The Point Defiance Bypass Project will change the face of heavy rail service in Pierce County by the end of this year. You have only a few months left to take in the view around Ruston.

Reminder: South Sounder will only be running between Puyallup and Seattle (serving all stations in between) from the afternoon of Friday, February 17 to the morning of Wednesday, February 22. When service to Tacoma resumes, it will be on the first of two new concrete trestles. Bus service will be available between Puyallup, Tacoma Dome, South Tacoma, and Lakewood Stations.

49 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Last Year for This Train Ride”

  1. I’ll miss that part of the ride- though it’s no longer part of a direct ride to Portland for me. Which now will have more service, right?

    Am thinking, though, that when we’ve got a modern rail system that’ll take both passenger and freight off the shoreline, we might want to reserve present coastline track between Everett and Olympia for scenic train rides.

    I think steam engines will be around for a long time.

    Mark

      1. Doubtful. It’s already single-track as it is. In any case, I don’t expect the waterfront train tracks to close to freight anytime soon. The bike trail idea is mostly just a dream.

      2. asdf,

        except for the stretch through downtown Edmonds, the Point Defiance tunnel and the strange 2-into-1-into-2 business just north of the ship canal crossing, the “coastal line” is two and sometimes three tracks from Everett Junction to the Portland Intermodal Facility.

        To the rest of you, BNSF and UP freight trains will never leave the Narrows route short of a stupendous natural catastrophe.

        And to you Mark, the Tacoma Stretcar will never go to Ruston or Point Defiance. Give it up.

    1. I doubt the coastal line will ever be gone. It’s far cheaper to send freight that way, which is why it was built to replace the old line over the top of the hill.

      Bus service between Tacoma and Point Defiance, University Place and Steilacoom is pretty slow. Eventually, local passenger train service will probably come back.

      1. The initial segment south of Freighthouse Square is way too steep for modern freight trains. Even the Coast Starlight will require “full steam” to make that grade in wet weather. The coastal route will have to carry the heavier loads.

      2. https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1wVQOOZRx_G2adFNuPSS2eAx8tng&hl=en_US&ll=47.23524696018134%2C-122.51961708526608&z=12

        http://www.historylink.org/File/5640

        Glenn, Tacoma used to have a streetcar system, including a line down through Chambers Bay to Steilacoom. Future extension of Tacoma LINK? Since I go through Ruston fairly often, been thinking about a carline out there quite a lot.

        Notice that old system never had a Point Defiance line. I think this is why:

        https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ruston,+WA/@47.2982557,-122.5064379,378m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x5490537c51c37863:0x5181f55b8a46ec48!8m2!3d47.2981978!4d-122.5103256

        From Downtown Tacoma Waterfront, if BN right of way won’t take anymore track, it looks like there’s for a trestle on the water side, the length of the Waterfront between Old Town and the tunnel under Ruston.

        But very steep climb from the tunnel mouth into Ruston itself would take some doing. Did the rail mainline ever have a station there?

        “Winging it”, but Stuttgart Bike Tram cog-wheel mechanism might pull a car up from the traffic circle at Yacht Club Road up North 51st Street to neighborhood center at Pearl, which ends at the Point Defiance Ferry. Bike-rack trailer and all.

        https://www.pinterest.com/charliehayes1/stuttgart-trams/

        So check this out and think about it. Would definitely beat trying to mix freight with local passenger service. I addition to being totally so totally rad and awesome we’ll need four car trains every run when LINK’s future mainline hits Tacoma.

        Though probably couldn’t interline to Point Defiance, because doubt the tunnel north of Westlake could handle bike trailers, even of cogwheel mechanism could be retracted.

        Mark

      3. @Guy: ruling grade is different than actual grade. It’s a fairly short hill compared to, say, the hill going to Boeing from Mukilteo. There’s a trail beside it in a city park. Take a look at that thing some time.

        At Freighthouse Square, the entire freight train would not have to climb the hill at the same time. This means the actual effect is less than what you see. This means a 7% grade may really act like a 5% or 3% when it comes to getting something up the hill.

        Tacoma residents aren’t going to tolerate having 7,000 foot coal trains headed to Vancouver block all the crossings in that part of town.

        @Mark: the thing is, the line around the end of the peninsula isn’t really that slow. It’s 40 minutes from the Olympia / Lacy station to the Tacoma station now. It’s a long time if you are trying to get from Eugene to Seattle. It’s not that slow if you are facing a 45 minute slog on a local bus on the local streets.

    2. A dinner train seems like a good use for it, and I’m sure it could be scheduled around freight once or twice a week. A significant number of people miss the Eastside dinner train, and used to take out-of-town visitors on it. they would be a market for it. And if it happened to start at Freighthouse Square where there’s a big P&R and many buses, it would be easy to get to.

      1. How many passengers per years does it take to make a dinner train economically sustainable? My gut feeling is that a dinner train is a very niche market, and if enough demand existed to sustain it, the eastside dinner train wouldn’t have closed in the first place. Maybe, with the new FRA rules, it would be possible to run it with smaller trains, reducing the number of passengers needed for profitability. But, even then, the price to buy the time slot from BNSF, alone, would probably be prohibitively expensive.

      2. From Wikipedia:

        In the summer of 2007, the train was forced to change starting locations when the owners of the Woodinville Subdivision, BNSF Railway, would not extend their contract. BNSF allowed King County to move forward with improvements on I-405, which broke the connection between Woodinville and Renton.

        It was when they tried to run in Tacoma, they couldn’t make money.

        WSDOT killed the Spirit of Washington Dinner train for more SOV capacity in the I-405 Corridor.

        The fix was in from the beginning. (Sorry to my friends in WSDOT, some who didn’t agree with what they were being told to do)

        Politics boys and girls.

        The data never supported removing the passenger rail option from the I-405 Corridor.

      3. The problem with Tacoma was that the line there runs through a bunch of suburban sprawl and isn’t especially scenic.

        You might be able to do something with the water level line. However, all equipment needs to be upgraded to Amtrak standards and the train operated as an Amtrak train. This is how mainline excursion trains have to operate as it is the only way to qualify for the liability insurance required. It’s possible, but a lot of work.

      4. The dinner train ended because BNSF abandoned the track and the line was severed at the Wilburton Trestle. Different sections of track fell to different owners, only some of them had future rail plans, and none of them were motivated to preserve or rebuild the Bellevue to Renton part.

    3. I too will miss the ride along the water. Sometimes scenery can sell someone on taking the train vs. driving. I’m sure improved consistency with the new route will also be a selling point.

      I disagree with any efforts to turn rails to trails. If we had running trains on those tracks that were turned to trails, we’d be far better off. If we had the interurban train still running, can you imagine where we’d be from a north Seattle, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Everett commuting standpoint? It would be an extremely busy route and would have been in place over 100 years already. Same with many of the other trails that took out rails. Once you take out rails, it’s nearly impossible to get them back. If we had commuter trains running on those tracks, we wouldn’t probably even had blogs/sites like this.

      Back to the original topic, I loved sitting on the water side of the train and enjoying the view.

      1. The Interurban is one corridor that should have been preserved. But the Burke-Gilman, no. The most productive part would be Fremont to UW but that’s such a short distance it would be like a mouse compared to the elephant-long corridor, it misses the bulk of north Seattle riders who are up a hill around 45th, and it has only a half a walkshed because of the canal. Secondarily you could serve UW to Kenmore but again it’s out of the way, has a marginal walkshed on both sides because of the lake and hills, and misses the populated areas that need regional transit.

        I was going to say “Kenmore and Bothell” but realized I don’t know if the railroad ever went to Bothell. The Sammamish River Trail was built along the river but was there a railroad there previously? Or did the railroad turn north from Kenmore, or was it a short line that just terminated?

      2. The Burke-Gilman (Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern RR) went through Bothell to Woodinville Junction, with a branch turning SE towards Issaquah (Gilman) and North Bend, and the main route eventually extending north through Sumas as far as the Canadian Pacific transcontinental line there. The railroad actually had another section from Spokane east to Davenport but never closed the gap, which I believe was supposed to cross the Cascades at Cady Pass.

      3. The Burke-Gilman route is the way to have trains from Seattle to Vancouver which *aren’t covered by mudslides or rising sea levels*. It actually should still be reopened, because the coastal route from Seattle to Everett is simply no good.

        The other alternative is building a brand new freight & Amtrak right-of-way — good luck with that.

  2. Has Metro been running out of RapidRide coaches? I’ve been taking the B line about once a week, and it seems like close to half of its coaches are now regular Metro coaches. I don’t mind the color so much as the lack of wifi – it seems like that’s really the only differentiation between regular Metro routes and RR routes (the B line certainly doesn’t get the signal priority or bus lanes it should).

    1. I’ve had it happen occasionally on afternoon E Line runs…I think maybe emergency fill-ins, since the drivers didn’t seem to know to use all door boarding and were making everyone enter through the front and tap in.

      1. I’ve seen it occasionally with the other RR lines, but this seems to be a systemic thing with the B Line. When I’ve ridden it, I think there’s been two buses in each direction that are not RR coaches. My back of the envelope math suggests there’s eight coaches total for the B, so four would be a lot.

    2. I’ve seen a Metro bus on the Seattle RapidRides only once or twice. If it’s happening on the B more often, it may be that the B is bearing the brunt of bus shortages. It’s the first- or second-lowest ridership RapidRide line, vying with the F, so the coaches may have been reassigned to overcrowding and Prop-1-funded increases on the Seattle lines.

  3. What is the time savings or reliability increase from this bypass?

    What is the status of other improvements to the line? When is it going to get to 2 hours and 45 minutes?

    1. It’s expected to be 10 minutes faster. I haven’t seen projections with more detail than “improve reliability and shorten delays.”

      1. Its the reliability that matters most. The existing route has a crowded single track tunnel that is pretty congesteded schedule wise. Having a nearly dedicated route not only saves time, it allows Cascades to schedule more routes that would otherwise have to compete with freight.

      2. Considering present situation in all sectors Ann- think angels, trumpets, and golden headlights from Heaven!

        Mark

    1. That “inland bypass” is of course limited to Sound Transit LINK. Sounder and Amtrak will continue to use the current water route. In fact, given the built density between Seattle and Everett, there will never be an inland bypass for anything but LINK. That horse left the barn–or should I say that train left the station–decades ago.

      1. The I-5 corridor is still available for high speed rail in the future, and is the only plausable corridor for it.

      2. An inland route from Seattle to Everett for Amtrak to Vancouver is essential. The old route is now being wasted as the Burke-Gilman Trail. So the only other choice is hugely expensive tunnels.

        An inland route is essential because the coastal route is no good; apart from the constant mudslides, it’s now going underwater when there are high tides and choppy seas.

      3. Really Nathanael?

        I think I would have noticed.

        and with just $16 million invested in mudslide mitigation, 100% of the slides where the work was done have been eliminated. The latest incidents are in lower risk/lower priority areas that have not seen any work.

        Right now, there are major Puget Sound highways suffering some severe mudslide impacts to traffic. The coastal route is not top billing any more.

        $16 million is chump change in transportation money.

  4. In other news, this is going down Friday night rain or shine: https://www.flickr.com/groups/pdxnightowls/discuss/72157678512622896/

    PhotoWalk Route: Meet at Rose Quarter TC Station; then head over the Steel Bridge, down to Old Town/Chinatown MAX Station, then to Skidmore Fountain MAX Station, then Yamhill District MAX Station, and if folks feel like it something in regards to Tilikum Crossing.
    Ephemeris/PhotoWalk Timetable PM:
    5:41 Sunset 6:11 Civil Twilight Ends
    Blue Hour
    6:46 Nautical Twilight Ends
    7:15 Meet at Rose Quarter TC for PhotoWalk
    7:20 Astronomical Twilight Ends, night begins
    More details as date approaches.

    Rose Quarter TC is at https://trimet.org/ride/stop.html?id=8340 & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_Quarter_Transit_Center

    My e-mail is growlernoise-AT-gmail-DOT-com if that’s how you want to get ahold of me.

  5. Glenn, I want to be sure we’re understanding each other here, because this is a favorite neighborhood of mine. Efficient transit from Downtown Tacoma to Point Defiance, right? Truth is, bus can do it, but would often be stuck in traffic.

    I don’t think a Ruston/ Point Defiance passenger station is possible for ordinary trains. Whose headway at its best is long for transit. But I think we can get either light rail or Tacoma LINK from Freighthouse Square to Point Defiance on a trestle along the Waterfront past Old Town to Point Defiance Ferry itself. Which I think could operate on current Tacoma LINK 12 minute headways. 15 or 20, nobody would complain.

    Looking at the satellite map again, realized cogwheel can stay in Stuttgart. Yacht Club Lane offers wide, flat right of way serving a major residential complex with a cinema, and then along the water straight to the Point Defiance Ferry. Line could then turn on Pearl Street, into the business and residential neighborhood.

    Am I close?

    Mark

  6. While we still have it, a Portland-area friend asked me to get pictures of the Point Defiance route while I would be on the Amtrak Cascades a couple of weekends back (Jan. 28, specifically). Here’ are the results, simultaneously ambitious and amateurish:

    1. Go Rob Johnson! There’s another item in that news roundup that’s far more important, item #1, where Johnson pointed out that welcoming immigrants and refugees opposing Trump’s wall requires more housing, and single-family areas need to be part of the solution, not keep up their own zoning walls.

      Johnson’s idea for ORCA LIFT is also good: enroll people automatically when they sign up for other social benefits unless they opt out of the LIFT program. That’s similar to conference visitors getting a transit pass in their check-in packet (as happened at Rail~volution in Seattle and Portland), and UW students getting a U-Pass at the beginning of the quarter (which was originally opt-out although it’s mandatory now). Things like this show the city/region is serious about prioritizing transit and wants to make it easy to access, especially for low-income people who tend to need it most.

  7. In other news, Bertha has now passed under the old Battery St tunnel apparently without incident. Next up; passing under the monorail. The bore is about 83% complete now.

  8. I will really miss this view. There’s a tension between speed/efficiency and scenery, and the human experience of travel is prone to being systematically undervalued in the design and funding of transit. Subways are great for getting somewhere fast, but as for me I’d much rather commute daily on, say, a bridge to Ballard than in a subway to Ballard even if it took an extra few minutes once in a while.

    How about retaining the the waterfront route just for Coast Starlight? The travel time difference isn’t that great, and maybe there’s not much relative fuel or carbon impact given the hill climbing this route avoids. The travel time difference minimal, percentage-wise on a multi-hour trip from Seattle/Tacoma to Vancouver/Portland.

    Folks who are taking the Coast Starlight already know they’re traveling a bit more slowly than the Cascades, and I’ll bet they would prefer the coast route by a large margin. There’s a reason those long distance routes have observation cars. Has anyone done a survey?

    1. Agree completely regarding the Coast Starlight. It would be nice to retain one train a day (each way) on that segment if possible, and as the Coast Starlight is more of a “tourist” train than the Cascades, it would seem to make sense to keep it on this routing.

      1. Sure, apart from the gact that stopping in Tacoma at all after they move the station is incompatible with running along one stretch of Puget Sound.

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