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Local officials standing in front of a rendering of the new station

The planned move of Tacoma’s Amtrak station to Freighthouse Square, already home to Tacoma Dome Station, moved closer to fruition on July 13, as local officials celebrated the start of construction. Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar was joined by Tacoma mayor Marilyn Strickland at the Tacoma Dome Station plaza, and both spoke about the change that the new station will bring to the city and how they were welcome to embrace it.

The new station is part of the Point Defiance Bypass project, which will create an inland route for passenger rail between the Nisqually River and Tacoma Dome, increasing reliability and allowing for additional daily roundtrips on Amtrak Cascades between Seattle and Portland. When the station opens late next year, Amtrak will abandon its current 1970s-era station on Puyallup Avenue, and be located in close proximity to Tacoma Link and Sounder service.

The ceremony also honored the contributions of a citizen advisory committee that played a key role in the design of the station, suggesting a slew of incremental improvements to the initial concepts presented by WSDOT. The new station will integrate the existing warehouse on the site, which was built in the early 20th century for the Milwaukee Road, and instead build a glass facade next to the current Sounder entrance; an earlier plan had proposed a complete demolition and replacement of the structure with a modern steel-and-glass station and was met with backlash from Tacomans.

The project has, however, not been without controversy. Negotiations with the owner of the Freighthouse Square mall stalled earlier this year after he attempted to raise the price of land on the station site, resulting in WSDOT considering the use of eminent domain to acquire it; a month later, the owner backed down and signed an agreement with WSDOT, allowing for construction to move forward while the final price is determined at a later date.

41 Replies to “WSDOT and City of Tacoma Kick Off Construction of New Amtrak Station”

  1. I’m excited to have this project completed. I really enjoy riding Amtrak down to Portland from Tacoma. We often do a one day round trip and improved speed, reliability, and availability will all be appreciated. Even if we do lose the nice view of the Narrows bridges.

    The lack of integration between the current Amtrak station and the Tacoma Dome station hub is unfortunate. I have heard so many stories, ranging from bafflement to actual horror, from people who transferred from a bus, Link, or even a confused taxi, and had to take the long walk down Puyallup Ave. with luggage in tow.

    Having everything in the same complex is going to be safer and more convenient. It will give Amtrak passengers access to better parking. And, it will help let riders of each transit service know about the others improving transfers and promoting all-transit trips.

    1. It will be great having the Freighthouse food court right there before you get on the train. I’d love to be able to grab some Vietnamese food, or fish and chips before heading down to Portland, rather than wait in line for the meager offerings at the food car on the train. The Tacoma station will have the best in-station shopping and dining of any stop on Amtrak Cascades.

      1. Thanks, D.

        Little India Express, Freighthouse Square, Tacoma Dome Station. Last edible food ’til you get to the noon food trucks in Downtown Portland. Food, in addition to being edible, would probably be considered good in India.

        Other stalls look comparable. Wonder if there’s anything the traveling public can do to make sure these places will still be there when first Portland train leaves.

        Mark

      2. If they have survived so far, I don’t see what will keep them from keeping going, unless the landlord or construction does something that drives them all out.

        When I was in Freight House Square about a week ago there wasn’t a single place to sit down – and it was past 1 in the afternoon so the lunch crowd would mostly have gone I would have thought.

        So, I made the mistake of taking Tacoma Link into downtown Tacoma, and got a meal at twice the price and 1/2 the amount of food. They’ve gone “upscale” in downtown Tacoma (or whatever term is used for a restaurant where the vast amounts of vacant space on the plate costs about the same per square inch what Manhattan real estate does).

      3. If you need to take Tacoma Link from Freighthouse Square in search of good, inexpensive food, get off at the Union Station / S 19th stop and walk up to The Swiss at 19th and Jefferson. You will not be disappointed.

    2. Welcome to Tacoma if you want to have a successful job with a great number of opportunities. We need not only artists or enterpreneurs but will be glad to see new movers. We are waiting for you

  2. Same station, same platform, it’s time for integrated ticketing between Amtrak and Sounder. We do it on Everett-Seattle (though no one uses it), and the Surfliner and MetroLink are integrated without capacity problems. It’ll be sad when you’re standing on the platform watching a 43-minute train with seats available pass you by because you have to wait for a 55-minute train.

    1. The entire ticketing process needs an overhaul. The lineups for seat assignments at King Street is abysmal. We were standing for 45 minutes in a line that snaked around the whole station last time I took the train to Bellingham. I’ve taken Amtrak all over the country and I’ve never seen anything like it – why do we do this?

      I’ve also heard the ticketing system is so antiquated it is incapable of accounting for partial trips. i.e.: a trip from Seattle to Bellingham will block the seat all the way to Vancouver. I don’t know if this is true but if it is, that might account for their perceived lack of capacity for RailPlus passengers on the South line.

      1. The dumb seat assignment process at King St station has persuaded me to drive to Tukwila to board when traveling to Portland. Nowhere else does Amtrak use this process. What is even the point? In the northeast, you show up to the station 5 minutes before your train and walk onto it. The end.

      2. Part of me thinks it’s for crowd control. Scanning and verifying tickets at the booth before opening the doors shifts the line somewhere else and keeps people from crowding the platform. There are indeed lines to board trains at busy NEC stations because they scan your ticket before you go down to the platform (at least this how it works at NY Penn).

        I wonder if King Street is too small to handle the crowds. Even now it gets messy when northbound and southbound trains are boarding at the same time. Imagine adding several more departures as planned – they will be forced to fix this system. It barely works now and it will only get worse.

      3. It’s idiotic. Amtrak Cascades should have open seating, and passengers should be allowed to wait on the platform. The station dwell time in Portland and Seattle could be cut in half for through trains. We’re spending how many millions to cut 10 minutes off the run, when the same reduction could be accomplished by overhauling the ticketing system. It would save money in the long run.

      4. Ditto. For a trip like Olympia, who would spend 30 minutes to wait on a train platform for a train ride that lasts 80 minutes — all for a car trip you could make in 60 minutes?

      5. The lineups for seat assignments at King Street is abysmal. We were standing for 45 minutes in a line that snaked around the whole station last time I took the train to Bellingham. why do we do this?

        That would be interesting to know. If you don’t want to wait 45 minutes in line, then why did you?

        Officially speaking, you only have to show up 10 minutes or so before train departure. Thanks to Metro 8, I’ve shown up about 2 minutes before the doors close and still gotten on, and there are others I’ve seen do that as well.

        Some people show up this early so they can be seated together, which with open seating will result in the same thing you have now: people standing in line so they can be first in line to get a table or a window or sit together as a group or whatever.

      6. “The dumb seat assignment process at King St station has persuaded me to drive to Tukwila to board when traveling to Portland.”

        For trips to to the north, I have found it convenient to ride the 512 to Everett and get on the train there. The 512 drops you off right at the train station.

      7. I guess in the south, a Seattle->Portland passenger could ride the 594 to Tacoma and get on the Amtrak there. At least while the 594 still exists.

      8. Amtrak on the NEC does not have assigned seats; however, it does have ticket checks at major stations (Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston South from personal experience).

        My personal theory for ticket checks on the NEC is to stop freeloaders. Since the punishment for not having a ticket is usually getting kicked off the train, people intending to travel to the first station after the ticket check could board, get booted at their intended destination, and save both time and money. Granted, you couldn’t do that too often before Amtrak police and conductors would catch on, but it could become an annoyance for Amtrak.

        In Seattle however that scenario doesn’t seem like such a risk.

      9. the NEC conductors check tickets from new passengers after the train departs from each station. Those who have already shown tickets have little tags affixed to the baggage shelf that indicate the seat and destination of the passenger.

        ASDF, I have used that Everett method before, and also parked in Edmonds.

      10. “The lineups for seat assignments at King Street is abysmal.”

        This is more than true. I won’t have any part of it, so I pay the relatively little extra cash and travel business class. One receives business class seat assignments at the ticket counter, so no waiting in that ridiculous line that snakes all over the Great Hall. And if one is traveling alone and doesn’t want to chat, there are single seats in BC.

      11. The problem is that they want to put people into different cars based on their destination. Still, it seems like a solvable problem. Either with labels for the different cars so people can seat themselves. With a kiosk that allows people to enter number of passengers and destination and get a seat assignment. Or, by assigning seats at ticket purchase. It does seem like a problem that could be solved for less than the cost of a new station and track alignment.

      12. On other trains the platform staff simply tell people, “Seattle in cars 3 and 4.” This is followed by onboard announcements that only the doors in certain cars will open at a certain station, or that the cars will be decoupled and sent to a different destination.

      13. Somebody said seat assignments is a WSDOT requirement. I always thought it was to give the appearance of better service. But judging from the almost universal dislike to it among transit fans, it’s perceived of as an anti-amenity.

  3. First Amtrak train through the new station should have a couple of blue and white coaches attached, just to prove they can hold up to the trip. Same with an express bus connecting the station at Lacey with the Olympia Transit Center via a fifteen minute ride.

    One really serious problem, though. If the line draws half the passengers I think it will, station will need a very large parking structure. And also a lot more extensive bus service than just one route downtown. But I also think the main results will be worth the expense.

    The service area might very well draw enough Thurston County voters as passengers to bring the Sound Transit service area one county south in one election. And more important, “solve” some serious “congestion” by carrying enough passengers past it to get “the message” to a lot of trapped drivers.

    And their State Representatives. Who will get one last chance to see how fast they can get BRT past moving passenger trains. Though if they can get the line open all the way to Seattle before the new Tacoma Dome station opens, I’ll call a truce in the War on Cars ’til the (car) bodies can be retrieved from I-5.

    Whatever, I’ll also miss the shoreline part of the train ride. Maybe someone will take an excursion train along there once in awhile. Anything from a couple of DMU’s to a really giant steam locomotive like the ones that visited Seattle about 20 years ago.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It would have been nice if they could have kept the Coast Starlight on the shoreline route, since that’s more of a vacation/scenic run than the Cascades are.

      1. Not sure if freight conditions would allow, but since there’s only one Coast Starlight per direction per day, wonder if a New Waterfront Museum District could also include a theme-oriented train stop. Which could (seriously) be designed in conjunction with the glass museum.

        And include some shops and stands do as to have some fitting use through the day. There’s already an elevator from the Museum of Glass to the glass-decorated bridge to the Historical Museum, where after coffee and pastry at the Anthem Cafe, you can transfer to Tacoma LINK and also the 594.

        Mark Dublin

      2. @Chris I – exactly; I know they’re on different lines. Doesn’t mean I wish there weren’t a way to have accomplished that. Unfortunately an idea like Mark’s can’t work as a long-distance train needs facilities to handle baggage, etc. and nobody’s going to build something like that for two trains a day. Shame to have lost that scenic portion for those whose journey is part of their vacation, though.

    2. The parking structure at Tacoma Dome is pretty much at capacity now, and there are lots of paid lots around there that are full too.

      As best as I can tell, none of these are long term parking either.

      There is all sorts of other parking all over the place in the area, but it is reserved for various places. As an example, there’s a Tacoma Dome lot that isn’t too far away that is only open for special events.

      1. Also, traffic congestion.

        I’ve gotten on a 594 that was 20 minutes late at Tacoma due to the mess between Tacoma and Lakewood, and that bus is scheduled to take half an hour for that part of the trip. Sounder only needs 15 minutes.

        Getting from South Tacoma to Tacoma Dome takes about an hour on the local buses.

        So, naturally, the Lakewood and South Tacoma parking aren’t used much after the last northbound Sounder train leaves.

  4. Greyhound, next to Amtrak, next to Sounder, next to local buses. Tacoma will soon be ahead of Seattle.

    Now, Boltbus, with its slow-loading process, does not belong on what will soon have to be a local bus lane, but there are other locations around the corner where Boltbus could park. Greyhound’s storefront station could also be moved much closer to ID/C Station, where people will be able to visit local eateries while waiting for the bus, and have access to restrooms that don’t look like they belong at a gas station.

    1. When the city first started planning the renovation of King Street Station, it invited Greyhound to join it as a multimodal terminal. Greyhound refused saying it preferred its 9th & Stewart location. Later the location was sold out from under it so it moved to its current location next to Stadium Station. I don’t see anything wrong with the current location, and Greyhound made its own bed.

      I haven’t used the current location but it’s certainly easier to get to on Link, and you can actually see the depot from the train and the train from the depot so there’s no confusion where they are. And it’s within walking distance of King Street Station if you want to do that. Many times when I took Greyhound at the old depot or when I was waiting at Convention Place Station, somebody would ask me how to get to Link to the airport, or to King Street Station, or they’d be at King Street asking how to get to the Greyhound station. That’s difficult to explain because the Greyhound station was in such an obscure location, and with the diagonal streets and the look of Westlake Mall it was hard to explain clearly how to get from Greyhound to Westlake Station. All that is gone now, and good riddance.

      1. For the foreseeable future, Thruway buses at King Street Station are going to be necessary for statewide connections. Sadly, the access for buses there is pretty terrible, as they need to back up into the foot traffic several times in order to extract themselves from the dead end street.

        Maybe Tacoma would be a better place for this interchange?

      2. The Thruway buses exist for connections to trains. Most Greyhound riders are not transfering to Amtrak. So I don’t see the big deal if the Greyhound depot is separate from the Amtrak station or from the Thruway buses. It’s also separate from Bolt Bus even though Greyhound owns both of them. (And I find the argument that Bolt Bus can’t terminate at the Greyhound station specious. The Greyhound station is within a stone’s throw of downtown, it’s new and clean to dispel the Greyhound sleaze impression, and the station already exists so it’s not going to drive Bolt’s fare up. Bolt is really the missing express runs that Greyhound won’t run except on a long-distance run, and greater amenities. They’d compete the same whether they stop at the same station or not.)

    2. Has anybody ridden Greyhound lately? Leaving the coach after my last ride, from Sacramento to Eugene on a Fourth of July weekend about ten years ago, made me want to quickly go rent a grinder and separate that filthy rolling disgrace of a bus from my country’s flag by its door.

      Drivers’ passenger handling skills would’ve got them fired from the county jails they probably got fired from before Greyhound hired them. Only station employees anywhere passengers could see them were private guards. List of rules on back of schedules says pictures are forbidden.

      I take a lot of pics, but so as not to dirty my camera, have no problem obeying the rule.I take a lot of pics, but since my camera doesn’t have a crud filter, I have no problem obeying the rule.

      But If there hasn’t been a Regime Change (Shock and Awe and all) who wants this company anywhere near I’ll get on a vehicle? Small grudging compliment to Amtrak, but really wonder if by incorporating Greyhound into it, we can get it to desperation-marginal.

      At the very least, we’d have a national railroad that doesn’t sound like a home-products oriented cult. But we have to keep “Greyhound”. Because it carries a historic reference that I think passengers would get a kick out of, even though most aficionados have probably passed on.

      “Sea Biscuit” was a horse (great documentary book and movie, though a starving dog wouldn’t have eaten the Hollywood flick on a bet.) But the dogs guys bet on at the track had names (tempting, though) like “Mick the Miller” and “Ladyhawke.”

      Crowning marketing touch would be to have a Lyfft car with white fur all over it and ears instead of a purple mustache go roaring along ahead of the bus, like the mechanical rabbits the dogs used to chase. Though whole route would have to have at least HOV lanes the whole route to avoid having those extortionate “surge” fee increases passed on to passengers.

      And to further the period theme, Greyhound drivers could have the sharp professional uniforms they used to wear. And performance to match. Recent riders, tell us how far that company still has to go ’til it deserves to have the Stars and Stripes re-attached? From my earliest passenger memories, hope it’s soon.

      Mark

  5. The location of the station directly across from Tacoma Link is great. I am glad that WSDOT was sensitive to the need to provide the greatest possible access to the station without building additional parking. A kiss-and-ride area and bus stop are also slated for the front of the station.

    1. Sounder is a long walk from Tacoma Link on the other side of the station (and past a parking garage if I remember) and it’s not clear to a visitor where Link is, so I hope the Amtrak station and future Link station are closer that that.

      1. It’s not too bad. Tacoma Link is on one side of the Freighthouse Square building and Sounder on the other. You just have to walk through the building, and the Sounder station part of the building should be open if Sounder is actually running because the ticket machines are inside.

        See map view:
        https://www.google.com/maps/@47.2395727,-122.4281439,128m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en
        Tacoma Link is on the top side of the center of the image and Sounder is towards the bottom center.

        Maybe you got off at the wrong Tacoma Link station?

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