Oran Viriyincy/Flickr
Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

Four months ago I told you about large, but deliberately vague, plans for South Sounder if ST3 passes. At the time, the DuPont extension and facilities for 10-car trains were quite specific. However, plans for station access were, as usual, left open pending extensive post-election consultation with communities. Most importantly, the number and timing of additional train trips was unknown. Indeed, Sound Transit officials couldn’t even speculate, given the delicate negotiations with BNSF.

Regrettably, those negotiations are still going on. Spokesman Geoff Patrick says “the work with BNSF will be too involved to complete or speculate about prior to November.” It’s not just debates around a table, but staff work and simulations to show that a given level of investments can support a given level of passenger service without unduly disrupting freight traffic.

Helpfully, he shared the language about Sounder improvements in the ST3 plan:

…depending on affordability and cost-effectiveness, track and signal upgrades and other related infrastructure will provide capacity for additional trips. Sound Transit will negotiate with BNSF Railway Company and affected organizations for additional trips to serve growing ridership along the Sounder south line, within available financial resources. Consistent with the financial policies, available financial resources remaining after funding cost-effective additional train trips will be reallocated to pay for other capital and/or service improvements that are deemed to best provide additional frequent and reliable high-capacity transit service in the same corridor or subareas.

So the intent is clear, if the details are not.

91 Replies to “South Sounder Update”

  1. I think they will find that the more trips they fund, the better the ridership, the more “cost effective” Sounder becomes. Those trains are jam packed. We now need Metro and PT to fund efficient local service to all of the stations so that the ridership can be more than just “park and ride” and walk-up, and destinations can include neighborhoods in Tacoma, Puyallup, Auburn, and Kent.

    1. I doubt that very much. The next go with BNSF will likely have trackage access rights nearing $100 million per time slot. Amortize that over 30 years for a net gain of say 1,000 boardings per day, per RT gets you near 66 cents per passenger mile just for the privilege of running another train. Add that to current operating costs of 53 cents per passenger mile to actually operate the trains puts you well over a buck a mile.
      Commuter rail is a cash cow for BNSF – they know it – so does ST – but the Board is clamoring for more, regardless of the expense. ST is wise to keep this in the bag until after the election.
      This new round could easily make Sounder the most expensive train trip in the nation for medium sized properties, so careful what you wish for.
      For comparison of other Commuter rail costs per passenger mile: Metrolink 45 cents, Utah 36 cents and Caltrain at 28 cents.

      1. Also, don’t forget the parking. If N daily riders require N parking spaces at the stations, at $80,000 each, this means that each additional 1,000 boardings per day costs not only $100 million to BNSF, but also $40 million in more parking garages (since each person who parks in the garage represents two boardings if he/she rides the train round trip). All this parking means a lot of road congestion, so maybe ST has to start paying for road widening as well. And, as mic indicated, none of this includes the cost of actually operating the train.

        Once driverless Uber hits the road, these $80,000/stall parking garages become a luxury (e.g. drivers not needing to wait 5 minutes for the driverless Uber to show up) rather than basic station access (people have no alternatives because Pierce Transit doesn’t give them bus service). When this happens, parking garages costing this kind of money start to look like huge boondoggles.

      2. “Once driverless Uber hits the road,”

        and enough Ubers exist in south King and east Pierce for the dozens of people who are going to each station simultaneously, on top of those who would simultaneously be taking Ubers to other places.

      3. @asdf2 – I’d really love it if someone with more access than I have questioned ST about that $80,000/stall figure that’s been floating around. Structured parking generally costs +/-$25,000 per stall in this area; a similar garage to that which ST is constructing was opened a couple of years ago for less than that by San Diego’s transit authority. Everything comes under budget if you are budgeting 3x actual cost!

        If they are really paying $80,000 for these garages, the boondoggle’s already here.


      4. At Angle Lake the contract for the parking garage was $32,032,061. With 700 spaces, that puts it at over $45k per space. And 1% of that was for the fancy facade.

    2. Metro currently pretends we don’t exist, and is planning on continuing to pretend we don’t exist. In Metro Connects, Auburn’s largest neighborhood, Lakeland Hills, with apartments, condos, townhouses, etc., is designated Zone 4 — lowest density. There is zero Metro service here now. I’ve asked for an explanation for the decision and have been ignored.

      1. Thank you!!! That’s a complete BS designation. Auburn’s densest neighborhood. Townhouses. Condos. Dense SFR. Infill residential in the surrounding hillside nooks & crannies. Oh, but it was rural 25 years ago. Yeah, we really don’t matter to King County.

      2. Isn’t half of Lakeland Hills in Pierce County? Probably more than half by population. It does have a peak-only Sounder feeder operated by Pierce Transit (#497) along the obvious path that a King County route would take… maybe some arrangement to fund all-day service on the existing route would be considered by Auburn or King County.

        Lakeland Hills is in a weird spot, where routes useful to its residents aren’t very likely to be useful to other people. It has a very high proportion of housing, so it’s not much of a destination, and it’s not really on the way between other places. In this it’s sort of like the Issaquah Highlands or Redmond Ridge… and also Seattle’s Summit neighborhood, which, as some commenters here periodically remind us, is one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, yet has featured declining transit service (of course this is on a totally different scale — typical Summit residents’ walks to alternate service on Broadway or Olive is shorter than many Lakeland Hills residents’ walks to what would be their preferred route).

      3. Al, it is half in Pierce and half in King, which is why I think it gets ignored. I know it’s never going to have great service, but it’s ridiculous that Metro gives it nothing and keeps it as Zone 4 when it borders on less dense areas it classes as Zone 3.

      4. It’s a Local route which are minimum half-hourly. Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie ridge have buses that hardly anybody uses midday, so half-hourly sounds like a reasonable start.

        I was going to go down and take a look. Is it true that there’s no transit there now except the peak-only 497? Is the closest thing to take the 180 to the end and walk across the river and go in via A Street?

      5. To be sure: a wider span of service on the 497 would be more useful than any other route that would reasonably be part of King County’s purview, right?

        Of course, with the county line and transit politics where they are today (i.e. Sumner having no local transit agency) there aren’t too many other routes Pierce County could run out of there, either…

      6. Mike, there’s no transit except the peak 497. I asked Pierce Transit if they were going to extend it to coincide with the mid-morning Sounder run and they said no, I need to ask Sound Transit or Metro (hah!) about it.

        I wrote Pete von Reuchbauer about it, and he responded right away with a letter he wrote to the acting head (I think) of Metro asking for an explanation of the zoning decision. He suggested I write to Tristan Cook, which I did and of course received no reply.

        Extending 497 would be useful, but I think Metro needs to pony up some funds for it. A large percentage of its riders are King County residents, and all of them are heading to jobs in King County.

      7. Julie,
        Comment here:
        on the long range plan. I’ll contact City Council. I’d suggest you do the same. As for the county line issue, I live in King County, but would walk to a stop on the 497 that is located in Pierce County, to get to Auburn Station, in King County, then take the Sounder to Tacoma, in Pierce County, then, perhaps, take a PT route to work, or bike to work, if I were to take transit. There needs to be some continuity across county lines, especially where people and neighborhoods cross county lines.
        The 497 – whether operated by PT or Metro – needs to be all-day service in addition to the peak routes. There are people who would take it (even off-peak). When my wife was in college, she had to sit around somewhere until the first 497 – classes started too late to make parking at Auburn Station viable, and parking on campus was too expensive. An elderly neighbor continued driving until he got into a car accident despite being willing to take a bus. (The transit agencies deemed him not eligible for Access/Shuttle since he drove to his appointment.) I’ll bet some of the neighborhood teenagers would take transit to activities at the schools, libraries, and other locations around town. But we’ll never know that until the service is offered. 497 gets good ridership at peak. I would expect decent ridership off-peak as well.

      8. Metro is not waiting any longer for Pierce Transit to get more funding, which has lagged for a decade. The LRP has Metro routes to south Lakeland Hills, Puyallup, and east Tacoma. Metro is perfectly within its rights to do so as long as it benefits King County taxpayers. An ancestor of the 347 went to Lynnwood Transit Center on 44th Ave W.

      9. Engineer, I already commented on the Metro Connects page and put it on our neighborhood facebook page and the NextDoor app. I contacted Mayor Backus, but not any councilmembers.

        Mike, another issue with walking/biking to the 180 is the neighborhood is up a pretty significant hill (hence the name) so that makes it pretty impractical for most people.

    3. Wow I’m not the only person around that’s notice PT needs to convert bus routes that go via Sounder Stations into connectors, what they currently have is a joke. What often see is their buses departing stations as trains arrive before people can transfer to them. Someone mentioned Uber, have you tried to get a car out of a park and ride with everyone else? Its nuts, adding more cars trying to collect people is not the answer here. Getting rid of the cars and having more buses much better. And while we’re at it, get rid all that damn traffic using downtown Puyallup / Meridian as a main road to South HIll, go UP THE FREEWAY.

      BNSF is building a 3rd mainline from Tukwika to somewhere past Auburn, how is the “freight interference” excuse valid here? I very rarely see Union Pacific trains using their track during commute times, UP and ST could run an express train between Tacoma and Seattle – ridership? I’m quite certain with something like that in place the trains would be full if you could get to Tacoma in 30 minutes vs 1hr.

      The extension to DuPont – thats on new track, how is freight an issue here? They can either wait their turn or go the slightly longer way?

      Anyways over the last 2 years of using Sounder between Puyallup and Seattle I’ve seen trains go from being moderately full, to every last seat gone and people standing on my PM train. Cant wait for the extra peak commute trains sometime next year. Lack of ridership in any form is not an excuse anymore for not doing something.

  2. I think that the cost considerations have more to do with a freight railroad’s costs and convenience, not Sound Transit’s. As long as our trains run along a heavily used corridor on somebody else’s property, we’ll always have limits beyond our control.

    Sounder is still a good idea, making some use of existing right of away. Any help with I-5 is literally worth a fortune to us.

    But freight trains tear up tracks- as any regular second-floor Sounder passenger will notice. So, like every other high speed passenger service in the world, we’re going to have to build our own railroad.

    Meaning though, we can put it where we need it to go.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Totally agree Mark, and have brought that up since Paul Price took the job as Dir of CR in the 90’s to no avail.
      ST’s Board should have held out for consolidation of both BNSF and UP trackage between Seattle and Tacoma. One for through freights and the other for passenger trains and a few local switchers. That would have set the stage for HSR, and many more bi-directional trips in whatever equipment was most appropriate. Even electrification could have been on the table early on.
      So here we are, hat in hand, begging for a couple of more time slots 20 years later.

      1. Remind us, Mic, where does Union Pacific run in area we’re talking about? But any begging here is pretty much like every giant corporation’s daily dealings with the government in general in this country.

        Except your average huge, dangerous animal accustomed to getting its own way and able to pay lobbyists at least sits up while it snarls and does its best to look rabid is big enough to make sitting up unnecessary. And will only roll over when the American people get a big enough truck.

        But Central Puget Sound area should be able to build the railroad we need on what we save from being able to use I-5 again. If we get started on the planning, by ST-whatever’s next our freeway system should have long since shifted from our biggest competitor to our best pro-rail argument.

        Incidentally, though, as very often happens, ingrained obsolete ideas really interfere with progress. The Enlightenment itself dates from when Scots engineers finally proved to the English ruling class that cats will eagerly stay in the bag if it’s warm and comfortable enough.

        While cows, on the other hand, especially the barely-tamed Wild Cash breed…..”Weel, what d’ye expect, ye puir silly boogers? Nae wonder ye need us tae invent the steam engine and cable cars!”


      2. Up and BNSF both depart the rail yards in Georgetown and meet again in the Tacoma yards. UP takes the shorter route, turning west at Sumner, while BNSF heads to Puyallup. UP ends in Tacoma, putting all their trains on the BNSF. I’m just flabbergasted they couldn’t work together to merge them all in Georgetown, then finish the double tracking on the UP for Commuter Rail.
        But those cows escaped the fields long ago, never to be herd from again. :). me funny.

      3. @ mic The UP line doesn’t go anywhere useful between Tukwila and Tacoma, except Sumner. Might be good for an express train, then I’d want a connector bus from Sumner to South Hill. Queue evil laughter from PT.

  3. Short of building a new commuter rail line, is there any chance in hell that either Sound Transit or WSDOT could ever acquire the BNSF line? Would they even want to?

    It seems like BNSF, while cooperative to some degree, is an impediment towards turning the corridor into a legitimate means to rapidly move people around the region. Not to mention the high costs we pay to them to even run the few trains we do.

      1. Unless you’re going to live in a tree hut and eat pinecones, you’ll need to be ok with the unsafe things that get transported around and turned into finished products you like to buy :-)

    1. If the state legislature made passenger rail top priority, WSDOT would have a lot of clout to arrange a deal. But Cascades was created by an earlier legislature who was more interested in passenger rail as an alternative to I-5. The current legislature seems to put passenger rail below new highways, supports freight rail for its trade/commerce role, and keeps Cascades running just because it’s established and their constituents want it.

      1. Mike, not to get TOO partisan, but ” the current legislature seems to put passenger rail below new highways” because Republicans control the State Senate and are breathing down the necks of Democrats in the House. End of story.

    2. BNSF is very cooperative with passenger service providers, but they do indeed charge high rates–which they very well should.

      Passenger trains are very detrimental to freight capacity and operations, and as long as we remain committed to cramming as many passenger trains onto the one adequate freight mainline into Seattle (while the totally duplicative UPRR right-of-way remains underinvested and underutilized), we will pay a fair premium for access.

      Or, we can get smart and start incentivizing the freight bypass, ultimately leading to both passenger and freight dedicated corridors.






      Our railroads, our ports and our cities want this. Make it happen, Sound Transit.

      1. I don’t think WSDOT owning the trackline would be a detriment to freight; they are no stranger to owning infrastructure that moves freight around (I would assume they would contract BNSF to deal with the actual freight movement). WSDOT owning the tracks would help the prioritize passenger trains and improvements to passenger movements.

        You have to remember that BNSF is a for-profit company. Their motive is to make money, and freight is their cake. Sounder and Amtrak are the icing on that cake, but their motives for negotiating are towards their bottom line, not to moving people. Passengers will always take a back seat.

        I would be curious how much a purchase price would of Vancouver to Portland would be if BNSF even considered a sale. A billion seems on the high end, but still within reason.

      2. WSDOT owning the BNSF trackway is not the issue, and it very well should be trying to acquire it as a long-term investment in regional infrastructure and mobility (especially if we want affordable high-speed rail service to Portland(!!)).

        The issue we confront now is the addition of more passenger trains to what is the sole adequate freight mainline into Seattle from the south.

        Unless WSDOT and/or Sound Transit take action to lessen the demand for the BNSF line by upgrading the parallel railroad corridor, we will never see a public line into the city. At least not “cheaply”.

      3. Commuter trains run for a few hours each day 20 or more minutes apart, the headway on the south line is 10 minutes, freight runs 24/7. Commuter trains clogging up freight is a very weak excuse. BNSF most likely just dont want to make it work because they dont have to.

  4. I don’t understand the operations of the UP tacks South of Tukwila but I have the sense that it is underutilized.

    I’m also waiting for the day when BNSF relocates switching and maintenance to underutilized space in Auburn so that they can sell their valuable real estate in Innerbay/Magnolia.

    1. R,

      BNSF does a very significant amount of maintenance and switching in Auburn. Day-to-day, hour-to-hour, the Auburn yard can go from filled, to empty, to filled again, and it seems like there are always operations going on down there, day and night.

      As for the UP tracks, well, UP owns them and operates on them. BNSF owns the BNSF tracks and operates on them. Two companies; two tracks.

      1. Auburn Yard is predominantly a minor storage yard. It does occasionally provide classification service.

        It basically holds trains entering either Port of Tacoma or Seattle.

        The two companies have long sought access to each other’s lines in this area, either in the entirety or a portion, but they have always fallen through. Namely, why would BNSF provide some trackage access when the Union Pacific line’s quality and capacity is so poor? They won’t pay for its upgrade.

  5. I’m not sure this is the right thread, but I have a Sounder improvement question.

    How hard would it be to run Sounder South trains to Golden Gardens? Add stops at north downtown, Expedia, and western Ballard as well.

    It wouldn’t be that useful for Seattleites, but it could greatly enhance the utility of Sounder South.

    1. Two of the stations you proposed (Broad Street and Ballard) were included as provisional stations in ST2. Their cost would have been allocated to the Snohomish County subarea, since, as you noted, there is not much benefit to Seattle. The great recession slashed revenue collections for ST2, so there hasn’t been enough money to consider funding any of those provisional projects. And, because mudslides and travel times have kept Sound North’s ridership very low, there has been little support for additional investment along the line. Snohomish County has prioritized light rail to Paine Field in ST3, which sucked up every penny they could spare (along with a disproportionate share of federal grant funding). As a result, these stations won’t be funded by ST3 either.

      Despite the backstory, I think these infill stations are still a good idea – particularly somewhere in north downtown or Belltown (although Broad Street seems a few blocks too far north). The stops would be great for both Sounder North and South. With a few more stops like this, I think Sounder North could finally reach the ridership gains that needed to make it fairly cost effective on a per rider basis.

      1. WSDOT is undertaking substantial slope improvements to the Sounder North line for the HSR stimulus program. It should largely do the track of preserving the line’s integrity through the winter seasons.

        Otherwise, there are some minor capacity constraints on the line, but those can rather easily (and sensibly) be corrected over a period of time. Specifically, that is upgrading the Stampede Pass line through the Cascades, which immediately reduces pressure on Stevens Pass and lowers the already modest number of through-trains that head north under Seattle.

      2. I know two of the stations were looked at for Sounder North and found to be underperforming. I’m wondering about the feasibility of having Sounder South serve them plus Expedia and Golden Gardens. Lot’s more trips, lots more people.

        Hopefully they get studied by either the city or by ST as part of the next LRP update.

    2. A lot of people on STB aren’t convinced about the worthiness of a Ballard station. It would be far enough west of downtown Ballard that it’s not good walking distance, the 44’s trolley wires don’t go out that far, and 45th BRT is unlikely to be extended to it. Only two roads go out to Seaview Avenue and they’re not designed for a high volume of cars. As for whether Sounder South could go north of King Street and turn around in north Seattle, I don’t know about that.

      1. Unless the Golden Garden Station plans call for a $500 budget to buy a bunch of step stools, so the dozen or so daily riders can get into the train, it will not be worthwhile. The good news is that the Golden Garden area has ample room for ~10 car commuter parking.

      2. You could do something with Golden Gardens, but if it were me I would have it take the sand house tracks, go under the Ballard Bridge, cross a rebuilt NP bridge over the ship canal, and wind up in throat king lot of the Fremont Fred Meyer.

        Obviously it would be expensive and the lower bridge would need to be raised more often. However, it puts the passenger service much closer to where it needs to be.

        Fred Meyer could change to a parking garage rather than surface parking for a benefit to both Sounder and the store.

        It’s a bit far from the 44, but maybe it’s time something went closer to that Fred Meyer.

      3. 40th Street had no all-day buses between the U-District and Fremont until the 1990s. 36th had no buses between Fremont and Ballard until 2012. In both cases the initial routes were so popular that they were expanded repeatedly, and now their fullness rivals the 44. The same thing happened earlier with the 8 and the 48. So it could possibly happen in lower Ballard, although I don’t know how a route would go. But when I lived at 65th & 15th NW I used to shop at Fred Meyer a couple times a week, and I would take the then 15 and walk four blocks to it. I always wished there could be a closer bus when carrying things back, but I understood I couldn’t expect a custom bus to that lower-density one-story area. Still, maybe a useful bus route near Fred Meyer could be found.

        Metro’s LRP has two RapidRide lines near Fred Meyer. One is the 40. The other is a route from 11th & 44th (which must be Fred Meyer) to Leary, 15th, 85th, Wallingford, 92nd, Northgate Station, Northgate Way, Lake City Way to 130th. (“The Fred Meyer to Fred Meyer line?”) That would actually have served my trip when I lived in Ballard.

  6. The ONLY long term solution is for ST to build its own NEW heavy rail corridors between Tacoma/Seattle/Everett. Martin basically said so himself a few podcasts ago.

    I will refrain from going on a tirade about how ST3 doesn’t solve very many of our problems because I’m on my second cup of coffee.

    Happy Monday!

    1. husky, you’re on the right alignment, but you need to plan for a longer line with a wider right of way.

      Because the real answer is for Amtrak (which by then will have a name that doesn’t sound so much like a laundry soap marketing cult) and every regional rail system along its route, to combine into complete electric railroad of its own.

      There’s really no telling how soon this project will get even get onto the drawing, I mean circuit, or whatever kind of boards they are now, let alone carrying passengers. But unknown could just as easily mean sooner than later.

      Because like every single one of this country’s civil engineering problems, this one is zero percent technical, less than that financial, and (quantum physics probably makes this possible by now) an infinite percent political.

      Cost of any our combined zero-necessity and less benefit recent wars would probably get us to Tierra Del Fuego. Including bringing its county into our service area. Or conversely, and pray you never see it, the tax, rationing, and military draft need for real National defense.

      More likely, people voting for the first time in a few weeks will face get to adjust the old-age benefits of tonight’s debaters to the level they’re trying to impose on you. Until you massively refuse to spend your whole lives in debt for the education their parents’ and grandparents’ taxes gave them.

      Too bad if their next four wars before retirement use up all the bailout money. You’re not your grandfathers’ voters.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Are you talking about electrifying the hundreds of miles of rural areas? Or only where regional trains are feasable?

  7. Sounds like Sound Transit views the pot of money is Broad enough that if there’s money left over it can be spent on things like station access, additional parking, additional bus service in and around the sounder corridor. Am I reading the statement right?

    1. ST’s estimates are very conservative because it got into trouble in 2001 for underestimating costs and risks. Under Joni Earl the previous CEO it reformed itself and now tries hard to underpromise so it will never have to ask for more. The ST3 estimates are based on ST1&2 outcomes; e.g., the length of planning time, the costs, and the amount of grants it will receive. There is some low-hanging fruit: if more cities permit light rail as a regular zoning use so it doesn’t have to seek a variance as Redmond has done (and Murray has promised to do), and if the community agrees on just one EIS alternative to study alongside ST’s preferred one and the mandatory no-build one, then that could shave a year or more off the planning time and reduce the cost of the EIS substantially. As opposed to the problems in south Bellevue that lengthened it by a year and required two dozen alternatives. So ST is hoping for that but it can’t count on it in the budget now because there’s insufficient precedent. Likewise, federal grants and loans in ST1&2 have come in higher than expected, but again ST can’t count on that in case it doesn’t happen. The construction timelines have a year of float and a cash buffer for contingencies. Then there’s planning for a recession: ST’s asset-to-debt ratio is stricter than the state requires so that it can pay off the bonds even if another recession like 2008 happens. If the economy continues doing splendidly and job creation remains at maximum then tax revenues will be higher than expected. So there are a lot of ways that ST could end up with money left over, although none of them are guaranteed. By declaring some projects as provisional ST can put any extra money into them without another vote.

    1. There will clearly be Sounder upgrades. There is a commitment to extend platforms and extend to DuPont. There is also a commitment to add trips, though we don’t know how much, because there are negotiations.

      How interesting that you would rip ST3 for its Sounder improvements, as it’s the one thing you allegedly want to do in this region.

      1. Mr. Duke, those improvements are wildly marginal in lieu of a more robust passenger rail service between Tacoma and Seattle.

        Sounder does not require longer trains, but more trains.

        I also think I quite understandably rip ST3 for encouraging us to vote for it while failing to provide a more concrete description of the improvements to *the* service I wish to see expanded.

        All these unnecessarily obscure negotiations for unclear service goals leading to open-ended promises does not entice me to support this proposition.

        And the fact that the glaringly obvious solution to this capacity problem already exists, right in our face, is absurd.






        BNSF, UPRR, Amtrak, Tacoma Rail, and the Port of Tacoma have been having internal discussions related to the bypass concept, or key components of it, since at least 1991. Unfortunately, without outside institutional support and a broader vision, the plans always fell through.

        We continue to lack that vision, even though it is th singularly best long-term infrastructure investment that could ever be made in th South Sound today.

      2. The main component of getting more Sounder trains is to triple-track a large segment of the BNSF railway. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if your $2 billion figure is right, that’s a $2 billion contribution to your principal policy objective when there is not even a beginning of an alternative process, or interest group vehicle, for that kind of funding.

        You can choose to reject that because other groups are getting things that you don’t like, or demand to see every detail up front even though that would be terrible stewardship of funds. But the idea that there is some sort of fix in because Sound Transit doesn’t like its own Sounder service is laughable.

      3. I am not a conspiracist or a fabulist, nor do I think ST has ill inent.

        But there is absolutely no need for two redunant passenger railroads between two local cities, both costing billions to build, maintain and operate.

        Just consider that for second. What I am writing is not particularly far out. San Francisco, a far more densely populated and larger city–and region, too–are having a lot of difficulties between Caltrain and BART schemes for this very same reason.

        The BNSF would not even require a third track if the totally parallel Union Pacific line was simply provided a second mainline and upgraded.

      4. One final point, Mr. Duke:

        In an above post I wrote that Amtrak both explored and had interest in this plan or very similar schemes; this is not accurate. I meant to write of WSDOT as the stakeholder there, on behalf of a passenger operator, presumably Amtrak.

        Finally, I would hope that this blog would consider the merits of this very reasonable proposal, and host a piece on it in much the same way it supports the ambitions of the Seattle Subway crowd. Where the Seattle Subway and this plan differ, however, is that this logical scheme is likely to have immediate backing from a lot of critical actors that have explored such reorganizations of rail
        ops before.

        This proposal is such a no-brainer that I thought of it independently of others, and some of those planners were tossing similar ideas about in 1990 as they prepared the first passenger rail services in the area (additionally, BNSF/UPRR had separate operational issues that had them considering joint operations over the corridors).

        No one is suggesting that we finance and build a world-class passenger and commuter rail system immediately, but it we ever wish to have one, this is about the only way it could ever be accomplished.

    1. Troy, I don’t think any monopoly ever loses its composure in any negotiation with the likes of Sound Transit.

      But is there a slight chance that over the railroad’s existence, the Federal Government asked its taxpayers to give BN, or its predecessors, enough money they wouldn’t suffer any mood disorders?

      And isn’t there a chance they’ve often told the people of as many States as they need, who are technically their landlords, that if we don’t like BN, we can build our own railroad? I agree a hundred percent.

      However, I think most people miss the balance sheet column for expenses wrongly imposed on us by outside force, our transit system’s own incompetence or laziness, or voters who can’t read a balance sheet because the ink is neither black nor red.

      I call it “Feedlot Floor Brown.”

      Mark Dublin

    2. Based on what a workmate said a couple weeks ago, the 2.30 train is 2 cars, and mostly full. I hope they add some extras on the Fridays before long weekends, our office closes at 2pm, and the 2.30 train is going to be ideal.

  8. When I’ve heard stories from commuter rail negotiations elsewhere, I’ve heard that the rail companies end up negotiating based on the amount of money that voters made available. Vagueness and stinginess is critical to getting a reasonable deal for the public.

    Of course getting an exclusive track – even a single track with occasional bypass tracks – is the the best long-term solution. It’s too bad that when we’ve gone with that strategy, trail lovers end up getting their way rather than commuters.

    1. BNSF is a fair negotiator for access to their most precious commodity, their mainline. They will not overcharge hysterically because we have allocated a certain amount of money for ROW improvements. They will charge fairly for perpetual interruptions to freight service that are legitimately impactful. Besides, we already know how much is roughly budgeted for these improvements: $2b.

      That is no excuse for the total lack of transparency on the part of ST. What are their specific goals? Are their goals unrealistic? What levels of service are sought? Is there room for negotiation on our side?

      We will find out after we vote for the plan, of course.

      1. That is no excuse for the total lack of transparency on the part of ST.

        This is false. The excuse is quite clear. The goals are also clear: to add trips.

        Your view of BNSF is… interesting. Perhaps we should just ask them how much they should charge us and just pay that?

      2. Mr. Duke, it is not as if BNSF is dealing with an oil tycoon making moves; Sound Transit is a public agency with financial constraints, and the company is well aware of this. Besides, we roughly know the budget, so this idea of vagueness for more leverage is what is false in this situation.

        Also, how many trips? What time? When do we accept or decline additions? What is the criteria? Will we know about these additions (or lack thereof) before or after the vote?

      3. BNSF has a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to extract as much value as possible from their assets. Within political constraints, they are incentives to charge ST as much money as they think they can get away with. That is what a “fair” negotiation is in the private economy.

      4. AJ, BNSF is privately held.

        Also, by upgrading the adjacent freight corridor, it gets passenger trains off its lawn. Sweeten the pot by further improving the corridor with grade separations and new yard facilities. The grade separations should be publicly financed and built *anyway*.

        This is very, very good for that bottom line.

      5. Fine. So it’s responsibility to its shareholder rather than shareholders.

        We all know Warren Buffet didn’t buy the BNSF to operate a charity.

      6. I am sure the BNSF would be quite alright forgoing twenty-five miles of crowded mainline in exchange for a grade-separated, high-capacity freight corridor developed by the State (and which also benefits the State). The Union Pacific, too.

        The railroads want this.

        The kneejerk reaction to this idea, that it must somehow be in opposition to the interest of the railroads, is sorely misguided.

      7. The point is that there are factors for a potential win-win deal, and WSDOT could figure out the details and negotiate with BNSF if it had a legislative mandate to.`

      8. We should be very clear here, too: BNSF revenues are not determine by local businesses and certainly not any particular local alignment. BNSF revenues are determined by quality mainline operations and access to import and export markets via crucial seaports.

        We not only preserve existing access for both railroads, but we dramatically improve freight mobility in the Seattle-Tacoma corridor, the most congested in the state.

        We just so happen to get flawless public rail infrastructure out of it, too.

      9. The state is a semi-sovereign entity under our federated government. It has much more clout than ST does. BNSF can basically ignore ST as just another local jurisdiction it has to deal with.

        Maybe ST could take the lead on this and have the state give it secondary support, since it’s among the alternatives the state has considered. But I can understand if ST doesn’t want to take on such a big and expensive challenge.

  9. So what could the alternatives be if ST and BNSF can’t reach a deal? ST hasn’t said, but the only things I can think of that could be plausable are running a Link line through the Kent Valley (which would be totally beyond ST3’s budget) or BRT from the Sounder stations to the nearest Link stations, and accelerating/enhancing Link whatever that means. But the travel time would be longer than Sounder. The 154 does downtown-KDM-Kent in 52 minutes; the 578 does downtown-FW-Auburn in 45 minutes and it’s not really possible to speed those up. BRT transferring to Link would take longer I would guess.

    However, Metro’s long-range plan has both a Rapid and an Express route on KDM Road between KDM Station and Kent Station, so any ST BRT would supplement/replace that. (Rapid #1056: Des Moines – Green River CC. Express #2021: West Seattle – Kent Station.)

    1. Link is not fast enough to replace Sounder. In the time it takes Link to get from downtown to the airport, Sounder has you at Puyallup, about 4 times the distance.

      Personally I despise Link and the amount of PR thrown at Link as the golden solution to everyones problems. Its part of the solution, what the Puget Sound needs is more high speed rail, it will ease the housing demand in Seattle and give more people an alternative to punishing them selves on I5 and SR167 every day.

    1. Railroads are generally exempt from eminent domain procedures as their federal oversight supersedes local and state attempts to take over control. Additionally, there is zero legal precedent within Washington State to even go about taking over the BNSF right-of-way.

      Besides, it is not necessary. There is a simple and glaring alternative that would satisfy everyone that, for reasons and there, has not been realized.

    2. What, and just stop shipping freight? That’s not possible for a long list of reasons.

      FWIW, it looks like they’re adding another track in Auburn.

    3. That would be awesome. If HSR becomes politically popular I could see the feds using eminent domain to take the line and upgrade it to HSR.

      1. For true Japanese/French/Spanish/German-style HSR, a whole new, far shorter railway will be needed. Yes, small sections of the 19th Century-built Northern Pacific line between Seattle and Portland could be used for station access. Beyond that, an all new route would be needed at vast expense and decades in court on procurement of the ROW alone..

      2. The “high” speed rail in the Obama initiatives (or did it go back to Bush?) is medium speed at 90, 110, and 125 mph. Not world-class HSR. WSDOT is incrementally upgrading for 90 mph, and supposedly 110 after that if the legislature doesn’t lose interest. Each level is more expensive, and they’ve eschewed 125 mph as not cost-effective for the Eugene-Seattle-Vancouver corridor. World-class HSR to California does not even have a concrete proposal at this point. We’re headed toward an era where you can take Cascades medium-speed rail to Eugene and then something else to Sacramento where you can get California HSR to the East Bay and Los Angeles, with a one- or two-seat ride up the penninsula to San Francisco. By the way, California HSR will be medium speed in the Caltrain corridor and from the outskirts of LA to downtown LA. We don’t know what that something else in the middle might be. Maybe a timed Coast Starlight connection, maybe untimed, maybe Greyhound.

      3. I spent about 15 minutes talking to the head of manufacturing at Huperloop 1 at Innotrans (see the page 2 posts from a couple of weeks ago). I’m not so optimistic about it for passenger service.

        So, the plan is to put a huge number of people into a vacuum sealed tube. So, how do you handle passenger fresh air needs?

        “Oh, we plan to farm out a bunch of the subcomponents so that will be someone else’s problem. It will obviously have to be some sort of spacecraft like system.”

        Freight doesn’t have to breathe. Hyperloop (or Newcom’s Atmospheric Railway or whatever) will be revolutionary for Amazon. Fresh fruit and dead fish will have huge benefits. I’m not so convinced yet about passenger transportation.

        I have a feeling it’s going to be a while before we see hyperloop start moving passengers. Managing details by making it someone else’s problem by dumping it in the lap of subcontractors is such a 1990s way of handling technical issues.

  10. As far as peak-hour service goes, one would expect adding more peak-hour service to be less impactful on freight operations than adding all-day service. The reason being that if Sounder is already running frequently enough to effectively prohibit freight trains along the line during rush hour, the marginal freight impact in upgrading peak-hour frequency from 20-30 minutes to 10-15 minutes is zero.

    Of course, one can be rest assured that BNSF will charge ST plenty for these additional trips, even if their marginal impact on freight operations is, in fact, zero. And there is also the issue that peak-hour transit is expensive in general, as each additional peak trip would require buying a new trainset and hiring new drivers, rather than running extra trips on the trainsets they already have with drivers they already have.

    1. I’m all for hiring more engineers and conductors, especially ones that dont waffle to the station attendants adding 2 or 3 minutes to every stop. It adds up. Route planners expect that trains and buses are somewhat on time, one might choose to live somewhere based on this. At least make an effort to stay under 5 minutes late.

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