find a secure place to store it… priceless. And for the privilege of spending way more than North Sounder regularly costs the lucky commuter gets to spend an extra 15 minutes each way. And that’s assuming their transfer goes perfectly. I wonder how much money ST actually saves every time there’s a mud slide?

      5. Running the train just to run the train doesn’t make a lot of sense.

        Yet, it is exactly what ST is doing with every run of North Sounder because the Earls of Everett and Edmonds and the Magistrate of Mukilteo have petitioned Chairman Dow to make it so.

      6. Does the 510 have enough spare capacity for the Sounder passengers? I thought the peak-hour buses from Snohomish were full.

      7. Even if you add buses for all the people on the train it’s still way cheaper. If you figure two platform hours for every shuttle a full artic would be close to 100% fare recovery. You could damn near had out taxi script and break even vs operating the train.

      8. It may be cheaper but does ST have the extra money available to buy the buses, or can it find spare buses at the height of rush hour?

      9. if community transit does not have any sound transit buses available they would then use their own coaches which would be signed accordingly. and with all of the service cuts that ct has done they probably have plenty of spares. also sound transit is phasing in new equipment so if the old is still good then it can be used as well.

      10. ST has been running bus service in lieu of North Sounder most of this winter. Obviously they have the buses. I mean really, it’s not a whole lot of people.

      11. “Obviously they have the buses” – Actually, they don’t. According to a friend who regularly endures a Sounder North commute, the buses that show up are a “Mixed bag”. Sometimes they are ST branded with ORCA readers, other times they are private charter buses, and other times people are told to take regular CT routes. Sounds like ST needs to purchase more buses and/or keep older buses around longer as operational spares.

        For Metro’s ST operated routes, we don’t keep many spare ST branded buses around so it’s not uncommon to see Metro coaches running on an ST route.

  8. Some of the comments here by non-users of the Northline are beyond insane. Even though I left work at 2:28 to hit my financial institution and then catch the 1700, which of course didn’t happen (boy, was I pissed); people who don’t ride this train really have NO clue as to how it is the single best option to get to Edmonds and Mukilteo, when running.

    Mike Orr, good suggestion but unfortunately not doable since all the sidings at Mukilteo are already spoken for Boeing freight. Plus, ST would have to pay for overnight security in case some Mukilteo teen decided to tag the trainset.

    What needs to happen here is simple, damn simple in fact. Run a “Hi-railer” vehicle in front of the train say about ten or fifteen minutes in advance, just like has been done for years in the Feather River Canyon, the Copper Canyon, and in parts of BC in the Fraser River Canyon.

    Really people, it is that simple.

    1. Don’t call people “insane” because you disagree with their proposals. Otherwise, people will write you and your suggestions off without giving them consideration.

      Want to convince anyone here? Provide links to back up your claims. Really, it is that simple.

      1. I’ll repeat it, INSANE. As for links, forgetta ’bout it since my lunch break is almost over. This is what they do in the FRC, the Copper Canyon, and other places on major rail lines in order to make sure the tracks are safe. I have done all three lines, btw, so I know what I’m talking about.

        So, maybe you would like to ride the Northline with me sometime? I’ll gladly buy you coffee or tea if you would like to talk about in person. I respect a lot of opinions here, lots of good ides and then some and I have learned to try and keep my big mouth shut when it comes to subjects I don’t know very much about. But some people start yapping about a service they don’t even use, and somehow think they are experts, that is in some respects insanity to me.

    2. Oh, I agree, Edmonds-Seattle and Mukilteo-Seattle is much faster on the train than any bus route. The same thing occurs in Kent, Auburn, and Puyallup. The issue is whether that ridership is sufficient to justify the train, when there’s a much bigger ridership in the central corridor. ST Express as it exists is not a happy substitute, but Link will change the picture, and nonstop buses from Edmonds and Mukilteo to Seattle could fill the gap until Lynnwood station opens. The central corridor is right in the middle of the population concentration, and at least some Sounder riders live halfway between the two lines and would be just as happy with either one.

      With Kent and Auburn, Sounder is already in the geographic center, and the population of the Kent Valley is more even with the I-5/99 corridor.

      If ST wants to cancel Sounder North someday, it’ll be ST’s job to ensure that replacement buses are just as fast and convenient (as much as possible), and that their conversion to Link feeders remains fast and convenient.

      1. If ST wants to cancel Sounder North someday, it’ll be ST’s job to ensure that replacement buses are just as fast and convenient (as much as possible), and that their conversion to Link feeders remains fast and convenient.

        That’s the issue right there. In their current form, our buses are unreliable. I doubt all the Sounder riders would take the 510; for many of them the schedule uncertainty of the buses is just too risky when their jobs are on the line.

        If ST cuts Sounder North, they need to expedite North Link.

      2. If they don’t take the 510, what’s the alternative? The schedule uncertainly of the 510 large comes from traffic uncertainty on I-5. Which is worse if you drive because at least the bus gets to use the HOV lane.

      3. uncertainty of the buses is just too risky when their jobs are on the line.

        If they bet their job on North Sounder they’re unemployed by now.

      4. “The issue is whether that ridership is sufficient to justify the train,”

        It certainly is sufficient to justify one peak train southbound in the morning and one peak train northbound in the evening. It’s probably also sufficient to justify one contra-peak train each way and one midday train each way. And perhaps a second peak train in each direction.

        …. unfortunately, instead Sounder runs four peak trains the same way practically back to back, and the evening ones all leave really really early. This is poor. It’s worth it to spend what it takes to get better timeslots; the ridership is not there for four trains running peak-only in the same direction with the northbounds leaving Seattle before evening.

      5. Given how empty the peak trips are, I highly doubt the demand is there for reverse or midday trips. The only reason reverse peak trips even exist on the south corridor is to get the train to the other end to do a second peak trip and operating the nearly-empty reverse trip is cheaper than buying a whole additional trainset.

      6. Reverse-peak and midday trips certainly won’t fill up, but increasing span of service does enable previously-impossible trips, which attracts non-commuters to the system. Extra peak trips don’t do that. (To be fair, Cascades is already providing a bunch of the span of service enhancement.)

        Of course the biggest problem is that the peak Sounder trips aren’t even scheduled right. What’s with all the departures northbound in the evening?

      7. “What’s with all the departures northbound in the evening being so EARLY?”, I mean.

    3. people who don’t ride this train really have NO clue as to how it is the single best option to get to Edmonds and Mukilteo, when running

      Chauffeured limousine is the single best cost is no option way for me to get to work.

      Run a “Hi-railer” vehicle in front of the train say about ten or fifteen minutes in advance,

      It’s two, two trains in one! Really people, it is that simple to make North Sounder an even more ridiculous waste. I guess the needs wants of a few outweigh the needs of the many.

    4. Bernie got the phrase I was reaching for but couldn’t articulate. Do the needs of the few (Sounder North riders) match the needs of the many (the bulk of ST-Snohomish’s population) enough to justify the Sounder North investment?

      But conversely, for our friend Norman who thinks that buses are always the lower-cost and equal-quality solution to trains, taking a half-hourly bus on Saturday afternoon from downtown to Ash Way and waiting 45 minutes to transfer to an hourly bus that takes another half hour to meander to Mukilteo does not count as “equal service” to Link to Ash Way; in fact it barely qualifies as “service” at all, and it’s enough to make even die-hard transit fans think about driving. If even transit fans are giving up in despair, how can we hope to give an alternative to driving to the rest of the population?

      1. The trip I’m thinking of was such a comedy of errors it’s worth repeating.

        1) We just missed the 511, which we saw leaving on time.
        2) The schedule at the bus stop contradicted the online schedule. (30 minutes instead of 15 minutes), so we had no idea when the next bus was scheduled.
        3) It came 45 minutes later, after two 510’s passed us.
        4) We got off at Lynnwood TC, not realizing the 113 had been truncated at Ash Way.
        5) The 113 stop was thus vacated. A 201 driver came to our rescue and told us what’s up, and luckily he was leaving in two minutes.
        6) We arrived at Ash Way and waited 20 minutes. (I said 45 because that’s how long we would have waited if we had correctly taken the 511 to Ash Way.)
        7) The 113 zigzagged rather than staying on the Mukilteo Speedway. That could be tolerable if it were more frequent.
        8) We arrived at the ferry terminal over an hour late, by which time my friend’s dad who had come to meet us had already given up and gone back to Whidbey Island.
        9) My friend said next time we tried it we would drive, and we did, and were on time.
        10) On the way back to Ash Way, we would have had another 45-minute wait, but we decided for variety and took Swift + 358 back to Seattle instead.

        In a Link-to-Everett or even to Lynnwood scenario:

        1) We miss the train, but the next one comes 10 minutes later so that’s OK.
        2) Community Transit, freed of the burden of running the 4xx series, can make the 113 come every 15 minutes rather than 60, and restore Sunday service. Hopefully it would also straighten out the route somewhat too.

      2. When is the ST Board going to vote to formally pass the 2013 SIP? Or have they already, and it hasn’t been publicized anywhere?

        Given that public comment was overwhelmingly in favor of the 512 for all off-peak and counter-peak trips (with 15-20 minute headway most of the time), I presume it will happen by October 2013.

        Maybe if enough Mukilteans realize that their poor service has a correlation to all the money for Mukilteo being thrown into the North Sounder black hole, there might be a constituency to lobby to make Mulilteo-to-the-rest-of-Snohomish-County service happen, a little more frequently than it is.

      3. Agreed. A more frequent 512 would have made this trip a lot more usable.

        The current situation is awful enough that if I ever needed to go to Mukilteo, I would give serious consideration towards taking the 510 to Everett and riding a cab the rest of the way. If I were traveling with friends who didn’t have bus passes or Orca cards, the bus->cab option would have been a no-brainer. And of course, if any one of them had a car, it would be inevitable that we would all drive.

        In theory, taking the 510 to Everett, then hoping on a bicycle should be a viable option. Although with the rack capacity so limited, I would consider that a very dangerous option and opt for something else, even if it’s much more expensive in terms of both money and impact on the environment.

  9. It’s all about will and priorities! If the mudslide had occurred on a highway even a minor one WSDOT would have made the required repairs as they did on the rural highway between Ellensburg and Yakima recently. This rail corridor should be a state priority for freight and passenger rail — Amtrak Cascades, Amtrak Empire Builder, and yes even Sounder.

    1. Where is this extra money coming from for such few riders. Do you want to take it out of ST’s Express Bus service or Community Transit.

      1. I’d want it to come out of BNSF’s budget, since they own the tracks and are responsible for maintaining them.

      2. In the case of WSDOT, the legislature would ensure it has money for major emergency repairs.

      3. The WSDOT Annual Traffic Report shows SR821 having ~1200 daily trips in the segment where the slide occurred.

      4. Jim, this clearly shows that the SR821 slide repairs should have been postponed until the Seattle-Everett rail repairs were done, because the Seattle-Everett route carries more passengers per day than that. I assume that was your point? :-)

      5. @David,

        Without reading the agreement between ST and BNSF its difficult to know what recourse they could have. If specific metrics for reliability are included that would help. BNSF may also have some type of force majeur clause that saves them when the problem is due to “mother nature”. We can argue about what this type of language may mean and what ST should do all day but without looking at the actual agreement we’re taking shots in the dark. We also would have to consider if playing hardball with BNSF over reliability here would create problems when ST wants frequency, reliability, changes, somewhere else.

  10. Train fans: I recommend checking out Rocky Mountain Express* to put our mudslide issues into perspective. (Australian accent) That’s not a mud slide. This is a mud slide. Took them three weeks to clear the tracks for that one.

    * Oops, looks like the showing I took my son to yesterday at the Seattle Center was the last one in Seattle for now.

  11. If it were up to me, passenger trains would be banned on that line, or at least a slow order of about 5 mph should be enforced. It’s only a matter of time before a train going … what, 40 or 50 mph? … is traveling along the tracks at the exact same time a slide happens, hitting the massive wall of debris, causing the train to derail and killing dozens of passengers.

      1. And I think passenger trains are even more important (deaths!), but great point and I agree.

    1. Thursday January 3 was the second landslide near miss on a passenger train in less than a month, defined as (1) landslide prone segment declared safe; (2) passenger trains pass under the unstable bluffs; (3) landslide happens a few hours later. The first incident was Monday December 17, with the resulting freight train derailment captured on the YouTube video by John Hill, now gone viral worldwide, There have been many, many repostings of this video by mainstream news organizations.

      Apparently, in the rainy season, “slope stability” cannot be reliably assessed. December 17 was strike one. January 3 was strike two. BNSF was quoted just hours before January 3 slide at “dry spell has stabilized slopes.”

      It’s now past time for BNSF to shut down this segment of track to passenger trains until the rainy season is over. If BNSF needs a government executive order to make this happen, then the railroad should ask for one.

      What needs to be done about the persistent mudslide problem, the impact on freight trains, and the economics of passenger rail are separate issues. Based on the experience of December 17 and January 3, there is now a distinct, provable life safety issue with running the Amtrak and Sounder trains on this segment.

      Stop running them. There are other ways for people to get where those trains go.

      1. “It’s now past time for BNSF to shut down this segment of track to passenger trains until the rainy season is over. ”

        And to shut it down to freight trains.

        Under these circumstances, there’s no excuse for running any trains at all. The people driving the trains are at risk.

        And everyone — far far more than the occupants of a single passenger train — is at risk if a train containing hazardous materials is hit by a mudslide.

      2. From Sound Transit, Tuesday 8 January 2013, 02:42 via

        “All Sounder Northline service between Everett and Seattle is canceled all day Tuesday, January 8, 2013 and all day Wednesday, January 9, 2013 due to a mudslide that occurred on Monday night south of Mukilteo.”

        Is the Federal Railroad Administration paying attention to this safety issue?

  12. Concerned about the idea of 18 mile-and-a-half long coal trains passing through this mudslide afflicted area every day and clogging up commuter traffic? Please share any comments or concerns you might have about the potential environmental and public health effects of the Gateway Pacific coal train project online at by January 21.

    There is no limit to the number of comments or ideas you can send to the environmental review board. This is a brainstorming phase and the more comments and ideas you share better. For more information about the potential health and environmental effects of this project, which will also clog up downtown Seattle traffic and bus routes, please visit

    Your comment may make a difference in the lives of Washingtonians for the next 50 years. Please encourage everyone you know to also comment on this project by January 21. Speak now or forever hold your breath. :)

    1. I’m not sure how it makes any difference if the proposed coal trains go instead to Roberts Bamk. If anything, the prospect of added freight traffic may cause BNSF to devote more resources to fixing the mudslide problem.

  13. I really wish there were some sort of Car2Go-style service for getting around Snohomish County. It would solve a lot of last-mile problems for anybody traveling there by bus…

  14. Am I the only one who is wondering if a realignment further inland might not be in the long term transit and economic interest of the area? It seems to me that punching across the Shoreline area, and meeting up with an expanded I-5 right-of-way Mountlake Terrace to the Snohomish River would be a good alternative to fighting slides along the sound. Not to mention, it would make the Edmonds ferry terminal a lot more utilitarian. If we want to start upgrading to a high-speed Cascades corridor from the Willamette Valley to Vancouver, we need safer track Seattle to Everett.

    1. Good gawd. The corridor already exists. They are tearing up the rail as we bs on this blog.

    2. VI,

      You are envisioning impossible grades for freight trains. So I guess you mean to build this just for the passenger service.

      I don’t know what “punching across the Shoreline area” means to you in terms of connecting to the existing ROW, but I can say that if one posits a junction about 145th, you’d be looking at a minimum of at least a three-mile tunnel under The Highlands and downtown Shoreline.

      Then you’d have to bridge the valley at the 205/244th interchange to about where the new bus station sits. You can’t just end the tunnel in the valley because the grade to the north would be too steep.

      And finally, you’d face another steep hill at the north end, transitioning down from the prairie between Lynnwood and Boeing Freeway to the river level in downtown Everett.

      I guess all this could happen physically. But it would cost a huge amount and, really, does it make economic sense to make such a huge investment for Amtrak Cascades? Seven small cities (well, five and two whistle stops) plus the hope that the BC government will “see the light” do not a rail service plan make.

      It’s a stunning trip, but the Point Roberts coal trains are going to require BNSF to tunnel through Chuckanut Mountain, end of story. Once the ten miles along the base of the mountain and the run between Ballard and Everett along the sound are removed from what is currently a spectacular trip, you mostly have I-5 running and two long tunnels. Not that much fun; take a bus.

      1. OK, not “impossible” physically, but impossible economically. There’d have to be two bores for the traffic level and the new ROW to the north would have to be double track too.

  15. Holy mary, mother of gawd. And I ain’t even catholic. While the Seattle Transit Blog whistles “Dixie”, your pals in King County, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Kennydale, and Woodtown, are scrapping a super corridor. [Ah]

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