Study corridor in Yellow.

A state study of passenger rail service via Stampede Pass (report, slides) reveals options that are relatively inexpensive but also not ambitious enough to provide competitive options between cities.

The most expansive option would run Spokane to Seattle with a running time of 8:35 (!). As with any indirect route, it mostly has to be about travel between the intermediate cities, not the endpoints: indeed, travel within the Yakima valley comprises much of the ridership. If this route were operating twice a day in a Covid-free 2020, it would draw 205,000 annual riders – or about a quarter of what Amtrak Cascades serves in a typical year with more trains serving bigger population centers. 97% of these riders would not go east of Pasco.

This line would cost $137m in new stations and track improvements, $253m for trainsets, and a net annual operating subsidy of $23m. Shortening the line or running once a day has the impacts you might expect. However, a Pasco terminus (running time: 6:05), while not a cheaper capital project, hits a sweet spot by lowering operating costs without much loss of riders.

These are not huge numbers as capital projects go, and surveys indicate significant local interest in trying out this service. Nevertheless, the travel times are not competitive with driving. Trains have advantages over intercity buses, but such an extreme time penalty suggests Washington either expand those buses or consider a much more ambitious rail program to achieve higher operating speeds.

Last year’s transportation appropriations bill funded the $250,000 study. Today, only the Empire Builder connects Spokane with both Seattle and Portland (7.5 hours), but only once a day and not scheduled for the convenience of Seattle-Spokane passengers. Zach and Bruce Nourish wrote up the potential of this corridor 4 years ago.

52 Replies to “East-West Rail study: small project, small impact”

  1. This sounds more harsh than I mean it to, but the study captures a lot of what’s wrong with transit in the US.

    A serious suggestion of an 8h35 travel time is a joke, a more system-oriented cost-benefit should at the very least talk about how much money would be needed to make the line competitive with flying – if we could copy the French precedent and replace intra-state flights with a rail connection, it would offset the cost of upgrading the rail line (by reducing the need to expand the airport), *and* reduce carbon emissions. How much would those upgrades cost? How much would they cost if we use modern tech?

    There are more critiques than that, obviously, but that felt symbolic to me.

    1. To be clear – I imagine the study was told to explore E/W rail, and they did that. The failure is the failure to ask for the study to consider regional mobility as-a-whole.

      1. The failure is every option included Seattle. This is falling under the same “elite projection” error that requires every urban rail line to serve the airport. If you want strong ridership, serve daily and weekly trips, not “oh yeah I could see myself using that a few times a year” trips.

        As I comment below, focus on trips within regions before connecting regions.

    2. If Spokane to Seattle is the target market, it would likely be most effective to upgrade the Stevens Pass line with a new tunnel and upgrade the existing rail infrastructure for higher speed passenger operations.

      This East-West study was told to study passenger service on the Stampede Pass line which adds Ellensburg, Yakima and the Tri-Cities to the catchment area, but makes the trips between Seattle and Spokane longer.

      The eye-popping information from the study is that the travel time between Auburn and Cle Elum–about 80 miles–is almost 3 hours.

      1. Or reopen the old Beverly line.

        Ya, much more expensive than an 8.5 hr (when things go right) roundabout routing via Pasco, but compared to a second tunnel at Stevens it would probably pencil out.

      1. However, since that brilliant and eloquent post ;) I’ve since changed my thinking:

        1. Stampede Pass isn’t fixable for any reasonable cost. With East Link just two years away and with I-90 having a wide median and acceptable grades, I now think that doing it right would mean the “Seattle” station for future east-west rail should be at South Bellevue’s Link station, with trains running in I-90 median ROW until North Bend, and only then rejoining a rehabbed Milwaukee Road ROW all the way to Ritzville, where you could rejoin the BN main line. (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33198722?highlight=8332-8817)

        2. Adding Coeur d’Alene would be essential and only add 12 miles of rebuilt track. The combined population of the service area would be about 750,000, of which 700,000 of that(!) would come from Spokane County (525,000) and Coeur d’Alene/Kootenai County (175,000). Only about 50,000 people live near potential stops in North Bend, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Othello, and Ritzville. You optimize the end-to-end trips or the endeavor isn’t worth doing. There just isn’t enough intermediate demand, and the only way to get it (by going via Yakima) kills the endpoint demand. You have to choose.

        3. Yakima Canyon likewise isn’t fixable for any reasonable cost, but it would be viable for DMU service on an intra-valley line from Ellensburg-Pasco, with connections on both ends and stops in Sunnyside, Toppenish, Prosser, and Kennewick.

      2. But Xachary, if neither Kinki-Sharyo nor Siemens will give us bathrooms, can we at least ask the Swedes for an order of those purple electric streamliners that Detective Kurt Wallander always rides between Ystad and Malmo?

        Mark Dublin

      3. Yeah this seems like an interesting Yakima Valley spur to serve Yakima & Pasco that would be bolt onto an actual E-W train.

      4. Would this be a reason to build the north-south HSR line to go through Bellevue rather than Seattle, to create a new HSR node in East King?

        Similar to the Vancouver to Portland HSR discussion, I feel like there is more value unlocked with local commuter service than the HSR express service itself. With an I90 alignment, do you build local stops in Snoqualmie and North Bend? Does the alignment within greater Spokane support strong daily ridership? If no, I’m not sure it’s worth building to displace a dozen airplanes.

      5. Would this be a reason to build the north-south HSR line to go through Bellevue rather than Seattle, to create a new HSR node in East King?

        No.

        Similar to the Vancouver to Portland HSR discussion, I feel like there is more value unlocked with local commuter service than the HSR express service itself.

        Right, except in this case the commuter potential is tiny. East Link will provide for the eastern suburbs of Seattle (far better than this will).

        With an I-90 alignment, do you build local stops in Snoqualmie and North Bend?

        You could, but the commuter potential is in minuscule — these are very tiny communities. Unless the plan is to induce sprawl, it doesn’t make sense.

        Does the alignment within greater Spokane support strong daily ridership?

        No. Spokane is just too small. It also spreads to the east, not the west. I suppose the train could keep going to Coeur d’aLene, but that would add expense, and still pick up only a handful. Coeur d’aLene is too small and too sprawling. Spokane employment is also not that centered — it sprawls north and east. Downtown Spokane is still the biggest employment area — it just isn’t that big. https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/ (Note: There is no direct link to a census employment map, but you can search for Spokane, and bring up one).

        If no, I’m not sure it’s worth building to displace a dozen airplanes.

        Agreed, it isn’t.

  2. Let’s fix The cascade route between Portland and Seattle before we attempt rail to Spokane. The new Tacoma station remains closed.

    1. I agree, invest in the Cascades long-range plan that already exists and focus on intercity buses for Eastern WA and the peninsula. A lot of people don’t even know the Travel Washington buses even exist, why do they each have their own booking website? Why aren’t they integrated with services like Wanderu?

  3. The question should be asked what a more comprehensive solution to create a faster connection would be. Squeezing out a few slow passenger trains a day on existing tracks is just not very useful to creating a meaningful service.

  4. At a minimum, I would say, any rail options that can’t compete on travel time with a Greyhound bus should be dismissed out of hand, which means no Seattle->Spokane service along the Stampede Pass route.

    If there’s justification for anything here, it would be a shortened train route, just from Cle Elem to Pasco, with a timed bus connection running down I-90 between Cle Elem and Seattle. Even then, I’m not convinced. A train running once per day might have the capacity of about 6 buses. If that level of capacity is needed, simply running 6 buses per day provides a much better level of service than a once-per-day train, even if the bus ends up being slightly slower. (In reality, though, service sized to match demand would probably be just one or two daily buses, although there is a good argument for operating at higher frequency anyway, for the sake of making the service more usable).

    1. “A train running once per day might have the capacity of about 6 buses. If that level of capacity is needed, simply running 6 buses per day provides a much better level of service than a once-per-day train.”

      Bingo. Without a speed advantage, rail has only streetcar-esque advantages, like branding and place making. If this was presented an a economic development initiative for the Yakima Valley, it would deserve some consideration. As a mobility project, this does nothing.

    2. The Greyhound bus between Seattle and Spokane takes about 7.5 hours which isn’t a whole lot faster than this proposed train. But Greyhound only offers 2 trips a day which implies that there isn’t much of a market for a slow bus either.

      There are about 600,000 airline passengers annually between Seattle and Spokane, 200,00 between Seattle and Pasco, 65,000 between Seattle and Yakima. How many of those passengers would switch to a train? Maybe a few, but probably not very many.

      If there is a market for this train, it will have to be aimed at enticing automobile drivers out of their cars. Riding the train would eliminate the need to deal with tire chains in the winter or worrying about overheating in the summer. But when the weather is good, trying to sell a 4 hour trip to Ellensburg or a 6 hour trip to Pasco would be tough.

      1. Why don’t we start with bus options that make fewer stops and don’t take 7.5 hours? I had an Empire Builder trip replaced with a bus once, and the whole ride took about 4.5 hours, including a 10 minute break. You can even move the “break” from a highway rest stop to Ellensberg, to at least get the largest stop in. From Ellensberg, you can also offer a timed connection to Yakima.

      2. From Pasco & Yakima, there might be an opportunity for induced demand, given the existing price and frequency of flights. Particularly from Yakima, I’d imagine many of those passengers are flying to catch another flight out of Seattle, rather than heading to somewhere in Seattle … if they are heading to Seattle, a flight + transport is significantly more expensive, and perhaps slower, than just drying to your destination.

        For Spokane, on the other hand, 600K is probably representative for the market size.

  5. Why do we continue to not add a stop – or at least study a stop – in Cheney, WA, home of Eastern Washington University? Current stops with the Empire Builder in Spokane happen so late at night that public transit isn’t running between campus and Spokane’s Amtrak station and EWU has over 12,000 students. Imagine how much more attractive the school would be – and we could add that stop NOW with the Empire Builder that runs between Spokane and Portland, OR.

    Cheney to Spokane is a little over 16 miles – the distance between the Cascades routes are less and serve less useful locations than a university campus with students who often cannot afford a vehicle, making them natural train customers – Tukwila’s Amtrak stop to Seattle’s King St Station is around 12 miles (and Tukwila’s station is nearly a 5 mile drive to the airport); Seattle to Edmonds is less than 18 miles.

    The big perk of this route is the connection to Central Washington University in Ellensburg and, if we can get a stop added to Cheney for Eastern Washington University, the only large state school not served by rail would be WSU in Pullman. The rail would make both CWU and EWU more attractive for in and out of state students alike.

  6. 1. Do we have any idea what any of our State’s localities and regions are going to do for a living when the COVID lifts?

    2. Local, State, and national, where are our railroads on the scale between Out of Date and Scrapped But Still In Service? Passenger and freight alike, is the flanged steel wheel really a scrap-iron protrusion into space best dedicated to magnetic levitation?

    3. When graphic multi-colored depiction of long distance rail routes goes from free-hand squiggle to straight-edge, would be really good if our country’s workforce could do the job in-house. But if that’s too much to ask of ourselves….

    4. While worldwide, the People’s Republic of China is continuing the tradition that gave us so many miles of railroad in years past, might not at least the music of Irish America also regain its former share of presence?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8KevH0fZS0

    5. But most promising of all:

    https://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/mar/23/african-american-railroad-experience/#:~:text=The%20railroads%20were%20the%20most,more%20than%20any%20other%20industry.

    Please don’t call it “Reparations.” Recognize it instead for the nationwide industrial revolution our country is dying for the lack of. Capable of giving the average American worker of every enthnicity simultaneously both an education and a trade forever debt-free, and a home they own not rent.

    Riding trains we build, not import, wheels or not, depends on the line. Profit-problem? Successors of St. Louis Car Company and Pullman will work just fine as worker-owned cooperatives.

    Mark Dublin

  7. I have to believe that investing in increasing the speed and reliability of the existing Seattle/Spokane line would be a better use of political and financial capital.

  8. At an approx $400m price tag and an 8.5 hr (on a good day) transit time what this study shows is that the concept is pretty much worthless.

    I can drive to Spokane in 4.5 hrs and for less than half a tank of gas. Yes. much of the ridership comes from intermediate stops, but the time and cost utility for them is just as bad. Being in the middle doesn’t change the sign on the economics.

    And the ridership is nothing short of abysmal. For a rough comparison, this represents about 5% of the ridership of the CCC at twice the cost. (Comparing total SC ridership after completing the CCC to total E-W rail ridership per this study).

    When Biden becomes President we are likely to see bigger investments in our cities and in rail. We need to be ready with proposals for LR, the CCC, SC extensions, and better long distance N-S rail. E-W rail to Spokane is an all around loser.

    1. In many ways, this has a lot of the same flaws as the CCC, although on a completely different distance (and money) scale. Everything starts from the assumption that if it doesn’t run on rails, it doesn’t count, and the fact that the route is slower than existing alternatives is ignored, because it runs on rails and that’s all that matters.

      1. asdf2, bad ride-quality’s got its costs too, in vehicle maintenance as well as passenger comfort. Discussion needs to show not only comparative cost of constant smoothing-out of tire-oriented pavement versus railroad track, but also the cost of constant repair and readjustment on our machinery.

        In practice, one thing that does seem to be a constant is that pavement-maintenance is a lot easier to defer than keeping rail tracks in top order. Extreme though still prime example: Would the West Seattle Freeway ever have been allowed to get into its present condition if it had carried trains?

        And Lazarus, last couple decades of US history pose this question: how many minutes of our ongoing invasion of Iraq would $400 million have bought us? Five? Like our Interstate Highways were conceived and our air travel considered without a thought, from the beginning our railroads have always been National Defense.

        Non-rail would have a stronger case if it wasn’t so comfortable for The System to leave it permanently set between “Slow” and “Stuck.” Paved Atlantic to Pacific and Mexico to Canada, even if double-decked, a cars-only country would still be a parking lot.

        Might also be time we all start to consider our time “billable” whether we work clipping hair (well next-Phase maybe) or stock coupons. Especially since right now so little of it is promised to us by circumstance.

        Mark Dublin

  9. Per Topic, there is a connection with rail here. Favorite route from Olympia-Lacey to family in SF/Oakland used to include both Amtrak and Greyhound.

    Last Greyhound trip was last I ever wanted. California Department of Corrections had probably fired both drivers for poor passenger skills a week before. Has Greyhound self -“CORRECTED”? Or is Bolt any Better?

    Maybe just a hundred percent THATWASTHENTHISISNOW thing, but I can’t lose the memory of how well the trains and the Scenicruisers (drivers dressed and comported themselves like the airline pilots whom De-reg replaced them with) worked together to make a wonderful cross-continental trip.

    Also, though: What’s the latest about whether time travel is or isn’t possible?

    Mark Dublin

  10. There was some deja vu in reading the ridership analysis. “ridership is not expected to be high due to long journey times and relatively low number of long-distance car trips today”.

    Rather like the much more expensive HSR study, this one is doomed. Even if it did capture a large part of the travel market, the travel market is too small to be worth the effort. Each additional hour off the travel time only adds 10,000 riders per year, so a go-big approach just throws a lot more money at the problem without getting very many more people to where they want to go.

    1. I agree. That is the problem with this corridor. It is physically challenging, which means that any significant increase in speed would be very costly. Yet it just isn’t that big. Even if you invested heavily, and had speeds significantly faster than driving, you aren’t going to get that many riders. It simply isn’t worth the investment, unfortunately. If we want to improve travel, the best bet would be an investment in bus service, although that isn’t that cheap, either. I would probably:

      1) Have an express from Spokane to Seattle, with a stop at Ellensburg (when school is in session). The Ellensburg bus depot is fairly easy to serve. This would make the bus competitive with driving.

      2) Ellensburg-Yakima-Richland-Pasco-Kennewick express.

      3) Yakima-Richland-Pasco-Kennewick, with stops along the way (Sunnyside, Grandview, Prosser, etc.)

      4) Tri-Cities to Spokane.

      I would try to run the first and second bus every couple hours (timed to each other). The third bus would run every couple hours as well (in between the express). Service between Yakima and Ellensburg would relieve Yakima transit from running the 11 (although they would probably still run a bus to the airport, timed with the other bus).

      The train still runs from the Tri-Cities to Spokane. It would be nice if it was a bit faster. That is probably the only corridor where an investment in train service could make sense. For a relatively small amount of money, you could greatly improve the speed and frequency of trips between there. Unfortunately, I doubt that would generate that many riders. I think it would still be more cost effective to run a bus between there, even if that bus is less cost effective than the other ones I have on this list. It would probably run two or three times a day (timed with the second or third bus).

      Regardless of the particulars, if your goal is better public transit between cities, investing in bus service is the way to go for this area.

  11. I get the feeling that what’s really needed for E. Washington is a two part rail system. What’s being proposed is just the E-W line (with travel times so horrible it should be rejected) that tries to pick up some inter E. Washington travel as well.

    When really we should be proposing a grand E. Washington loop that hooks up all the inter region travel and then a shorter trans mountain line that links the Puget Sound rail lines to the E. Washington rail lines. The objective being that the inter region loop can be useful and hopefully sustainable without the additional input from the trans mountain line.

    This has the added benefit of getting E. Washington invested in passenger rail lines and more willing to support funding for it. Where as right now passenger rail is viewed more as a “Seattle thing”. Making any project, no matter how useful to the I-5 corridor, an uphill fight.

    Looking at the the map a loop hitting; Yakima, Pasco, Walla Walla, Pullman, Spokane, Moses Lake, and back to Yakima. Seems like a good generic place to start.

    1. Um, there is no rail line between Walla Walla and Pullman; there is hardly a way to make the trip via highway! One has to go to Lewiston and hook north up the monster hill. The Snake River is in the way, and it’s in a pretty significant canyon way out in the big middle of N-O-W-H-E-R-E.

      1. never said use existing rail lines, I assumed that any that are there are freight lines which would mean terrible speeds and reliability.

        As for Pullman, that’s exactly why I included it. By road its a giant pain the ass to get to, so a new rail line (even a slowish one) has a good chance of being faster than by car. It has a population of 34K and is home to WSU our states 2nd biggest university. It’s also extremely close (just 10 miles) to Moscow, ID (pop 25K) the home of the University of Idaho.

        If one where to be dropped from my loop it would be Walla Walla (33k pop) + College Place (9k pop) where Whitman University is. Which is the most out of the way and its inclusion would require two river crossings.

      2. Well then, you’re idea is even more ridiculous. Trains in a giant pinwheel through the Palouse wheat fields connecting “cities” of way fewer than 100,000 population is a giant boondoggle.

  12. I’ll just repeat my comment from the Urbanist.

    The problem with this study is every option included Seattle. This is falling under the same “elite projection” error that requires every urban rail line to serve the airport. If you want strong ridership, serve daily and weekly trips, not “oh yeah I could see myself using that a few times a year” trips.

    Thankfully, the consultants noted “opportunity to improve intercity transit services within the Kittitas and Yakima valleys.” This can probably be done just fine with a bus given the general absence of freeway congestion, but if we want to try out a rail service, I would pilot between Yakima and Pasco, to avoid both weak links Zach identifies, Stampede Pass and Yakima Canyon. And by avoiding Stampede pass, I think you can also eliminate half the locomotives needed to start up?

    If we realize the point of this line is to serve those along the way, not to give people quick access to Seattle (if they want that, they should fly or drive), we can add stops like Wapto and Prosser before extending beyond the Yakima-Pasco core.

    If ridership was good enough to keep going, then we can look at extending to Kittitas and then to Spokane and/or Seattle. Seattle to Spokane trips will never be competitive with flying, so the success of a Seattle to Spokane route will be built on trip demand to stops along the way.

    Daily ridership within the Yakima valley is necessary to sustain this service to then allow us in Seattle a lovely train ride over the mountains.

    1. Seattle is more than an airport. A hell of a lot more.

      And, yes, these rail lines do generally succeed on the intermediate stops, much like Cascades success is in Chehalis and Mount Vernon. But these smaller city stops wouldn’t be successful without the connection to the big cities. You won’t have a successful station in Bellingham without a train to Vancouver, or Chehalis without Seattle, or Corvallis without Portland.

      So this line does depend on the Seattle connection, this makes it useful for the Yakima Valley.

      1. Airport is meant metaphorically, as a symbol of infrequent but widespread trips. My point was if you live in the Yakima valley, you are far more likely to want to go somewhere else in Yakima valley than go all the way to Seattle. Therefore, there is a much larger market serving the intermediate stops within a region rather than trips between regions, as the report suggests.

        I don’t think Cascade is a good counter-example because the intermediate stops don’t serve cities, they serve small towns. Yakima and the Tri-cities might be much smaller than Seattle or Spokane, but they are still real cities that are the economic center of their region. The only secondary city served by Cascades is Bellingham, which would large enough to be its own center if Seattle was further away.

      2. Airport is meant metaphorically, as a symbol of infrequent but widespread trips. My point was if you live in the Yakima valley, you are far more likely to want to go somewhere else in Yakima valley than go all the way to Seattle.

        Yeah, sure, but that is just another way of saying that an investment in rail doesn’t make sense. Without a doubt trips within Yakima far exceed trips outside of Yakima. But if we are talking about a regional, or statewide investment, then Seattle is critical. Someone in Yakima is far more likely to go to Seattle than Cle Elum, especially by train. If the rail line doesn’t work for trips to Seattle, it won’t work for Auburn, Cle Elum and Ellensburg (trips that are on the way).

        What is true for Seattle is true for Spokane. Intercity travel involves big cities for the same reason that transit involves the urban core: density. Someone in Richland is just going to drive to Yakima. It is short enough that even if the train was a Maglev, the time spent getting to and from the train station (as well as waiting) wouldn’t make it worth it. In contrast, trips to Spokane (and definitely Seattle) involve enough automobile hassle to make an alternative worthwhile. If I live in Yakima and have business in downtown Seattle, I don’t want to drive. I’ll probably just fly and take the train from the airport. The Spokane downtown isn’t quite as intimidating, but it is a long way, so driving isn’t appealing. The problem is, there just aren’t enough people going between Yakima and Spokane, just as there aren’t enough people who will take a train from Yakima to the Tri-Cities. Improving bus service between Yakima and the Tri-Cities is probably the best option, especially since the latter is so sprawling (the bus could make several stops). Even then, I wouldn’t expect that many riders, no matter how good the service.

      3. “But if we are talking about a regional, or statewide investment, then Seattle is critical. ” Yeah, for sure. But if it’s a statewide investment, there will need to be investment across the state. If WSDOT is going to make a major investment in Cascades, central Washington should get something, too. Spending $100M on a train to serve just the Yakima valley seems reasonable when bundled with, say, a $2B investment in Cascade. Would that $100M be better spent on bus service? Probably. But I think this project is interesting to at least consider, particularly if Yakima & Tri-City leaders are more interested in improving mobility within central Washington rather than connecting to Seattle.

        And again, my point was to build a sustainable route within the Yakima valley first and then extend towards Seattle (or Spokane) at a later point, given the high costs and poor travel time of the existing alignment between Yakima and Seattle. Kittitas likely wouldn’t be served either, to start. The study suggested there was modest demand for Yakima-Toppenish and Yakima-Pasco trips.

        It would be like if we were looking at building East Link, and the I90 bridge suddenly needed to be completely rebuilt and was unavailable for a decade You’d still go ahead and runs trains between Bellevue and Redmond to start building some transit ridership & move people within East King, and then hope to cross Lake Washington whenever a new bridge was available. (Ignore the impact on Seattle’s Link, it’s just an illustration). You don’t need to connect to the “airport” with the initial system.

        FFIW, if I was traveling between Yakima and Seattle for work, I’d much rather drive unless there was a snowstorm over the pass. Even if I didn’t have to pay for the flight, I’d rather drive to have flexibility on departure time, given there is often only one daily flight. Plus once you add in the time spent in security & waiting at the airport, driving is often faster. This all points to buses over trains, because having multiple trips a day via bus seems much more compelling than a train that will travel at best 2 times a day.

        “Someone in Richland is just going to drive to Yakima. ” That just an argument against public transit in general, and assumes everyone has a car at hand. If that’s true, then don’t even bother with the bus. The core ridership will need to be people that don’t want to or are unable to drive. You aren’t going to get a mode shift with a complete absence of congestion in these small cities.

      4. FFIW, if I was traveling between Yakima and Seattle for work, I’d much rather drive unless there was a snowstorm over the pass.

        Even if you were doing business downtown? Personally I hate driving downtown, in any big city. The flight leaves Yakima at 8:30 AM, which means I could probably leave anywhere in Yakima at 7:30 AM (getting through security at small airports is trivial). I would be downtown by 10:00 AM. The return flight leaves SeaTac at 6:30 PM, so I would probably leave the meeting at 4:00 (just in case — I hate rushing a flight). I would be home by 8:00 PM. That’s a long day, but much of it is spent just chilling at the airport, or drinking ginger ale on the plane. It is also a very scenic flight, I would imagine.

        If I was driving I could probably leave Yakima at the same time (7:30 AM). But that assumes that there isn’t much traffic downtown. It is tough to park and be ready for a 10:00 AM meeting without encountering some traffic. The return trip is bound to have traffic unless I wait until very late (or leave before 4:00 PM). Either way that means over four hours on the road, which sounds miserable, as well unproductive. You can work at the airport or on the plane, but you can’t get much business done while driving.

        All of this is a decent argument for a bus. A bus could leave downtown Seattle at 5:00 PM and be in Yakima by 7:15 PM. The rider could get work done while the bus cruises on the HOV lanes and the wide open stretches. A train could do the same thing, except that it would cost a fortune to make it competitive with a bus (and still not get that many riders).

        “Someone in Richland is just going to drive to Yakima. ” That just an argument against public transit in general.

        Not really, because the bus can serve Richland, while the train can’t. That’s my point. These areas are spread out, and yes, difficult to serve with buses. But they are practically impossible to serve with a train (assuming the planned approach). Going to Pasco Station is fine if that is where you are headed, but not if you are headed to Kennewick or Richland. It isn’t that hard to imagine a set of intercity bus service connecting fairly well to local bus service, such that those traveling between Yakima and *any* of the Tri-Cities would get there fine. I outlined such a plan up above.

        Trains pay off when you have major downtown areas and the distances make them competitive. Seattle to Vancouver or Seattle to Portland are great examples. For many people, this is their destination — right downtown. The airports, on the other hand, are further out (even if mass transit connects them). These are major airports, which require more buffer time to deal with security and getting to the proper terminal. They also have traffic and lack easy parking, which adds time and expense on either end if that is how you plan on getting to the airport.

        In this case, it is only Seattle that has that issue (even Spokane is an easy airport to navigate). Even though it is just one-sided, a train into the city could work, if it wasn’t so darn expensive (and ridership so small). A bus is the better bet.

  13. Thing about an airport, AJ, is that it’s so often Stop One on the multi-modal transportation network that’s also called “The Whole Rest of the World.” In not too many more years of Link construction, a lot more cities than Oslo and Gothenburg will have a rail-only door-to-door rubber-free ride to Lynnwood and Bellevue when the flight-part’s over.

    And not only will Victoria Clipper have more than one boat connecting streetcar-airport travel via our two Waterfronts, but their jet-boats themselves will have a lot of company and competition. Based on last few years personal residence pattern, Olympia’s very recent announcement about my own upcoming local Intercity Transit airport stop is mixed news.

    One positive thing, though. “The Olympian” also notes that plans to evict my lakeside’s homeless residents have (editor’s word) “Apparently” been postponed. Whew.

    Mark Dublin

  14. Why is there so much ridership projected with the route ending in Toppenish rather than Yakima? Im not from the area .

  15. The 4:43 hours:minutes to go between Yakima and Seattle at 33 mph is to me a fatal flaw, as is only two round trips a day.

    Shaving 90 or 120 minutes off that travel time is basic. Otherwise, we’re just recreating Petticoat Junction.

    Can’t a deal be brokered between the state and the ports to pay for a bored tunnel with two tracks that would become our cross-Cascade connection for both freight and people? Then five or ten trains a day is possible as is a much faster travel time.

    1. I’m of the same mind here. Just bite the bullet and build new RoW. (Cascades needs to do this too) Though I would run service to Spokane hourly.

  16. I’ll echo what others said. Basically a non-starter. As much as I’d love to see a high speed rail line to Spokane, there’s no way it would pencil out financially or even in travel times given the extreme terrain and low population density in between. I’d rather the state invest in electric regional plane technology for cleaner and quieter flights to Spokane.

  17. I wonder how many new riders this brings on board.

    The transit supporters circular firing squad protecting us from the auto strikes again!

    1. Any chance some of us auto owners might think it’s worth our tax money to give ourselves and others the ongoing choice to use our car or not, on a day by day, trip by trip basis? My transit taxes are my best guarantee of my car’s longevity and resale value.

      Which are also giving other tax-paying motorists who don’t want to be in my way the chance to stay out of it. My War’s on Traffic Jams.

      Mark Dublin

  18. MATH: 205,000 total annual riders works out to an average of about 570 total daily riders. Divide that by 4 train trips (2 EB, 2 WB) works out to an average of about 145 riders per train. This is a vanity project for rail buffs, clearly not worth the investment of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

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