Budget shortfalls and COVID-19 have hit Amtrak Cascades service hard, according to a post last week on the WSDOT blog. Only one train per day is currently running in either direction. Long-distance service like the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight have been reduced to three runs per week.

Before COVID hit, WSDOT and Sound Transit were working on re-starting service on the Point Defiance bypass after a deadly derailment in 2017. Sound Transit, which owns the bypass tracks, hadn’t committed to a date for re-opening the bypass, as it and WSDOT completed all of the recommendations from the NTSB accident report.

Now, with fewer people traveling, the demand for extra trips has lessened considerably. “When service returns to the Bypass, the demand for intercity travel increases, the pandemic risk is minimized and the state transportation budget issues are resolved, we will move forward with adding two more daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle,” writes WSDOT’s Janet Matkin. In other words, it’ll be a while. On the plus side, the agency has more time to procure new train sets to replace the Talgo Series 6 that were recommended for retirement.

14 Replies to “Amtrak Cascades faces a long road back”

  1. Had my late wife still been alive, and had we both still had our home in Ballard, soldiers from JBLM would very likely have had drag us both out of the wreckage of Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 on December 18, 2017. As a member of the rail passenger association they belonged to, she knew two of the three passengers who were killed.

    If the passenger’s association still exists, they need to file a lawsuit forcing AMTRAK to keep to its alignment following the shoreline, itself some of the world’s most beautiful railroading, until every curve on the line can handle speeds suitable for intercity passenger rail. Though NTSB’s accident report linked here really indicates a Federal agency in same condition as the Centers for Disease Control.

    ” 79 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph?” The curve under discussion here was designed for the freight trains that connect Tacoma with the coal chute at the State Capitol and street track through Downtown Olympia to the Port. What business does a single rail of it have even being connected to High Speed ANYTHING?

    But the kicker, like down a long flight of stairs and out the door is: “with more speed limit signage prior to each incremental decrease.” Especially in a climate with mornings dark and rainy, only speed sign a driver at the controls of an intercity passenger train needs to read out the cab window are in the yard, not on the road.

    Automatic train control? A long-overdue measure, but its absence is zero percent alibi for negligent homicide. When he pulled himself off the cab floor, or was it off the wall, of 501’s lead locomotive, didn’t the driver deny for the record knowing where his train was? I know what ATU Local 587 would’ve told me if it showed up on any accident report of mine. Same for whatever instructor signed me to duty.

    And same in hydraulic tree spades for the official who stated for the record he was unaware that his agency had any responsibility for operator training. Sound Transit Director Joni Earl and Deputy Director Ron Tober would’ve made it their business to keep tabs on it, even if they’d been forbidden to.

    But- no accident that throughout mythology, every evil goddess has also had a bright side worthy of some tribute. COVIDIA is going to see to it that Portland will get its long-deserved rail when the mentality that wrecked BN 501 has aged out of any chance at a repeat. Pray same for our country. A certain curve will be a fine first project for whatever another generation’s first President will rename Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “ If the passenger’s association still exists, they need to file a lawsuit forcing AMTRAK to keep to its alignment following the shoreline, itself some of the world’s most beautiful railroading, until every curve on the line can handle speeds suitable for intercity passenger rail.”

      I agree somewhat, a 30mph curve on a brand new “higher speed” line is ridiculous.

  2. That “one train in either direction” must mean both directions between Seattle and Eugene. It can’t mean either direction from King Street Station because the WSDOT article says service north of Seattle is suspended due to the Canadian border closure for covid.

    I wish WSDOT could have been more creative and run trains between Seattle and Bellingham. Those northern cities have few other north-south transit options.

    1. “Those northern cities have few other north-south transit options.”

      Not sure if any of these are still running, but, normally, there is the Skagit Transit 90X from Everett to Mt. Vernon and the 80X from Mt. Vernon to Bellingham. Each are relatively frequent, in comparison to Amtrak Cascades, and much cheaper. There is also an Amtrak bus running Seattle>Everett>Mt. Vernon>Bellingham, which I rode once.

    2. The 90X keeps changing so I can’t keep track of it. Sometimes it’s all day, sometimes weekdays only, sometimes peak only. The Skagit Transit covid schedule says: “Route 90x Mt.Vernon/Everett: Depart Skagit Station starts 8:00am, every two hours thereafter, last run 4:00pm. Depart Everett Station starts 9:00am, every two hours, last run 5:00pm”. The regular schedule page has all the weekday trips blacked out, and the weekend schedule appears to match the information on the covid page. So it looks like it’s running the weekend schedule every day. Weil, that’s more service than I thought.

    3. They might mean one “Cascades” train in either direction.

      The problem with the north end is that both the border and the schools (WWU) are closed which is killing that ridership.

    4. Bolt Bus currently has one morning trip leaving Bellingham with stops in Mount Vernon and Everett. A return northbound trip is in the afternoon.

  3. The Coast Starlight and Empire Builder are still daily until October 1st, then it may go to tri-weekly service.

  4. “….WSDOT and Sound Transit were working on re-starting service on the Point Defiance bypass after a deadly [and preventable] derailment in 2017.”

    There. Fixed it for you.

    Rogoff should’ve been sent packing after this tragic, colossal failure of his project team.

    1. There seems to be political inertia among local elected officials to not oust anyone for a reason unless it’s blatant insubordination or a juicy sex abuse or financial scandal. In Rogoff’s case, they hired an FTA lackey who has never built nor operated a large transit system until he was brought to ST. The other debacles just this past year — University St renaming, line colors, tearing out escalators as a “solution”, removing escalators as a tiny cost-cutting move but not leaving room to add them later, the elimination of monitoring reports on ridership — aren’t as fatal but they are pretty bad situations that didn’t have to happen if Rogoff knew what he was doing..

      The mystery questionS are who among the elected officials pushed to hire an inexperienced manager in the first place, and will our media dare to ask those elected officials if they made a mistake.

      I’ll even add that failing to offer 15 minute service on the easiest wheeled transit mode to stay socially distant on (at a very low incremental cost — just a few more drivers) because a four car train has 232 seats is this month’s new incompetence chapter.

      1. Those are excellent questions. I’m not very hopeful that we will get answers though.

        This guy has written enough chapters already. It’s already past time to close the book and move on to a more competent (and professional) chief executive.

  5. The statement that the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight have been reduced to 3 days a week is inaccurate. As of now they are running daily.

    Amtrak has been planning a cutback to 3 days a week that would go into effect October 1st. However, Congress appears to be stepping in. The House recently passed the 2021 THUD appropriation that includes a mandate that Amtrak must maintain 2019 frequencies in the National Network and provides money for it.

    Like the proposed bustitution of the Southwest Chief, the chances of Congressional intervention to prevent the cuts are very good.

  6. I hope I’m not the only one to be asking this question: Do any of the agencies involved in this region’s transit have personnel working on across-the-board service quality?

    Because transit is certainly not the only enterprise now beset with systems and software that just do not work. Reason I think that a lot of fiscal improvement would result from savings on the operating time now being wasted by preventable delays and missing information. Can someone in operations please weigh in with an assessment of crew training?

    Also reason I mention schooling so much, choosing the word over more general “Education.” Fiscally and politically, I think the biggest and most economic boost in transit’s recovery will owe to its finally coming into the newly-voting and first-time-elected hands of people who’ve spent their previous eighteen years being a lot better treated aboard trains and buses than in, well, other places.

    Evil though she be, with the help of the likes of Seattle Transit Blog, COVIDIA has no problem with the realm of the rolling conjectural. The more ideas we come up with under present conditions, the more likely one or two of them will be right when conditions change.

    She also finally got both my wi-fi connected and made Paul Frederick finally send me the right shirts. In these two connections among others, one very heartening constant has been the skill and patience of the young woman in Kingston Jamaica who straightened out my wi-fi’s digital circuitry all the way back to West Olympia. And her colleague in southeastern Pennsylvania who finally found the right code to be sure my shirt collars do not button down.

    And best promise of success will be the number of us who have volunteered to be transit consultants whose independence is guaranteed by the fact that whatever we conjecture, we’re not getting any money. Employee pass for services in process of being rendered? Let’s class that strongly negotiable.

    But above all, casual dress-code of our average workplace will make sure that whatever else describes us, silk, corduroy or brocade, no interest of ours will be “vested.”

    Mark Dublin

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