Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown

Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow
Seattle Schedule Board, Circa 1968, Ron Goodenow

It’s time of the month again for the latest updates for BNSF trackwork around the Pacific Northwest. If you are new to this type of post, this covers news for Sounder, Amtrak, BNSF and Union Pacific Railroads and covers passenger rail throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In Part I I’ll discuss all the work North of Downtown Seattle.

Blaine: BNSF and WSDOT finished the new Blaine Customs Siding and related construction several months in advance. This project will allow for faster and more reliable Amtrak Cascades trains and less delays as freight trains are inspected.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown”

25% off Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver B.C.

Cascades by Stephen De Vight
Cascades by Stephen De Vight

With the launch of the second Vancouver B.C. train, Washington State and British Columbia have came together to bring a great deal on getting to Canada. For a limited time, tickets are 25% off normal prices, making a very attractive deal for those going to Canada. Purchase tickets by December 31, 2009 and travel by January 31, 2010 to take advantage of this deal.

Sample one-way fares to and from Vancouver, BC include:

  • Portland, OR: $34.50
  • Tacoma, WA: $26.00
  • Seattle, WA: $26.00
  • Everett, WA: $17.00
  • Bellingham, WA: $9.50

This deal was announced on Friday, October 9, 2009 with the Governor Christine Gregoire and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell to promote the new train service at King Street Station. So far, the train is averaging only 60 passengers on weekdays and about 90 on weekends.

For more information, check out the promotion for further details and blackout dates.

This will also be a great time to check out the new Canada Line and some excellent dining options along the line.

Also, don’t forget that this Fall is double Amtrak Guest Rewards points. Great way to earn free travel and other perks for our more frequent rail travelers.

WSDOT submits Track 2 ARRA funding request

Amtrak Cascades by Stephen De Vight
Amtrak Cascades by Stephen De Vight

Washington State has submitted the Track 2 ARRA funding request that would increase Amtrak Cascades trains, improve on-time performance and could add nearly 800,000 additional seats with the increased train capacity.

The $1.3 billion request will fund 26 projects between Blaine, Washington and Vancouver, Washington. These projects would dramatically improve the reliability by improving the track to reduce the amount of slow-orders, adding new track in certain locations that will allow passenger trains to go 110mph, new trainsets, new locomotives, extending longer trainsets, and more.

Washington is one of 24 states that have applied for the Track 2 funding that has totaled $50 billion. The amount available is only $8 billion.  California has asked Caltrans not to apply for Track 2 funding to improve chances of California’s HSR program.  Many people believe California’s system will get the bulk of the $8 billion dollars with a few remaining states getting the rest of the funding.

Remember, this is an “all or nothing” request. The FRA/DOT is not going to award funding for one project… whatever is submitted for Track 2 is what will be funded. If for example, Washington State was denied Track 2 funding, the DOT won’t say “but we’ll fund Point Defiance”

With that said, things will be very competitive. It will be a lot of pressure from California and other reps that would prefer to send all funding to California to ensure the route is built.

While I would prefer if Oregon and Washington received the money, things will be very hard with the competition out there.

Rail Advisories: No Sounder to Mariners and Superliners

P42s leading the Coast Starlight by author
P42's leading the Coast Starlight by author

Sound Transit wants to remind everyone that there will not be a Home Run train to Safeco Field, Saturday, October 3rd, 2009. This is mainly due to the low projected attendance for the last remaining games.

Amtrak and WSDOT would also like to remind those last minute travelers to Vancouver BC or Seattle, WA on trains #510/517 will be substituted with Superliner equipment for about a week. The FRA will be doing tilt testing using one of the Talgo’s using the P32 and P42 locomotives. This will be done late at night so it does not bother with normal daily traffic. The purpose of this test is to allow the P32 and P42 (and P40s) the ability to travel at the posted Talgo speed limits instead of following standard passenger train speeds in the curves.

Stanwood Station may open just before Thanksgiving weekend. The project has been delayed due to lead contamination at the station site delayed the early November opening.

Hundreds of people turned out for the opening of Leavenworth Station. The train arrived on-time to a large crowd on the platform. While the complete station will be finished later this year, Leavenworth opted to open the station now to support the upcoming winter months. Snow is expected to hit Stevens Pass this weekend with the cool temperatures. May be a good time to take the train there!

Leavenworth Icicle Station to open September 25th!

Empire Builders at East Glacier Park
Empire Builder's at East Glacier Park by the Author

Washington State will open a new Amtrak station in Leavenworth, Washington. Icicle Station, which began construction on June 25, 2009, will open a covered platform station on September 25th. Phase 2 of the project will build a new station building and the group is accepting donations for the project.

The station code (LWA) is not currently active. I would expect this to be in the Amtrak system but the end of the week. The next station will be Stanwood station which is slated to open in November/December.

For more information regarding Icicle Station, check out the website. Perhaps someday we will get a daylight train between Seattle and Spokane and/or Seattle-Auburn-Ellensburg-Yakima-Pasco train.

Portland’s Green Line: The 5th Line in the Saga

All aboard to Clackamas!
All aboard to Clackamas!

Last Saturday, Tri-Met celebrated its 5th MAX light rail line with the opening of the Green line, an 8.3 mile long system which runs from Portland State University to the Clackamas Town Center. The $575.7 million dollar project was built by Stacy and Witbeck and wide range of subcontractors. Stacy and Witbeck has been the leader for Commuter Rail, Streetcar and Light Rail projects in the United States with over 20 projects under construction or completed. Construction of the Green line took just 3 years from Final Design to Opening day. Impressive, considering the extensive work needed with the Steel bridge, new “diamond” crossings, and all done with minimal service interruptions to MAX and the Portland Streetcar. The I-205 corridor has more than 2300 parking spots available with the largest at Clackamas Transit Center with 750 spots. The I-205 corridor also features a mostly grade separated trail next to the ROW.

Check out the rest of the Green line after the fold!

Continue reading “Portland’s Green Line: The 5th Line in the Saga”

Streetcar Ex Machina

Go by Streetcar by Author
Go by Streetcar by Author

As the streetcar debate heats up once again, I want to point out a few things that we seem to be losing track of as we discuss future systems.

We are designing a streetcar route not a light rail route. Tacoma Link for example is light rail but using a streetcar to provide the service. The way it is ran; a single track system with a long “passing siding” with light rail signaling is similar to what you would see in terms of Sacramento’s Folsom light rail line.

Read the rest of the story beyond the fold

Continue reading “Streetcar Ex Machina”

Washington State Ferry News

Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma
Enjoying a summer trip on the Tacoma by the Author

Update by Brian Bundridge: M/V Wenatchee is now back in service as of the Friday afternoon commute. Thanks for Todd Shipyard for the quick turnaround!

We here at Seattle Transit Blog haven’t really covered a lot in terms of ferry news. The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee on Sunday has caught my attention with the heavy activity in the news regarding the ferry service. Like my Amtrak Cascades posts, I will post monthly or bi-monthly updates, along with news regarding ferries.

  • The accident involving the M/V Wenatchee is still yet to be determined. The heavy fog this time of year is quite uncommon. (At least according to the Farmers Almanac) WSF is hopeful that the Wenatchee will be back in service before Labor Day Weekend.
  • Victoria Express is providing two 149-passenger foot ferries which will shuttle passengers between Seattle and Bremerton. For schedule information, please check out WSF’s page regarding the shuttle service
  • The ferry shuffle once again dinged the Bremerton route. The 124-car Kitsap will provide the sole service on this route until further notice. The normal ferry, the Hyak, will serve the Edmonds/Kingston route until further notice. The 202-car Puyallup will serve the Seattle/Bainbridge route which will restore its service back to normal capacity.
  • WSF has moved forward with procuring two additional 64-car ferries and the bid going out this fall. Depending on the money saved, WSF may seek to procure a 144-car ferry instead of a 64-car ferry.
  • The first 64-car ferry is well under construction at Todd Shipyards! Its sea trials are expected Summer 2010 and service on the Port Townsend/Keystone route.
  • WSF is also pursuing one or two 144-car ferries which will be based on the Issaquah Class vessel. The 144-car vessels will be used on various routes throughout the ferry system.
  • Currently in drydock, the 87-car M/V Klahowya and 188-car M/V Walla Walla for scheduled maintenance (16kb PDF). There are no backup vessels available to fill in gaps in service.

In other news, Washington State Ferries released their long-range plan (2mb PDF) in June 2009. This plan goes over the future of the ferry system, capital funding issues, terminal upgrades and when vessels will be “up-sized” to support heavier traffic, etc. The worst part about the plan is the deferred new terminals at Edmonds (year 2029) and Mukilteo (year 2017). Both of these terminals were critical components to North Sounder and increasing ridership on the train. The City of Edmonds may proceed and build the new station with WSF’s assistance.

WSF is also looking at ways to add a reservation system to certain ferry routes. Currently, the Port Townsend/Keystone route is on a trial reservation system. Because of the small size of the ferry, this boat is very hard to get on if you want to take a casual drive via Deception Pass, etc. Between now and 2030, WSF will be adding 10 boats and retiring 7 boats (The Evergreen State, Rhododendron Class boats, along with the Kaleetan and Yakima Super Ferry Class boats)

That is all the goodies I have for now! I will be sure to update as soon as I hear that the Wenatchee is back and also, feel free to chime in about ferry news! It is something I hope to cover along with the heavy rail end of things more frequently.

King Street Station clocks to start today

King Street Station at night by the Author
King Street Station at night by the Author

Mayor Greg Nickels, via Facebook, said that the renovated King Street Station clocks will be restarted today. He was pondering to what music would be most fitting. I’d have to say Pink Floyd – Time but his suggestion of “Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower” would be just as fitting.

Any suggestions I can forward to him?

Check out the press release – and yes, I am going to be there!

BNSF Construction Updates – August 2009

BNSF in the snow by Brian Bundridge
BNSF in the snow by Brian Bundridge

It’s been a while since I have posted one of these so lets get right to it! This will cover all passenger carrying rail lines.

Transport Canada has finished up an aggressive maintenance blitz for BNSF and CN rails. Most of the jointed/bolted rail has been replaced with Continuous Welded Rail or CWR for short. This will greatly improve the ride quality on the Amtrak Cascades trains. An increase of speed is currently in discussion with Transport Canada on what is viable and what is not viable, including a discussion to honor the tilting capability of the Amtrak Cascades trains.

Construction has finished for the new Blaine Customs Facility which will allow more Amtrak Cascades trains in the future and increase freight capacity as well. This project involved moving the main line over slightly to build a new main. The old main was then converted into a second siding. This will allow for multiple trains to be inspected without one holding on the main line, which in turn, delayed Amtrak trains greatly (at times, upwards of 1 to 3 hours)

The Mt. Vernon siding expansion is still on hold as BNSF continues to seek additional funding for the project. It is expected to start construction in 2010 now.

Construction on Stanwood siding has begun rehabilitation with new 50mph (from 15mph) switches and installing concrete ties and new CWR on both the siding and the main line. An extension of the siding will begin in September. This project will increase freight and passenger capacity and will reduce wait times of over an hour for opposing traffic. Currently the station is on track for a November completion and service by Christmas 2009.

Construction at BNSF’s Delta Yard and Curve Realignment has also began construction with grading and bringing in fill dirt. This project will add several new yard tracks and provide grading for future expansions. This will also include a new bypass track for through-freight. This bypass will increase the speed from the 10-35mph to 35-70mph. This project is scheduled to be completed in Spring 2010 and its completion will allow for a third Seattle – Vancouver BC Amtrak Cascades round trip to begin.

Construction is currently on hold for Edmonds and Mukilteo (second platform) along with the 4 cross overs between Richmond Beach and Everett Jct.

BNSF Commuter Construction crews continue to make way at the Interbay rail yard in Magnolia. This expansion will add double tracking between Galar Street and W Emerson Pl along with a reconfiguration of the main line and yard tracks. Once completed later this year, this will improve passenger and freight movements out of the busy yard and will increase speeds by 10mph for freight, 15mph for standard passenger equipment (Superliner, Horizon, Amfleet for Amtrak and Sounder) 20mph for the Amtrak Cascades. This project should be completed entirely in November/December 2009.

As Ben reported earlierDo It Right Tacoma is protesting the berm that Sound Transit has selected for the construction of D Street to M Street. They currently have a petition running to force Sound Transit to change this to a post and beam model instead, which will delay the project and add several million dollars to the project overall, potentially losing federal grants, including the chance of receiving stimulus funding. Until this is resolved, expanding Sounder to Lakewood and Amtrak bypassing Point Defiance will not go on schedule.

I have not heard much on other major projects, including Vancouver but from pictures I have seen, there is work still being done there.

WSDOT has submitted their Track 1 application (45kb pdf) for ARRA stimulus funding. This funding will cover minor improvements that will increase Amtrak Cascades service, improve on-time performance, and much more. WSDOT will submit Track 2 in October.

That’s all for now!

Ride transit to the big events!

Sounder and Mt. Rainier by Brian Bundidge
Sounder and Mt. Rainier by Brian Bundidge

Today marks one of the busiest days for transit agencies with several events happening. This is a good day for those folks whom haven’t had a chance to experience Sounder, Link, or ST Express buses as well.

Scheduled events today;

Sounders FC vs. Fire @ 12:00pm

Mariners vs. Indians @ 1:05pm

Seafair Torchlight Parade Run, starting at 6:30pm from Qwest Field to Seattle Center

Crowning of Miss Seafair, 7:00pm at Seattle Center

Seafair Torchlight Parade, starting at 7:30pm from Seattle Center to Qwest Field

Sounder departs Tacoma at 11:00am and arrives at 11:59am

Sounder departs Everett at 11:15am and arrives at 12:15pm

Link will be running normal service with some extra trains to handle crowding.

Seattle Streetcar will be running normal hours, ending at 11:00pm

Seattle Center Monorail will be running normal hours, ending at 11:00pm

KC Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Sound Transit buses will be running normal Saturday hours with no extra services.

This is an open thread, have a great weekend everyone!

VIA Rail Engineers on strike

VIA Rail Canadian #1 by BCOL CCCP
VIA Rail Canadian #1 by BCOL CCCP

If you are heading up to Canada to take a VIA Rail train, you may want to hold off a few days/weeks as VIA Rail engineers are on strike. As a precaution, VIA begin canceling trains with the strike pending. Engineers and yardmasters have been working without a contract since December 31, 2006. This affects 350 engineers and yardmasters.

Refunds are available or you can change your tickets for a different date.

Link’s First Week

Link in SODO by Brian Bundridge
Link in SODO by Brian Bundridge

So with Link up and running for a week, here is a recap;

On opening day, 2 people got stuck in the elevator at Beacon Hill Station.

Many people complained about the rough wiggle the train made along the elevated segment.

TVM’s had their share of problems.

A power/signal outage shut down the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for nearly a full day.

Trains were “light ridership” according to some newspapers.

Today I rode on Link and my observations are the following;

The wiggle in Tukwila is barely noticeable. The maintenance of way team at Sound Transit did a great job fixing this for both tracks!

Beacon Hill has some incredible food.

Sports fans are enjoying taking Link… the train I got off around 4:45pm had at least 40 jerseys waiting at Tukwila after over 200 commuters got off at Tukwila.

TVM’s all have been upgraded, including the Sounder TVM’s.

No power issues in the DSTT.

Ridership is steadily increasing. Both of my trains had easily over 200 people, which was shocking. The A/C on the trains did a good job keeping the temps cool.

How was your first week on Link? Good experiences, bad experiences? Considering this is the first week, I am shocked on how well this is going!

Passenger Rail News Roundup: ARRA Funding and Talgo

A lot has been happening!

  • Washington State has requested $1.8 billion dollars in stimulus money to upgrade the Vancouver BC – Portland, Oregon with diesel locomotives but includes funding for a 220mph corridor
  • Meanwhile, Oregon State has requested $2.1 billion dollars in stimulus money to upgrade the Portland, Oregon – Eugene, Oregon route into a 110mph electrified rail corridor
  • Wisconsin has won the bid to build a new Talgo Assembly and Maintenance Facility. The State of Wisconsin will also be purchasing 2 new 14 car Talgo trainsets with an option to buy 2 more with a capacity of 420 passengers. I am not sure if Washington State ever competed for this project. It is expected that the trainsets will be the Talgo 7 or Talgo 21 (H/T; Trains4America)
  • Amtrak has put out an RFO to build the new Viewliner II long distance single level passenger cars. Hmm, Oregon Iron Works perhaps? (H/T; Trains4America)
  • And in Canada, Via Rail may strike due to contract issues with the government (again)…

Link Observations from Today

1991 Orion 1.508 by Oran Viriyincy
1991 Orion 1.508 by Oran Viriyincy

This evening, I rode 4 trips of the first public revenue runs on Link. I was happy, disappointed, appalled but also understanding, which is why this post is here.

1. From a railroaders point of view, the elevated section is decent. The southbound line is much smoother than the northbound by a long shot but overall, I rate this a C in terms of ride quality. While the benefit of not having to align track is good, the noise, ride quality and such is going to be the bigger deterrent for many riders. Personally, until the segments are fixed and adjusted, I would recommend only doing 45 to 50mph. This has nothing at all to do with breaking in the track because the track will never be “broken in”. It is “anchored” down with a very, very limited amount of tolerance. I could get very technical on how this could be fixed but it would be a post within itself.

2. Waiting for buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel gets Having to wait 5 to 7 minutes between Pioneer Square Station and International District Station is absolutely unacceptable by any standards. This happened on 3 of my 4 trips. At least the automatic announcement notifying why we are being held went off. That still did not help the people whom hoped for a quick round trip.

3. Pierce Transit is operating the Sea-Tac Airport shuttle service, ST Route 575 with 1999 Orion 1.508 buses. Very cool to see that pull up to Sea-Tac Airport! However, besides the lone destination sign in front of the bus, there wasn’t any other signage that states that the bus is the Tukwila Link Connector. Also, while some people were able to find out that the bus was indeed the connector from people standing at the bus stop, there was still a lot of confusion on to take the 194 or the shuttle. There were also complaints that there was no ST agent at the Airport Information Booths regarding the light rail.

4. Seattle Transit Blog was mentioned 11 times while I was on-board! Hi to those that I talked with today!

5. I am still slightly annoyed by some of the operators. Some were smooth, others were rough as hell. Kudos to those operators for making the rider experience even better.

6. The more I rode Link, the more I looked at Southcenter Mall. 70% of the people questioned why that route did not go there… as it would only add 2-5 minutes to the schedule (but add several million dollars to the project), depending on the routing, etc. A Southcenter Mall stop would have easily tripled the ridership alone…take a look at the ridership of the Route 150 for that proof.

7. The routing via MLK was probably the smartest decision Sound Transit could have made, regardless if the routing would have been faster via the Duwamish. The ridership today from the on and offs from my observations were pretty amazing.

8. The Seattle Times naturally stated that the ridership was weak and South 154th Street Park and Ride was nearly empty. I have a picture when I arrived at South 154th Street Park and Ride and counted maybe 20 open spaces remaining. The line to get tickets was nearly 40-50 deep at times. Today was a very, busy day. The morning, maybe not so much, but the numbers were most definitely there.

9. Security and Sound Transit police were present off and on throughout the day. Yes, I did get fare checked.. heck, come to think of it, I got fare checked on Sounder for the first time in almost a year.. and no, I am not joking…

10. TVM issues were minimal. If there were any issues, they were reported and fixed within an hour. That is still very, very, impressive. I was able to add money to my e-purse with my debit card in 45 seconds and it instantly added that value… no 24 hour delay that you have with

11. On my way back from Beacon Hill Station, we were delayed for 5-10 minutes due to a disabled train at the International District Station according to the operator. The automatic announcement came on that there was a service delay and would be underway shortly. It was a good way to talk with some people regarding how they felt about the service and such. Even with the glitches, all was well.

All in all, I was happy at some of it, really annoyed at another part of it but most importantly, the vibe was still good, despite the issues throughout the day. People were happy and glad it arrived. Some even stated they are looking at housing near Link stations. This is exactly how things should start. This is only the beginning of course. I am personally looking at some of the newly remodeled apartment a block away from South 154th.

How was your experiences? Agree/disagree? Let me know!

Train Schedules for your phone!

Sounder at King Street Station by Brian Bundridge
Sounder at King Street Station by Brian Bundridge

Are you a busy person and on the run, trying to get to the train station before that last one leaves? Never miss a train again with TrainLogic! TrainLogic has a mobile application for Blackberry or any java enabled phone for cheap! The application is subscription based at $7.50 for six months. During the six months, application updates and any schedule changes and modifications are included in the cost. I requested the Amtrak Cascades to be added to their schedules and they did it in just a few days! Excellent and friendly customer service.

The schedules available for our region;

Sound Transit Sounder Commuter Rail and Tacoma Link
Amtrak Cascades
Portland MAX (All Lines), Streetcar, and WES

I have been using the app on my Blackberry 8330 and will be testing it on the Blackberry Tour (Verizon Wireless) when I receive the device. The application itself has been great and uses very little memory. If you are on the run and need to know when that next train is, this app is definitely the one for you! If you need a schedule added for your region, simply e-mail them and they’ll gladly add it to their list.

Continue reading “Train Schedules for your phone!”