Tacoma Link tracks and Freighthouse Square from Tacoma Dome Station (Flickr User Aleferrari)
Tacoma Link tracks and Freighthouse Square from Tacoma Dome Station (Flickr User Aleferrari)

Following the negative reaction elicited by the state’s first conceptual designs for Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square — which would have demolished the westernmost half of the structure, WSDOT is starting over. In addition to the city trying to hire their own architect for the project, tomorrow and again next Thursday WSDOT will hold two public meetings to hear your ideas for station design.  More details and commentary below the fold.


Freighthouse Square has long been an anomaly. While on the one hand it is chronically underused, aesthetically unappealing, and struggles to retain retail tenants, it has nonetheless served as one of the few regional rail stations in Washington where commerce is not only permitted but encouraged, including coffee shops, restaurants, and even a marijuana dispensary. Consolidation of Amtrak services into Freighthouse will bring the station up to 40 trains per day (26 Sounder, 14 Amtrak) and bring much-needed all-day activity to the area, likely helping the station sustain more of its commercial business.

Though in a perfect world we’d figure out a way to reactivate the gorgeous Union Station with new track and reversing train movements (like is done around the world — see places like Bradford Interchange), a fully realized Freighthouse Square is the next best thing. This is a great opportunity to impact the design process, and if you have the time and inclination to attend, please do so.

27 Replies to “Tacoma Amtrak Station Design Meeting Tomorrow”

  1. Sure, Freighthouse can be served by a massive transit center, TLink, and a train buffet, but if there isn’t any residential nearby (I can’t really spot any within a half-mile radius), so who would want to walk or stay in that rather industrial area? And it seems difficult to have the commercial aspect of TOD without people. Perhaps Tacoma should look into more residential around FHS without having too many significant impacts on industrial zoning and their jobs.

    1. Note the ‘in a perfect world’. In such a place there would be no I-705, as it eats up tons of real estate, separates Tacoma from Foss Waterway, and doesn’t really add any mobility benefits. It should never have been built, and it wasn’t even built until 1990, so even auto-era Tacoma could do just fine without it.

      1. I just poked around on Google maps, and from what I can tell I-705 functions as a big series of overly complex and overly long exit ramps for I-5. The southern end (to 38th St.) is particularly unused.

        One could probably replace I-705 with a more normal pair of exit ramps which come out on Pacific Avenue and do just as well. As a side benefit, you’d get some parkland, some stormwater detention, and some good urban building space.

        Less controversially one might leave it intact from I-5 as far as 21st St, which seems to carry the bulk of the traffic according to reports, and rip out the southern and northern ends.

        They seriously built that monstrosity in *1990*? What were they thinking?

  2. When you mention Amtrak consolidation and Freighthouse Square, how many Amtrak trains currently stop there per day? Do some bypass the station?

    1. They stop at the current Amtrak station, some distance away. When Amtrak starts using the Point Defiance Bypass, they will stop at Freighthouse Square on their way up the hill to points south, rather than running along the waterfront and through the tunnel.

    2. Amtrak trains currently call at a station 3 blocks east, and all trains stop there (currently 10 per day). Once the Point Defiance Bypass is completed, Amtrak will expand to 14 trains per day.

      Meanwhile over at Freighthouse, all Sounder trains currently stop there, currently 18 per day. With 8 new Sounder trips coming on line between now and 2017, the eventual consolidated schedule will be 40 trains per day.

      1. I believe that the current Cascades frequencies are funded (which required a little extra money this year due to the PRIIA rules).

        More frequencies aren’t funded but BNSF won’t allow them until various construction projects are done anyway, and the most important of those projects (Pt. Defiance Bypass) won’t be done until at *least* 2017, so no hurry.

      2. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. WSDOT is required to run 6 roundtrip SEA-PDX trips daily in order to keep the stimulus money they got for the Point Defiance Bypass, but frequencies south of Portland and north of Seattle are still at risk IIRC. While Oregon has stepped up to provide better Eugene service that started last week, the 2nd trip to Vancouver BC is still commonly cited as a potential cutback.

    1. Suggest they mothball the current Amtak station when empty, so that Link can use it when it reaches Tacoma.

  3. The new station at FHS needs at-least two platforms. How you are going to squeeze a 2nd platform in I don’t know, but the current Amtrak station is already a bottleneck when trains are running late (which happens on an all too regular basis) and if you add Sounder in the mix that’s asking for trouble when a Cascades train is late in the middle of the rush hour.

    1. My proposal is simple.
      (1) Crossover between the two tracks between C Street and D Street
      (2) Second platform on the south side of the second track
      (3) Station in the old passenger station location — on the SOUTH side of the tracks

      That gets you the second platform and avoids any alterations to Freighthouse Square. Walk between Freighthouse Square and the new station at the D St. pedestrian crossing. There should also be a straight walking path to the Tacoma Dome along the “E Street” right of way.

  4. Forgive my ignorance, but will the entire Point Defiance Bypass, from Freighthouse Square to the reconnection with the BNSF line be two tracks? My understanding was the Sound Transit was doing the single track to Lakewood and WSDOT would come along and add the second lane to Lakewood and finish the double track to BNSF.

    But if you look at the ST line in aerial images, it looks like it’d be hard to wedge in a second track.

    And is there any information about replacing the trestle to the east of Freighthouse Square? I remember seeing an RFQ for it awhile back, but that’s about it.

    1. IIRC, it’ll be single track from Tacoma Dome to M St, double track from M St to Lakewood, and then single-track from Lakewood to Nisqually/BNSF Mainline.

      Double-tracking south of Lakewood is readily possible as far as Thorne Lane, and again south of Dupont. But the intersections along JBLM would be really difficult to double-track without a complete rebuild, situated as they are on freeway off-ramps (look at satellite photos for Berkeley St, 41st Division Drive, and Dupont-Steilacoom Road). What this should motivate us to do is organize for a double-track railway to be included in any I-5 widening proposal. Otherwise I-5 expansion may preclude double-tracking, forever limiting the line’s capacity.

      1. Any I-5 expansion should require double-tracking AND grade separation. This would avoid the hazards of level crossings and the line could be built to allow higher speeds for Cascades. The equipment is capable of 125mph.

      2. The only stretch of 2MT on PDB will be from 66th Street to just south of Bridgeport Way. The rest of the line will be single track until a later phase in the PNWRC — don’t expect to see 2MT before 110mph service begins. (While the equipment may be capable of running at 125mph, WSDOT determined that the additional operating costs — e.g., fuel — required to get from 110 to 125 did not justify the slight reduction in running time over topping out at 110.)

      3. Frankly, I-5 shouldn’t be widened, but if anyone tries to widen it, a double-track railway should be absolutely required as a condition.

      4. Yikes, this makes me wonder what the feasibility of running 40 trips a day through that area. Granted, most of Sound Transit’s trips are peak direction, but that’s a long stretch of single track.

  5. OK, so here is my thought on what should be done here. You may need to use Google Maps Satellite View to look closely at this, and please note that the full zoom view offered shows the new track under construction, while slightly zoomed out the new track for Sounder to get to Lakewood is mostly complete.

    One of the problems I see with the much hated new station proposal, incorporating everything into the current Freighthouse Square building, is that it seems like it would be quite difficult for two trains to serve this station at the same time. This is especially the case if Amtrak trains are put on the south track, and they need to get baggage carts to the train while working around a train on the north track. I’ve taken the train enough times between Seattle and Portland to have been delayed by Sounder trains at Tacoma perhaps 25% of the time, and that is with the current SEPARATE stations. What is this going to be like with them combined into a single platform and station structure and operating on the same line?

    I know that this would be fairly expensive, but for the sake of long term planning it seems to me that it would be worth looking at the two parking lots to the west of Freighthouse Square (which really don’t seem that well utilized) for the actual Amtrak platform and station building, sinking C and D streets under the track. With the roads out of the way, the land currently occupied by the parking lots could be connected with Freighthouse Square with pedestrian bridges along the tracks, so that this new Amtrak station plus Freighthouse Square becomes one large complex – possibly even covering the pedestrian walkways so that they make getting from Freighthouse Square to the Amtrak station a much more pleasant proposition in inclement weather.

    If the surface parking lots are truly part of someone’s vital plan (and really I don’t know what that plan would be since they take up a huge amount of space for both vehicles I have ever seen parked in them) then these parking lots could be sunk below ground and access to them from C and D streets where the streets drop below ground level. This type of parking is how the Capitol Building in Salem, Oregon works. There is this wonderful park-like mall on the surface, but directly under this park is underground parking. The road access to the parking lots is provided by Chemeketa Street, which has been dropped below ground level so that it doesn’t run right through the middle of the Capitol Mall park and also thus provides convenient entrance and exit to the underground parking area.

    Keep in mind that with up to three locomotives, a baggage car, summer traffic levels, plus sometimes as many as three privately owned cars on the rear, the Coast Starlight can be 18 cars or so in length. That isn’t going to fit at Freighthouse Square without blocking a few of the streets, and even with only a few cars serving the current Sounder platform is going to put locomotives in the middle of D street. So, I really think that eventually people are going to demand that something be done where the trains don’t block the streets anyway. This solves that problem before it happens, while at the same time separating Amtrak and Sounder platforms so the train movements don’t conflict quite as much. If a double crossover could be put at D street then both could have platforms on the north side of the tracks, while the south track is used by trains bypassing that platform and serving the other platform.

    And yes, my preferred option would be demolishing I-705 but sadly in the USA highway mistakes are usually allowed to live forever once constructed. (Or allowed to live at least until they start to collapse, such as the highway 99 viaduct).

    1. Won’t there be plenty of space to the east of Freighthouse Square once they rebuild and double track the viaduct?

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