65 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Sounder North, Commuting Virtually”

  1. I miss the morning pink on the mountains, the PM sunsets, the person who swims at the same time as the 7:11 heads south at Broadview, of course Willie, the herons and the tides, looking for the naked people at the naked beach and much more.

    1. I miss being able to get on the train, use the restroom and the WiFi. But it sure is expensive per rider.

  2. Thank you, Bruce. What a beautiful piece of art. And thanks to Sound Transit for collecting it and making it available. And amid all the solemnity, the speeded-up people were just perfect.

    When I was little in Chicago, riding the elevated trains at rush hour, at a time when silent movies with frantic piano music were still in theaters, it really did seem to me that people in a hurry really were moving just like this. Or at any minute could be. And if you were a soldier in World War One, the enemy would have a very hard time targeting you as you “went over the top” of your trench and charged. In that war, which in 1953 was only 38 years before, troops really did call it that.

    But with the video technology available now, this could be just the beginning.
    Passenger cars- and planes- might not need windows anymore at all. The walls and ceiling could combine into a screen giving passengers the impression that they’re really riding outside.Also, no reason the view can only be “real-time.” The Old West! Mount Everest! The Stars’ Every War! Any place in the entire world, and every other one, at any altitude or ocean depth!

    No, service providers would not routinely do this on every run, or flight. Though if a passenger gets acquainted with this “moving viewing” as a baby…you know that I’m saying. But come to think of it, we can already do this with glasses! So everybody’s whole ride can start to be wherever they want, all the time. We better watch it, though…..people might start changing their minds about whether Sounder North really is a waste of money!

    Mark Dublin

  3. Does anyone know why 90+% of the track from Seattle to Everett is double tracked — but there are two short single-track segments leading in to the Edmonds and Mukilteo stations? Both appear to be graded wide enough that it would be easy to have those sections be double-tracked too (or, maybe were in the past?). I would guess that going from 100% double tracked to anything under 100% dramatically reduces the capacity of the line – since you go from basically *never* having to worry about that trains going the other direction are doing, vs having to *always* coordinate.

    Also, why is the train sometimes on the left and other times on the right?

    1. Stephen, at our first meeting, Martin introduced me to a BN engineer friendly with STB. Any chance he could write in and answer your questions? This is so much the level of nuts-and-bolts understanding that America’s every present or future voter should come out of high school knowing. And not only on railroading.

      Student Government, goes without saying. How else is anybody supposed to know what instructions we need to give our elected representatives? Had this educational regime been done as far back in modern history as it should have, passenger and freight, high-speed rail wouldn’t even need wheels anymore.

      But thank you for the lead-in to my own question: How much longer until, east or west of the Cascades, mag-lev or steel wheel, all freight rail moves to its own ramrod-straight tracks parallel to the Pacific Coast the whole north-south length of all three Americas? And our Sounder track?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZiQ89_s67Q

      Shame about the air quality, but one morning many years ago, stood on the bridge across the Ballard Locks when the “combination” of these two coupled locomotives crossed the lift-bridge southbound, whistles singin’. And an hour later, from the platform at King Street Station, spoke with the engineer on the orange one.

      Whose work uniform included a long German pipe and Viking helmet, though in fact their real combat gear never had horns. My point here being that eventually, our shoreline track from at least New Westminster to Portland might be devoted completely to historic scenic passenger rail.

      Sub-structure of the bike-trail called the Cross Kirkland Connector case in point:
      Once existing rail is installed it gets comfortable with a variety of uses. And willing to serve passengers for a lot longer than any of our own lifetimes. And really likes streetcars, which love bicycles so much the’ll always pull a trailer with a bike-rack.

      Mark Dublin

    2. BNSF has 2 large yards at Interbay and Everett that can be used to hold trains until the tracks clear and plenty of sidings between the yards to allow for train meets. Building new track is expensive and if it’s not needed operationally, neither BNSF, Amtrak or Sound Transit would be willing to spend the money.

      Interbay to Everett used to be mostly single tracked but it has been improved for Cascades and Sounder service with more double-tracking.

    3. There is a project underway in Edmonds to complete the double track. Not sure about Mulkiteo, but I’d imagine the same – the benefit of being 100% double track vs 98% would be significant, even if much of it is passing track as Guy points out below.

      1. “There is a project underway in Edmonds to complete the double track.”

        It’s a hoax!

    4. Grade for track was built 2011 or so. Paid for by ST funds as part of north sounder capacity improvements. It’s all ready for track and signals with exception of Edmonds waterfront, but the yards at both ends and traffic haven’t necessitated it yet,

  4. The real reason the United States has no high-speed rail network

    Because of the pandemic the airline industry is going to need a large government bailout for many of the carriers to survive. Perhaps this can be leveraged to get them to become stakeholders in passenger rail; think Alaska Cascades. The public private partnership is a model used in most other countries.

    High-Speed LA-To-Las Vegas Virgin Train Wins $600 Million California Bond Allocation
    Amid the broad economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus, California has approved a $600 million private activity bond allocation for construction of the $5 billion Virgin Trains-Brightline railway that within four years could be whisking passengers from Las Vegas to a (distant) Los Angeles suburb at speeds of up to 200 miles an hour.

    1. Thanks for the links, but that first article was quite amateurish. Most of it was spent talking about how faster trains are in other parts of the world, as if we are supposed to be amazed. I get all that information (and more) just by reading an article from Wikipedia about the subject (without all the gee-whiz rhetoric). They didn’t spend any time actually discussing the cost, or environmental trade-offs that come with higher speeds.

      It reads like click bait, given how little time they actually address the subject (why the U. S. has no high-speed rail network). They did mention the various lobbying groups, which plays a part, but again is pretty obvious (the airline industry fears competition from trains — who knew?). Along with the lobbying, there are a couple of big reasons why we don’t have a high speed network:

      1) Political power is spread throughout the country, and much of the country would not benefit from a high speed rail line. North Dakota has as many Senators as New York. South Dakota as many as Texas. This means that when it is time for funding rail lines, they treat it like they would the interstate highway system — everyone gets something. This makes sense for the highways, but not for a high speed rail line. Much of the country is simply too remote and too sparsely populated to justify the high cost of high speed rail. You need national buy in, followed probably by a bi-partisan commission similar to the one that closed military bases. Good luck with that in these polarized times.

      2) Rail infrastructure is extremely expensive to build in the United States. The author barely touched on this when they mentioned California. It exists with subway infrastructure as well. There are various theories (most of which have nothing to do with Republican talking points*) but what is clear is that it costs a bundle to build rail infrastructure in this country. Not compared to China, but compared to Europe, Japan, and other advanced Asian countries that have high labor costs, high environmental regulation, and plenty of respect for private property. The high costs have played a part in the failure of many high speed lines, and remains a major stumbling block here. If the California line collapses (because of cost overruns) it will be hard to push for things like Seattle to Portland, or Seattle to Vancouver BC, given the much smaller ridership potential.

      Personally, I think both problems need to be fixed to expect a major commitment to high speed rail. It is possible that Northeast corridor could see higher speeds. It is also possible that the California system will eventually be built, along with the line to Las Vegas that you mentioned. If Texas continues to move to the left, I could see them building there as well. But a major investment in say, the industrial Midwest, where cities are relatively close to each other, would likely require lower costs and more people in Congress looking out for more than their own parochial interests.

      * Alon Levy has written about the cost issue quite a bit for theories as to why things are so expensive here. It is not what is commonly mentioned.

      1. Yes the first article wasn’t an encyclopedia entry. It did bring up some historical points I wasn’t aware of like the genesis of the Acela being in the LBJ era. It painfully states the obvious, the few examples we have of “high speed” rail just aren’t. I looked at the Brightliner in FL. It’s the same as the Cascades, limited to 79 mph max track speed. Both are diesel electric and are capable of 125 mph.

        CAHSR in my opinion is a big setback in the effort to build consensuses for HSR. Even if they do get the inland section operational it will still require high subsides to go… pretty much nowhere.

        Recent news on the LA Vegas line is both CA and NV have passed what are called “activity bonds”. I don’t know the legal details but this will let them fund about 80% of the projected cost and break ground in less than a year. Both states are eyeing the 30,000 construction jobs to help pull their economy back. Other news is that it looks like a phase 2 will extend from Victorville to Rancho Cucamonga where it will have a transfer point to Metrolink. Dream time, phase 3 Las Vegas to Salt Lake?

        If this happens on time and close to budget I think it could be the spark that really gets thinks rolling. Sad is that the they hope to have it operational by 2023. Why sad? Because it’s taking that long to open East Link which started construction (surveying) in 2016.

        Dallas – Houston would have high ridership but it seems to be going down the same bureaucratic rat hole as CAHSR. But it’s likely to get stimulus money anyway. What I’d really like to see is the inevitable airline bailout require the carriers buy in to HSR and become operating partners.

      2. Bernie, Rancho Cucamonga? They’re going to descend Cajon????? Wow, that should be quite the engineering challenge, although if the Inland Empire kink is ever built the Las Vegas trains could go either way to downtown LA or San Diego.

        It certainly makes much more sense — if feasible — than ending at LAUS through Santa Clarita. That’s an 80 mile back-track (40 each way) from Pomona, 120 from Riverside/San Bernardino. In truth the engineering challenges are not that much less coming down from Palmdale. It’s not nearly as steep as Cajon, but if anything it’s more constricted.

      3. From an Alon Levy Post:
        Why Tejon and not the Tehachapis

        That describes the Bakersfield to LA route using I-5. Tejon also being known as the Grapevine. However, on a map of CA I also see Cajon Junction on I-15 between Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga. Certainly this is a better terminus as it’s near a major airport, significantly closer to the population of the LA metro area and will connect directly with existing rail lines to DT LA.

        Palmdale was a dream to spur green field development. It wouldn’t make sense now to extend LA-LV there as there is zero funding or timeline for CAHSR to ever go farther than Bakersfield (if it even gets there). Any future track might just as easily end up bypassing Palmdale and following I-5 which from most technical accounts was the better decision in the first place.

        Here’s another phase 3 dream for LA-LV. Extend from Rancho Cucamonga to Disneyland in Anaheim. The route to Vegas resemble the Thunder Mtn ride ;-)

    2. While I can see high speed rail as a good economic development tool (if the cities it connects are close enough and big enough), I am highly skeptical of those who pitch it as a solution to the climate crisis.

      The climate argument typically works by estimating the ridership, then subtracting the CO2 that would have been emitted if each rider, instead, traveled by plane or in a separate car. Some points that the promoters time and time again fail to account for in their math:
      – Much of the HSR ridership will come from neither people who would have traveled by car or plane, but by people making a trip that would have otherwise not happened at all. Just as wider highways encourages people to drive more often, HSR to Portland will result in people vacationing in Portland more often. From an economic development perspective, more people traveling is generally good for both cities’ economies. But, the “induced demand” component of ridership isn’t doing anything to reduce carbon emissions, and to pretend otherwise is dishonest.
      – Short-haul flights that could reasonably be replaced by high speed rail comprise a relatively small portion of all fights in the U.S. (just look at an airport departure board and compare the number of upcoming flights to Portland vs. California or the East Coast). Many of the short haul flights that do exist serve cities that are too small for a high speed rail line to make economic sense and/or many of the passengers served are making connections at the airport, and would therefore find it more convenient to continue to fly, even if HSR existed.
      – Many of the car trips HSR competes with are families carpooling together, not one car per person
      – Any new HSR line would take at least 20 years to plan and construct, by which point, cars are likely to become more efficient, with big increases in the number of cars running on electricity instead of gas. So to make a meaningful carbon comparison, you have to compare the train with the cars that will be around when the train actually starts running, not the average car on the road today.
      – The opportunity cost for what else the money used to construct and operate the HSR line could do to reduce carbon emissions is typically ignored. As long-distance trips make up only a tiny percentage of the typical person’s overall trips, simply increasing the public transportation options within the major cities would likely reduce carbon emissions more than HSR between them. For example, if the cost of HSR between Seattle and Portland is roughly comparable to the entire cost of building Link (ST1, ST2, and ST3 combined), Link will get far more daily riders and replace far more car trips because it addresses trips that people make every day, rather than a couple times per year.

      Similarly, HSR doesn’t really do anything to address the urban traffic congestion problem because the trips it handles is so miniscule in number compared to the number of daily trips that take place within each city. It does allow people making inter-city trips the privilege of bypassing traffic congestion, but, again, granting that privilege to those traveling within their city would have much greater impact.

      As I said, in spite of all this, that doesn’t necessary make high speed rail automatically bad. HSR between Los Angeles and Las Vegas will be a boon to the Las Vegas economy, as it will increase the number of people traveling there each day to vacation and gamble. And, unlike the South Lake Union Streetcar, the travel demand induced by HSR can be very real and very significant if the service is fast enough and runs often enough. Similarly, HSR between Los Angeles and San Francisco will result in a large increase in business and leisure travel between the two cities and, again, the economic benefits of all that extra travel could be quite real and significant (but probably not enough to justify the $100+ billion price tag, though). But, at the end of the day, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. High speed rail is, first and foremost, an economic development tool, and whatever reduction in carbon emissions results from it, a distant second.

      1. High speed rail is, first and foremost, an economic development tool,

        I agree, which is why I don’t understand why oil companies would be against HSR. One environmental impact is the carbon footprint of construction. I don’t care how much carbon you sequester in the concrete, massive amounts of energy are consumed in the construction and all the trucks, heavy equipment, etc run on fossil fuel. Once the rail line is running, even if all the electricity comes from wind turbines the increased economic activity will help the oil companies. Every piece of plastic generates revenue for the oil companies and more people traveling been city pairs means more car rentals or relatives/friends driving around their guests. Besides, the oil companies are already staking out their foothold in the renewable industry.

        Any new HSR line would take at least 20 years to plan and construct,

        That’s the most audacious thing about the LA to Vegas project. They claim it will be operational by the time East Link opens. If they pull this off it should put a reset on any more 20 year boondoggles and spur more private investment.

        Short-haul flights that could reasonably be replaced by high speed rail comprise a relatively small portion of all fights in the U.S.

        True, and I assume they also comprise a small portion of an airlines profit. So freeing up those take-off/landing cycles and repurposing the gates would be a win for the airlines. Assuming sometime in the future air travel will exceed pre-pandemic levels, replacing those short haul routes will reduce the need for airport expansion. That in part offsets the carbon footprint of building the HSR. Another possible benefit comes from using the catenary as a distribution grid. Think of the energy potential along I-15 between LA and Vegas.

      2. Agree with you 100% that construction of HSR is not likely to hurt Big Oil significantly. As you said, induced travel will mean more rental cars/etc. Not to mention all that diesel-belching construction equipment to build the line to begin with.

        Even with HSR, I don’t see short-haul flights going away. In Europe, short-haul flights certainly didn’t go away (and are often actually cheaper than train tickets).

        In the U.S., some reasons for short-haul flights to continue to attract customers:
        1) Flights to small/medium-sized cities, which are not big enough to justify the cost of building HSR to them (but are big enough to justify a small airport with a few flights per day).
        2) Connections. If you’re flying from Portland to Tokyo via Seattle, you probably still want the flight for the Portland->Seattle leg, even if a train covers the distance in 2 hours, because the flight takes you right to the airport and you only have to go through security once.
        3) People who live closer to the airport than the train station. In the case of Las Angeles->Las Vegas, this covers a lot of people. Anyone living south or west of downtown LA can likely drive to the nearest airport in much less time than driving to Victorville.

      3. If rail uses a quarter of the energy of driving or flying, then the trips can quadruple before they’re using the same amount of energy we’re using now. Electric cars exist but electric airplanes don’t, and we don’t even have a theoretical idea of how carbon-neutral flying could be feasible. We don’t have to play what-if games about how much latent demand would appear if we had Seattle-Portland HSR, we can just look at European and Asian countries that do. They have a multilevel tier of ubiquidous, efficient surface transportation for trips both short and long, fast/expensive and slow/inexpensive. The result is a robust amount of travel at all levels, but not so much it becomes a burden to find energy for. It’s like their healthcare systems vs ours: it takes less resources for better outcomes, and there’s no question that the resources are necessary, worthwhile, and reasonable even in a lower-carbon target. Having that infrastructure makes them more resilient in the face of oil-price spikes, wars, recessions, climate disasters, pandemics, and anything else that might occur.

        It’s doable but it requires national and state policy priorities to make it happen. So far our society isn’t there yet. And we don’t need to focus on the hardest parts like Seattle to Minneapolis or Eugene to Sacramento; we can focus on the easiest parts with the biggest return first. Many cities and pairs that we think are too small to be viable, have HSR or medium-speed rail in other countries and it works.

      4. I’m not too worried about the “burden of finding energy” for 150-200 mile car trips, especially when we move to a future world in which all cars are electric.

        The vast majority of people do not make such trips frequently, and the fact that such trips require sitting in the car for 3+ hours each way guarantees that this won’t change. For example, the number of passenger-miles people spend traveling between Seattle and Portland is but a rounding error compared to the number of passenger miles spent on trips within the Seattle and Portland metro areas. Relative to the entire electricity grid, which also includes buildings and data centers, the energy required to charge electric cars for travel between two cities 200 miles apart is negligible.

        With airplanes, energy is more of an issue, as electric planes is much more difficult, technologically, than electric cars, due to batteries being heavy and airplanes being very sensitive to weight. However, short-haul flights between large cities, which high speed rail could reasonably replace, is but a negligible portion of all airplane miles. For example, the next time you visit SeaTac, look at the departure board; you’ll probably see Portland and Vancouver representing less than 5% of all flights. Compared to all the energy spent to run flights to the midwest, east coast, California, or overseas, the energy spent on flights to Portland and Vancouver is tiny.

        Even the short-haul flights, a lot of them go to cities that will never get high speed rail, due to their small market and/or difficult terrain. As we saw in previous posts, building HSR across to Cascades to Yakima/Pasco/Spokane is prohibitively expensive for a relatively small market. Europe is a bit different because you have a large number of large cities within that 200-mile range, with flat easy terrain between them, making HSR relatively cheap.

      5. There are other issues as well. One is the carbon footprint to actually build high speed rail. Another is what the money could be used for instead (e. g. more electric buses, more renewable energy, etc.). Then there is the fact that very fast trains consume more energy*.

        That is why, for example, building fast rail along the Cascade Corridor (with speeds averaging 110 MPH) is quite likely the sweet spot if your focus is reducing CO2 emissions. Going faster would get more people out of their cars (and planes) but not that many more. It wouldn’t make up for the extra CO2 emitted during construction, let alone be the most cost effective way to reduce emissions.

        Then you have the issue you mentioned, which is the future payoff. Not only are cars more likely to be electric in the future, but planes may be as well. Not for long flights — not across the continent — but for the exact type of trip the train would replace.

        From an environmental standpoint, there are very few places where an investment in high speed rail is the best option. For the Bay Area and L. A., an investment in local transit is probably a lot more cost effective. Of course that shouldn’t be the only consideration. The ability for someone to easily and quickly get between the two biggest cities on the West Coast is valuable for many other reasons. There are reasons to build high speed rail in this country — but until you do a lot of other work, helping the environment isn’t one of them.

        * Or at least, I think that faster trains use more energy. I’m basing that idea on this essay, written a while ago — http://theoildrum.com/node/4301. Setting that aside, there are clearly many things the country could do that would have a much larger impact on carbon reduction than high speed rail (such as electrifying the railroad system as that article suggested). High speed rail always comes up for the reasons mentioned in the article — people think it would be cool.

      6. With air resistance on a moving object proportional to the square of the velocity, I would absolutely expect 200 mph trains to use more energy than 100 mph trains, all else being equal. It’s the same reason why fuel economy in a car is worse driving 80 mph than 60 mph on the same highway. Again, though, as long as the energy we’re talking about is electricity powered by renewable energy, I don’t think it really matters.

        I did read about a few prototypes for electric planes. While they are currently a long way off (in contrast to electric cars, which are actually on the road today), agree that electrifying a short-haul flight is relatively less daunting than electrifying a long-haul flight.

        That said, I think the unfortunate (and only) solution to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of aircraft in the timetable necessary to stave off climate change is more people to simply fly less, replacing long-distance vacation travel that requires a plane with shorter trips that can be made by simply driving from home. Making this happen would require some very heavy carbon taxes, potentially doubling the cost of an airline ticket. It would require a massive loss of revenue for not only the airline industry, but also the hotel, cruise ship, and tourism industries which depend on cheap flights to provide them their customers. It would be very unpopular and probably a political nonstarter. So, realistically, the emissions from air travel are probably going to continue to grow, and if we want to stop climate change, we’ll have to compensate for it in other ways, such as being even more aggressive about closing coal plants and generating electricity through renewable energy.

      7. short-haul flights between large cities, which high speed rail could reasonably replace, is but a negligible portion of all airplane miles.
        I’m not arguing that environmental concern is a reason to build HSR but I’ll point out a huge portion of the fuel used by airplanes is during take off. IIRC it’s in the range of 80-90%. Jets cruising at altitude are extremely efficient. Short hops like SEA-PDX are using smaller planes but more flights (take-off landing cycles) and never reach “cruising altitude”. There are other environmental concerns I’ve mentioned but another one is noise solution.

        As the country ages it’s worth mentioning older individuals may not be able to accept the confinement of an airplane seat. There’s also a convenience factor in that trains could run night owl or early bird service during periods that airports are essentially closed to most flights (more induced demand).

        110mph counts as HSR in this country. It may well be that’s the sweet spot for SEA-PDX. The question of electrification is another issue. I think that for any mixed traffic (which is the most efficient way to incrementally expand passenger rail) The question of how to electrify freight service comes into play.

      8. I’m talking about a paradigm shift to emphasize trains throughout the national/regional/local levels, with the possible exception of crossing the Rockies and traversing Oregon-California. It would require a federal and state reprioritization of our transportation priorities, and because we don’t have that, it changes the feasibility weights. A wholesale shift would be worthwhile, but we’re not ready for it.

        If you say regional HSR is not important because regional trips are so few compared to trips within a city, then by the same token European HSR is not important and they shoudn’t have built it. Is that what you believe? I’ve ridden HSR trains such as Duesseldorf-Luxembourg, Gatwick-Bristol, Manchester-Bristol, and those at least partway HSR like Inverness-London. I think those are worthwhile even though it’s fewer riders than within metropolitan London. And they give all the resilience benefits I talked about: people can still get around even if oil prices spike, a war disrupts international relations, or a climate emergency suddenly requires curtailing flights and gas-guzzling cars.

        I agree that higher speeds cost exponentially higher and we need to find the sweet spots. 110 mph is sufficient for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene. 150 or 250 mph only matters if we’re going all the way to California. We don’t need to get Seattle-Portland down to 30 minutes, we just need to get it down to less than 3 hours. 1.5 hours would be a good target. We’re not trying to make Portland a bedroom community for daily commutes to Seattle; we’re just trying to make weekly/monthly/occasional regional trips more robust.

        Seattle-Spokane can get by with 79 mph. 110 would be nice of course but it can wait until the farther future after the corridor is established. (Or corridors because I would have two routes for Seattle-Pasco and Seattle-Spokane.)

        I’m not saying all this is high priority in the current political climate; I’m speaking more in terms of ideals. I.e., what would a good-thinking federal and state government do; what did Europe do in the 1970s. In our current political climate and with little help coming from the federal government, the state should focus on robustly funding Link, the local transit agencies, all-day inter-county rural connectors (like the Everett-Mt Vernon, Mt Vernon-Bellingham, Mt Vernon-Whidbey, Olympia-Aberdeen buses), and more I-90/82 bus frequency (between Seattle, Ellensburg, Spokane, Yakima, and the Tri-Cities), and oh yes, something more frequent between Olympia and Tacoma Dome. The state should prioritize its incremental Cascades plans higher, and buy out the BNSF track for passenger-priority rail (Cascades,Sounder.Amtrak) and shift most freight to the UP track. Then it can get around to high-speed Bellingham-Seattle-Portland rail. (I’m pessimistic about British Columbia or Canada contributing.)

      9. Another thing European cities have is airports that are directly on the national rail network (London Gatwick) or an S-Bahn connection to the national rail network (Duesseldorf). From there you can get to the rest of the country, both large and small cities, and in Switzerland even ski resorts. So it’s perfectly feasible to take an intercontinental flight to Duesseldorf or Frankfurt or Gatwick or Zurich and regional/national trains to anywhere in the country. I imagine at least half the locals do it rather than taking shuttle flights from their city to a long-haul flight.

        In the US these train routes are practically non-existent and there’s no bus equivalent, so most people take puddle-jumper flights or drive three hours from Leavenworth to SeaTac (citing a specific example). Imagine you fly into SeaTac, you can at least take Link to King Street Station or the Greyhound station. Link is slower and has more stops than an S-Bahn, but OK. You get to King Street Station and what, a few Cascades runs a day. The Coast Starlight and Empire builder run once a day, are piss-poor slow, and don’t serve many cities at all (like Ellensburg or Yakima). You go to the Greyhound station and find only one or two buses a day to everywhere it goes, some places it doesn’t go to at all, and travel times slower than driving. You try BoltBus and find it only serves a few most popular cities.

      10. If you say regional HSR is not important because regional trips are so few compared to trips within a city, then by the same token European HSR is not important and they shoudn’t have built it.

        Not to speak for everyone, but I think what we are saying is that HSR may be important, just not as important as lots of other things. If your goal is to reduce climate change, it is way down on the list. If your goal is greater mobility, it is still way down on the list.

        Areas that have invested in high speed rail between cities also have much better public transit within those cities. If you look at modal share, we are clearly the worst country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_share). The bottom 15 countries in transit share are all American. The next dozen or so are a mix of U. S., Canadian and Australian cities. San Fransisco and New York are the only cities that are better than a single European or Asian city. But neither is especially good, and lag behind similar cities in Europe and Asia. A big part of this is under-investment. Neither San Fransisco nor New York City have built much over the last 40 years. Both could clearly use a lot more investment as both would see huge ridership gains (and huge time savings).

        There is also the issue of distance and density. European cities are more densely populated and closer to each other than in the United States. The only area which is close is on the East Coast. Density matters for the same reason it does with transit. I would hate to drive and park in Rome. I would have no problem driving and parking in Houston. If I’m doing business in Madrid, it is likely to be occurring in the city center. If I’m doing business in L. A., it could be anywhere.

        Intercity travel and urban transit have the same political problem. People want to spread the wealth, and give each area the same sort of thing. But that really isn’t a good value. High speed rail between Boston and Washington D. C. could very well be a good investment. But high speed rail between Seattle and Spokane won’t be. Even between Portland and Vancouver B. C. it isn’t (as the latest study shows). There just won’t be enough people using the system. The improvements need to match the area. In Washington State, that means small, relatively affordable changes so that the trains can go 110 MPH and run consistently, without typical delays. Crossing the border by train needs to be faster and easier than by car. For most of the country, investment in passenger rail should be minimal or non-existent.

        The same sort of approach needs to happen in transit. The really big cities should have most of the money. Secondary cities (like Seattle) should have some grade separated rail, but only in the urban core. Most of the country should have a lot more buses — and those bus improvements should extend to most of Seattle, and the surrounding suburbs (because we can’t possibly afford enough rail to serve most of the city, let alone the suburbs).

        It is a matter of building what is appropriate for the area. But transit for cities is way more important than any improvement in intercity rail travel, let alone high speed rail. Passenger rail is really a very low priority when it comes to climate change — below electrification of freight rail, for example. That’s because even if you spent a fortune trying to build something in the same league as what Europe has, not that many people would use it.

      11. Everything RossB says I believe to be true. But regional HSR doesn’t have to be, probably shouldn’t be, the same pot of money. If federal $$$ are being doled out for transit then it should provide the greatest public good for the money spent. That’s unlikely to be intercity passenger rail. It’s damn sure not mega projects like those in TX and CA.

        It is a matter of building what is appropriate for the area.

        Exactly, and what better way to make sure that happens than requiring private investment to have some skin in the game. Sure the government should help when it’s a good value. For example CA and NV authorizing activity bonds which give the private entity the same tax exempt status on bonds issued as a municipality. CA is offering Interstate ROW at a rate that benefits the private company building a rail line but it’s also a public benefit. I’d even support a partial government subsidy of operating cost if it benefits the public. That’s the way many (most?) rural passenger rail in Japan operates.

  5. Starts on the left track. Switches to the right track. Goes back over to the left track. Ends on the right track.

    Can any train people explain this? And I will not accept “cuz there’s stuff on the other track” as a valid answer.

    1. Not a “train people”, but not all tracks are “main tracks” with maximum speed limits. Sometimes when you see 2 sets of tracks, one of the tracks may be designated the main track with a speed limit of 79 mph and the other track is designated as a passing track with a max speed of 30 mph.

      If someone has access to a BNSF track chart we could check for sure.

      1. All you have to do is look at the speed limit signs trackside.

        Well, in this video the paused images aren’t clear enough, you would need the raw video.

        However, at time stamp 1:59 you can just make out the T-55;P-50;F-45 to the left.

    2. It’s a train.

      It’s BIG.

      It can be on any track it wants.
      Well, technically, it will be on any track the dispatcher wants.

      As long as the dispatcher knows where all the trains are, and the train crews behave themselves,
      All is good.

      There are times when efficient operations require one train or the other getting ‘the main’ track.

      It’s called CTC – Centralized Traffic Control. All done from Fort Worth, Texas.

      1. Sam,

        One thing not mentioned is that passenger trains can cross-over much more quickly than can freights. They accelerate and brake much more rapidly than do freight trains, and they are lighter and therefore can experience higher gee forces than freights.

        As a result, in multi-main track territory with both passenger and freight trains, the “varnish” (e.g. “passenger trains”) do crossing over. I was once on a flagship passenger train back in Illinois in single-track territory where we were cracking along and suddenly slowed. We went into “the hole” at a controlled turnout right behind a very long freight which “held the main”. As we started rocking through the 25 or 30 mph siding the freight started backing, faster and faster and by the time we got to the end of the siding we “met” the consist of the freight backing in run seven to clear the exit switch.

        That train did not fit in the siding. I don’t know if that was a regular occurrence but the dispatcher knew that the passenger train was going to have to slow down to let the front end of the freight clear the end of the siding and decided to let the freight back as quickly as it could without the danger of a push-derailment through the turnout.

        Passenger trains are (relatively) light and nimble; freight trains are not.

    3. Which is why they say:
      “Expect a train on any track, from any direction”

      I have my own story from a few years ago. On a trip back to Edmonds on a northbound Sounder, I was at the head end of a cab-car (old style), where I could sit at the seat just behind the vestibule looking past the conductor and the engineer.

      We were coming around the bend (I remember it being around that 1:55 time stamp (maybe)).

      We were on the same track as in the video.
      Two persons were walking on the track to the right, their backs to us.

      The engineer gave two quick blasts on the horn to warn them.

      They took immediate action, assuming the train was coming up behind them.

      Person on the right jumps right towards the drainage ditch
      Person on the left jumps….. left….
      ONTO OUR TRACK !

      (“Holy SHIT ! ” – I’m thinking)

      Engineer hits the horn again, and said trespasser looks to see his mistake and jumps to join his friend in ditch to the right.

      Stay.OFF. the.Frickin’.Tracks !!

  6. First thing, Nathan, what’s the medics’ assessment of how badly you were injured? But however commendable to you, your assessment looks a shade short on respect for both yourself and Black Lives Matter, and everybody sane who supports it.

    We’re not talking combative response to injustice, but the pandemic of untreated danger-grade insanity that long predates anything COVID in your work area. So for you and the rest of ATU Local 587, your first order of business next work-day is to get with your Washington State Legislators. Too bad you can’t meet in person.

    And explain your political options as to how you’ll deal with them if Western State Hospital doesn’t get back its accreditation, while they’re also raising the question with their voters as to the massive expansion that our State’s whole mental system has needed for the length of recent memory. Since STB is in its element discussing trade-offs, I think this facet of public transit is worth the funding of one (1) projected ST- and a capacious Benefits District.

    Being 25 years’ behind on my dues, my strike-vote’s transit history. But given the proportion of the problem at hand, let alone the length of calendar Labor History this danger’s been left unattended, term “Work Action” is for things like turn signals. Correct response could definitely be a great gesture of Solidarity with Industrial Workers of the Word glory days in systems like Spokane.

    Because I know someone connected with BLM can find you a supplier of T-shirts and templates for the snarling black cat that used to decorate so many labor-hostile surfaces state-wide. Like martyred activist Joe Hill would’ve said, “Soon as I disinfect ’em You Got Nothing to Lose But Your Chairs! Ay?”

    Note to West Seattle to check if it’s ok for Ballard to name its Link station after him.

    Mark Dublin

  7. Does anyone know what’s going on with the King County Assessor’s Office valuation notices for 2020? There’s no information on their website as to when they’re expected to be sent out. (Snohomish County sent theirs out dated June 30, which is later than normal.)

      1. Thanks for the reply nevertheless. My understanding of the statute that covers this (RCW 84.40.045) is that the valuation notices must be sent to property owners no later than 30 days from the revaluation date. And since county assessors in our state are required to complete their assessment rolls by May 31st that would imply that the annual change of value notices have to be sent out by June 30th.

      2. That’s odd. Perhaps King County is simply not in compliance. (?) Here’s a link to the Snohomish County Assessor’s sample notice of value change used in 2019 showing a mail date of 6/21/2019.

        https://snohomishcountywa.gov/380/Tax-Statement-Vs-Assessed-Value-Notice

        This part of the controlling statute dates back to 1967. Back then, this section simply gave a fixed deadline of June 15th. The section was subsequently amended in 1972, eliminating the “on or before June 15” language and inserting the “no later than 30 days after appraisal” language, which is how the section reads currently. The mass appraisal process by which county assessors annually revalue almost all of the real property within their respective jurisdictions qualifies as such an appraisal. Again, county property assessment rolls must be completed by May 31 by statute, so June 30 seems to be the latest mail date for a valuation change notice. (Just for grins, I pulled the notices I’ve received from SnoCo for my property for the last ten years and they’re all dated in June.)

  8. It’s doubtful that the Sounder North Line will survive long after the light rail system extension opens up in Lynnwood

    1. It shouldn’t survive, but it would not at all be unlike Sound Transit to run it anyway, and cut frequency on Link to pay for it.

      1. Or, when the New Westminster/Tierra del Fuego mag-lev freight line gets finished, turn it over completely to excursion trains. Can’t believe Hollywood or whatever they call it now doesn’t already have a special effect that’ll put literal mountains of environmentally- friendly vapor out the stack.

        Main reason that there’ll always be trains is that there’ll always be kids. Which will finally be discovered to be the reason that exactly like the rest of existence, there’ll always be trains.

        Mark Dublin

  9. Mark your calendars for Friday and next Friday.

    10 AM Seattle Transportation Benefit District hearings

    Register for public comment 8 AM both Fridays: http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/public-comment

    Guys, unless you want some weaky watered down 0.1% sales tax that won’t keep King County Metro in the fight against climate change, speak up. Please. Do it for all the heroes who built the buses for us.

  10. I wonder how long ago this video was shot. Obviously last year, from the weather and the crowd (pre-Covid19).
    I noticed that the wayside horns aren’t installed yet at Edmonds.

    The other really important question is…
    What did the pedestrian say to the motorist?

    At timestamp 3:30, while the train is at the Edmonds station, look to the left where the SUV meets Pedestrian. Kind words, no doubt.

  11. Speaking of Sounder North…

    I recently became aware (surprised I didn’t already know) of a proposed development west of the BNSF ROW between Woodway and Richmond Beach, just south of Edmonds, called Point Wells. They want to build 3000+ dense highrise homes on a 65-acre property that has been used to store oil/asphalt for the past 100 years: http://pointwells.com/

    There’s a good overview here: http://pointwells.com/media/Jan27-presentation.pdf

    I guess ideas like this have been floating around since the ’90s, and the developers (principally an Israeli billionaire) have more recently been fighting to develop their land with Snohomish County/Woodway/Shoreline (the latter because the only road in/out goes through Shoreline) since around 2010.

    Part of their idealistic vision includes a Sounder North station as part of the development, which would provide speedy travel times to Seattle. Otherwise, the only way in/out of this area is a two-lane road that requires a roundabout way to get to main arterials. Of course, they could also have a private ferry terminal, but I think travel times would be much too long.

    The very wealthy, well-connected residents of Woodway are VERY CONCERNED about the traffic/parking impacts to their quiet community of massive parcels. This is the same community that preferred a wastewater treatment plant on the north-end of Woodway instead of the condos/apartments that ended up being built. While I was deep in the rabbit hole reading about this project, I actually came across a memo written in opposition, written by the lawyer team of an actual billionaire who lives nearby and doesn’t want more homes in their backyard.

    Sound Transit can’t propose a station at Point Wells until the permits for the urban community are approved. And opponents are saying they can’t build without a guaranteed mass transit link. It seems to be a chicken-and-egg problem. I read through most of the legal documents, and it does seem like the developers haven’t really planned it all too well, but maybe they are asking for too much hoping to get something out of it – asking for 3000 units and getting 1500 may be better than asking for 1500 and getting 750.

    I think the main problem, of course, is that it’s politically impossible to build dense housing in many places, so they are trying to build it on one of the few areas they are allowed to (an oil tank farm!), and are still getting opposition. If not here, where?

    1. I don’t think the Point Wells development has gotten any traction with the Sound Transit board, nor with the Snohomish county board. Woodway will be an obstacle, of course, but I think the developer has completely failed to get traction with the relevant power brokers that I think it remains dead in the water.

      From following this the past view years, my reading is the failure to make progress has much more to do the developers’ execution than nimby opposition, which is a pity because this development could justify Sounder North pretty much by itself. If Sounder North goes kaput, another water treatment plant is probably the best outcome for the region, unless Tswlgm or someone wants to do a deep dive on sewer flows.

    2. Point Wells is probably not happening. (First link in June 5 News Roundup, and comments below it.) “Snohomish County planners have again recommended against [the development]…. A decision could come this summer.” BSRE, the developer, is “actively marketing the property to third parties for industrial or other non-residential use.”

      ST has not said whether it would even consider a Sounder station there.. And I don’t think it should, for one development. That’s smaller than downtown Mukilteo and single-use.

  12. I find it curious about how the romance of trains continues to inspire running such infrequent Sounder North service (4 trains in each direction on a weekday). It’s clear that it’s not sustainable without heavy public subsidy — and slots that could have Amtrak Cascades trains are carrying Sounder North trains instead.

    If Sounder North is to sustainably survive after Lynnwood opens, the service has to fundamentally change. It may require looking at extending the route north beyond the district, or inventing a premium service concept, or doubling both the service and the number of in-line stations — or some other major strategy.

    Letting it merely evolve organically is like not watering a plant that never had the right growing conditions in the first place. It just sets up the service to die upon an extended funding or demand drought.

    It’s a pretty “plant” but it’s just not taking root — and with Lynnwood Link, more “water” (riders) is getting siphoned away in a few years.

    1. It is a beautiful route! At least ST bought permanent easements, so I believe even if they pull the plug on Sounder North for operational reasons, those easements exists for the service to return … as you suggest, extending the service northward toward Marysville makes good sense but probably would require a different taxing district; ~10% of Marysville’s population commutes to Seattle, and at that distance a more comfortable route may be preferable over Link+bus, plus Sounder might have real time advantages over the bus leg given the lack of HOV lanes across the Everett slough.

      Premium also makes good sense, but would be hard to raise fares on Sounder north and not south, since ST views them as two routes, one mode. Don’t want to market Sounder south as a premium service because at peak we want Pierce/SKC riders to take Sounder to free up Link capacity in the RV.

      “evolve organically” also assumed all 3 station areas would have TOD. The mudslides really hurt that, b/c it wasn’t viewed as a reliable service that people would make long-term housing decisions around. Downtown Everett should boom eventually but can be served just fine with Link+Bus, while Edmonds and Mulkiteo waterfront are best served by Sounder. As a Sounder North apologist, I’d push hard to Edmonds and Mulkiteo to support development in their waterfront, otherwise the Snohomish consensus around running Sounder North probably begins to fray post-Lynnwood Link. Edmonds appears to be pushing the 99 corridor as their growth neighborhood, which makes good transit sense with Swift+Link, but might end up costing them Sounder.

      1. With only a few peak direction trains, any TOD in Snohomish that isn’t residential will matter. For residential, there is plenty of TOD planned along Link already that will be more marketable to Seattle employees because it will be lots more frequent and mostly more direct (no transfers). There aren’t many sites to add TOD near these stations either. I don’t see new TOD in South Snohomish adding much at all for ridership, especially when up against losing riders to Link in 2024/5 and noting that Edmonds + Mulkiteo have over 70K in population already.

      2. “Edmonds + Mulkiteo have over 70K in population already.”

        A good portion of that population is closer to I-5 and 99 than to the Sounder stations on the shore. They have to go out-of-direction to get to the Sounder stations. Only a subset of Edmonds and Mukilteo residents live closer to Sounder.

      3. Would definitely have to residential, given the time slots. I was talking about TOD within the walkshed. Edmond’s downtown is excellent and extends a 1/2 mile from the station to 7th Ave, they just needed to allow some 5~7 story development to replace the existing 2~3 stories. I’m not talking the Spring District, just a few buildings like what Montlake Terrace is doing would go a long way.

        Mulkiteo is less well situated but could have tried to do something with all that vacant land immediately around the station (I don’t think it’s all WSDOT land).

        Sounder North ridership is so low that simply adding a few hundred daily riders would significantly improve the cost/rider metrics (so much of commuter rail costs are fixed), which would in turn change the narrative around keeping the service.

        And given the regional housing shortage, adding ~1K housing units by the Sounder stations isn’t going to take away from all the Link centric development.

    2. Sounder North’s decision-making is not based on logic, and ST have never acknowledged the possibility of shutting it down even after Lynnwood Link or Everett Link. Except now in the coronavirus budget gap, where it has started thinking about revising previous assumptions.

      The romance of rails is only a minor factor. To me the term “romance of rail” connotes a sightseeing trip on Cascades or the long-distance Amtrak routes through rural areas and century-old towns and industrial districts. That’s not the rhetoric from Sounder North supporters. Their main concern is travel time. Sounder bypasses I-5 traffic jams. And for those living near Mukilteo and Edmonds stations, it’s much shorter than taking an express bus to either downtown or a Link transfer. The biggest population is at Everett Station but the ones getting the most dramatic benefit are at Mukilteo and Edmonds stations, so both those factors are driving it. There’s also the people from the Whidbey and Kingston ferries who can transfer directly to Sounder and get that dramatic travel-time benefit. They’re outside the ST district but they are dozens of people arriving all at once, so some think it’s a good “multimodal” principle to serve them with Sounder.

      As to substituting a bus to Lynnwood Link, the Sounder proponents would say that’s a two seat ride, Edmonds and Mukilteo are distinct cities with political clout that should get direct high-capacity transit, there’s those ferries, Everett riders would get caught in the Everett-Lynnwood traffic, and Mukilteo and Edmonds riders would have the overhead of going east to Link.

      In ST3, Everett Link’s travel time will be the same as Sounder and will be immune to I-5 traffic, so that argument goes away. Mukilteo and Edmonds would still have the overhead of going east. I think most of the remaining pressure to keep Sounder then is, (A) 2036 is a long time away, (B) people don’t fully believe Link will reach Everett or Lynnwood or think it will happen much later, (C) they can’t ride Link yet so it’s hard for them to imagine themselves using it or how convenient it will be, (D) status-quo bias. Far behind that is the view and the romance of rails. ST’s position is that it doesn’t believe it should cancel voter-approved services because voters said they want it. ST Express is explicitly defined as an interim service that will go away when/if parallel Link corridors open, but Sounder is envisioned as a permanent service like Link.

      1. Unless one’s destination is within walking distance of King Street Station, using Sounder North is a two-seat ride too. Also keep in mind that Sounder North riders have to arrive at a station earlier than Link riders do (say 5 or even 10 minutes earlier) — because they won’t want to miss a train. When Link is running trains hopefully every four minutes (or maybe every six or eight minutes), those riders won’t really care if they’ve missed a train.

        With the proposed terminus of many CT and ST Snohomish routes shifting to Northgate, it’s entirely possible that we’ll begin to get a good sense of the effects of Link on Sounder North ridership towards the end of next year. I don’t think the shift will be much but I could be wrong. Then, we’ll see full-on choices being made once Link opens all the way to Lynnwood. I’m content on waiting to see what happens to determine what’s next for Sounder North.

        The great irony is that one-way commuter train services do best when there are longer distances from the major stations. Consider how lower the ridership would be if Sounder South stopped in Auburn and had just three stops rather than continue further, for example (Auburn and Everett are about the same distance from King Street Station) because about half of Sounder South riders are going to and from stations beyond Auburn.

        I’m not proposing a solution per se — but I am saying that keeping the status quo seems to me to be a good way to eventually see the service’s demise when a funding crisis moment emerges. Structurally, making the service sustainable is going to require bigger picture strategic thinking than if everyone leaves it to Sound Transit operations to determine.

      2. “The great irony is that one-way commuter train services do best when there are longer distances from the major stations” – that’s mostly about frequency. The longer the trip, the less important frequency is because the waiting time is a smaller slice of the total time. Long haul commutes – bus, rail, ferry – will tolerate lower frequency, which is why modes like Sounder south and the Kitsap ferries can be successful with low frequencies. Link frequency is super important for short urban trips, but if you are getting ready to ride the train all the way to the airport, you probably don’t notice waiting 5 minutes vs 2 minutes … unless you are late for your flight!

        I’m not sure the 2-seat aspect is a differentiator for the relevant market. Anyone currently riding Sounder north will be a 2-seat ride to Seattle even with Link … if they are within walking/biking distance of a future Link station, they are already taking a CT/ST bus, not Sounder. I don’t see much difference between taking Sounder and backtracking to Westlake or even UW and a bus-Link … the bus-Link transfer will benefit from higher frequency, but the Sounder trip may still be faster or otherwise more compelling – the more convenient the Sounder station is, likely the less convenient is the bus to Link, so it will be interesting to see how people behave. Most who read this blog will expect them to switch to Link, but it might be good to wait until after Lynnwood opens to make that decision.

        And I’ll note East Link opens, commuting to east King is a ‘same direction’ transfer. I’m interested to see how much East Link induces demand on both Sounders.

    3. It’s not “romance”. It’s a combination of face-saving and a small group of riders that understandably protects service vastly superior to the alternatives.

      1. Face saving in that it’s painful to abandon sunk costs; much easier to keep pouring money into a stink pot. The South Sounder expansion would be a great misdirect and ST can even call it a temporary reassignment of North Sounder rolling stock to save face.

      2. Mukilteo and Edmonds must step up the efforts to create density within walking distance of their stations.

        Otherwise it’s all lip service.

        and build a frickin’ temporary style station at Bell St. to capture those who don’t want to take the extra time to backtrack from KSS. It’s chicken feed, comparatively in cost (about the cost of a 2400 sq ft home. It was done at Tukwila, it can be done there.

        If there could be operational changes to accommodate a few South Sounder trains at that station, all the better. Park the equipment at the Sculpture Park for the day. (preferably after bulldozing said park)

  13. If these trains could operate as fast in real life as shown in this video, this service might actually attract some ridership– vs. the paltry numbers it puts up now.

  14. But….in view of History’s clearest lessons, there’s a way to simultaneously restore the passenger railroads Destiny owes our country, but also bring back the magnificent Scenicruisers that used to really personify the word “America”:

    Re-regulate the airlines.

    Mark Dublin

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