Mudslide mitigation / WSDOT

I am totally tempting fate here by posting this, so sorry if I anger the gods, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize that there were no mudslide-induced cancellations on Sounder North this year. Sound Transit’s Bonnie Todd noted it at the last ST ops committee meeting (video – skip to the ~13 minute mark).

Todd noted the stark change from the winter of 2012-13, when 27.5 days of service were cancelled. Another 1500-foot catchment wall was added in the Everett area this year, further improving reliability.  Some dry months may have helped as well.

In 2015, I wrote about the mitigation efforts WSDOT and ST were undertaking.  Soon after I wrote that, sure enough, there was a mudslide.

More reliability is great news for both Sounder North and Amtrak Cascades.

26 Replies to “Sounder North Was Mudslide Free This Winter”

  1. Sigh…the rest of the world has high speed trains connecting far flung cities at all hours of the day while we can barely prevent landslides on an infrequent suburban line…so much for being a world leader!

    1. Who ever said that the US was a world leader. We haven’t been a world leader since probably the early 80s – perhaps earlier.

      1. Nonsense! The US is a world leader in plenty of things. Incarceration rate, medical bankruptcy, student debt…

    2. That’s what you get when you let freight railroads run the show. The economics of rail are very different in the US. In Europe most rail lines are run by the government primarily for passenger rail, so they are maintained to a high standard for efficient (fast) passenger service. They also maintain robust regional and intercity rail in order to avoid building more airports and highways and becoming more dependent on foreign oil and carbon emissions. The tradeoff is that rail has a minor role in freight movement, so most goods are shipped by truck. Fortunately European distances are shorter.

      In the US most rail is owned by land-grant railroads and other private railroads, and their mission is freight income. But they aren’t chasing after priority or express deliveries — they’re leaving those to the airlines. They’re focusing instead on the slow commodities market, where reliability is more important than speed. A Florida distributor doesn’t care which batch of Chinese iPhones or jeans arrives today — whether it was loaded at the Port of Seattle this morning or three days ago — as long as a batch comes today. Slow trains are less expensive than fast trains and don’t require as much track maintenance, so the railroads can charge a lower price, which is what these customers are looking for. It’s the Walmart of freight transportation. The railroads are living off the investments of fifty years ago and trying to spend as little as possible. (Same as the rest of American infrastructure.) The railroads don’t like passenger trains because passengers make unique demands like fast trains and well-maintained tracks, and also because passenger trains can crowd out more lucrative freight trains on the limited track capacity. The US also has very long distances to cover. The good side of this is that the majority of American freight goes by train, so we use less energy per ton than other countries do.

      The way the railroads were created in the US is also unusual, as is the government’s lackluster support for non-car/non-airplane transportation modes.

      1. Actually, Gay Banks Olson (now retired) from Amtrak spoke at a (WashARP) All Aboard Washington meeting about what BNSF did (she came from BNSF) with their priority freights. They used the slot created by Amtrak to put the Z-trains right behind. BNSF is one of the railroads that does see value in being nice to passenger rail, even if their focus is freight.

      2. Yes, I’ve heard BNSF is not hostile to passenger rail unlike UP and others. It mostly wants them to pay a high price for access.

      3. In Germany, Deutsche Bahn, which is part of the government runs the freight rail system. The profits generated from freight rail is then put into the passenger rail system. DB also runs the passenger rail system. In the US freight rail is run by BNSF, UP, etc. and the profits are given to shareholders and executives. In the US, it is standard to ‘socialize losses, privatize profits’.

  2. I was looking into taking a group out to Bellingham on the Cascades to hike up Chukuanut ridge. But it’s gotten so expensive, it is hard to justify for day trips. Even as someone who doesn’t own a car, I could rent one for a day and drive it up for just a few dollars more than the round trip train fare for just one person. With a group, it is way, way cheaper to carpool than to ride the train, even ignoring issues related to limited schedules, slower speeds, and the fact that you already lose most of an hour just getting to King St. Station.

    I actually did do the Chuckanut ridge hike by train a couple of times, and it was a lot of fun, but the current rate of $54/person for a round trip is just too much.

    1. I used to take Cascades to Bellingham frequently when I was a student at UW. With RailPlus I could pay only for the Everett to Bham leg and with a student discount it was a great deal. Now I almost exclusively take BoltBus. It’s just as fast, far cheaper, and more frequent.

      1. While Amtrak and Bolt serve Bellingham, their stations are on completely opposite ends of town. Sometimes, this makes Amtrak more convenient, since it means you can walk to your final destination, rather than switching to WTA buses.

        You can, of course, ride Bolt and backtrack on Uber, but then the financial savings of the bus largely deteriorates. And Bolt isn’t as fast or as cheap as it has been. The Everett stop adds an additional 15 minutes to each run, each way, and the fares have been going up too. Even with Bolt, a day trip exceeds the cost of a rental car, just in bus fares, once 2-3 people are making the trip.

      2. I mean sure, if your final destination is Fairhaven and you don’t plan on leaving that neighborhood then Amtrak is more convenient.

      3. Of course, the Bolt Bus stop is on the other side of the Bellis Fair Mall, with a lovely walk across I-5 to the Central Business district 3.3 miles away.

        Which is just about the same distance the Amtrak station is from the Central Business district, 3.1 miles.

        I suppose if your final destination is the Mall, and you don’t plan on leaving that neighborhood, then Bolt Bus is more convenient….

        For What, is the real question.

        Where do people want to be in Bellingham?

      4. This is a boring conversation Jim but… maybe family in Sehome? Friends on Sudden Valley? Hiking on Chickanut? Pinball at the Racket?

        The point is you’ll probably have to get in a car or the very least take a local bus no matter where you’re going, so whether you take the Bolt to Cordata or Amtrak to Fairhaven is irrelevant.

      5. I actually didn’t know that the Bolt Bus (Cordata) stop was that far away from the Bellingham business district (not having had to use it, I never researched it). Your comment made me decide to do the apples-to-apples comparison.

        I wonder what Greyhound’s decision making process was? The Cordata stop just seems like an odd place, given the ‘flexibility’ of bus routing.

        The only thing I ask is that if the default is to drive, that people just quit bitching about traffic.

        Now THAT is a boring conversation (daily, for me).

      6. The Cordata stop is a major bus transfer station. They might’ve been able to use the downtown bus station instead, but Cordata is closer to the freeway.

    2. I checked random dates and all of the ones I selected were sold out of the “Saver” fares.Even in July they’re gone. I was able to find one evening train for $18, which would be $36 RT. So the problem looks to me as though it is a lack of sufficient capacity so that the “Saver” class of seats is available more often. Then, once the “Value” fare tier kicks in, nobody wants to pay that, so those sit around unsold for very long periods.

    3. Summertime is cruise season, don’t forget.

      Those people have already booked back in January. (A lesson I learned once trying to book a room in Yellowstone)

    4. I’m an infrequent rider of Sounder North. During the viaduct closure, I found it to be a reliable commute into the city. I’ve found it to be a pleasant trip into the City. In 1/2 hour, one can go from Edmonds Waterfront to King Street Station. The 406 could never match that time. The challenge is that one has to backtrack if working in Belltown, SLU or even the CBD.

      I think Sounder North is poorly marketed and CT bus connections to Sounder are atrocious. P&Rs along the route have painfully limited parking, so I feel ridership is constricted. It would be great for ST to highlight the travel time savings and expand parking facilities.

      1. I agree – there is good opportunity to improve the last mile on both ends of North Sounder.

        In Seattle, expanding Link will help with quick transfers to UW, Bellevue, and eventually SLU. The North Sounder stations will get some extra parking eventually, and you’re right, better feeder service from CT would also help. Awhile back, STB wrote about how the onus in on Edmonds, Mulkiteo, and Everett to step up to improve Sounder ridership.

  3. Why can’t they add stops to Sounder North just before going into the tunnel on the north side of downtown and in Ballard. I would think there would be a lot of demand at those spots.

    1. I believe the issue is Seattle isn’t interested in paying for North Sounder, and Snohomish used all its ST3 capacity on Everett Link. So it’s possible, but never been a priority for a particular subarea.

    2. Lynnwood and Everett Link will make Sounder redundant. Lynnwood-Westlake will be 28 minutes, and Everett-Westlake around 60 minutes. That’s the same travel time from Everett as Sounder. Even if you have to take a feeder bus to Lynnwood in ST2, it probably won’t be that bad. As for Edmonds and Mukilteo, not many people live near the Sounder stations; the bulk of the population lives inland around 99 and I-5. If Snohomish wants to spend its money on Sounder for a few people who live in downtown Edmonds or Mukilteo or Whidbey Island, that’s its problem, but it should be accelerating Link construction instead.

      1. +10 Agreed. As a Snohomish County subarea constituent, I don’t want any more money spent on the failure that has been Sounder North. The corridor is simply in the wrong place and will never attract significant ridership. As you’ve astutely noted, the service becomes redundant for the Edmonds/Mountlake Terrace/Lynnwood area once Link reaches here in 2024. Likewise, as a taxpayer in the Community Transit PTBA, I’d rather the agency focus its spending on feeder routes toward the light rail expansion when the time comes. In the meantime, the agency’s focus should be on increasing frequency on established corridors and continuing progress on their planned Swift lines.

      2. For the price of a small home, a ‘proof of concept’ station stop in the North Portal vicinity could be accomplished much the same way as the original Tukwila Sounder station, constructed of wood. (The rough dollar amount an ST representative told me way back then had me realize that they would be just building a really, really big deck, using enough lumber that could build a whole house)

        Most people are dissuaded from using Sounder because of its only Seattle stop being at the south end of town.

        Plus, I think Edmonds and Mukilteo are guilty of the same ‘hold the line at density’ (at the waterfront at least) just to preserve the views.

  4. Looking at the photo for this story, I’ll bet the homeowner is very grateful that the hillside is encapsulated in concrete. Yikes!!

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