There is quite an assortment of rolling stock at the Innotrans 2016 show, but I have selected one in particular to serve as an example of what is being built for other cities. It isn’t necessarily something that should be grabbed as a complete design and immediately put to use in Seattle, as it has a number of features that were requested by the operator. It does illustrate what features other cities have asked to have on their transit equipment and some of these features may be useful to consider when looking at what might one day operate in Seattle.
The particular car I have selected is the Krakowiak, built by Pesa for the Krakow, Poland tram (streetcar) system.
Some basic numbers:
Length: 141 feet in four car sections
Number of seats: 93
Full passenger capacity: 284
Maximum Speed: 43 mph
By the numbers it doesn’t seem so impressive I suppose. It sounds like a fairly typical streetcar, though obviously a bit longer than what is currently in use in Seattle, Tacoma or Portland. Though, it should be pointed out that in the not too distant past streetcars in use in Krakow weren’t this long either, but the transition to longer cars proved desirable for a number of reasons.
Taking a look inside gives an impression the numbers don’t necessarily reveal:
While most of the doors have a fair amount of space for passengers to move around, one door is the designated bike door and pictured above is their solution to bike storage.
While this particular method of stowing a bike on transit equipment takes up a bit of space, it also eliminates some of the issues with having people lift their bikes into a hook. The door is equipped with a sign that indicates bikes need to board at that particular door.
I found it interesting that some of the seats were equipped with these very small tables.
I found it especially interesting that these tables were each equipped with USB power outlets.
USB power outlets seems to be an extremely popular thing for transit equipment these days. At least two of the battery buses on display at the show have them, as well as a number of rail transit cars.
The car is essentially 100% low floor, and there are no stairs at all from the entry to the rest of the car floor. While this does mean that the wheels protrude into the passenger area, it is still possible to utilize the space.
The ticket validator on the far right is a touch screen that is able to display messages in any of six or so languages.
As with pretty much all of the transit equipment at the show, the car is equipped with LCD screens that give the next several stations, and otherwise is a much more useful display than what is typically seen in the USA.
Tomorrow the outdoor displays are open to the public, and this is usually an extremely popular day. Visitor counts on Saturdays have been in the tens of thousands. Thus, this is my final article about Innotrans 2016, unless someone has special requests for more.
My hope is that you have enjoyed a little bit of a window into what is currently being built for other transit systems elsewhere.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is part of the engineering staff for a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
While it is true that Innotrans is advertised as a railway exhibition and trade show, there are some non-railroad products at the show as well, as operators of railroad equipment may also be interested in these products.
No diesel powered buses of any sort are part of the displays (many are operating services to and around the show), but there are five battery powered buses as well as several variations of charging apparatus that are part of the show displays.
Hamberg is one of several cities in Europe using battery powered buses, and in fact in the case of Hamberg their goal is to move completely to battery powered buses by 2020. One of the Hochbahn buses being used in this service is on display.
Two of the buses are full scale articulated buses. One of the representatives from battery bus maker Sileo says they guarantee in their literature a distance of 230 km (143 miles) per charge, but in reality they typically get closer to 300 km (186 miles).
The battery buses are operating an occasional very slow loop around the Summer Garden area of the show, and they are all very eerily quiet. One can drive right past only inches away and you don’t know that it is there.
Efforts at making things quiet, zero emissions and otherwise eliminating traditional combustion powered engines is also going on with the railway equipment that is being shown as well, but none of it has enough space at the show to actually operate.
The above example is a hydrogen fuel cell powered version of the Alstom Coradia Lint regional train. They are calling this the iLint. It will begin service on regional trains in northern Germany after the show is over. Equipped with a restroom and commuter style seating, the car will operate in services of distances similar to Sounder.
Other pieces of equipment at the show that illustrate the extensive efforts at moving away from diesel engines include a regional freight locomotive from the Austrian Federal Railway that was upgraded to include off-wire battery packs. Passenger locomotives can’t be too far behind if freight equipment is already being built with this capability.
Noise along railway lines, however, isn’t just caused by diesel engines. Streetcar and other urban systems suffer from wheel on rail noise transmitted through the concrete into which the rails are set.
Prokop Rail of the Czech Republic has developed their BRENS system of sound deadening cushions specifically aimed at noise reduction and runoff water control for street railways or other situations where railway lines might otherwise be encased in concrete. Their system includes panels made from repurposed old automotive upholstery. These panels may have either artificial turf on top, or have an assortment of small plants such as sedum sewn into the material so that a natural top layer is formed. It is intended for use on lines with speeds up to 160 km/hr (100 mph).
Other products at the show to help make operations more quiet include various makers of transparent noise walls made from plexiglass or similar materials that are intended to block the noise but allow light to pass through. Several other non-transparent noise wall products were at the show as well, but everyone knows what noise walls look like.
There are many things that I don’t have enough time or space to cover. For example, a non-catenary light rail car for the Dubai Metro is also at the show. However, the products listed above are the ones that stand out to me as far as serving as an interesting step forward in the area of making things run quieter and cleaner.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is a member of the engineering staff of a small Portland based manufacturer of electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
The area of keeping passengers informed has advanced well beyond simply telling people when the next train will arrive.
While it first appeared at the show two years ago, displays on Siemens trans that show where the least crowded cars are located on the train were being shown this year too. One of the Siemens engineers said “Of course, the display is not very useful unless it displays the information on the platform before the train gets there. However, the operator is still working on installing the infrastructure to support that.”
The particular trains equipped with this display will be entering service for Southwest Trains services out of London starting in 2017.
Passenger information displays are, in fact, a significant part of the public transportation part of the show. There is some really interesting stuff going on in the area of passenger information technology. What we have seen so far in the USA is only a tiny piece of what is available.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is part of the engineering staff at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
The Innotrans show is huge. For example, remember the light rail car that I had seen being moved into the show on Monday? I still haven’t found where they have that particular car on display. There aren’t too many trade shows out there where you could loose an entire light rail car. The map and guide to the trade show is a nearly 700 page back-breaking phone book sized publication.
As it was the winner of the iF 2016 Design Award (an international product design group), the new Polish regional express train is one place to start as it shows some of the features being put into today’s railway equipment worldwide. It is intended for use on routes that are in the four hours or so in length range, so in that regard it is somewhat like what would be used on the likes of Amtrak Cascades types of services.
Though, it should be noted that the top speed of slightly over 150 mph is definitely not something we will see in Cascades service any time soon.
What we might call business class seating has a folding table so it is easier to get into and out of the seat than if the table were a fixed design. Electrical outlets are provided between the seats. There is a trash receptacle at the table too (see the open hatch close to the window).
Above each row of seats is an electronic sign, which gives the seat assignment for that particular seat.
However, the electronic gadgetry does not stop there by any means.
Some of the tables are a complete electronic system in their own right.
The display allows for menu selections to be made from the dining car, or it can be switched to show route and destination information. The circular device at the far end of the table in the photo is an inductive cell phone charger.
The regular coach seating isn’t quite a comfortable looking as you might expect, but it is what the regional train operator ordered and apparently fits their customer needs.
The entire train was built with a lower floor than standard equipment so that it is entirely at platform level (which in Poland is about a foot and a half above the rail height). It’s no curb-height light rail car, but it is still much lower than standard equipment and therefore required the use of some of the same construction methods that would be required in low floor equipment.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is part of the engineering staff at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
Every two years, the Innotrans railway technology trade show takes over the huge exhibition grounds of Messe Berlin. Monday of show week is reserved for those moving displays into the show grounds. This includes everything from setting up a hundred or so feet of railroad track to display how maintenance equipment works to full size locomotives and passenger equipment. Due to the placement, some of the equipment must be brought in by truck. While there is track (quite a lot of it, actually) into the show, even the fairly extensive track arrangement is completely filled. Getting it all to work means sometimes trucks are used.
As admission to the show begins tomorrow (Tuesday), I will reserve today to discuss the location of the show and its transit access.
Most years, around Thanksgiving Amtrak operates extra trains between Portland and Seattle. As this is Amtrak’s busiest travel weekend, usually this means grabbing several extra Amfleet and Horizon cars from California, or other places that could make just as good use of those cars.
Is the service provided by these trains sufficient? There is no way to know right now, since having a constrained number of seats means Amtrak’s yield based ticket price structure forces the ticket prices into an unattractive price range before the trains truly sell out. All it tells us is that far fewer people are willing to pay $63 for a ticket that normally sells for $35, which we knew already and is basically the point of yield based ticket prices. Based on the significant road traffic problems seen up and down the Cascades corridor every year, I’m guessing the seating capacity could afford to be increased.
By brining in several leftover cars from California, train length is severely limited due to the limited availability of additional cars out of California, which has its own severe travel needs during Thanksgiving weekend.
Such single level cars are not particularly well suited for service along the Cascades corridor anyway. No stations anywhere along the entire corridor have high level platforms level with the floor on these cars, so that detraining means a steep, narrow staircase. It is a slow process even for the most able-bodied.
In the Northeast, it is not unusual at all for Amtrak to make use of existing commuter cars from local agencies. In one example, Maryland Area Rail Commuter Service (MARC) winds up with a fairly significant portion of its fleet in Amtrak service over Thanksgiving weekend. Some I have talked to say the proportion is somewhere close to half of the MARC fleet.
The Sounder cars aren’t intended for long distance service but the seating isn’t especially uncomfortable. SoundTransit purchased its cars with comfortable benches and tables, rather than the hard plastic seats certain other commuter agencies have ordered. Arguably, they are more comfortable than some of the Amfleet and Horizon cars that appear in the northwest during Thanksgiving weekend. Let’s not forget that Oregon’s two Talgo trains were actually designed for the 90 minute Chicago to Milwaukee trip, which is actually in the commuter railroad range and have comfort levels to match.
While not completely platform level, Sounder cars have somewhat lower floors than the Amfleet or Horizon stock and reasonably wide doors, which allow them to have somewhat better boarding and detraining at the typical Cascades platform. The upper level means that the cars maintain reasonable comfort while having considerable seating capacity per car.
Most Cascades platforms are not directly wheelchair accessible from the floor of these cars, but the cars were used on emergency Amtrak service between Seattle and Bellingham after the Skagit River Interstate 5 bridge collapse. Many of the Cascades stations already have backup wheelchair lifts at station platforms. Therefore, in reality wheelchair access doesn’t appear to be an issue and in fact due to the wider and multiple doors per car would probably be better with Sounder equipment than with the Amfleet or Horizon cars.
None of the Sounder cars are equipped for food service but there are ways of solving that problem. As the Sounder cars have end doors that are compatible with standard equipment, one possible solution would be to only move a couple of lounge/cafe cars to the northwest and have them serve on these trains. There are also privately owned passenger cars that are maintained to Amtrak standards for use in special tourist service at the end of Amtrak trains, and some of those cars are equipped with food service. They are a hodgepodge of car types and colors, but to be legal for connection to Amtrak trains they have to have passed a certain set of safety inspections to make them as safe as Amtrak equipment. If the train gets long enough, it would probably be a good idea to have one car equipped with food service capability at each end of the train, which also saves some platform space since dining cars really don’t need platform access during passenger boarding.
In theory there are some political obstacles because Federal Transit Administration funded equipment is normally excluded from use by Amtrak. Other areas of the country have managed to work this out. Witness, for example, MARC.
As of late September, already Thanksgiving weekend had all trains on November 25th from Portland to Seattle in the $63 range. A few $53 seats remained for Seattle to Portland on that day, but only on train 501. The 27th was somewhat better, but the 29th was back up in the $63 range for most trains. With almost two months to go, the trains for that weekend were already showing signs of needing a bump in capacity. As of this writing (October 14th), conditions have changed a little bit: for the 25th prices on train 504 were available at $35. Train 501 also had tickets available at $35, but all other trains that day from Seattle to Portland only have $63 tickets available.
These ticket price levels drive people away from using the train at a time when the potential for first time riders is extremely high.
These high ticket prices are basically influenced by insufficient seats to meet demand on certain travel days.
For the most part, the equipment to accomplish a short term capacity increase is already in the region.
While Sounder equipment is in use until the evening of November 25th, it isn’t needed for commuter service on Thanksgiving day. SoundTransit could probably get away with reduced length trains on the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve seen 14 car Coast Starlight trains with two privately owned cars on the rear, so coupling two standard 8 car Sounder trains together to quickly make up a 16 car train should be able to fit in the longer King Street Station platform, and Portland has handled 18 car trains in the not too distant past. Sure, all of the seats may not be sold, but once you are operating a train to Portland adding extra cars really doesn’t add too much to the operating costs. Food service cars may or may not be available, but if they are not at least make a note of it on the reservation system so that people know what they are not getting.
Such a train, departing Seattle for Portland on Wednesday evening just after train 509, would not only provide some badly needed capacity increases but would also allow for some gauging of the actual demand for tickets when capacity isn’t constrained by seating capacity and yield based pricing.
For the rest of the weekend, the train could be broken into smaller pieces and provide a Thanksgiving weekend service that is typically seen with the extra cars, only with considerable flexibility in the length of the various trains as the number of cars available wouldn’t be as limited. There is only so much that can be done with four Amfleet cars, but 16 Sounder bilevel cars is a different matter in terms of flexibility to create long and short trains as needed. Some of those could return to Seattle as needed to provide service on the day after Thanksgiving, with the rest returning to Seattle as continued weekend specials wind up their service.
Another possibility would be to use some of the Sounder North equipment for this service. By 5:30 pm the first two northbound trains have completed their runs. At one time those trains were operating as three car trains, but recently have been two car trains. Turning them back into three car trains for a single day, then converting some of the equipment into a southbound Everett to Portland train would leave some equipment in Everett for the day after Thanksgiving service.
Eventually, there should be a reckoning over the inefficiency forced on passenger train operations by requiring Federal Transit Agency funded equipment (paid for by federal tax money) to not be used for Amtrak service (paid for by federal money). This essentially requires that “commuter” equipment, once paid for, spend a huge portion of its time laying over between peak periods when it might be used for regional train services when not needed for peak periods. When a German friend looked at Sounder service hours, his first comment was “Why would you spend a hundred million dollars on equipment and then let it sit around for 80% of the week?”
In reality, it shouldn’t. It particularly shouldn’t when there is a significant demand for its use in regional services. The fact that such a waste is cast in concrete as a matter of federal requirements of Amtrak and commuter operators is a battle for another day.
In the meantime, we need to figure out how MARC and Amtrak back east are able to temporarily boost Amtrak service on Thanksgiving weekend despite this requirement.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed in Portland in the field of specialized electrical equipment for the railroad industry. Typical commute: TriMet #10.
[NOTE: The summary published in Railway Age, which I used as the primary source for this article and which had its original source in news reports elsewhere, contained a few inaccuracies. This included reporting the funding package at the state level in a way that neglected to include a number of funding sources, thus representing the total cost of the Oregon section of the Cascades service. Please read the much better article on the main Seattle Transit Blog page article, as well as the much more extensive discussion there. – Glenn Laubaugh]
The cost to operate Amtrak Cascades service in the state of Oregon during the next two year budget cycle is estimated to be $10.4 million. Originally Amtrak had requested $20 million to operate the service but this was negotiated downward by state officials.
The Oregon Joint Ways and Means Committee has now reduced the funds available to $5 million.
If this level of funding is the final budget for the Oregon section of Cascades service, it is likely to be insufficient for any regular train operations and the service may have to be cut. There are some at the Oregon Department of Transportation that feel there are likely other sources of funds available and if those come through they will continue operating the Cascades trains even with this restricted level of general funds available. Efforts are far from over yet.
If you are one of those approximately 24,000 passengers* per year from the Puget Sound region that continue south of Portland, you may need to be prepared for some service adjustments that coincide with the Oregon funding.
For the coming budget cycle the allocation for highways is $1.6 billion, for a comparison of how little of the total Oregon transportation package is actually spent on the Cascades service.
While this is obviously an Oregon problem, the fact is the Cascades trains are a regional service. If there is any interest in further updates I will attempt to keep people here informed of further developments.
* The totals listed in the September, 2014 Seattle Transit Blog entry do not include passengers that had to change trains or change from a train to a bus due to a lack of through service. Thus, e.g., in that article no passengers are shown traveling from Eugene to Everett as there is no single service that makes such a trip. Actual through ridership south of Portland is higher than indicated in that article due to southbound bus connections at Portland for several trains from Seattle.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a manufacturer of electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10.
Perhaps one of the more unique pieces of transportation infrastructure in the Puget Sound region, though little remarked, are what amount to diagonal elevators. They are very small funicular railways designed for completely automatic operation, just as an elevator is. Usually these are located in areas that make them exceptionally difficult to see up close. From a distance they may be observed from the waters of Puget Sound as they are in use as connectors between hill top houses and water level docks for the obligatory boat. Several spectacular ones are visible from the Victoria Clipper route to Friday Harbor, but only at a distance.
One remarkable trait many of the ones in the Puget Sound region seem to have in common is their construction by a company in the region. This isn’t something that must be procured from halfway across the world, or even halfway across the country.
These photos are of the unit at the Warbass Way Marina in Friday Harbor. The public is not allowed to ride their particular device. The top level is a public viewpoint though, which allows a closeup view of the entire machine.
While the viewing provided by the viewpoint is intended to be of Mount Baker, peering downward allows a nice look at the elevator track.
In some areas of the world escalators are used to extend the reach of deep level stations to cover areas beyond what would be possible with simple vertical access. Very shallow stations are convenient, but if a deep level station must be built (such as seen on the Moscow metro) that depth may as well use that depth to some advantage where possible. Escalators, however, are not accessible to everyone so a different solution would be required for stations doing this in the USA.
Small automated funiculars such as shown here could be used alongside escalators to produce stations that reach further than typically accomplished with standard vertical access. A minimum of two would be best at each location as one alone would represent a single point of station failure.
As an example, Husky Stadium Station might benefit from these. The station attempts to serve the University of Washington, a number of bus routes, and the UW Medical Center from beneath a triple direction tangled intersection centered around a private parking garage. The station is reasonably deep due to the underwater tunnel. Depending on the minimum slope possible with these devices, diagonal access towards the UW campus and the bus stop on Stevens Way could help make this station a bit more accessible from the campus itself, and provide somewhat better transfers.
In a city with as many hills as Seattle, the ability to move diagonally between areas is a necessary part of getting from place to place. Short funiculars are certainly impractical in some locations, but in others they might prove a very useful link.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10.
In keeping with the spirit of the occasional series offered on Seattle Transit Blog entitled “Link Excuse of the Week”, Cascades Excuse of the Month is offered for those wishing to explore various events further afield.
From April 10th through 26th, the Evergreen Playhouse in Centralia will be performing Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. The theatre is located at 226 West Center Street in Centralia, which is well within the walkshed of the Centralia Amtrak station. It’s essentially two blocks north and two blocks west. The performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. The performance tickets are $10.
The Sunday performances at 2 pm do allow for someone to arrive and depart by Amtrak on the same day. The last southbound train goes through a little after 7 pm, and the last northbound train goes through around 8:20 pm. NOTE: The station waiting room closes at 4:30 pm. After that time you just go out on the platform and wait there.
As the performances on Friday and Saturday are at 8 pm, it is not possible to use Amtrak to get back home from those performances, unless you spend the night.
If you do decide to spend the night, McMenamins Olympic Club and the Centralia Square Grand are both within several blocks of the theatre and the Amtrak station. Also, keep in mind that Twin Transit ceases service pretty early in the evening and has nearly nothing on Saturdays, and completely nothing on Sundays. Thus, your options of getting from the central downtown area to a more remote hotel (such as those along I-5) is limited to a 3/4 mile to 1 mile or so walk.
The Greyhound stop is close to I-5 and a bit over 3/4 of a mile from the central downtown area. There are sidewalks the entire way along several routes. Twin Transit does have a bus stop close to the Greyhound stop, but the lack of Twin Transit service in the evenings and weekends makes using Twin Transit of very limited utility for getting from the Greyhound stop into downtown Centralia for this event.
Another option for returning to the Seattle area from Centralia is the Capitol Airporter shared van to SeaTac. It is expensive but it is cheaper that some of the hotel options.
Anyone with suggestions for future Cascades Excuse of the Month are welcome to send them to glennl at the internet provider named easystreet.net.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company in Portland that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10, but may also be seen on #14, #17 or MAX Green Line.
The Seattle Times (picked up nationally by Mass Transit Magazine newswire here) says that there is a plan brewing to give the South Lake Union Streetcar dedicated lanes. This is a result of decreasing ridership on the line that goes through the city’s fastest growing area.
If it happens, this might be a huge step forward towards making the new rage in streetcars more useful for people actually wanting to go places.
Or maybe not, depending on how it is implemented.
This change, along with signal pre-emption and a few other improvements would be a welcome change towards the operating methods used on the most popular tram lines in Europe.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company in Portland that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
Island Transit will be introducing new schedules for Whidbey Island on April 6th. These are announced as “system enhancements” but of course improving service in one spot doesn’t necessarily mean improvements system wide.
Among other things:
Route 1 from Oak Harbor to Clinton will NOT meet every ferry midday. This is important for most of Whidbey Island as route 1 is pretty much the core of their system. It is also important to know if you plan to use this route as an alternative to the infrequent Interstate 5 midday links to get to points north of Everett, such as the San Juan Islands, Anacortes, or Mount Vernon.
A new route 58 will tie together a number of areas on the south end of Whidbey Island.
Saturday service is still gone.
More information on the changes is posted on the Island Transit home page.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed as an engineer at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. Typical commute: TriMet line #10, but also may be seen on #14, #19, #75, #33 or MAX green line.
Progressive Railroading has reported that US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa) are going to host a “Twitter Town Hall” tomorrow. The twitter event will be called #StuckInTraffic and will be conducted immediately after Foxx testifies in front of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about the need for long term transportation legislation.
The Washington Post has an article about the Twitter event as well.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed at a small company in Portland that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
In the spirit of the occasional series “Link Excuse of the Week” offered by STB staff, I offer Cascades Excuse of the Month. Here, I offer items outside the normal geographical range covered on this web site but are still accessible from Seattle by means other than driving, and perhaps under the right circumstances might be worth visiting.
February marks the annual Portland International Film Festival (PIFF). The bad news is the price is $12 per screening. The good news is the festival runs for two and a half weeks and many films have two showings so there are options if a particular film seems desirable.
The better news? Amtrak Cascades is 20% off if you book by January 31st. If you happen to be an Amtrak Guest Rewards Points member you may also have an additional points bonus available.
A note about the various venues: All of the locations are reasonably transit accessible. The Hollywood Theatre is about 3 blocks north of the Hollywood MAX station (Red, Green and Blue lines) as well as being on bus routes #12 and close to #75 and #77. This is one of Portland’s surviving historic (1926) movie theatres. Cinema 21 is in inner northwest Portland and served by bus route #77, though Portland Streetcar and bus #15 aren’t far. The Roseway Theatre is the furthest venue from downtown Portland, and served by bus routes #12 and #24. The Moreland Theatre is in the Sellwood neighborhood and served by bus route #19, with #70 only a block away. The rest listed on the PIFF web site are in the core area of downtown Portland.
In the past I have waited for Willamette Week to release their take on the movies before deciding what to see, as there are a huge number of films showing at $12 per film. Trying to see all of them is simply against the laws of physics and economics. However, their article usually does not appear until close to the start date of the festival and therefore would not be helpful for those trying to plan a trip from far afield. The Oregonian has a short list of a few of the better known films but it is hardly a comprehensive review of the large number in this festival.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is a Portland native and is employed by a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10, but may also be seen on #14 or #75.
Back in September I promised that eventually I would tell how I managed to get to Port Townsend by transit. The original post had to do with my first experience with Island Transit by using it as part of a Port Townsend to Seattle trip. I didn’t include my trip getting to Port Townsend since that wasn’t relevant to Island Transit. So, here is the first part of that trip:
On weekdays it so happens that a day trip to Port Townsend isn’t too hard from downtown Seattle, so long as you plan ahead of time and understand how long you will be on the bus. It is also important to realize that the series of connections I describe here only work about four or so times per weekday. Saturdays are impractical due to the Kitsap Transit route not starting service until 10:40 am and Sundays are impossible due to no transit service. At one time it was possible to use Island Transit #1 to get from the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry to Fort Casey State Park on Saturdays (the route was different on Saturdays, and combined the #1 and #6 into a single route), thus making that a possible route to Port Townsend on Saturdays. Island Transit no longer operates on Saturdays so that option is gone too.
As I was staying in Magnolia my trip started on the very first King County Metro 33 of the day. This arrived uphill from the ferry terminal at very close to 6 in the morning, and I hurried down the hill to make sure I got to the Bainbridge Island ferry before it departed at a bit past six.
I need not have worried too much. There were a huge number of passengers exiting the ferry, but only a few of us getting on. I had about a five minute wait before they even opened the boarding gates.
Once on the other side of the water, you have to find Kitsap Transit #90 to Poulsbo. The problem is there were four different route 90 buses that arrived at the Bainbridge Ferry terminal at the same time to connect with the ferry, and only one of those was a return trip to Poulsbo. I had to ask two different drivers and getting “I don’t go back there but I think *that* is the bus you need” before getting the correct bus.
The ferry terminal here is the last rest stop for the next hour and a half.
Once it left the Winslow area, #90 moved along pretty good, and Poulsbo’s transit center was only about 20 minutes away.
After a little bit of a wait, Jefferson Transit #7 arrived for the final link of the trip. As the transit center is right beside the highway, once the bus left the transit center it also moved along quite well until after it crossed the Hood Canal Bridge, after which there were a couple of sprawl housing developments it served on its way north. Several people got on at each one. The bus rolled into the Port Townsend Transit Center just a bit before 8:30 in the morning and by then was comfortably occupied.
The way Jefferson Transit operates is that they have several routes that make loops through various parts outside of downtown as well as make a few runs to more distant places, but they are organized so that each of those combines to make a loop through downtown Port Townsend once every half hour as bus route #11, and connect to other routes at the transit center south of downtown at the start and end of each loop. Half of those downtown loops are clockwise and half are counterclockwise.
I waited on the bus a few minutes, the bus driver changed the route number, and we continued into downtown Port Townsend and I got off just after 8:30 am, with the total trip time from downtown Seattle about 2 1/2 hours.
As there were very few of us getting on the ferry in downtown Seattle, I actually recognized a few of my fellow passengers. At least 4 or 5 others had made the trek from downtown Seattle all the way out to Port Townsend using this series of connections.
In Port Townsend
This is a small enough community you really don’t need a car to get around downtown, and in some ways it is actually a hinderance since the old downtown is really best explored on foot. In fact, I met several tourists that complained about not being able to find a place to eat because they were trying to do so from their car and missed all the restaurant signs.
If you run out of stuff to do in Port Townsend itself, it is possible to take route #2 out to Fort Worden State Park.
Making This Trip Today
Today, making this trip hasn’t changed much from 2010. Schedules have been adjusted by a few minutes here and there. My first stop in Port Townsend was for breakfast at the Water Street Creperie which is apparently now closed, so I would need a new breakfast spot. I think the loop arrangement may have changed so that it may be necessary to transfer at the Port Townsend transit center to make the loop through the town proper, but you’d best ask the #7 driver. The trip is slightly more expensive now:
$8 for the ferry, good for both directions
$2 each way for Kitsap Transit cash fare (not including possible ORCA transfer discount)
$1.50 cash for a Jefferson Transit Day Pass
$1.00 cash out of county boarding charge for boarding Jefferson Transit at Poulsbo
Total round trip transit cost for downtown Seattle to Port Townsend and back is therefore $14.50.
Driving today, this trip would cost about $22 in round trip ferry fees alone at the smallest vehicle charge, and require a fair amount of waiting in the ferry queue.
Return to Seattle
As noted in my initial post, the method I used to return to Seattle involved Island Transit and an express bus on I-5. You can reverse the trip described above if you leave Port Townsend at either a bit after 3 pm or a bit after 5 pm. The exact time will depend on where you are on the downtown Port Townsend loop or if you walk to the transit center on the south side of town. If you miss the 6:30 pm Kitsap #90 back to Winslow (or want a brief stop in Poulsbo) there is currently one last bus to Winslow from Poulsbo at 7:30 pm.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed in a wide variety of positions at a very small company in Portland that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars. Typical commute: TriMet #10, but may also be seen on #14, MAX Green Line and other routes.
Inspired by the occasional series “Link Excuse of the Week” that highlights community events best visited by transit, I offer “Cascades Excuse of the Month” to highlight activities further from Seattle that may be of interest to those willing to venture a little further, and are accessible from Seattle without driving.
This weekend is the Portland Wild Arts Festival, which is a fundraiser for the local Audubon Society. This is a fairly large event, drawing artists and authors from across the region. The emphasis is on nature or wildlife as a subject, natural materials as a medium, and/or art promoting environmental sustainability. There will be approximately 70 artists and 35 authors attending. I have not seen official counts of visitors of the 35 year old festival, but it is definitely usually crowded enough that parking is a pain for those that arrive by auto.
The admission price is $6 per adult and kids 16 and under free of charge.
For more information, see the Wild Arts Festival Web Site at http://wildartsfestival.org/
(Oh, yeah, and there is a nifty 2 for 1 admissions coupon on the web site.)
For the past several years the festival has been held in the Montgomery Park building in northwest Portland. This structure was formerly an elderly Montgomery Ward highrise warehouse from the early 1900s. When the concept of the highrise warehouse became outmoded in the mid-1980s it was converted to an office building with a large multi-floor atrium (which is completely taken over by the festival for the weekend) and two of the letters on the huge rooftop neon sign changed to make Montgomery Park. So, visitors are also able to take a look at how historic industrial structures may be repurposed and updated. http://www.naitodevelopment.com/montgomery-park/
If you arrive in Portland by Amtrak or Greyhound, your best bet is to walk south from the station approximately 3 blocks to Glisan Street, and get on a westbound #77 bus, which terminates at Montgomery Park. Due to construction, there is a temporary bus stop established between NW Broadway and NW 6th Avenue, which is actually more convenient from either station than the normal #77 stop. This is bus stop # 1997 in the TriMet system, should you wish to track arrivals using PDXBus or other phone app, or TriMet’s phone, text ( to 272-99 ), web site or mobile web site information service.
If you arrive by BoltBus, your best bet is to go (via bus or MAX on 6th Avenue or on foot) 5 blocks north to Washington Street, where you can get bus route #15 at 5th and Washington going west on Washington (stop # 6160). You do not want the southbound bus stop on 5th, but the one westbound on Washington, near the KeyBank entry. You want the #15 that says Montgomery Park on the sign, NOT the one that terminates at NW Thurman Street. Or, take a bus or MAX north several more blocks to Glisan and get the #77 as described above.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed by a small company that builds electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I ventured north from Portland through Seattle and returned as part of an all-transit trip to the San Juan Islands in very late May of 2013.
In very early August of 2013, I decided to try another trip north. A few days of this would be spent in the San Juan Islands, but on the way back I thought I would hit the Anacortes Arts Festival. Sadly, this works best on Friday, since transit service in that area is extremely limited on Saturday and nearly non-existent on Sundays.
As I noted in Part 2, I have my hesitations about trying to make any sort of tight connection coming south, thanks to an experience in 2010 that turned what should have been a reasonably quick SoundTransit express bus trip into a very long, slow trip on I-5. I thought that trying to leave Anacortes too late in the day would get me into trouble trying to transfer to Amtrak 509 coming back to Portland.
So why not try the Bellair Airport Shuttle? After all, it goes a bit faster than local buses, it doesn’t have the mid-day break in service of the Skagit Transit connector, and goes right to King Street Station, so what’s the problem?
It USED to go to King Street Station. That part of the service got chopped out in May of 2013, and the downtown Seattle stop was moved to the convention center. Also, the downtown Seattle stop became only three trips each day – none of those were particularly helpful for this particular trip.
However, they do go to the airport, and backtracking to King Street Station on Link isn’t too bad. The effective trip becomes slower, but is still competitive with the series of transit buses on I-5. There is also the possibility of going from the SeaTac airport to Tacoma on an express bus if needed, and getting Amtrak there.
So, I made a reservation for a very early afternoon departure from Anacortes, and some requisite Amtrak reservations. Arriving at SeaTac at 3:45 pm, it seemed like this would still be more than enough time for a connection to train 509.
As the title implies, unbeknownst to me the Murphy fields (the somewhat more sinister cousin of magnetic fields) were somewhat stronger than normal that day.
The trip north in very late July of 2013 is described in Part 3.
On The Islands
For the record, I had no trouble getting around on either San Juan Island or Orcas Island using San Juan Transit. The very limited schedules were, well, a bit limiting.
The Trip South
As noted in Part 3, I timed this trip so that I could visit the Anacortes art festival. I plotted my return trip so that I could go from the ferry terminal to Anacortes proper on Sakgit Transit 410 and spend a few hours at the Arts Festival before heading south. I was able to enjoy pretty much the entire arts festival, including the juried show in one of the old port warehouses at the far north side of town.
The Bellair bus stop listed for Anacortes was “Anacortes Shell Station”, but this didn’t describe very well the situation. The bus stop was a very obscure sign in the exact center of the block, surrounded on all sides by private parking and gas station related development. Even with the directions listed on the web site I didn’t find it easy to find.
Several passengers were standing outside waiting when it started to rain fairly hard. An attendant at the nearby Westside Pizza parlor invited us inside to stay dry, and I dropped a couple of bucks in his tips jar for his efforts. Other than this, there really isn’t any shelter, or even a painted waiting spot that is segregated from the surrounding parking lot traffic.
Bellair’s shuttle arrived and departed on time at 12:30 pm. This is a small van (see photo at top) that only serves to connect Bellair’s main line north-south bus route to Anacortes and the ferry terminal. It’s a tight fit for those with lots of luggage, but its not a long trip and it is the appropriate sized bus for the trip.
After the relatively quick trip to Burlington, the bus pulled up to a portable office structure, and everyone was invited inside for the brief wait for the carefully timed connection for the southbound bus.
Half an hour later, we were still waiting, and we were then informed that the bus would be there soon, but was stuck in heavy traffic on Interstate 5.
Eventually, the bus did in fact show up, and southward we crawled in a traffic jam that stretched as far as the eye could see.
If there were opportunity to get off somewhere, and transfer to local transit heading into downtown Seattle, I would certainly have taken it at this point. However, the only stops between Burlington and SeaTac are the Tulalip Casino and Stanwood (which must be reserved far in advance and was not utilized this trip). It is unfortunate that such a connection to other services isn’t offered. Physically there in the middle of I-5 is South Everett Park and Ride that could serve as a decent transfer point on the north side of town, but politically / management wise it doesn’t work for a bus to the airport to stop there.
Somewhat south of Everett, the driver announced that the dispatcher had told him to take Interstate 405 around Seattle rather than I-5 though Seattle, as that would be faster. Thanks to the HOV lanes northbound traffic was moving fine, but southbound traffic was definitely not.
Half an hour later the bus was still crawling through congested traffic and people were making frantic calls to their airline companies.
Ultimately, the bus crawled to a stop at SeaTac at 5 pm, some hour and 15 minutes late.
My options to Go South?
As it takes around 45 minutes or so to get from the SeaTac airport to King Street Station on Link it was going to be very tight to get to train 509 that way, and considering the state of traffic I doubt any alternative short of a jet pack would have worked any better.
The BoltBus web site said the evening 8:00 pm departure to Portland was sold out.
I looked into the SoundTransit express bus to Tacoma and trying to catch up with my train there. Sadly, the scheduled time for this express was an hour and 10 minutes, and even with train 509 leaving Seattle at 5:30 it would still be gone from Tacoma by the time I got there.
Trying to get from SeaTac to the Tukwila station yielded a trip a little over an hour – the best result would be getting there about 15 minutes after the 509 had left.
Taxi to Tukwila might have been an option, but at an estimated cab fare price of $30, it was almost as much as I had spent on the bus trip from Anacortes to SeaTac, less than I had spent on the Amtrak ticket, and was a bit more than I wanted to spend.
Resolved that there was no way to get between SeaTac and any Amtrak stations in time to catch the southbound, I cancelled my reservation with Amtrak. As long as you do this before train departure time, there is no real penalty.
I thought I would at least show up at the BoltBus stop and see if they had an extra seat, but there were several hours to kill in the meantime. I went over to the car rental office just to see what one-way car rental from SeaTac to Portlad would run, and the cheapest walk-up fare I could find there was $250.
I could get a fairly decent hotel and get the morning train and still come out ahead on that one, so I certainly didn’t consider that an option, but it was interesting to see what the competition was charging.
As it happened there were two empty seats on the “8:00 pm” BoltBus departure, after all the ticketed passengers had borded. These empty seats are sold on a whoever makes the loudest noise first to the driver first, who overseas the cash sale transaction. They are cash only. I happened to have enough cash on hand and managed to grab one of those empty seats.
I can definitely picture this becoming a bidding war with the driver winding up with some decent cash bonuses.
Even at the 8:45 pm departure (BoltBus isn’t immune from traffic delays either and the bus had to go through the same mess that Bellair just had), traffic was still a horrific mess from downtown Seattle through a middle of nowhere point somewhat south of Tumwater. The bus finally arrived in downtown Portland around 11:45 pm, with the driver saying “We managed to do it in three hours, which is slower than usual but it is still faster than you can do it on Greyhound or Amtrak.”
It had taken essentially 11 hours from Anacortes to Portland.
Doing This Trip Today:
The timetables I used at Bellair are virtually unchanged from 2013. As BoltBus now has regular priced seats as high as $27 listed on their web site, I would imagine that the walk-up cash ticket price is higher than what I wound up paying.
In apparent acknowledgement of the traffic situation, BoltBus has increased its scheduled time between Seattle and Portland. Even the last evening trip is scheduled for 3 hours 15 minutes. As with the previous timetable, I’m sure they usually do it faster than this.
Another timetable change: thanks to the addition of RapidRide between Tukwila International Boulevard and Tukwila Amtrak / Sounder stations, it is now possible to make the SeaTac Airport to Tukwila station in a blistering 45 minutes instead of the hour required in 2013. With the 5 pm arrival of Bellair at SeaTac this might have allowed me to get my originally intended train. The 2013 timetable, as well as today’s timetable, has Amtrak 509 going through at 5:44 pm, so I probably would have at least attempted this. However, had I missed the train I would have lost the Amtrak ticket due to not being able to cancel the ticket before the train departed from Seattle.
I might consider purchasing a refundable 6:30 pm departure on Greyhound (BoltBus doesn’t offer this option) so that should I have been able to actually make my intended train I would have a ticket I could cancel. I would have to do some research into how Greyhound’s policies work on this.
Some Room for Improvement:
It would be nice if BoltBus had a way of registering people for walk-up tickets so that it was clear what order the line should be. As it was the bus driver happened to point to me, but could just as easily have pointed to any number of other people waiting in the standing crowd of walk-up ticket people.
Some sort of transit alternative that doesn’t involve Interstate 5. One of the reasons why Sounder North is so expensive per passenger is that there are no reverse train moves, so the crews are only used once per direction per day. There certainly seems to be more than enough traffic demand to support at least one reverse move. Maybe try to combine funding with the state for an additional train originating at Bellingham?
Based on my experience over at the car rental facility, there must be somewhere around 20 buses in circulation at any one time at SeaTac to serve the car rental facility. For the most part . This seems like a huge waste of money, and most of the time the buses seemed to be laying over at the car rental facility. If someone could figure out how to send one of those down the hill to the Tukwila Amtrak / Sounder station a few times per day to meet the trains when they are operating, the 45 minute transit trip becomes about 10 minutes.
It would sure be nice of Bellair and the various agencies could figure out a way to get an additional stop somewhere on the north side of Seattle that would work as a transfer point between Bellair service and the various other transportation services. This could be particularly important in another 10 years, as I’m quite certain that most of my fellow passengers would have preferred to get a Link train at Lynnwood to SeaTac rather than continue the southbound freeway crawl with its late arrival at the airport. I might have still been able to make my train had I been able to connect with one of the express buses at South Everett. Lynnwood would not have been an option due to the I-405 routing chosen by the dispatcher for this trip.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I ventured north from Portland through Seattle and returned as part of an all-transit trip to the San Juan Islands in late May of 2013.
In very early August of 2013, I decided to try another trip north. A few days of this would be spent in the San Juan Islands, but on the way back I thought I would hit the Anacortes Arts Festival. Sadly, this works best on Friday, since transit service in that area is extremely limited on Saturday and nearly non-existent on Sundays.
As I noted in Part 2, I have my hesitations about trying to make any sort of tight connection coming south through Seattle, thanks to an experience in 2010 that turned what should have been a reasonably quick SoundTransit express bus trip into a very long, slow trip on I-5. I thought that trying to leave Anacortes too late in the day would get me into trouble trying to transfer to Amtrak 509 coming back to Portland.
So I came up with a different, but somewhat more expensive plan, as I will explain in Part 4.
The northbound trip was a fairly typical one in terms of the methods: Amtrak Cascades #506. My hope was to get Sounder North to Everett that left at 4:03, and with train 506 arriving at 3:45 (remember this is the 2013 timetable when things ran a bit faster) this could work. Right out of the gate, however, things went awry when the Willamette River Bridge was opened for several ships, putting the train behind by 20 minutes after less than 5 minutes on the main line. They did OK in terms of making up a little bit of time, but there is only so much that can be done. Train 506 arrived just before the Sounder train was leaving. I might have been able to do it if the station arrangement allowed for a cross-platform transfer rather than going all the way up to street level and back down. An on-time arrival at 3:45 pm would have been pretty close to a perfect transfer.
I high-tailed it over to 4th and managed to get the 510 instead.
With the 2013 timetables, either way yielded a fairly nice set of reasonably timed transfers using Skagit Transit 90X, Island Transit 411W (now operated as Skagit Transit 40X) and Skagit Transit 410 to get from King Street Station to the Anacortes ferry terminal in 3 hours, arriving there about 7 in the evening.
It’s an interesting contrast between the Amtrak Thruway bus (see Part 1) and the Skagit Transit 90X. The 2013 fare from Everett to Mount Vernon was $2, and as you would expect the passengers are mostly working class folks trying to get home from work. The young woman sitting next to me was very worried that she might not be able to get the connection she needed as this was the last bus of the day that made her required connection. She was surviving on very little money, so to her the ability to get from north of Mount Vernon to Everett for work for $3.50 ($2 of which was for the 90X) was a huge help. Sometimes she would have to take Island Transit routes for part of the way if she ran short of money.
This series of connections was also the last scheduled 410 trip of the day, so all this worked out decently enough, though I would have preferred there to be one later trip so I could get something to eat in Anacortes instead, and since the boat to Friday Harbor doesn’t leave until 8:20 pm anyway there’s no reason to immediately get to the ferry terminal, had their been a later bus. I got a little bit of highly overpriced food at the snack bar at the ferry terminal instead, and thought maybe I could get something a bit more food-like once I arrived at Friday Harbor.
The boat, however, had mechanical issues, and was taken out of service. Once the Chelan had arrived from Sidney at 8:30 and gone through the customs process and unloaded, it was pressed into service as a replacement. My 8:20 pm departure turned into a 9:15 or so. It was certainly my first time on a Washington State Ferry with a duty free shop on board.
Having spent much of the afternoon in seats of various types, I would have been quite willing to walk to Anacortes at that point since it really isn’t that far, but the road really isn’t something that is good to walk next to as it is narrow, busy and lacks any real walk space. There is an attempt to develop a path between Anacortes and the ferry terminal, but it is very incomplete: it currently connects an obscure dead end street with vacant lots to a large no trespassing sign.
That’s OK. I had an additional hour to kill at the ferry terminal and did what I could to explore.
I called the hotel where I was staying, which closes its front desk 10 pm, and let them know I was on the way but was being held up due to ferry issues. They said they were already planning to close late as they check the ferry status regularly – they have to do so since they “live and die by the ferry” in the hotel manager’s own words.
On The Islands
For the record, I had no trouble getting around on either San Juan Island or Orcas Island using San Juan Transit. The very limited schedules were certainly a constraint but at least the service was there – which it wouldn’t be in another month.
Making This Trip Today
There is now an expanded set of timetables on Skagit Transit 90X over what I remember from 2013, and the segment of the 411W that used to run from Mount Vernon to March’s Point is now operated by Skagit Transit as well rather than Island Transit.
The slower 2014 Amtrak schedule to Seattle of train 506 means an arrival in Seattle at 4:05 pm if it is on time. This means using the next possible 510 for the 1 hour 10 minute slog going north or using Sounder North, and if everything is on time then there is a two minute layover at Everett to the 90X to Mount Vernon at 5:32 pm. This bus will hold for up to 10 minutes to guarantee a connection for the Sounder train that left Seattle at 4:33 pm, and arrives at Mount Vernon at 6:10 pm. The 6:15 departure of 40X gets you to March’s Point at 6:40, but there is another trip an hour later if you miss it, but that is the last one of the day.
The 6:40 pm timed transfer at March’s Point to the 410 to Anacortes is the last scheduled trip of the day for the 410. If you are desperate enough and transferring from the last 40X, Skagit Transit will make one more run out to the ferry terminal an hour later but it isn’t regularly scheduled to do so and won’t stop to pick anyone up anywhere. The only passengers allowed are those coming from another bus.
One interesting item of note for 2014: San Juan Transit operated weekend service late into September this year.
The Trip South
The trip south was a bit more interesting in terms of transit events, but due to the article length I will save the return trip for Part 4.
The well documented trials of Island Transit discussed on Seattle Transit Blog remind me of some of my adventures in dealing with transit in northwest Washington. This is a continuation of the late May of 2013 trip to the San Juan Islands by transit described in Part 1 of this series, in which I ventured north from Portland, through Seattle and eventually arrived in the San Juan Islands.
This is the return trip.
Returning to Portland: At First Glance
Under the 2013 timetables, the first southbound Amtrak Cascades train of the day went through Mount Vernon at 9:15 am. I did not think that it would be that easy for me to get all the necessary connections to get over to that train due to the early morning differences in timetables. Also, my intent of visiting the San Juan Islands was to, in fact, visit the San Juan Islands rather than return to Portland as early as possible. Unfortunately, at first glance that 9:15 am train was the latest southbound service I could find until afternoon rush hour. The other options (Amtrak Thruway or Skagit Transit 90X) were afternoon trips that didn’t leave much time for a connection to southbound train 509 out of Seattle at 5:30.
For a time, the return Thruway bus from Bellingham stopped in Mount Vernon at 2:50pm, was scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:00pm, and connect well with train 509 leaving at 5:30 pm. I knew that in practice this rarely actually worked due to afternoon traffic on I-5. Today this bus is scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 5:40 pm, just mssing train 509 – a more frustrating but realistic representation of the reality of transit in Seattle in the afternoon.
More Than One Way to Skin a Bus
It is a more obscure set of transit connections compared to the main I-5 transit routes, but the only mid-day regularly scheduled transit service linking Seattle to Anacortes is Island Transit and its backbone Whidbey Island routes. From my 2010 experience, I already knew of the problems with a transfer at Mukilteo but it beat a skin of the teeth set of connections coming back along I-5 in the afternoon and evening to try to get train 509.
I made my reservation for train 509, and figured I would come up with some way of getting to that train at least, even if it took most of the day to get between Anacortes and Seattle.
Whidbey and Fidalgo in 3 Hours
Thanks to the very well timed connection at March’s Point, getting to Oak Harbor wasn’t much of a problem from Anacortes as the connection between Skagit Transit 410 and Island Transit 411W was planned so it works going both directions. The bus trip across the Deception Pass bridges is more scenic than anything on Interstate 5, and as a whole the trip down the length of Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands isn’t too bad. With Island Transit #1 having a very well planned timed transfer with the ferry at Clinton, and the 411W having a well planned transfer to 410 and other routes, it was inevitable there would be one spot where connections wouldn’t exactly mesh.
The 20 minute layover in Oak Harbor gave me time to use the restroom in the park across the street from the transit center. Among things of interest in the park, you will find what is probably the world’s only 5 ton two seat roadster:
The trip south on Whidbey Island is reasonably scenic and gave me a few ideas for future trips to this part of Washington, and average speed isn’t too different from I-5 express routes (see Let’s Compare, below). The connection at Clinton to the Ferry still worked just as well as in 2010, with the bus driving onto the ferry pier minutes before the ropes were untied.
Perhaps 20 or so passengers made the transfer to the ferry.
Then Came Community Transit and SoundTransit
Now, if only there were a Sounder train on the other end, the trip from Mukilteo to King Street Station would take about 50 minutes. That was certainly not an option for me, so I trudged up to Community Transit 113 and expected a slow ride to Seattle. During the time waiting at the bus stop, one of my fellow IT#1 riders asked if this was really the best way to get to Seattle. When I told him that I had no idea, he commented that normally he would take the Everett Transit bus from Mukilteo to Everett and get an express from there, but usually the connection there was terrible, so he was trying this instead.
In the end, I wound up at King Street Station well before the departure of Train 507, which would get me into Portland at 6 pm, rather than train 509 arriving at 9 pm. I cancelled my train 509 reservation with the ticket agent and rebooked for 507.
Making This Trip Today
Please note that as of 2014 most transit services in northwest Washington have very little to no service on Sundays. So, making a weekend trip to the San Juans on transit doesn’t work unless your return is Monday.
Under the current timetable, the earliest possible connection is to leave Friday Harbor at 5:45 am, arrive in Anacortes at 7:05 am, and use the 410 and 411W connection to get to the Mount Vernon Station 25 minutes before Amtrak train 513 is scheduled to go through on its way to Seattle and Portland.
Island Transit and Skagit Transit #410 to #411W still have good timed transfers in the morning for going south to Oak Harbor from Anacortes, but the timed transfer becomes a standard issue 15 minutes layover in the afternoon.
Today, with the new timetables, the layover in Oak Harbor is scheduled for 15 minutes (no longer 20), and so in the mornings you can still make the Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton trip in 3 hours, and 3.5 hours in the afternoon. Island Transit still has an across the platform transfer to the ferry.
Afternoon trips operated by Skagit Transit between Mount Vernon and Everett now start at 2 and may be hazardous due to afternoon congestion on I-5. It wouldn’t be too bad if your destination is Seattle and environs, but Portland is a different matter with having a further connection in Seattle.
This is made even worse due to the break in service on the 40x March’s Point to Mount Vernon route, which now has a break in service from 10:10 am to 3:40 pm, but a few local alternatives are available. Island Transit #1 is still a valid alternative for going south due to these breaks in service though.
As of September Community Transit #113 now has what appears to be a good transfer from the ferry in Mukilteo. It has also returned to Lynnwood Transit Center rather than the Ash Way Park and Ride. If all goes according to plan Mukilteo to King Street Station now takes 90 minutes. (Having spent 2 hours on an ST express going from Lynwood Transit Center to Denny Way, I would not rely on this in afternoon peak.)
For those that live in Seattle or are overnighting there, it is possible to leave Friday Harbor at 4:15 pm, get to Mount Vernon at 7:00 pm, have dinner or something there, and then get train 517 going south at 8:20 pm. Skagit Transit #410 has a final departure from the ferry terminal at 6:55 pm, but when it arrives at March’s Point the only transfer available is to Oak Harbor.
So, Lets Compare:
Seattle to Anacortes Ferry Terminal via well executed timed connections in 2013 (no longer possible with today’s timetables, see Part 1 ): 2.5 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 33 miles per hour.
Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Seattle via today’s Skagit Transit and SoundTransit bus schedules leaving Anacortes at Noon: 4.3 hours. Distance: 84 miles. Average Speed: 19.5 miles per hour.
Anacortes Ferry Terminal to Clinton via 410, 411W and 1: 3 hours. Reasonably executed transfer times using local bus service the whole way. Distance: 60 miles. Average Speed: 20 miles per hour.
Mukileo to Seattle via CT#113 and ST express with today’s timetable: 90 minutes with today’s timetable. Distance: 26 miles. Average speed: 17 miles per hour – including time on an express bus on Interstate 5.
If Sounder North operated some “reverse commute” trips this 90 minutes might be almost cut in half to 50 minutes.
Every single transfer I made between these various routes and services were also made by other passengers – with the ferry to CT 113 Mukilteo connection only being dared by one other passenger. I may have been the only one going all the way through, but the well planned schedules, when possible, sure helped lots of others too.
Island Transit 411W was a fairly important route for both Skagit County and north end Island County residents. It is unfortunate that the current service has split this route into two separate routes, an important part (Mount Vernon to March’s Point) of which now has a gap in service in the middle of the day.
Island Transit #1 had few vacant seats for its entire length – pretty good for a route through a rural area.
The lack of fare on Island Transit 411W was a key piece of this route, since it served northern Skagit County as well as Island County. It also was a key piece for keeping #1 and #411W on time, and thus maintaining the closely timed connections.
Skagit Transit 410 arrives at March’s Point at 7:25 pm, and then deadheads over to the Skagit Transit shops, right next to the BNSF main line, where the empty bus gets a nice view of an Amtrak Cascades train in each direction (516 and 517).
Glenn Laubaugh is a native of Portland and is employed as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
The ongoing trials of Island Transit discussed here on Seattle Transit Blog (particularly in the Page 2 section) remind me of some of my adventures in dealing with transit in northwest Washington.
Certainly, there are problems at Island Transit. However, there are also things that they are doing right, and one of those things they are (or, at least were) doing right are timed transfers in locations where it is possible for them to do so.
These timed transfers don’t just impact residents of Island County, but a few other areas as well, and that includes residents of Anacortes and the San Juan Islands – as we shall see with my several efforts at visiting the San Juan Islands by transit in 2013.
Why try this trip on transit?
Portland to Anacortes is an awful lot of driving miles and wasted time, plus gasoline money. Plus, the wait in the ferry queues and expense of paying for a car trip make no sense to me if transit is available. Then, there are the traffic jams in Portland and Seattle and all possible intermediate locations.
As I wrote on September 17th, my first experience with Island Transit (Port Townsend to Seattle via Whidbey Island) wasn’t especially great. The timed transfer from IT#1 to the ferry at Mukilteo worked really well, but the rather absurd scheduling at the Keystone / Coupville / Fort Casey State Park end of the ferry from Port Townsend didn’t leave me with too much hope for some of the other transfer areas.
I was talking this over with someone who is a big San Juan Islands fan, and my hesitations with trying the timed transfers between Mount Vernon and Anacortes. “Oh, that’s a guaranteed connection between Skagit Transit and Island Transit. They have an agreement because it is so important for all three counties*.”
* By all three counties he meant Island, Skagit and San Juan as the Island Transit connector was important for Anacortes as well as being part of the San Juan Islands link to the outside world.
Getting to the Islands
Getting from Seattle to the San Juan Islands by transit isn’t too difficult, as there are multiple options. The cheapest is a chain of I-5 express buses to Mount Vernon and local connections to Anacortes using the timed transfers provided by Island Transit and Skagit Transit. If you do this with the first possible trip of the day and everything goes well this takes a bit over 3 hours between downtown Seattle and the Anacortes ferry terminal. Later trips are closer to 3 hours 20 minutes. If you time your arrival well you might spend a bit more time on transit compared to driving but you might spend less time at the ferry terminal as you don’t have to wait in the vehicle queue.
From Portland the options are a bit more limited.
My first thought was to leave Portland on train 516. After all, it is a through train from Portland to Mount Vernon. I might wind up spending the night in Anacortes or somewhere before the ferry departure, but that was OK because it would be cheaper than spending a night in the San Juans anyway and I could then head over first thing in the morning. Besides, I could use Amtrak Guest Rewards points to reduce the effective cost of the ticket by making it only one train ticket.
No such luck. On the 2013 timetable Train 516 got to Mount Vernon at 8:30 pm, and (if I remember right) the last local bus going anywhere left the station at 8:15 pm. This would still work, if there were actually places to overnight near the station, but sadly the hotels are all a bit over a mile to the north of Mount Vernon Station. The only thing close to the Mount Vernon Station providing overnight accommodation is the county jail.
Besides, none of the hotels were offering rates cheaper than what I was able to find in Friday Harbor anyway, most likely due to Interstate 5 traffic.
The Island Airporter van service leaves SeaTac at noon. It would have added about $40 to the cost of getting to Friday Harbor, but even had I wanted to use that there was no way to do so. On the 2013 timetables it was an hour to get from Tukwila Amtrak to SeaTac using various transit routes, and the 594 express bus from Tacoma to SeaTac left before Amtrak got there.
So, my next option would be Train 500 with the cross ticketed Thruway bus connection at Seattle, getting to Mount Vernon a bit before 2 in the afternoon.
Everything worked pretty much as advertised on the timetables. On the old timetable, only 20 minutes were allowed between train 500 and its connecting northbound bus, but it worked. It was interesting to be on a bus that size attempting to extract itself from the King Street Station dead-end street, but the driver did eventually do it successfully. Arrival was slightly later than scheduled at Mount Vernon. It was a cross platform transfer to Island Transit route 411W to Oak Harbor, and a very well organized timed transfer at March’s Point between Island Transit 411W (at the time providing Mount Vernon to Oak Harbor service) and Skagit Transit 410 to get to Anacortes, arriving at the ferry terminal a bit before 3 in the afternoon.
While I am not certain this is a true “guaranteed transfer,” keep in mind this trip was made just days after the 2013 I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River. Thus, there was heavy traffic in unusual places all along the 411W route out of Mount Vernon, but the driver called ahead to Skagit Transit 410 and made sure that they knew there were a number of passengers for Anacortes. The 411W to 410 transfer took all of about 30 seconds between 411W arriving and both buses leaving March’s Point, though the 410 took a little longer to depart due to passengers having to pay a fare on Skagit Transit. It’s probably about as close to a guaranteed transfer as can be made by a public transit agency. Even with the 2013 bridge collapse and all the extra traffic in unusual places, Island Transit and Skagit Transit were still able to organize things for a timed transfer, every hour, for at least a fair portion of the day.
The result? 2.5 hours between Seattle and the Anacortes Ferry wasn’t bad at all, considering that some people spend nearly that time just sitting in the ferry queue with their cars.
The fact that the next ferry to Friday Harbor would leave two hours later? That obviously wasn’t the best.
It would have worked out reasonably well had I been going to Orcas Island though.
Sadly, unlike the Clinton ferry terminal, transit users are somewhat second class citizens at Anacortes. The bus stop is not terribly far from the ferry terminal itself, but the walkway consists of painted lines on the pavement rather than a raised sidewalk deterrent for errant drivers. There is also a busy driveway to a parking lot that must be crossed. There is at least a bus shelter. It is very unlike the situation at Clinton, where Island Transit #1 essentially drops its passengers in the walk-on ferry passenger staging area.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the complete void of much of anything at the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. There is one small snack bar in the ferry terminal that is badly overpriced, and some of the restaurants near the terminal are not only closed but overgrown. I had checked the Google map to see if there was anything around there beforehand, but it turns out it was outdated. A small coffee stand has been converted to a fortune teller’s office, and most likely survives on the boredom of those waiting in the ferry queue. On a subsequent trip, I got a Skagit Transit transfer on the 410 (transfers are not automatically issued, but must be requested) and simply had a meal in Anacortes and continued to the ferry terminal on the next 410 an hour later since the next ferry wasn’t going to leave for a while anyway.
The Amtrak Thruway bus cost a bit less than $13 (with AAA discount), Island Transit charged no fare to get to March’s Point, and Skagit Transit charged $1 to get from March’s Point to Anacortes.
Doing This Trip Today:
Today, things have changed a bit:
Amtrak has a longer scheduled time from Portland to Seattle over 2012 and 2013 – but the track work is supposed to make things better soon.
The Amtrak thruway bus leaves Seattle at 12:40pm rather than 12:20 pm due to the longer time for train 500 to get from Portland to Seattle under current circumstances.
This would really be obnoxious if this meant the loss of the timed transfer at Mount Vernon between the Amtrak Thruway bus and a bus to March’s Point. However, the fact is cutbacks at Island Transit have made this connection a lost cause anyway. As it was important to multiple counties the 411W from March’s Point to Mount Vernon was funded by a state grant, which is now gone. Instead this route has been cut back to an Oak Harbor to March’s Point route. The 411W segment that ran from Mount Vernon to March’s Point has been replaced by Skagit Transit 40X, which has a break in service from 10:30 am to 3:15 pm. Hourly timed transfers still work all day at March’s Point if you are going from Oak Harbor to Anacortes or vice-versa, but mid-day the only options for a link to Mount Vernon is a more roundabout set of routes that only occasionally work well – which don’t coincide with the arrival of the Amtrak Thurway bus from Seattle. So, with the lack of that connection you can no longer do this entire trip in 2.5 hours by transit – but since that trip didn’t really work with the ferry schedule (at least in the summer of 2013) this probably isn’t a big loss.
Google maps has been updated and now accurately reflects the situation of the restaurant closures near the Anacortes ferry terminal.
Today the northbound Thruway bus from Seattle is scheduled to get to Mount Vernon at 2:05 pm. However, you have a bit of a wait there due to the Mount Vernon to March’s Point bus no longer operating all day. The next departure going west is at 3:15 pm. If it were me I would probably just find somewhere to have a late lunch in Mount Vernon before heading to Anacortes and the ferry, where you then have a half hour wait if headed for Friday Harbor (or, an hour after that for the next series of departures if headed to Orcas).
Even so, it isn’t a particularly terrible set of connections if your alternative is sitting in your car in the ferry queue for several hours, and includes driving through Seattle and dealing with traffic at the Columbia River bridges. An hour or two in Mount Vernon probably isn’t the end of the world, though I have yet to have the opportunity to try it in 2014. Pretty much everything I used in 2013 had timed or very tight transfers at Mount Vernon so I never explored the town. They have a short trail along the Skagit River and there are a few other features that might create a worthwhile use of an hour or two there.
Skagit Transit and Island Transit apparently still cooperate for a timed transfer at March’s Point, even if the mid-day service to Mount Vernon is gone and the only connection is to Oak Harbor. When the 40x is operating it still takes a bit under an hour to get from Mount Vernon to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, but only about 5 minutes of that is waiting to transfer between the bus routes due to the well planned timed transfer point and schedules.
Transit on the Islands
San Juan Transit operates a tourist-season only service connecting Friday Harbor with significant tourist destinations around San Juan Island. At $5 per trip, $10 per round trip, and $15 per day ticket it’s a higher price than a transit system with significant public investment, but it is less expensive than renting a car on the islands. At $23 ferry vehicle fee for going to Friday Harbor (the listed $36 price includes the driver) plus gas driving to Anacortes from Portland, using the bus service there can still be cost-effective over bringing your own vehicle.
Returning to Portland
The return trip to Portland for this trip will be covered in part 2.
Timed Transfer Impact
It impressed me quite a lot that Skagit Transit and Island Transit had obviously planned far in advance the placement of March’s Point as a transit center. Passengers going from Oak Harbor to Anacortes and Mount Vernon to Anacortes (and the San Juan Islands included with Anacortes) were able to transfer between four different directions with a very well timed connection, with the flexibility of doing so every hour, and Skagit Transit only had to operate one bus on route 410 to operate it as an hourly service and connect to the primary east-west service.
For a fairly rural area, the ridership on these routes seemed reasonably decent, with the 411W being quite full in the middle of the day. I attribute a fair portion of that ridership to the timed transfers and thus higher overall speed than a system with vastly less well thought out transfers.
Despite all their other problems, Island Transit and Skagit Transit were able to plan a well connected service in some key areas. The location of the March’s Point transit center seems to be very intentional, so that Skagit Transit could provide hourly service on their 410 with only a single bus, while still providing timed connections to Island Transit’s primary east-west bus route 411W, which provided a timed link vital to both Oak Harbor and Anacortes. Services operating in other areas could certainly learn a bit from what they have done with these timed transfers due to the positive impact on overall transit time.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is a native of Portland and is employed there as an engineer / technical writer / technician at a small company that manufactures electrical equipment for railroad passenger cars.
Since 1996, the bi-annual railroad technology convention and trade show known as InnoTrans has come to Berlin. Friday, September 26th, was the final day of the actual trade show, while Saturday and Sunday are open to the public to allow them to take a look at some of the remaining exhibits, particularly the rolling stock displays, that stay on hand over the weekend. [Note from 1 Oct 2014: Reports say as many as 15,000 members of the public came on the weekend to view some 145 pieces of rolling stock on display.]
I did not go to InnoTrans, but thanks to the Internet it is possible to take a look at some of what was on show this year without being there. Railway Gazette covered the show fairly well using both their own articles as well as accumulating Twitter posts from various attendees. Some items below only appeared as Twitter messages, while others had solid English language industry articles written about them by trade show magazines also attending. Here are a few things that caught my eye, some of which perhaps one day will be seen on railway equipment (or maybe other transportation equipment) operating here:
Talgo was showing off a model of a proposed Talgo based suburban train. It’s another step at making trains lighter. Maybe one day the Cascades corridor will have Talgo longer distance as well as Talgo local trains that look like this.
[Added to article 1 Oct. 2014] Railway Gazette continues to go through its notes from the show, and on 30 September noted in an article that a company promoting dimmable windows in light rail cars was on hand at the show. This concept has been around for a few years for buildings, with the basic concept being similar to the LCD welding helmets that have been around for many years now. The welding helmets are clear most of the time, but when the arc is struck by the welder the liquid crystal is immediately activated and protects the eyes of the welder from the blinding light of the welding arc. The concept for building windows is to put the liquid crystal display in the window glass, and make the window transparency adjustable for various lighting conditions. The transit window concept (at the show it was displayed in a Bombardier Flexity 2) is actually a film applied to the glazing. Heavily tinted windows in transit vehicles are OK in the daytime, but once it is dark this tinting makes it very difficult to see where you are. Being able to tune the window tinting to suit the interior and exterior lighting conditions would be wonderful in many situations. I’m not sure how easy it would be to get such a system approved for use on any rail equipment in the USA, as NFPA 130 has some fairly difficult smoke and fire resistance requirements for films placed over “fixed guideway transit systems” in the USA. However, it would probably be possible for such a system to get approved for use in buses in the USA as the material requirements aren’t as limiting.
The new ThamesLink trains (three cars of which were on display at the Siemens booth) will be able to show riders what cars have space available in them.
Back in 2010, Bombardier was awarded the contract for the Riyadh Monorail. This year, they had a short monorail train on display before it heads to Saudi Arabia.
Plastic based foams are used to absorb collision energy, and composite materials have been used as light structural materials. However, they can not be recycled very easily, can be expensive to work with, and have other disadvantages when used on railroad cars. One solution presented at the show is to make railroad car structures out of aluminum based foam. It seems to me this could eventually lead to lighter passenger trains being accepted in the USA.
With some 2,700 exhibitors from 55 countries represented this year, even wandering the InnoTrans web site virtual marketplace can take a lot of time. Certainly, there is far more to this show than what I have here.
Glenn Laubaugh (“Glenn in Portland”) is employed at a small manufacturer of electrical systems for railroad passenger cars.