NOTE: This post is copied in its entirety from an article I wrote, titled The Upgrading of Our Regional Rail System Is Now Called the SPIRE Plan. It is the latest entry of my blog, Transportation Matters, a Pacific Northwest-flavored blog that discusses railway planning, urban planning, and related politics.
In an effort to consolidate the many critical pieces of the Seattle-Tacoma (-Olympia) rail modernization project into one digestible concept for the public, I would like to introduce some helpful branding into the conversation: the SPIRE Plan.
It is an acronym for Seattle, Puget Sound, Intercity Railway Express. It is a vision for a rail based future that invigorates both our economy and our population.
For those within Sound Transit’s taxing authority—especially those living south of Seattle and who are dedicated to improving transportation options in a systematic, meaningful manner—the SPIRE plan is the mechanism through which our transportation ground game is revolutionized.
The SPIRE plan is the reorganization and enhancement of our local rail infrastructure that, incredibly(!), already exists. It would serve historic communities like Kent and Puyallup, cities with good urban bones, all of which are primed for new infill development and additional residents.
With up to 350 daily passenger trains at full build-out between Seattle and Tacoma, traveling safely at maximum speeds of 120mph, the social geography of the Puget Sound would be forever altered in powerful, transformational ways. Additionally, it places higher speed rail service to central Olympia directly at our fingertips, and it accomplishes this through a logical exploitation of existing resources. Key to the plan’s success is the diversion of all freight trains to an adjacent and parallel railroad line, thereby streamlining heavy freight operations into and out of our major ports and urban areas.
The SPIRE plan is absolutely doable, politically and technically, but only when we make the responsible planning, legislative, and funding choices that pave the way toward its realization.
By comparison, the planned Link light rail extension into Tacoma is the epitome of planned obsolescence. Not only does it build redundant rail infrastructure to poorly considered stations in low density auto-sprawl areas, it endangers actual quality plans with more deliverable timeframes, and which possess far more potential to positively affect regional mobility.
The SPIRE plan is one such proposal, a no-brainer commitment to incrementally upgrade our rail network to a world class standard, and which is fed riders by a suburban bus rapid transit system that stretches into the hinterland. Ultimately, we could tie a region together via swift, reliable, high-capacity transportation. We could construct a passenger rail spine that is truly worthy of financial capital, political capital, and our collective admiration.
Do you want swift, electric, frequent, and reliable passenger trains serving Seattle, Tacoma and beyond? Do you agree that our freight railways are an integral part of our transportation system? Do you wish to protect our cities by diverting dangerous freight cargoes away from their city centers? Do you want to eliminate every dangerous and traffic-plagued railroad crossing from our regional map?
If so, only one proposal could ever deliver those transformation results.
That proposal is the SPIRE plan.