Amtrak Cascades News-Roundup

GPS on the Cascades by Brian Bundridge
GPS on the Cascades by Brian Bundridge

There is a lot of reasons to be excited if your an Amtrak Cascades customer. Several key improvements have been completed and announced this past week. The heated debate over the second Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver BC has been temporarily settled and will start service August 17, 2009, at least that is what is notated in the Amtrak system. This will be an extension (not a new service as the CSBA likes to think it is…) of the existing Amtrak Trains #513/516 which currently terminates in Bellingham.  The Northbound train will arrive after 10pm and the Southbound will depart around 6am.

This will be the first Portland to Vancouver BC train for the Cascades system with the full journey taking slightly over 8 hours with a 15 minute layover in Seattle either direction for crew change. If the Federal Stimulus funding is allocated this run will be completed in less than 6 hours.

Starting July 25, 2009, the Talgo will also return to Amtrak Trains #510/517. These trains have been substituted for nearly 3 years as trains are going through their mid-life refurbishment. These included new paint, new leather seating in coach and business class, new A/V systems, improved air brake system, improved restrooms, and minor changes to the Bistro car. The Superliner coaches in use now will be returned to Amtrak and used elsewhere in the system.

The BNSF Commuter Construction crews are nearly finished with the Interbay rail yard project. This project when completed will fully double track the corridor between Pier 70 in Downtown Seattle to North Magnolia, near the Ballard Bridge. This will bridge the gap of single track along the Amtrak and Sounder corridors to just 2.7 miles of remaining single track. Those locations are Edmonds and Mukilteo.

The new Blaine Customs Facility has started construction. This facility will add 2 to 3 new tracks which will end the common 30 to 70 minute waits for passenger trains at the border. This is expected to be completed April 2010.

In Everett, the new PA Jct realignment and new yard tracks have also entered the construction phase. This project when it is completed also in April 2010 will shave almost 6 minutes off the schedule, raising the speed from 10mph to 60mph.

Stanwood Station and the siding extension is moving along swiftly and is on schedule to open in November 2009. BNSF however is short $1 million dollars to extend Mt. Vernon siding which is a prerequisite for stopping at Stanwood Station.

Currently, there is no estimated time for construction for the new Amtrak Coach Yard in Seattle but I have tentatively heard December 2009 start and completion in March 2011.

King Street Station exterior is about 90% complete with brick clean up and more clock work to finish up. The project is slated to be completed in September 2009. Interior work can not start until the City of Seattle completes the sewer treatment facility next door to KSS.

Recap: SP 4449 and Disney Train

For those that asked; I have uploaded photos of two trains: the Southern Pacific 4449 on its journey out to Spokane, Washington and ultimately to Train Festival 2009 in Owosso, Michigan, and Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” display train in Seattle. I was quite busy =P

Click on the photos to see the gallery!

SP 4449 by Mesa, WA by Brian Bundridge
SP 4449 by Mesa, WA by Brian Bundridge
The Disney Carolers by Brian Bundridge
The Disney Carolers by Brian Bundridge

Independence Day Special Events

SP 4449 by Brian Bundridge
SP 4449 by Brian Bundridge

This weekend, there are several special rail related events happening in the Pacific Northwest;

July 3-5; Disney’s A Christmas Carol train tour will be open for display Friday and Saturday 9am to 7pm and Sunday 9am to 4pm. The train will depart early morning to Spokane on July 6th.

July 3rd: The Southern Pacific 4449 steam locomotive will be departing Portland’s Union Station at 8am for it’s long journey to Michigan for Train Festival 2009. The locomotive will be away for about 3 months as it tours the Midwest. There are tickets still available for day trip segments if your interested (short notice) This is the first time this century that a privately owned steam locomotive has traveled outside of its home terminal. The last locomotive to make this trip was the ATSF 3751 in August and September 1992. Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the 844 and 3985 steam locomotives travel yearly to various locations across the United States.

July 4th: The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad will be having a party on both trains with free cake, flags, and live music on-board the trains.

Feel free to add on to the calendar!

Have a great and safe 4th of July!

Take Sounder to the Sounders!

City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge
City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge

Great news for the upcoming Sounders FC vs Chelsea game on July 18th, on top of Link’s grand opening, Sound Transit will be running 2 Sounder trains between Seattle and Tacoma and 1 train between Seattle and Everett!

The Tacoma trains will leave at 9:30 and 9:45am and arrive in Seattle at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. Both trains will be making all stops.

The Everett train will leave at 10:00am and arrive in Seattle at 11:00am and will be making all stops.

As always, trains will depart 30 minutes after the end of the event from King Street Station.

For more information, check out Sound Transit’s special events

Add: I want to add and stress the crossings in SODO will be VERY busy between Link, Sounder, and Amtrak trains arriving and departing. Use extra caution when crossing over the railroad tracks, especially at Royal Brougham where there is construction for a new overpass.

Regional Rapid Transit news

Canada Line at YVR by indyinsane
Canada Line at YVR by indyinsane

As we count down the remaining month left before the opening of Central Link, I was reminded that in less than 3 months, Vancouver, B.C. will welcome it’s newest Metro system, Canada Line, set to open on September 7th. That same week, Portland will celebrate their 4th light-rail route, the Green Line to Clackamas Town Center. The Canada Line will connect the Downtown Vancouver Waterfront to Richmond and Vancouver International Airport, a ride which on a bus would take 48 to 54 minutes. A ride on Canada Line will take only 25 minutes. The new Canada Line was privately built and funded and will share the fare structure with TransLink for easy fare integration, whom operates SeaBus, local and express bus service, West Coast Express Commuter Rail, and SkyTrain. The Canada Line is estimated to cost $1.9 billion dollars and is currently $200 million under budget and 3 months early. On the heels of this new line opening, TransLink announced the $1.4 Billion CN Evergreen Line which will also run from Waterfront to Longheed Town Centre via the Millennium Line. The Evergreen Line is slated to start construction after the 2010 Olympics and open in 2014.

New Green Line @ 5th and Oak by Brian Bundridge
New Green Line @ 5th and Oak by Brian Bundridge

Starting September 12th, the 4th MAX line will start shuttling passengers from Portland State University and Clackamas Town Center. This $575.5 million dollar project will add another 8.3 miles to the expanding system. Tri-Met opted to order the popular Siemens S70 Avanto light-rail vehicles with a few slight modifications. The biggest difference is the vehicles will always be in pairs since the vehicles are single ended cabs (Meaning only 1 end of the car has a operator cab, the other is more seating). Like the Canada Line, the new Green Line will shave 20 to 40 minutes compared to the current buses.

The Green Line is also part of a multi-phase project that will allow expansion of the route to Milwaukie/Oak Grove. With the Green Line near completion, the dubbed Orange Line will continue onward from the PSU terminus to Park Ave Park and Ride in Oak Grove. The Orange Line will be the most expensive MAX line due in part that most of the line will be elevated and a new MAX/Streetcar bridge will be needed. Cost is expected between $1.2 to 1.5 billion dollars and add 7.3 miles to the system. The line is slated to open in 2015.

Amtrak Cascades – More Track work

Rail Grinder by Brian Bundridge
Rail Grinder by Brian Bundridge

Starting Monday, June 29, 2009, BNSF will be starting on a bridge maintenance project between Vancouver, WA and Portland, Oregon. Amtrak Cascades trains will terminate and originate from Vancouver Station with bus transportation to Portland Union Station to connect to trains bound for Eugene, Oregon. There will be a small detour in place that will add about 30 to 60 minutes to the Coast Starlight (Trains #11/14) and the Portland section of the Empire Builder (Trains #27/28)

Continue reading “Amtrak Cascades – More Track work”

Link Light-Rail Testing Update

62 days left until you can get to South 154th
62 days left until you can get to South 154th

As some of you are well aware of, starting today, Sound Transit will be ramping up to mock scheduled runs. This is the some of the most important testing for Sound Transit as they confirm what they can and can not run in terms of frequency.

What to expect today:

Trains will be testing from Stadium (Royal Brougham) to South 154th Station between 6am and 6pm. Trains will vary from single car trains to the full 4 car long trains. Trains will be running in the Beacon Hill Tunnel as well! After rush hour, testing will be expanded within the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) between 9am and 3pm. This will be ramped up in late June.

Seattle DOT will also be along the MLK segment to examine the timing between the trains and lights due to frequent complaints. I can attest that some signals definitely needs to be tweaked, which is what this testing is all about.

Several of us STB’ers will also be at International District Station to get the first train going into the tunnel around 8:45am. We will get on the next bus following the train to Westlake Station. We will have a review of how the trains and buses interact with each other.

What to do:

BE SAFE! Stop, Look, and LISTEN. Light Rail vehicles are extremely quiet. When trains are coming into each station, they will sound their bell to alert pedestrians and will also sound the bell to alert when they are departing.

Take pictures and send it over to us!

There is only 62 days remaining until opening day! Let’s make sure that we get the word out for people to be safe.

Stanwood Station Contract Awarded

Stanwood Station, photo by WSDOT
Stanwood Station, photo by WSDOT

Interwest Construction of Burlington has been awarded the contract for Stanwood Station. Construction on the $5 million dollar project will begin mid-April and due for completion in late September. Service will start in October serving 4 trains, 2 Northbound and 2 Southbound trains.

The platform will be an unattended open air platform, like Tukwila Station. The station area will have room for expansion for a enclosed building and could be turned into a full multi-modal station.

The platform will be 17×750 feet which will accomodate the future 14 car long Talgo trains or a 9 car long bi-level train. The last passenger train that served Stanwood was in 1969 when Great Northern Railroad stopped in the town. Fares is expected to be around $13 to 20 dollars.

Transit Perks: 10% off Tully’s

I meant to post this sooner but at certain Tully’s Coffee locations, you can get 10% off your next drink when you show your bus pass, including Orca.

I only took advantage of this lovely offer at the King Street Center location where I picked up my Orca card.

Any other transit perks you all are aware of?

Poll: Would you support a user fee for Cascades to VBC?

This is an unofficial poll I am conducting to see if people would be interested in a user fee to support a second and third Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver BC. This fee would be used to pay for the train and the Canadian border patrol services. The fee would not be valid for those traveling between Seattle and Bellingham. Only passengers going to Canada would be required to pay the extra fee.

Please, vote and forward this off to anyone whom you know and would be interested in taking the Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver BC.

Link and Mt. Rainier

Link approaching Columbia City Station
Link approaching Columbia City Station

I shot this yesterday evening as the high clouds started to move in. I’m looking forward to seeing the many views of our mountain ranges from the train. There are views of all of our areas mountain ranges from the Central Link, imagine when the system gets built out?

Alaska Railroad DMU

Alaska 751 by Brian Bundridge
Alaska 751 by Brian Bundridge

The final car built by Colorado Railcar is Alaska Railroad DMU 751 shown above at BNSF’s Stacy Street Yard. The U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Railroad have teamed up for a new whistle stop service (pdf) that will allow the DMU to be used for recreation and transportation opportunities for users of the Chugach National Forest. It is a very interesting and forward thinking concept to take on and should be interesting to see the outcome of the project.

The DMU is scheduled to be moved from Stacy Street Yard today for Harbor Island where it will be loaded onto a barge to Alaska. It is scheduled to depart sometime Wednesday or Thursday morning. Check out the video of the Alaska Railroad DMU (Quicktime Video). Not bad acceleration for something so big and tall!

There is good news though. Value Recovery Group e-mailed us stating they are in the process in talks to purchase Colorado Railcar and continue development of the program. I am not sure if this also includes the Ultra-Dome cars that are very popular in Alaska as well. This could mean that agencies, such as Portland’s Tri-Met, could expand their fleet, if the company is returned. I’ll be watching this very closely.

Second Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver Approved…

Amtrak Cascades Trains at Rest in Seattle
Photo by mrbula

But only during the Olympics… The fate of this train all comes down to money now. I suppose I’d be in support of a minor fee added to the tickets for the border crossing fee, but still, the hostility is nothing but greed. I still don’t see airlines getting charged for passengers going to/from YVR, why should Amtrak? This is all greed and makes me very sour to even think about having to pay extra, when I would easily spend hundreds of dollars up there, like many other travelers do. A $10 surcharge would be needed to cover the expense using the 2008 ridership numbers with a bit of cushion. That surcharge should only apply to those passengers going to Canada.

This will raise the low price from $30 one way to $40 one way and a high of $50 to $60. Even with the current high fares, most of the weekend trains to Vancouver BC or to Seattle are sold out.

Regardless of that fact, it does appear that the second train will bring an expected benefit of nearly $14 million dollars of revenue to the Canadians.

Vancouver Sun story on April 1, 2009 – Vancouver Sun story on March 31, 2009 – H/T Ken Storey via Trainorders.com

Meanwhile in the Rail news….

While the legislature continues to shoot down R8A, I did some investigation in regards to the Amtrak rail funding and its dramatic change mentioned here previous. It appears that 98% of the rail capital project funding has been completely eliminated. The remaining 2% is going to very, very small projects, such as Tacoma Rail engine facility improvements, a new connection for BNSF/Tacoma Rail in Roy, and a spur to a cement plant in Everett. Yippe…

Stanwood Station however did keep its funding and Amtrak Cascades will serve the station when it opens this Fall. I have heard that the funding for Leavenworth Station has been eliminated but I have not found anything that confirms this officially.

24 NEW SECTION. Sec. 225. FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION–
25 RAIL–PROGRAM Y–OPERATING
26 Multimodal Transportation Account–State
27 Appropriation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$34,933,000
28 The appropriation in this section is subject to the following
29 conditions and limitations:
30 (1) $29,091,000 of the multimodal transportation account–state
31 appropriation is provided solely for the Amtrak service contract and
32 Talgo maintenance contract associated with providing and maintaining
33 the state-supported passenger rail service. Upon completion of the
34 rail platform project in the city of Stanwood, the department shall
35 provide daily Amtrak Cascades service to the city.
36 (2) Amtrak Cascade runs may not be eliminated.
p. 27 SSB 5352
.

1 (3) The department shall begin planning for a third roundtrip
2 Cascades train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. by 2010

While the state will “aggressively” seek federal funding from various stimulus sources, the damage and lack of credibility has been done. What the state has effectively done is damage any chance of securing funding because all projects require matching funding from the state. With the state effectively killing this funding, this no longer gives the state the chance to receive any stimulus funding.

While I understand the need and reasoning for reducing the budget, a lot  more critical things were cut. I am still at a lost however how I-405 manages to get a several million dollar increase in funding, along with the I-5 Pierce County HOV lanes while rail and other projects are being cut.

We talk about alternatives and ways to reduce GHG but when it comes to making progress on doing that goal, a few select people make sure that it does not happen. In this situation, we, the people of Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia all want alternatives to driving. We all want an alternative to flying. The Amtrak Cascades service and passenger rail are our ways to that goal. Until we have people in our government that also see that goal, we will never go beyond what we have currently for many more years.

We all know by 2012, gas prices will be at record levels. By 2012, we could have had a very good and integrated transportation system, ranging from buses, carpool, light-rail, and passenger rail. Each mode works together but people will not make the critical change needed until the services are provided. The Cascades program will be very critical and by not investing now, we will lose any forward movement at such a critical time.

Nearly every state is looking forward to adding more passenger rail, except for our region, where roads are now king of our society.

From high hopes to low hopes

For those whom hoped the state would change its act in regards to rail transportation, I am steadily learning that you can not count on Washington State to make the commitment that involves transportation, unless it is roads. Other states however are jumping hard and fast to get on stimulus funding and are matching funds to ensure they get funding for projects. What are we doing however….?

Continue reading “From high hopes to low hopes”

Opinion: WSDOT and Amtrak Cascades

Amtrak leaving Seattle by Brian Bundridge
Amtrak leaving Seattle by Brian Bundridge

Where to begin after the troubling news that was brought forward to us recently? Washington State Department of Transportation reorganized the passenger rail division during a critical time when federal funding is available for key improvements along the corridor. These improvements would wildly benefit thousands of passengers who take the Amtrak Cascades daily. Read on below the fold.

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