Flickr/Mike Bjork

Although the human impacts are miniscule compared to those of the accident itself, there will be only minor changes to Amtrak Cascades service until further notice. According to Janet Matkin of WSDOT, the state has already taken possession of enough rolling stock to run all scheduled Cascades trips. Obviously, these trips will take the old route around Point Defiance until further notice, adding 10 minutes to all trips and increasing reliability incidents due to freight conflicts.

This means that trains will stop at the old station location on Puyallup Ave. in Tacoma. This morning’s train 502 from Portland was cancelled, but that should be it for cancellations.

The Eugene-Portland segment will have more changes, per Amtrak’s statement:

Beginning Dec. 20, Cascades Service from Eugene to Portland, OR will be operating with substitute equipment and limited amenities, including no food service, checked baggage service, business class or bikes. Pets will still be allowed on board. Additionally, Trains 505 and 508, which were scheduled to operate as thru service between Eugene and Seattle, will now operate only between Seattle and Portland. New Trains 515 and 510 will be introduced on the segment between Portland and Eugene and will be a cross platform connection at Portland for passengers traveling north of Portland.

Matkin said that inspection of infrastructure at the accident site is ongoing, so it is impossible to say when trains may use the new track segment again.

36 Replies to “The Impact on Current Cascades Service”

    1. Agreed. This is all very tough for everyone involved. Not only the folks that lost loved ones, but the people who looked forward to — or even worse, worked on — this important and worthwhile improvement. Thanks to everyone for your professional work during a very hard time.

  1. That’s good that they were able to go back to the old route. I was half expecting them to run substitute buses until further notice.

  2. Thank you STB. I turned to you early during the event for info. I’ve also just clicked the donate button, and I’d wish to make my contribution in the names of Willhoite and Hamre, who I understand had a common interest in what the group is all about.

  3. Thank you for all the good work at time it’s been needed most. And anybody with Sound Transit or Amtrak reading this, be grateful for the years of service and support Seattle Transit Blog has given you.

    Mark dublin

  4. It’s a weird irony that after the accident you can’t take I-5 to Portland but you can still take the train.

    1. But very few people were on the trains today. I made a round trip between Seattle and Portland today and the trains (501/506) had very few passengers–maybe 50-60 each way. WSDOT and Amtrak are going to have to reassure the average citizen that the trains are safe and reliable. There’s something wrong when 2 Cascades trains have been derailed by overspeed incidents since July. There also are many new faces on the train crews and the public needs to know that the people running the trains are competent, well-trained and able to provide a safe and efficient travel option.

      Amtrak has a new executive team and I hope they can get the railroad operating properly. Portland Union Station was a complete clown car act today. Late trains, no announcements, incorrect information on the readerboards, confusion about where to go when we were finally called for the train and the most disgusting public restrooms in the Pacific Northwest.

      1. They really need to push to get PTC active on the entire route early next year. I don’t think they should route trains back on to the new route until this is done. That is there only chance to earn back public trust.

        But let’s be clear here, rail travel still significantly safer than driving. Many in the public don’t know this, but that doesn’t change the statistics.

      2. @Chris I,

        Does anyone know the current status of PTC on the old Pt Defiance line?

        My impression is that PTC isn’t active on the old line either. So keeping the trains on that line without PTC wouldn’t necessarily represent any guaranteed safety improvement over running them on the new track without PTC. Except of course that the old track has more curves, more traffic, more speed restrictions, and a single track tunnel.

        To the plus side though the Amtrak emps are more familiar with the old route and its issues, but that certainly isn’t a guarantee.

        So does anyone have the real data? Where is PTC currently active on the Cascades route? That is key data that Amtrak should have.

      3. @GOBH,

        Ya, so what’s the point of switching back to the old line? It’s “no PTC vs no PTC with more congestion and speed restrictions.”

        The only “plus” is that the operators know the old route already, but that is certainly no guarantee. And sometimes familiarity breeds complacency and/or boredom. Again, no guarantee there.

      4. As more information comes out about this incident, it seems that there was an inherently unsafe design on the bypass. Expecting engineers who are fairly inexperienced on a new stretch of track to slow a train from 80 to 30mph on a downhill stretch in a short period of time, in dark, rainy weather, with no backup systems in place was probably a bad idea. The old route is curvy, but the speeds are relatively constant (between 40 and 60mph).

        Of course, given this incident, I would expect that all engineers would now take extra care in this section, and they will likely implement a stepped speed reduction, where trains slow to 60mph before the 30mph zone starts. I wouldn’t hesitate to book a seat on the train in the future, but members of the public who are not as well informed will be very hesitant until they know that additional safety systems are in place.

        This is a critical time for the Cascades service. If they bungle the operational and PR aspects of this recovery, long term ridership could drop significantly, putting the entire operation at risk.

      5. Last summer’s non-fatal derailment shows that even familiar territory can be the scene of an accident. But PTC would have prevented that accident. (The train was going too fast to safely cross a bridge and an overspeed detector activated a derail mechanism to prevent the train from crossing the bridge at too high a speed).

        There’s nothing inherently unsafe about a 30mph curve on a train route. There should have been sufficient advance warning about the curve and a step-down from 79mph should have been marked on the trackside speed boards (79 > 60 > 45 > 30). The engineers should also have trained on the tracks in darkness and daylight. Opening the new bypass route added many new crew members and should have required a lot of training for crew familiarization with the new territory. We might have to wait for a year for the NTSB report, but clearly there many errors and oversights that led to Monday’s tragedy.

      6. The bypass is not an “inherently unsafe design”.

        Needing to reduce speed to navigate a curve is not a unique issue on any passenger rail line anywhere in the nation. It is in fact commonplace. What is surprising here is that apparently the engineer made zero attempt to reduce speed. That is not a track or design issue, that is something else.

        The NTSB will perform its investigation and release its report.

      7. The only way Amtrak and WSDOT can reassure re: safety is to privatize the operation. All government-run operations are plagued by insufficient accountability and improperly structured incentives. This is why public education never improves despite ever-more money being thrown at it, the VA delivers even worse care than our messed up healthcare system, passenger rail efficiency doesn’t hold a candle to freight rail, and on and on and on.

      8. This is the first I’ve heard about an automatic derailer being deployed to …. prevent the train from spilling down to I-5 below.
        Anyone know if that’s the case, and if so, could a faulty derailer accidently deploy. Something isn’t right with that statement.
        My prayers are with the families and friends of both Jim and Zach (True Railfans to the end)

      9. The derailer was involved in the Steilacoom accident. I haven’t heard about any derail devices in Monday’s accident.

      10. @Mike Skehan, an automatic derailer was deployed in the previous incident along Chambers Bay in Tacoma to prevent the train from crossing a bridge faster than the bridge was rated for. That bridge is over water, not I-5. I haven’t heard any suggestion of an automatic derailer being deployed in this week’s incident in DuPont. There apparently was an automatic brake that was deployed, though I haven’t found any details about when or how it was triggered, or whether or not the deployment of the brake may have affected the crash outcome.

      11. @Kevin22

        I feel the same way about our highway system. 40,000+ dead US citizens last year. We should demand that they privatize all roads to improve safety and accountability.

      12. I hear you about safety concerns of the public but I bet most made immediate changes to travel plans right after the incident assuming the line would be closed

      13. @Kevin2022: Actually, privatization would significantly hurt transportation. For example, the privatization of British passenger rail failed:

        https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2012/09/why-britains-railway-privatization-failed/3378/

        Note also that pretty much all mass transportation systems and highway systems need public subsidies to keep them going, no matter if they are public or private.

        On health care, note that America is mostly dependent on private health care ( https://www.vox.com/2014/9/2/6089693/health-care-facts-whats-wrong-american-insurance ), yet we spend much more money (including private money) on it then the UK does, and they have a almost fully publically owned system that has generally better outcomes. They’re not perfect, but much better then us.

      14. Not to mention, one of the reasons why Positive Train Control systems haven’t been installed earlier has had much to do with objections and a need to slowly expense over time the installation.

      15. “The only “plus” is that the operators know the old route already”

        And the lower speed limit on the old route is a built-in safety feature, and the limit doesn’t change sharply.

      16. “All government-run operations are plagued by insufficient accountability and improperly structured incentives.”

        Government organizations don’t sell cars with shoddy airbags or phones with fire-prone batteries, or cars that cheat on emissions standards and are dirtier than marketed. The reason is that their primary incentive is public satisfaction rather than quarterly profits. I’m glad my electricity and water come from government organizations rather than a company like Enron.

        “passenger rail efficiency doesn’t hold a candle to freight rail”

        How do you compare the efficiency of passenger and freight rail? Are twenty people equivalent to one shipping container?

        FWIW, American rail has a different “business model” than European rail. European railroads are mostly public and prioritize passenger service, while most freight goes by truck. So the incentive is for frequent and high-speed passenger trains. American railroads are private and go after the freight market where the highest profits are. Commodity freight values cheapness and reliability over speed, because if you’re getting identical goods every day it doesn’t matter which you receive today. If you want a unique item immediately, you have it air-shipped. Trains at different speeds can’t coexist on the same track without an idle buffer around the faster trains, so the overwhelming number of slow freight trains limits the scope of fast passenger trains unless you build new track.

      17. “Needing to reduce speed to navigate a curve is not a unique issue on any passenger rail line anywhere in the nation.”

        Needing to reduce speed so sharply from 79 mph to 30 mph in one step is an accident waiting to happen. That’s why current freeways and don’t dump you immediately onto a tight curve like older expressways like the Alaskan Way Viaduct do. If this curve is too expensive to change, then the speed limit should gradually downshift starting from further away, and especially if the 30 mph zone is in a downhill.

    2. Thanks Gwed, I misread the derailer post as being part of the latest incident. My fault, which is a good example of why we need to wait for investigators to do their jobs.
      Riding Amtrak last month during a rainstorm with water pouring down between the cars, trying to walk between them, screamed “We don’t care if our rail system is 3rd world’. The tracks were bumpy and crooked and we averaged about 30 mph between Buffalo and Albany NY.
      Tweet that Mr. Sad.

  5. “Although the human impacts are miniscule compared to the accident itself”

    Is this a typo? The human impacts were without question the most significant part of the accident.

      1. No. I’m sorry. The people affected by the schedule change were not affected in a “minuscule” way compared to the actual passengers of this incident. Please revise the original post. It is currently incredibly insensitive.

      2. I get what you meant Martin, but I have to say I tripped over that lead sentence a couple of times, and it is easily misunderstood. Y’all have gone great work and writing on short notice, but that sentence is a clunker.

        If you wanted to leave it intact and just clear up the miniscule part, you might revise to “although the human impacts of the schedule change are miniscule compared to those of the accident itself…”

        Thanks to you and STB for all the good reporting, both around this incident and in general!

      3. “The people affected by the schedule change were not affected in a “minuscule” way compared to the actual passengers of this incident.”

        I’m not sure what you might possibly have meant in this sentence.

      4. “minuscule” is the correct spelling, “miniscule” is incorrect

        I misspelled the term for years

  6. While biking to work in downtown Portland this morning, I waited at a crossing for the Portland-Eugene Cascades ‘trainstitution’ to pass – an odd, somewhat sad little consist: a Siemens Charger, two Amfleet cars and a trailing Amtrak engine / cab car. Wish I had realized it was coming soon enough to get a picture.

    1. Yes, this is likely what they will run between Portland and Eugene for some time. If they want to maintain the new schedule to Seattle, bypass or not, they need all of the Talgos on that route. Portland to Eugene doesn’t need the tilting cars as badly, and ridership is rather poor. Long-term, I really think a 4-car DMU consist would be more appropriate for Portland – Eugene. The Amfleet cars with single engine and dummy cab will have to do in the meantime.

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