Washington Groups Say Rail is an Answer

Across the river in Washington, stakeholder groups advising the State Transportation Commission are recommending more freight rail capacity as a strategy to reduce highway congestion.

The strategy is two-fold:

– Reduce growth in truck traffic
– Reduce current freight rail congestion that is slowing passenger trains

Any chance of getting similarly enlightened thinking on this side of the Columbia?

5 responses to “Washington Groups Say Rail is an Answer”

  1. I’d be somewhat doubtful given the situation with the passenger trains. WA is putting serious money into improving Cascades service (note second bullet point) but OR is barely keeping the trains going. Overall, the Willamette Valley only has somewhat decent daily train service because WA is already sending trains to Portland and they can be extended to Eugene.

  2. The 4th Amtrak Cascades trip Seattle-Portland may be only temporary. It is funded out of the other taxes that the Legislature passed for transportation improvements last year that were not a part of I912. I would like to see Amtrak Cascades start a few East-West services. WSDOT has studied the idea, going across Stampede Pass. A partnership with BNSF would be great, as they could really de-congest Cascade Tunnel.(Trains often have to hold so the tunnel can ventilate) The Stampede Tunnel cannot accomodate double-stacks. Although this would not affect TALGO trains, it would be a good idea that any improvements funded by WSDOT(if it ever happens) be required to accomodate those Ultra-Domes made by Colorado Railcar. The tallest of those is 19ft, so a Double-Stack container train could be accomodated. The populated area of Eastern Washington lacks any passenger trains at a descent hour, and areas west of Pasco lack it at a descent hour. Eastern Oregon does not have any, but it would be nice to restore some service. Didn’t ODOT do a study as part of their Rail Plan awhile back?

    Proffessional Initiative Writer Tim Eyman has got an initiative on the ballot to repeal the new liscense fees. He has also decided to take it upon himself to pre-empt a regional package due to go on the ballot next year from passing. Is he going to have his fellow Central Puget SOunders vote No on the package next year? No, he wants to make it illegal for the region to use MVET Taxing authority granted by the Legislature. Eyman has made a career out of exploiting East-West Divisions.

    I am hoping that the voters will do the same as what they did to I912, but that may not happen. Washington Voters rarely follow through on anything long-term. IF the State had bonded the revenue from those vehicle wieght fees, they could be in good shape. The last attempt to repeal a tax that had been pledged to repay bonds by initiative is still bouncing back and forth in the State Supreme Court.

  3. The initial funding for the 4th Trip came from the 2003 Nickel Package. The ability to sustain it might be in question. One of the things that helped get BNSF to allow this extra trip was that enough crossover and siding improvements had been made to squeeze extra capacity. There are several more High Speed Crossovers planned, that funding is now in doubt. I have found one Amtrak Cascades related project that might be hurt by this initiative, and if it is, it will be a shame. High-Speed Crossovers near Winlock, it is funded from the vehicle wieght fees.


    I used to be worried that an Eyman Initiative was an automatic passage at the polls, but he has had 2 defeats and some fail to qualify for the ballot. That may be why he has decided to zero in on any vehicle taxes paid when a vehicle is liscensed. $30 Car Tabs is his bread and butter.

    We might need to see, in all Pacific Northwest, a variation of California’s 1990 Bond Measures that launched the Passenger Rail Revival in there state.

  4. With the subsidy levels of the Cascades trips, they SHOULD be turning an actual profit now. I can’t seem to understand how the state/Amtrak keep screwing this up.

    If Amtrak was run in a similar vein as Virgin rails – i.e. efficiently without the excessive personel and lack of technology usage – there should be a minimal profit of approximately 8-14 million dollars with the 4th train, even operating as they are there should still be a minimal profit of about 1-3 million.

    It’s just insane they aren’t being run properly.

  5. They are up to 45% right now, the goal is 99% by 2023. The best way to get to profitability is to achieve the 2023 running time, which is projected to be 2 hours, 30 minutes between Seattle and Portland. Expect Alaska Airlines to put up a fight in the next few years over any attempts to get the trains running under three hours. Amtrak Cascades equipment carries more people than the aircraft used by Horizon Air. 13 round trips, as projected by 2023, would put a dent in the Seattle-Portland run for sure.

    Also, on a side not, the popular SOUNDER route from Tacoma to Seattle will be adding service next year. 2 new trains, a 5th Peak-Direction trip, plus one Reverse-Commute trip. It will take awhile to get rolling stock recalled from other agencies that it has been leased to, and plan the connecting bus services accordingly.(Metro takes awhile to plan service improvements, they try to get it right)

    BNSF crews drive both the SOUNDER and Amtrak Cascades trains, in the case of the latter, it is a reverse of a policy in effect with Amtrak for 20 years. Amtrak used to contract with the railroads to operate their trains, wether it was a local train, or a long-distance trains, but decided they ought to operate the trains themselves. Amtrak, at the time, wanted to get away from the tradition pay scale and work day for operating crews, which was a full day was 50-100 miles in most cases. That was a holdover from the steam era, but as locomotives got faster, it became a drain on revenue. Amtrak went to 8 hour days, and most of the railroad industry finally got the BLE and the UTU to agree on changes.

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