Amtrak Cascades: Families & Discounts

by BEN WOOSLEY

A few follow-ups to points raised in the comments to the previous post:

K said…

You’ve heard of these groups of more than 2 people called “families”, yes?

Yes of course! I was one of 7 myself. First of all, as you might expect, Amtrak maintains discounts for children 15 and younger, fully 1/2 off:

Child 2 – 15 50% Up to two children per paying adult. Children must travel with adult.

1, 2

Infant Under 2 Free One infant per paying adult. Infants must ride on adult’s lap.

Also, as Steve points out in the comments, Amtrak maintains an off-season discount program from November to May which offers free companion travel (2 for the price of one) for trips from Seattle to Portland. Fully half the year! This ends on the May 23rd, but is something to keep in mind for your spring travel next year.

But my point extends to any number of people, discounts or no. It all comes down to how much your time, the environment, &c., are worth to you. Some are better off driving and some not, but in order to know who is which, it’s necessary to look at the numbers, to help overcome our natural biases.

I’ve extended the calculator to take these options into account here. Simply adjust the size of your party, the cost of tickets, or the MPG of your car, to get personalized information of what the costs are.

Anonymous bellevue said…
I wish they would offer a multi person ticket rate, I like taking public transit but I’m never alone so the cost just does not work out.

See the above points about discounts and such.
Again, I’m not saying rail makes sense for everyone everywhere. I do think that people (even transit-savvy people) underestimate their options when it comes to Amtrak, though.

So even if you’re skeptical, please do check out the updated calculator and fill in your info, to get a real sense of the costs and how it compares to driving.

Amtrak Cascades: A Better Value Than You Might Think

by BEN WOOSLEY

Your local ex-motorist finally had his first rail trip last weekend, down to Portland and back, and I’ve some thoughts on the process, which I’ll be sharing over my next few posts.

The first question, for the many who have never taken regional rail or thought much about it, is why take rail? What does Amtrak have to offer, compared to the other options: the road-trip or the short distance flight?

I’ll skip over flights here because they’re easy to dismiss, particularly if you’re paying for them. They’re almost 3x the cost ($159 vs. $56), and while they’re faster in flight, when you count travel to and from the airport and security clearance time, the advantage wears down.

Cars on the other hand, you may see as your old, trusted companion for these trips, when perhaps they shouldn’t be. It may seem obvious to you that the $60 round trip cost of a train ticket is more expensive than driving yourself, but it’s as often false as true. One of our natural human biases is that we often ignore costs which accrue over time, if we’re not confronted with them directly. For example, as I mentioned in an earlier post, depreciation costs thousands a year, but you think more about this cost if you’re confronted with it each year than if you buy the car outright. This is despite the fact that the salable price for your car continually declines, so the economic cost is the same. Likewise, a roadtrip may feel like a liberating, low-cost experience, while the cost of the Amtrak ticket may seem high, when in fact the out-of-pocket costs are the same (for a single traveller, with the fuel efficiency below). You might think differently because paying the cost of fuel isn’t a precondition to starting your voyage, the costs come up after you’ve committed to the trip, and are thus easier to dismiss.

I put together this calculator to quantify this point. Note that you can edit the calculator values to put in your own car’s fuel efficiency, for example.

Now, this shows Amtrak and driving costs (for the single traveler) are essentially equal, on average, but there are qualifiers on both sides of this comparison. First of all, fuel costs are by no means the full cost of the car trip. Other costs include depreciation from the mileage you’re putting on your car, the potential cost of an accident, and the cost of your time in the car. Just like busing it to work, in the train you can work, read, or watch a film, while you can’t do the same in a car, and this has real value, as we’ll see.

Finally, the train is much more fuel-efficient than your car. While it’s difficult to say exactly how much more, wikipedia puts the figure somewhere between 1.25x and a whopping 20x the efficiency in the train. Note too, that the unimpressive lower figure is dubious, and more likely to be in-line with other rails systems, at 6x or better. Naturally, a train which uses less fuel also emits less pollution, to a similar extent. Adding to this effect is that rail, as point to point transport, encourages walkable, dense cities, rather than the highway system’s sprawl, so your use has long-term effects even beyond the benefits of the ride.

On the other hand, to be fair, cars do offer you greater flexibility, in timing, destination and route, and, importantly, the fuel and depreciation costs are fixed, while the rail costs are per-person. So you can pile 5 people into a car and travel at a fraction of the cost of the multiple rail tickets you’d need to buy. So there are legitimate reasons that it may be reasonable or necessary to take a car.

But even these points may not be as clear as they seem. While 5 people splitting the costs may be a clear win, 2 people is much more common scenario, and isn’t necessarily clear-cut. Even though the rail costs are now twice as much, this extra $60 over the cost of fuel has to then be weighed against the value of your free time. That $60 works out to just $5/hr of time ($60/(2 people * 6hrs round trip)), and as I mentioned, rail time is computer/book/movie time, while car time is often just that. Now, I’m not saying one is always and everywhere a clear win over the other, but along with the environmental and city benefits, one might think that paying $5/hr to be free to work or to write may be well worth it. Put another way, even at minimum wage, it takes fewer hours of work to earn those costs than the time over which you enjoy the benefits. At a standard wage (WA median household income / (52 wks * 40hrs) = roughly $30/hr), you’re each working for an hour to liberate yourself for 6.

So there you have it, for 1 person it’s a clear win, and for 2 or more, or for last-minute, higher-cost purchases, you should weigh the time and environment you save against the costs you pay. The point here is not to say that we should never need or use a car, but to give these things their appropriate measure, and have them coexist. So for your next trip to Portland or Vancouver, consider leaving the car at home and checking out Amtrak.

Update: I’ve got a follow-up post on Families and Discounts, in response to some questions in the comments.

A Google Maps tour of Central Link, part 1

I was looking at Seattle on Google Earth this morning, and I noticed that much of the city has been updated with new images. This is fantastic from a transit standpoint – the last images were taken at a very early stage of construction. Since then, we’ve come a long way, and I just thought I’d link everyone to some highlights. Because Google Earth and Google Maps use the same image data, everything here is a link you can open in your browser.

Let’s start at the top. This is where the rails disappear into the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. If we scroll out just a little, we can see the DSTT connects directly to the I-90 center roadway. If you happen to work in Seattle and ride a bus that comes in on I-90 in the morning, you probably use these direct access ramps today. These were designed with curves and grades that can be used for rail transit – these are why it makes perfect sense to build light rail over the I-90 bridge.

Moving south, we have Stadium Station. Last night I watched thousands of people come out of Safeco Field – many of them walked across 4th Ave S. to their cars, but they could just as easily have been walking to this station. This station also serves two Metro bus bases, the maintenance facility for Amtrak and Sounder trains, and likely many Port of Seattle workers. Just south of this station is a storage track – a third track in the middle of the other two. As Roger told us on the lunch bus tour this weekend, at the end of big games, this track can hold an empty light rail vehicle (or four) so that when a train leaves the station completely packed and there are many more people waiting, another train can run right away rather than making game-goers wait for several minutes.

Next there’s SoDo Station. This is right next door to the USPS parking facility, and a few blocks from both Starbucks (west) and Tully’s (east) headquarters – not to mention Seattle Schools’ headquarters building.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Link’s Operations and Maintenance base is complete in this image. We can see the nine tracks that enter the building, as well as the five long storage tracks just to the east of it. The tracks that go inside provide access to maintenance bays that provide access under and over the vehicles, as well as a painting room and a special bay for removing and maintaining the ‘trucks’ – the assemblies under the cars that contain the axles, wheels and electric motors (yes, I took a picture of an electric motor).

Near the base, you can see the west portal of the Beacon Hill tunnel. This is a bit old – see all those things sitting around just south of the track? Those are stacks of tunnel segments. Each stack builds a five foot long ring of tunnel – but they’re all used now, except for one or two extra that were probably kept in case of breakage. The truck leaving the site from the south is a great example of Sound Transit’s protection of the Duwamish waterway – you can see that the ground is wet around it. Sound Transit’s contractor, Obayashi, is required to spray down the wheels of vehicles leaving the site so that the mud doesn’t wash into city drainage.

Last, for now, is the Beacon Hill station site itself. Two round holes are visible here. The larger one, on the left, will have four high-speed elevators bringing riders into and out of the station, which is 165 feet below ground. These elevators get you from top to bottom and vice versa in 20 seconds – four is more than enough for the long-term needs of the station. The smaller hole provides an emergency exit stair. The station itself will be two relatively small structures called headhouses, one with elevator equipment over the large hole, and a quite small one over the other. Most of the property you see here will be returned to the landowner for redevelopment once construction is complete.

We’ll move on to the east portal and southward later.

Stanwood to join Amtrak Cascades

The City of Stanwood has started construction on the new Stanwood station platform which is slated to open in June 2009. This platform will serve North and South bound passengers to Vancouver, BC, Everett, Wa and Seattle, Wa.

The platform was originally scheduled to open in the Summer of 2008 but due to issues with platform height and extending the siding at Stanwood to allow freight trains to pass trains that are doing station stops and a slight relocation of a grade crossing.

More information is available from the Everett Herald and WSDOT.

Amtrak Cascades Leather Seats

Here are the pictures of the interior of the Amtrak Cascades “Mt. Rainier” train set, thanks to Chris Fussell of Portland, Oregon for allowing me to use them!

Notice the removal of the curtains – Coach class has tan leather seats

Improved Walkway lighting, along with new walls that are easier to clean. Each seat now has 110v outlets while the prior setup did not.

Updated A/V panel and the new lever to recline the seats. The seats recline like Airline seats. You no longer have to do the butt squeeze and wiggle to get them to move.

That’s all for now. The Mt. Olympus trainset is awaiting to be picked up from BNSF who will take the trainset CEECo in Tacoma who will do work on plumbing and other piping modifications. Once the work is completed there, Union Pacific will pick up the train and take it to the Southcenter/Kent Industrial Park for it’s refurbishment.

Give or take a few months, the Olympus will be back in service.

First Amtrak Cascades Refurbished set in service

The first of the Amtrak Cascades trainsets; the Mt. Rainier have been released and is in service between Seattle and Eugene, Oregon. I am not sure on what it’s circulation will be and I’m awaiting to see if I can use some photos from the author on the interior photos.

The Mt. Olympus trainset is next for the refurbishing program.

When all of the trainsets are completed, Talgo service to Vancouver, BC will resume though the second train to Vancouver, BC starting later this year should be Talgo equipment.

The State of Washington owns 3 of the 5 trainsets while Amtrak owns the other two sets.

Mt. Rainier (State)
Mt. Olympus (State)
Mt. Adams (State)
Mt. Hood (Amtrak)
Mt. Baker (Amtrak)

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Rail/CascadesTrainsets/

Monday Transporation Round-Up

I’m a little busy at work to write posts for these, but here’s a lot of information if you’re interested.

  • There’s a forum tomorrow by City Council members Jan Drago and Sally Clark to create ideas on how the city can become a better place for scooters. Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall at 600 Fourth Ave, 5:30-7:30. The Vespa Club of Seattle, the Mosquito Fleet, the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Seattle Police Department and the Urban Mobility Group will be in attendence.
  • The Waterfront streetcar’s potential new home has had it’s design review decision appealed by the Pioner Square Preservation Board (very technical, I know). The statement form the builder, Urban Visions:

    Preliminary design for proposed new construction of an 11 story building at 130 feet with a rooftop amenity room, green roof and photo voltaic panels. The alley is proposed at 16 feet. Off street loading is proposed to be reduced from three to two. An oversized curb cut is proposed to accommodate trolley access. Five levels of parking above the first floor are internal to the building. Approval is requested for one retail unit over 3,000 square feet. Establish use in proposed new construction.

    • Ground level will contain two retail units for a total of 7, 560 with one retail unit over 3,000 square feet
    • the Streetcar Trolley Maintenance Facility of 13,425 square feet and the parking entrance and loading at 2,500 square feet
    • Second – Sixth level will contain a total of 142 parking stalls for a total of 55,630 square feet and 57 loft style apartments for a total of 58, 775 square feet
    • Seventh – Eleventh level will contain Class A office space for a total of 129, 925 square feet. Rooftop will contain a penthouse amenity room and garden

    The meeting will be 9 a.m. March 19 in Room L280 at Seattle City Hall. Mithun architects’ Jay Janette will discuss the design. I wonder what exactly they hope to preserve of the parking lot the building would be built in.

  • Everett wants nothing doing with streetcars, so says Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who also sits on the Sound Transit board.

    Mayor Ray Stephanson wants to put the kibosh on any attempts to spend more city money on streetcar studies.

    City Council members disagree.

    The mayor’s stance comes three months after a feasibility study forecast the price tag for a five-mile streetcar line at more than $150 million. It would cost millions of dollars more each year to run the system.

    I guess this has nothing to do with the potential Everett streetcar that could be part of a future Sound Transit expansion. I think that a streetcar could be just the thing Everett needs, especially if they want to get a new UW campus. Even then, supposedly, UW won’t build a new campus without gauranteed money from the state, but I guess that’s a different topic for a different post.

  • I mentioned gas prices yesterday, and the Overhead Wire points out you work on Friday to pay for your car, if you drive that is…
  • State legistlators are questioning the state’s idea of paying sales tax on capital projects. It’s an interesting debate, since the state brings in $829mn in tax on those, but at least that much if not more is spent. Good way of getting 8.9% more out of your Sound Transit dollars…
  • The West Seattle Blog has info on the Viaduct Closures March 22-23.
  • Amtrak Cascades set an all-time ridership record in 2007: 676,670 riders, a 7.4 percent increase over 2006. Oddly, the press release came out in March; I guess their trains are faster than their press machine.

President Bush isses FY 2009 Budget for Amtrak

Same ole song…

Taking Steps to Rationalize the Nation’s Intercity Passenger Rail System
Curtails Federal subsidies. $800 million for Amtrak, which represents a significant but
necessary cut to the railroad’s Federal subsidy.
Requires that Amtrak control its operating losses and focus on services that offer the most
promise.
Reserves the bulk of funds for capital investment so improvements may continue along the
heavily trafficked Northeast Corridor.

THE BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 99

Reflects that Amtrak has taken few steps to and that it consequently continues to hemorrhage taxpayer
funds.
Provides State matching grants. $100 million for State matching grants for intercity passenger
rail capital projects to empower States, not Amtrak, to address their transportation goals and
priorities.

President Bush continues to starve the Passenger Railroad of the critical funding Amtrak needs to return to a Good State of Repair. Thankfully, the Senate and House will allocate the 1.3+ billion needed.

Another thing that should be noted. Nothing on assistance for Freight Railroads to relieve congestion, nothing on High Speed Rail or Maglev projects. Really seems as if these people don’t care about alternatives that are readily available.

King Street Station update

For those curious on the track construction going on at King Street Station in Seattle. The new tracks, which will be used for freight trains and Sounder Commuter trains will start it’s “cutover” in June of 2008. This date however has changed a few times since it was originally announced but tentatively speaking, it “should” be around the Summer time.

Once the track work is finished, work will start on extending the Sounder platform to allow for longer train sets or multiple train sets.

The current arrangement in the long term doesn’t support the expected growth slated for King Street Station, which also includes Amtrak. The furthest stud track – King Street 7, will get a passenger platform that could be used for Sounder trains for the Seahawks or Mariners. That is still up in the air though and still would be a few years out but it would prevent the walking up and over the Weller Street overpass to either stadium.

Looking at the second photo above, the 3 tracks (L-R, Main 2, Main 1, King Street 1) will continue straight to the new connection. The platform will extend about 80-160 feet. King Street 2 will be extended and connected to the stub switch (middle of photo) This will allow direct access to King Street for the commuter trains.

Speeds will increase from 20mph to 30 or 40mph but that is pending on the Lander Street Overpass project

More information on the project can be found here
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Rail/KingStreetStationRenovation/
and here…
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Rail/KingStreetStation/

UW Everett and Everett Station – The Prime Choice

We don’t normally get a chance to have a branch campus be looked at but also a campus that is next to a rail line and in the future, could see Light-Rail on top of expanded bus and commuter rail service.

Before proceeding, please check out The Herald Net – Everett Herald on the University of Washington North Campus. Here is some of the most recent
http://heraldnet.com/article/20080116/NEWS01/939051632&news01ad=1
http://heraldnet.com/article/20080116/NEWS01/445224533&news01ad=1

Everett Station would hold a very unique oppurtunity to the City of Everett and the entire North region. Why is this? The Everett Station is home to Amtrak, Greyhound, Sounder Commuter Rail, ST Express Bus service, Everett Transit, Community Transit, Island Transit… well, you get the point – It’s a main hub for Transit in Snohomish County. There is also a talk of building a Streetcar from the new Waterfront development through Downtown to the new Riverfront Development which would stop at Everett Station. Riverfront could be a place for students to gather and “hang out” with it’s hip shops and movie theater and easily connected by the Streetcar.

Everett has some of the cheapest rent in a “city” while keeping it’s low key stature. This would be excellent for students on a budget but don’t want to live in a 4×8 dorm. Everett could be what Tacoma should be but with the ability of easy expansion and great transit, Everett Station is a no brainer that it can bring people from far apart, without the need to travel heavily to get to a Airport or Train Station.

Some facts:

Everett Station

Amtrak Cascades serves Seattle, Stanwood (In November 2008) Mt. Vernon/Burlington, Bellingham, with a shuttle to the Bellingham International Airport with Delta, Horizon, Allegiant Air, Alaska (Yes, there is a ferry to Alaska from Bellingham), Vancouver, BC..perfect weekend trip “abroad” Cascades also serves Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, WA, Portland, Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs between Seattle and Chicago, ILL with several stops along the way.

I’ll visit this topic more on a later date when more information is readily available….

Seattle 2 Port Townsend – A Deeper look

I want to thank everyone for your comments and kind words! I wanted to break down some more deeper costs and also looking at a new passenger only ferry dock and a parking garage which would be located to the South of the ferry terminal. Let’s start off with the deeper costs and costs of other transit systems.

The State of Washington says the run costs around $13,700 a day. Let’s round this number up to $14,000 to off set some extra costs for the example. To run the ferry Snohomish for 365 days (All Year Long) would be $5,000,500 +/-. To run the ferry Chinook for 182 days (Spring and Summer months) would be $2,500,250 +/-. The cost of the run per passenger is $6.70 round trip instead of one way (Free returning to Seattle).

Here is an actual break down of a SOV using the ferry. I know this very well since I took the Bainbridge – Seattle run for 6 months before moving back to the “mainland” but the example is pretty spot on to my life and wishful thinking.

Let’s take a typical 30-35mpg Honda or Toyota car with a single driver. At current gas prices $3.15 a gallon or more depending on the location, it would take around $30-35 to fill up your car if you take it down from just about Empty back to Full. This car should get around 280-320 miles on a tank of fuel if maintenance is kept up and using good fuel. Now, let’s take a drive to Downtown Seattle for say, a trip to the Seattle Aquarium. This trip from Port Townsend to the Kingston ferry terminal would be about an hour or about 35 miles. Now we need to wait for this ferry to arrive or if you happened to miss it we need to wait for another boat. This can add anywhere between 30 to 80 minutes on waiting and on top of the 30 minute ride but in this example, we will say we got on the ferry at $11.50 and made it over to Edmonds, 30 minutes later. We took the Kingston ferry since the Bainbridge Island run has a 1 hour wait.

After unloading and driving to I-5, there happens to be a game in Seattle – Mariners are in town for a 3:05pm game at Safeco Field and traffic is backed up from the University of Washington into Downtown. Since you have never been to the Aquarium and going by directions on Mapquest, the easiest is to stay on the freeway… add 40-50 minutes to your travel time and it’s now over 2 hours, the kids are uneasy and doing the famous “are we there yet” over and over and people are cutting you off, flipping you the finger and all that fun jazz. Once you get down to the waterfront you encounter the thing called “The Battle for Parking” This is where you have to decide if you want to shell out the parking meter amount which the maximum is 2 hours on the Waterfront in Seattle or find a parking garage where you can pay upwards of $5, $10, $20, or even upwards of $40 bucks for parking if there is a game at Qwest or Safeco Fields. For this example though we’ll pick the medium, $20 bucks. Once your all done, you have to repeat or take the Bainbridge run. You decide to take the Bainbridge run for the more scenic trip home and shell out another $11.20. Well, it’s only scenic until you deal with the traffic from Bainbridge to Hwy 3 and get lucky by the Hood Canal Bridge opening (though I would like to see that open some day)

So, for those keeping track, $30 for fuel, $11.20 for ferry one-way, $20 for parking, $11.20 return = $77.40 for the day.

Now lets take a look at the Port Townsend – Seattle ferry run at my $9.80 one way fare structure with the Coast Guard 149 passenger limit still in place, new dock, parking garage, and the Passenger Ferry Chinook also in service for a total of 8 round trips per day.

When you park at the new garage, a short walk to the ferry terminal to purchase tickets and wait or board the Snohomish or Chinook for a 90 minute journey to Pier 52. Direct access from Downtown to Downtown, Waterfront to Waterfront. Sure at times the water can be choppy but it’s no different than your pot holed roadway and your also not getting cut off by Big Rigs, huge Suburban’s and or speedy pimped out Honda’s. When you arrive in Seattle, relaxed, at ease, you make a short walk to Pier 56 and the Seattle Aquarium. After that, could have time to check out the rest of the Waterfront and what it has to offer. If and when the Streetcar (bus just isn’t the same) is back in service, hop aboard that to the Olympic Sculpture Park or up 5 block walk to the Seattle Center and Pacific Science Center. Once your all done, head back to Colman Dock and wait or board the Chinook for a 90 minute trip back to Port Townsend while enjoying the sunset with your loved one. Something both of you can enjoy instead of worrying about rear ending a car in front of you. Stress free, relaxed, and a simple way to travel.

Back to reality and there is a reason why I wrote both of those examples because they were both true. Driving and dealing with traffic, people trying to drive onto the ferry is a huge hassle and when you add any type of event traffic in either City, it only makes life that much more stressful and difficult to plan and organize what you really want to do. Taking the ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend and back was incredible and could rival some of my best scenic getaways. Both times I was relaxed, happy, calm. I wasn’t at edge for any reason but most importantly, I was ready to tackle a place I haven’t fully discovered. That is the same feeling I get when I deboard from Amtrak to Portland or Vancouver, an eagerness to see something new, even if you already been there.

A parking garage which would support 300-400 vehicles would a hub not only for passenger ferry service but also Vanpool. The garage could also be used for merchants in the corridor. The garage would be a support of the on-street parking since I have heard that parking is an issue during the busy tourist seasons.

The new dock would prevent doing costly upgrades to the Chinook should the State of Washington keep the boat and it would not interrupt Car Ferry service to Keystone. This dock could also be a resting point for either of the boats. Somebody would have to take a gamble on how much a dock for these boats would be roughly plus electrical and other needed equipment.

One poster asked about the possibility of running the ferry to Whidbey Island on select runs. This is possible but again we are trying to keep the run as cost effective as possible. In the future however, we could also look further North – like Friday Harbor or Lopez Island for a final destination and would be the mid morning run and mid-afternoon run that would go completely to those locations. Fare for Whidbey Island or Friday Harbor/Lopez Island would increase since it is not the main destination. It’s design, use, and purpose is to serve Port Townsend but the additional revenue could allow for the continuation of the run further North. That is however dependent on if people would take the service and if the boats could be used at it’s designed 350 passenger limit.

The question we need to ask ourself after look at the numbers and the probability is what do we expect of this service, what do we want of this service, and how far do we want this service to go. Should it be exclusive to the Seattle – Port Townsend region or should other regions be included. By adding more locations could add unknown service interruptions due to weather or late arrivals will be a ripple affect for the rest of the day. It’s quite difficult to digest all of this in 2 posts, especially when the author isn’t a stellar writer but I do try to get my point across and have confidence that this service between Seattle and Port Townsend can be a cost effective, money gaining solution. This is something that the State of Washington needs to look good and hard at and for it’s short existence that it had 818 people ride the boat one day.. only 334 passengers short from being completely sold out for that day should be a hint to many people that this route would be heavily popular once word got out about it.

Once ridership and operating cost numbers are released for the rest of it’s short existence, those numbers will give us a better understanding of where the ferry stands for it’s future and the petition to return the Snohomish and maybe the Chinook on a run that will not only break even but be a revenue generating service for years to come. People will understand fare increases if it is explained to them clearly and with consideration. $9.80 one way is a little bit of money that can go a very long ways to having a strong, self-sustaining service the State can use as a model to not only King County but other agencies that are in a similar predicament. This will give the State of Washington hope that it can do passenger only ferry’s successfully like the Seattle – Vashon Island run.

This is something we all will benefit from and if we lose this opportunity to harness it, it will not be restored.

Keep yourself updated here and at http://www.seattle2pt.com

Riding with the 12th Man – Seahawks Train to Seattle


On Saturday, January 5th, 2008, I went out with my good friend, Jason Hill to check out just how popular the Seahawks trains are. They say seeing is believing and the crowds were at first, very little but we did arrive a little after 10:00am. When security came through and announced there was 380 passengers that loaded in Tacoma alone, that was surprising, but when we arrived Puyallup, the only other stop for the train before it is non-stop to Seattle, our jaws slacked open… this was going to be a packed train.

People were lined up well into the parking lot, some were even tailgating in the parking lot! This is a much different, much more upbeat passengers than your normal early morning commuting crowd…well, duh, Football Fans are gonna be more alive! To give you an idea of each station patronage…

Passing Sumner Station at 79mph

Passing Auburn Station at 79mph

Passing Kent Station at 75mph

Passing Tukwila Station at 70mph

And the crowd getting off the train and mind you, this only the first train, the second was behind us by 15 minutes followed by the arrival of the Everett Sounder Train a few minutes after our train left to back into a different track.

Both Everett trains had 5 cars each had a full STANDING only train along with the other 2 Sumner and Tacoma trains which had 6 cars.

The thing most people want now – more cars or more trains or both, this service is incredible and makes it more of a steal since the fare on this run was normal commuter fares. In 47 minutes with a 5 minute delay waiting for a freight train and Southbound Amtrak to clear in Georgetown, we arrived in Seattle.

For more information on these trains, check out Sound Transit’s website
http://www.soundtransit.org/x6652.xml

Now back in the day, Amtrak ran a train from Portland to Seattle and back and a lot would love to see this train return. Would you be somebody that would ride the train and pay the normal Amtrak fare for it if it resumed for the 2008/2009 Season? Have you been on the Sounder Seahawks service? If so, what was your thoughts and opinion about it.

The rest of the photos can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/brian_macster/

Thanks for viewing!

2008 Thoughts and Predictions

Happy New Years everyone!

Here are some of my thoughts for 2008…

Rail:

Everett Streetcar – System will get Green Light for full 4 mile long build out and will be operational in 2009. Streetcar will spark faster redevelopment in Riverfront, Waterfront, and Downtown. Everett will be taken serious once again.

Sound Transit will step up the construction process for Mukilteo Southbound platform (Only the Northbound Platform will be built first, yes you can get on both directions) by feeding BNSF more money.

Construction on the “ramp” to Pacific Avenue in Tacoma for the M Street to D Street connection will meet several lawsuits delaying the project further.

Seattle Streetcar will get funding for 10 year study to Fremont using the existing old Streetcar right of way that went to Fremont… Meanwhile, lawsuits will pop up on the idea of the idea of the Streetcar to the University of Washington and Montlake Station.

Another Grassroots idea for the Monorail from Ballard to West Seattle will surface, bubble up from $3.2 billion $19 billion dollars, get rejected by voters, again, then blame Greg Nickels and Sound Transit.

Sound Transit will come back in November for getting Link to Northgate Transit Center ASAP and will purchase a 4th TBM to finish University Link ahead of schedule.

Portland MAX will enter Vancouver, Washington by new I-5 bridge or separate light-rail bridge over the Columbia River in the next 2 to 5 years.

Ron Sims will continue to fight tooth and nail to get the Eastside Rail Corridor into a trail while Tom Payne gets his equipment ready to run from Snohomish to Bellevue @ NE 8th.

Roads:

Gregoire will push for 520 and Viaduct replacement with Dino Rossi coming up. She will also put the fear of god into Sound Transit to prevent more rail.

Oil will reach $150 a barrel by the end of the year.

I-5 between I-90 and Mercer Street will undergo another study to study if fixing that section of roadway is feasible.

Amtrak will start stopping in Stanwood and Leavenworth in November but passengers will be stuck without bus service to the stations. (Leavenworth’s transit starts 1 hour after the train to Seattle arrives and service ends 1 hour before the train arrives enroute to Chicago…)

Buses:

BRT will not be successful in King County but will flourish in Snohomish County. People in King County will be spoiled since Light-Rail will be running first.

Transit Now will shift towards more Streetcar and Light-Rail and change order from more Hybrids to more 60 foot electric trolleys for the 7/9 routes. Breda and MAN buses will be retired, 2 of each will enter the Metro Transit historical society.

I’m sure I could come up with more but Carless in Seattle covers the rest pretty well

Everett Streetcar Pros and Cons

A finally, something we can compare systems too!

While the Seattle Streetcar is running and the Everett Streetcar is under consideration, there are already many advantages the Everett Streetcar will have over it’s Seattle Counterpart.

Everett Pros –

The selected routing will go through the heart of Downtown Everett which is undergoing major redevelopment.

The Waterfront, Downtown, and Riverfront redevelopments with a Streetcar would enhance the idea of not needing a car to do your shopping or simple commuting. This would not only help local businesses but also encourage people to walk or bike more thus fighting obesity that our region is known for.

The Streetcar routing would stop at 2 community campuses, Everett Community College and Everett Station Community College and would also stop at Everett High School.

Streetcar would stop within walking distance of the Everett Events Center, home of the Everett Silvertips (Hockey) and Everett Memorial Stadium, home of the Everett Aquasox (Baseball)

The ability to expand to outlaying neighbors with minimal disruption if using the 3 blocks, 3 weeks method.

Businesses and Residences WANT THE STREETCAR

Everett Cons

Cost – But not really as much as you would think after it is broken down. It is really the initial cost for the maintenance facility, hiring technicians/maintenance personal, 3-5 Streetcars, construction, right-of-way, training, stations that all come with the initial 1.3 mile segment. You get all of that for $54 Million dollars. Another 3-5 miles of line, stations, construction, right-of-way, etc is only an additional $77 million.

Effectiveness. Does Everett really need a Streetcar?

Moving onward –

Everett couldn’t be in a better position than it is in right now with this information. Not only can it connect it’s largest transit hub to commuter rail (Sounder), intercity rail and long distance rail (Amtrak), this would encourage more developers who look for Cities doing rail projects to come in and have their buildings in a prime location.

Everett is doing something that Seattle and Tacoma needs to look at and hopefully it will be built to show that the Streetcar does indeed prove it’s worth in redevelopment, just like Portland. More on this later

Everett Streetcar – $131 Million

A recent study of the proposed Everett Streetcar reached a new point with cost estimates released but already touted a high caliber system, if the University of Washington Everett Campus is built. The Streetcar would connect the new Riverfront development, including a possible UW Everett Campus at Everett Station.

Everett Station is home to the Everett Transit Customer Service Center as well as WorkSource, WorkForce, The University Center and Espresso Americano. Amtrak to Seattle, Chicago, and Vancouver, BC, Greyhound, Northwest Trailways, Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Sound Transit bus and Commuter Rail to Seattle and Community Transit also provide service from Everett Station.

The system is broken down into 4 segments, Segment A – Riverfront to Everett Station which would be the initial segment came in at $54 million dollars, $2 million more than the South Lake Union Streetcar. Everett Station is also the recommended site for the future UW Everett Campus. Riverfront is also undergoing a huge transformation of new housing, retail, and commercial use. BNSF Railway played a huge roll in this transformation by relocation a rail line used to get into Delta yard was recently finished.

Segment B would continue from Everett Station to Downtown via Smith Avenue, Wall Street, and Hewitt Avenue. Downtown Everett is slowly becoming a mini-Bellevue with smaller tech businesses moving in to get away from the crowded Bellevue, Kirkland, Seattle, Tukwila region. A lot of new retail, restaurants, cafes and commericial businesses have gone in in recent years and would benefit greatly from the Streetcars presence.

Segment C would continue from Downtown/Hewitt Avenue to the Marina on 10th, a location where new housing, retail and commercial is to be developed. This would also serve the Everett Naval Base and ferry service to Hat Island.

Segment D would depart from Downtown to Everett Community College via Colby Avenue.

The problem now is funding; including Inekon-Trio Streetcars (same as Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Washington, DC, and Toronto), maintenance facility, add about 3 miles of north and south spurs, right-of-way, vehicle and maintenance costs and the price tag swells to more than $131 million. That isn’t including the $6 million to $9 million a year to operate the Streetcar.

Streetcars are better than buses because they attract up to 60 percent more riders, seem to encourage quality urban development and open door for creative funding strategies, Brennan said.

Portland, for example, has seen more than $3 billion in development along its streetcar line since it opened in 2001, including about 6,000 residential units and 4 million square feet of commercial space, according to the Nelson-Nygaard study.

The city also paid for 30 percent of its capital costs with bonds that will be paid back from revenue collected in a special taxing district, which charges a variable fee to property owners in a three block radius of the route.

When Tacoma replaced an existing bus line with streetcars, it saw a 500 percent spike in ridership, Everett’s consultant said.

While some stakeholders and city officials are gung-ho about the prospect, it’s not yet clear to what extent property owners along the proposed routes are willing to chip in for the steep initial cost of a streetcar system.

We shall see.

More can be read at the Everett Herald Online

Horizon Air vs Amtrak Cascades! Read on…

I received an interesting message on just how long it took 2 of my friends to get to Portland. Cindy took Amtrak since she hates traveling by plane and Jeff took Horizon Air from Seattle to Portland cause he thinks the all of the problems with the trainset will eventually just fall apart. They both agreed to meet at the Starbucks on Broadway and Morrison. Walking distance from Portland Max or the Portland Streetcar. Neither one had checked baggage this time.

Let’s start off with Jeff’s story. His flight was scheduled to depart at 7:30am. He took Shuttle Express from Kirkland around 4:00am after I gave him a heads up to Airport Construction for the light-rail and new expressway. He ended up waiting only 5 minutes for traffic at the unloading zone. The problem was the line for security which was 2 1/2 hours for the puddle jumper 50 minute flight to PDX. His plane left 43 minutes late due to terminal congestion and excessive planes on taxiway according to the pilot he had a bottle of water and you guessed it… peanuts. On approach to PDX, thanks to strong crosswinds forced them to go around which added another 10-15 minutes. When they finally landed, a hard one at that, they were stuck another 10 minutes for their gate to clear up for another late plane that was supposed to be long, long gone. He walked to the Portland MAX to Downtown Portland for a 40 minute ride to meet the misses.

Cost: $107.74 after taxes round trip

4am Departure
Shuttle Express 30 minutes 4:30
Unload delay 4:35
Security 2 1/2 hours 7:05
Onboard the plane at 7:25
Flight Delay 43 minutes – 8:18
Flight Delay 10 minutes – 8:28
Flight Delay 10 minutes – 8:38
Max to Downtown 40 minutes – 9:18

Total time: 5 hours, 18 minutes…for a 50 minute flight….

Onward to Cindy – She opted to sleep in after Jeff took off, her daughter was going to drive her to King Street Station. They left their house at 7:00am arrived at the station at around 7:15am and the train was just pulling into the station. Normally they would load Business Class passengers first but because of the time constraint, they loaded all at once and departed at 7:36am, nearly sold out as she described it. The bistro car opened up just before Tacoma where she got coffee, sausage egg and cheese sandwich, they played A Christmas Story on the monitors. The only delay was 5 minutes while waiting for the Vancouver Rail bridge to close. They arrived into Portland at 11:09am, 9 minutes late. She walked 3 blocks from Union Station to the Portland Streetcar. She got lucky as the car was just a few blocks down dealing with a truck that was trying to pull out of a tight space or something otherwise it would have been a 20 minute wait for the next one and could have walked it in that time. She got off the streetcar and walked 3 blocks to meet Jeff and continue the shopping.

$66 after tax

Delayed Departure: 6 minutes
Delay Bridge – 5 minutes – 11 minutes total delay
Schedule padding – Unknown – Arrived 9 minutes late

Total time 3 hours 39 minutes…scheduled 3 hours 30 minutes

While this isn’t one of those great “Trains are better than Planes, blah blah” postings, I do find it incredible that it took damn near 6 hours for a 50 minute flight once you add everything in. Even the drive time added to Cindy’s trip would have only bumped it up another 15 minutes.

Myself, I look forward to the day that we get semi high speed rail here and bump the scheduled time to less than 2 hours and 30 minutes between Seattle and Portland. Sure it might not be a while but it is coming, when the government gets off it’s rear here and get serious about it like California. The question is, would us in the corridor (Eugene to Vancouver, BC) take the train more… WSDOT says it could do less than 5 hours between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC in it’s high speed rail draft….2016-2020 should be interesting.

City of Tacoma backs Elevated Sounder routing

http://www.thenewstribune.com/front/topstories/story/227321.html

The City of Tacoma has voted 8-0 on their support on the elevated railway crossing over Pacific Avenue in Downtown Tacoma. This will allow Amtrak and Sounder serve to use the Sound Transit corridor between Freighthouse Square and Nisqually (Lakewood for Sounder)

This link was supposed to open in 2001 but political and businesses have delayed the design along with seeking additional funding for the bridge.

Funding brings up a good question considering Sound Transit does not have the additional money for the rail link and over pass at least according to the Open House at Freighthouse Square.

The City of Tacoma also wants “air rights” by which would allow the City to build a “lid” similar to the Convention Center over I-5.

Check out the article for more information.

Edmonds Station holiday open house:

On Saturday, Edmonds Amtrak Station has their annual holiday open house. If you’re interested in chatting with Sounder staff and learning about next year’s service improvements, or learning about the history of the Great Northern railroad that originally turned Seattle into a boom town, I recommend it! It’ll run from 9am-3pm.

The old freight half of the station was converted some years ago into a railroad club’s model train layout, complete with little towns and such. I don’t know if someone will be there, but during open houses they usually run model trains and talk about the history of the state.

Looking for 2 co-bloggers

Hey everyone.

I’m on a new computer and needless to say lost those that were interested in being a co-blogger.

The requirements for those wanting to be a co-blogger need to live in Washington State and cover transportation items within Washington State.

The topics that Washington State Transportation will cover is the following.

Rail transportation such as Short Line Railroads like Meeker Southern Railroad, Class 1 Railroads, like BNSF and Union Pacific railroads, Passenger Rail operations, Amtrak and Sounder Commuter Rail. Light Rail and Streetcar information and construction updates and news like LINK light-rail and Seattle Streetcar.

Air transportation that affects Washington, updates on Sea-Tac Airports 3rd Runway and construction in and around Sea-Tac airport. This also includes security, significant flight delays, etc.

Ferry news, like the construction of new ferries, updates on the Steel Electrics, etc.

Bus transportation all in Washington regions including Bus Rapid Transit.

Road news and construction updates like 520, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and other thoughts, etc.

You can respond to this via my e-mail – b.bundridge@gmail.com

A decision will be made by the end of the week.

Thank you!

Brian

Time to Expand Sounder?

With talks of the Lakewood line coming online in late 2011, there has been some surface talks among the public of – what’s next? The final three mainline stations will be Lakewood, South Tacoma for the South corridor and Mukilteo for the North corridor but should Sound Transit look further? With Roads and Transit behind us and King County being tax happy, would the public even want additional train service or improves?

With the North corridor ridership less than 53,000 a year it’s time to look at ways to improve this service to make it more viable and attractive to those coming from Everett and Marysville. Could a train leave Stanwood, a future Amtrak station set to open in November 2008? Could we gather additional funding for parking garages at Everett, Mukilteo, and a permanent station and garage improve the overall ridership?

I can only think of two locations that could support having a commuter rail station for the North corridor; Galar Street/Interbay also known as lower Magnolia area and Alaskan Way/Broad Street as a walk-on/off only station. The Galar Street option would have Amgen, Seattle-PI and Louis Dreyfus employees not to mention employees of Pier 90/91. The Streetcar if extended to the future cruise ship terminal at Pier 90/91 it too could use this station. The Broad Street would not have any parking available. It has been too densely developed to allow a parking garage but it does have easy access to many Belltown businesses and quick access to the Seattle Center.

For the South Corridor, a station at Lakeland Hills/South Auburn would be an excellent medium. There is a good amount of users between the Auburn/Sumner corridor that would use a medium station. Many folks use Auburn from Sumner because there is no additional parking available. The Lakeland Hills station would be located at Lake Tapps Pkwy & East Valley Hwy E and could have a parking facility for at least 500 cars easing the load at Auburn while reducing the need of having an additional garage which may end up being needed in the future anyways. I’m not sure of BNSF’s exact plan for triple tracking between Tukwila and Sumner or if that will even happen at all but I can tell that it will be double track from Sumner to Tacoma as Sumner and Puyallup stations does not have provisions to accommodate a third mainline.

It’s all just an idea, but I could foresee the additional stations and parking garages much welcomed to commuters and those that wish to try out Sounder without having to worry about parking on the street or a business’ parking lot that doesn’t allow Sounder use. How would we fund it is really the question?