House Jobs Bill: $9.2 Billion for Transit & Amtrak

Under construction. Photo by Flickr user papahazama.
Under construction. Photo by Flickr user papahazama.

The House yesterday narrowly passed a $154 billion jobs bill that included tens of billions in transportation funding. Largely breaking along the same lines as the stimulus bill earlier this year, the funding works out like so:

  • $27.5 billion for highways
  • $8.4 billion for public transit
  • $800 million for Amtrak

Unlike the Obama administration proposal to allocate $50 billion in competitive transportation grants, this bill mostly allocates along the same lines as the stimulus — mostly through distribution formulas and with most of the money going to state transportation departments that tend to favor highway projects often far from urban areas. Most transit money will be allocated through metropolitan areas also along formula guidelines. Earlier this year, the PSRC distributed over $130 million in stimulus funds.

The Senate will be drafting a bill next year that could move back toward the administration’s goal of a more competitive infrastructure grant process that would likely see better projects receiving funds on merit rather than state politics. That could mean better results for transit. But Senators have more loyalty to their states than to the federal government, so the House bill could simply reflect the political reality.

Either way, more unexpected capital investment for public transit is always good. Based on the earlier stimulus requests, Sound Transit could accelerate construction of a South 200th St stop or North Link to Northgate with some more dollars. Metro could potentially purchase more buses and improve facilities. Local agencies and cities may have new capital projects that weren’t available at the time of the stimulus.

Up to 10% of the transit dollars could be spent on operations costs, according to Streetsblog DC.

SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?

WES by Jason McHuff
WES by Jason McHuff

Imagine getting off Sounder or a bus at Auburn station and a few short minutes later, another sleek, quiet train pulls into the station. This could happen in a few short years for Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond residences.

The cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond have joined together for a feasibility study to implement commuter rail service, running from the Auburn Sounder Station to  the Black Diamond/Ravensdale communities, in hopes to relieve congestion off Highway 18, Hwy 169, and create transit communities around the stations or TOD, much like Kent Station.  More after the jump…

Continue reading “SE King County Commuter Rail coming soon?”

News Roundup: Rail Grinding


Video by Eric Jensen.

Federal Transportation Bill Moves Forward

The House and Senate have agreed on a conference report for the federal transportation budget. (You can read the summary online.) The bill needs to pass Senate and will probably be signed by the end of the year. The high-level overview, which contains plenty of transit and rail funding:

  • $10.7 billion for public transit, including $2 billion for new construction.
  • $2.5 billion for high-speed rail, well above the administration’s $1 billion request. This number will complement the $8 billion in high-speed rail dollars that are part of Obama’s stimulus and hints that Congress will likely have an on-going role in funding rail.
  • $1.6 billion for Amtrak, above the administration’s request.
  • Highways are still the big winner, with $41.8 billion in funding.

Also included $600 million in merit-based transportation grants modeled after the TIGER. Putting more money into competitive grants decided at the federal, and not the state, level is good news for urban areas. These grants can be spent on bike lanes and transit as well as roads based simply on which projects are the best.

In other federal news, the Obama administration is pursuing a staggering $50 billion in new TIGER money for a forthcoming jobs bill, and it would be good move if Congress honors this request instead of choosing to appropriate this transportation spending to the states after the unfortunate experience for transit with the stimulus. A large pile of money could allow for some interesting outcomes. With just $30 million in grant money, for example, Sound Transit could complete the South 200th street light rail station years ahead of schedule.

One thing the transportation appropriations bill didn’t include and isn’t on the immediate horizon: A national infrastructure bank that the Obama administration has requested. This bank would be able to give low-interest loans to municipalities looking to build infrastructure projects without resorting to often costlier privately-held bonds. The proposal is a good one, but may need to be defined outside of the appropriations process and within a new transportation authorization bill that may be authored next year.

News Roundup: Keep Grace Crunican

Dan Corson's Oscillating Field. Photo by The Stranger.
Dan Corson's Oscillating Field. Photo by The Stranger.
  • Grace Crunican, the director Seattle’s transportation department, is looking for a job in Oregon since she might be forced out by the McGinn over last winter’s snowstorm. Many smart people argue the Mayor-elect should keep her on. We agree: McGinn should consider keeping her.
  • The First Hill Streetcar will break ground in 2011 and open by 2013. The City has three public meetings this month about it to discuss the possible alignments. And a minimalist web page.
  • The feds announce some more funding for streetcars and trolley buses.
  • SDOT begins work this week on Aurora bus platforms. RapidRide buses will eventually run along the corridor.
  • Seattle Metro area transit usage up 13.4% between 2006 and 2008, well behind several sun belt cities — and Detroit. Traffic congestion down, mostly due to the economy.
  • King County Council backs SR520 A+ option.  That pits them against Richard Conlin, Frank Chopp, and others, but with the legislative working group.
  • The Stranger art critic looks at the public art piece — above — temporarily occupying the future home of Link’s Capitol Hill stop.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “News Roundup: Keep Grace Crunican”

PNW Amtrak Thanksgiving trains update

Cascades and Amfleets by K_Gradinger
Cascades and Amfleets by K_Gradinger

Those of you traveling via Amtrak this Thanksgiving weekend, be glad you purchased your tickets early!

If you want to take the train to see your friends and family, Wednesday will be your best bet, however, Seattle – Portland trains are starting to sell out very fast.

Those traveling between Seattle and Portland, the 5 Cascades trains and extra Ambus are all sold out on Thanksgiving day with the Coast Starlight still available for coach passengers only.

There are 2 trains available currently for Portland to Seattle passengers. Amtrak Extra #514 and the Coast Starlight. Train #514 will most likely be the last resort train since it arrives into Seattle at 11:15pm.

Trains are available in all directions on Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday, there will be 6 scheduled Cascades trains and the Coast Starlight. Most of these trains are starting to sell out now. Make your reservations soon in order to ensure you have a spot. Sleeper service on the Coast Starlight and both sections of the Empire Builder are selling out rapidly.

For passengers going to Vancouver, BC from Seattle, WA, all trains and Ambus’ service is available throughout the entire weekend.

For passengers going to Seattle, WA from Vancouver, BC, all trains and Ambus service is available throughout the entire weekend. Business class is sold out on Train #513 at this time however.

For passengers going East to Spokane, WA, both Empire Builder’s (Seattle and Portland Sections) are available throughout the entire weekend.

For passengers going West to Seattle, WA, both Empire Builder’s (Seattle and Portland sections) are available. Lower level coach seating is sold out on Train # 7 and #27 at this time however.

For those that haven’t made reservations, go to http://www.amtrak.com and follow the easy steps. It takes no more than 5 to 10 minutes and you can pick your ticket up at the station or have it mailed to you. It would probably be best if you pick it up at the QuikTrak kiosk at the station.

Extra train equipment will be a mixture of Horizon and Amfleet coaches with a snack car available. The cars will be later used for the Alki Tours Leavenworth Snow Trains.

Long News Roundup (II)

Escalators, by Oran
"Escalators", by Oran

The constant rainstorms seem to have really slowed down the accumulation of great pictures in the Flickr Pool:

Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact

Last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) held a public meeting on the future of the Point Defiance Bypass project. This project, as we’ve discussed before, would cut 6 minutes from Amtrak Cascades travel time to points south, reduce delays caused by congestion with freight traffic, and allow for more service by getting passenger trains out of the single track Nelson Bennett tunnel under Ruston.

Unfortunately, WSDOT’s outreach attempts appear to have fallen flat. WSDOT mentioned that some of the funding for this project could come from a high speed rail stimulus grant – and media has already claimed that these trains move twice as fast as Sounder. These trains would run at 70-79mph, just like other passenger rail, this project would just allow for a later, unfunded, project to increase train speeds in the corridor. There’s also been little explanation of what a six minute improvement, or the other benefits, really mean, and residents came away concerned that loud, fast trains were going to block traffic and cause safety problems for little benefit.

In reality, because Amtrak Cascades is already close to time-competitive with car travel between Seattle or Tacoma and Portland, a six minute reduction in trip time and an improvement in reliability would do quite a bit to increase ridership, and it’s required to create the capacity we need for more round trips. 70-79mph service is exactly the same as what runs through Sumner, Puyallup, Kent and Auburn already without incident. And because this track would only have lightweight passenger trains, noise would be reduced significantly relative to often under-maintained and very heavy freight equipment.

Thankfully, WSDOT has posted three YouTube videos that help demonstrate the planning that’s going into the Point Defiance Bypass project, and help dispel the biggest concerns. Have a look after the jump. Continue reading “Point Defiance Bypass Simulation Shows Little Impact”

News Roundup: New Station Edition

Blue Lights Over Duwamish, With Train by Atomic Taco
"Blue Lights Over Duwamish, With Train" by Atomic Taco

Passenger Rail Roundup (III): News Reports

The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP
The last Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997, by WashARP

New Studies: Amtrak has completed the studies to possibly return two long distance trains back in service. The North Coast Hiawatha (Trains 9 and 10), which would run from Seattle to Chicago via Stampede Pass, lower Montana, and North Dakota. The cost of the train would be steep at nearly $1.2 billion dollars but has a farebox recovery of 58% and serve nearly 380,000 passengers a year, putting it in Amtrak’s top 5 best performing trains.

The Amtrak Pioneer (Trains 25/26), which would has several different options. The first 2 options would serve Seattle to Denver or Salt Lake City via Portland, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, (Wyoming or Colorado, optional route) This however would be around $400-500 million dollar start up, 40% farebox recovery and serve between 107,000 to 111,000 passengers a year, putting it in tier with the lower performing trains. I will have more about this 2 trains in a 2 part series starting next week.

Washington State DOT: I was pleased to come across this report on an HSR workshop that WSDOT hosted but was displeased with some of the notes:

Shared corridors will only allow trains a maximum speed of 79mph, even after the installation of Positive Train Control. This means trains that run together, freight, Sounder, etc, will be restricted to only 79mph. My opinion is passenger trains and freight trains should increase speeds accordingly, meaning, where applicable, 90mph passenger trains, 70mph intermodal/container trains, and 60mph non-tonnage restricted freight trains.

I was pleased with the rest of the report as WSDOT is looking proactively at all manufactures for future tilting equipment. Requirements such as 8 inches of cant deficiency, 290 to 350 passengers a train, powered locomotives at both ends of the train and faster acceleration above 79mph. This still of course fits within the range of Talgo but it also allows bids from other manufactures, such as Alstom and Bombardier.

Gobble Gobble: Amtrak will be running the special “Turkey Trains” for the Thanksgiving week, November 25-29. These trains will use conventional Horizon or Amfleet (or a mix) with a journey time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. The extra trains will only run between Seattle and Portland. There will not be any extra Seattle – Vancouver BC service. Trains are now available for reservation but as I scanned through already, several trains are sold out or near sold out!

Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle

Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle
Old Seattle train stations, unknown era - Vintage Seattle

Continuing yesterday’s article with projects South of Downtown.

Seattle: I may have been seeing things this morning but it appears the the King Street Station clock has stopped working. I’ll e-mail the City of Seattle on Monday if it appears that way.

Construction bids for the new Seattle Amtrak Maintenance Facility seem to be slow. So far, only McGraw-Hill Construction appears to be the only bidder Construction is estimated to take 36 to 40 months. This would provide about 382 jobs according to Recovery.org. More below the jump.

Continue reading “Passenger Rail Roundup (II): South of Seattle”

Passenger Rail Roundup (I): North of Downtown

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

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

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

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

More after the jump.

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

25% off Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver B.C.

Cascades by Stephen De Vight
Cascades by Stephen De Vight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend News Roundup

Guide rail and wheels on the monorail, by Mike Bjork
"Guide rail and wheels on the monorail", by Mike Bjork

WSDOT submits Track 2 ARRA funding request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail Advisories: No Sounder to Mariners and Superliners

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

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

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

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

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

News Roundup

Mt. Baker TC Bay 2, by Oran
Mt. Baker TC Bay 2, by Oran