Washington Announces Potential Cascades Corridor Investments

State sees potential for increasing service between Seattle and Portland to 110 mph, from 79 mph today

After New York and Illinois, Washington has announced that it will be the third state to apply for some of the $8 billion in rail funds to be released by the federal government as a part of the stimulus package. Seattle Transit Blog points out that the state has identified $692 million in investments that would improve the Cascades corridor, which connects Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon, via Seattle and Portland, and which opened for service in 1993. Washington state’s request is moderate enough that it is likely to receive something close to the entire amount demanded once the grants are appropriated in June. It will also allow the state to take better advantage of its Talgo trainsets, which have the potential to travel at speeds up to 125 mph, but which are currently limited because of track issues.

Eventually, the service will be increased from four daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle to 13, and four trips extending to Vancouver, versus only one today. The trip between the two major cities would decrease from 3h30 today to 2h30.

Cascades Corridor Map

The money would go towards a number of improvements, including:

  • $222 million for the rail project between Kelso and Martin’s Bluff. This is the southern Washington section of the line. Project would involve the construction of a third main track and allow more Cascades to operate by pushing freight trains off to the side.
  • $120 million for Seattle King Street Station track and signal upgrades.
  • $108 million for four new train sets.
  • $97.4 million for capitalized maintenance.
  • $60 million for Port Defiance bypass. This project, in Tacoma, just south of Seattle, will provide new tracks for passenger trains so that they can avoid the curves, single-track tunnels, and freight trains that currently crowd the Tacoma area. This project will reduce trip times by six minutes.
  • $45 million for yard bypass at Vancouver (across the river from Portland, OR). This project is already in construction and will allow passenger trains to bypass freight trains moving about in the rail yard there.
  • $30.2 million for positive train control and advanced signal system. This project will prevent disasters such as that which occured in Southern California last year on Metrolink.
  • $3.8 million for customs facility sidings in Blaine, near the Canadian border.
  • $3 million for new crossover tracks near China Creek.
  • $2 million for curve realignment in Everett. This project eliminates several sharp curves in the area and eventually faster speeds.
  • $600,000 for Stanwood Station. This city north of Everett would get a new stop on the Cascades line.

Image above: Amtrak Cascades corridor, from Washington State DOT

17 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Tom – interesting. Does Stanwood have a regional component to attract a train? What’s disturbing is that looking at the map, and knowing that the Vancouver to Seattle run is going to 4 trains per day, a new commute option is being opened up to territory that is sparsely populated – which could drive growth in that area e.g. sprawl.

    $600,000 won’t buy you much more than a concrete platform, but if they decide to never use it, that’s $600,000 that could be saved.

  • True – that said – I wonder if with the proposed 13 trips a day, some would simply become express trips, making the addition of a stop undetrimental for Portland-Seattle commuters.

  • BLambert

    Ted – from the conveniently linked WSDOT page re: Point of Defiance bypass:

    “It will also add one additional round trip between Seattle and Portland, once this and two other projects are completed.”

    So it’s not just shaving time, it’s also adding capacity.

  • Jason

    Couple of comments:

    -The Talgo cars could be pulled up to 125 mph, but the locomotives that are part of the train sets have a 110 mph top speed.
    -While the positive train control (PTC) does have safety benefits, it also allows the trains to exceed 79 mph.
    -The Point Defiance bypass also has significant benefits for Sounder commuter trains.
    -As far as I can see, these are all projects that WA has been planning for a while; it is good to see them get some momentum.

  • Jason –
    Thanks for the tip about Michigan. Reviewing that document, though, it appears they’re only asking for about $101 million for rail, with a crazy $314 million for a BRT corridor in Detroit. Out of that $101, too, $33 million would be going to passenger stations! I’m not particularly impressed…

  • Jason

    Until the congestion immediately South and East of Chicago is fixed, Michigan is kinda limited. Their plan appears to be to slightly reduce trip times and help reliability greatly, while also starting up a connecting Commuter Service.

  • tom veil

    Jason, Yonah:
    About that Michigan BRT — Gratoit Ave is a razor-straight road that runs 23 miles from absolute downtown Detroit (at Woodward) through a heavily populated area to Selfridge Air Force Base (at M-59). If Detroit’s going to upgrade its public transit, this isn’t a bad place to start.

    My main objection would be that, for Gratoit’s entire length, there is an equally razor-straight rail line about two miles to the west. Canadian National Railway owns the tracks (see http://www.michigan.gov/documents/MDOT_Official_Rail_130897_7.pdf) Now I know CN is a private company and doesn’t have to play ball, but if I were the Federal employee reviewing MDOT’s request, I’d ask MDOT if at any point they said, “hey, CN, if we gave you a third of a BILLION dollars, would you upgrade your tracks in Wayne County and give our commuter trains priority?”

    Of course, as you know from this website’s own “An Interstate Rail Network” post, the big picture problem is that Michigan left out the most useful transit upgrade of all: they should be asking for funding to upgrade the CSX tracks from Wayne County Airport to Toledo in order to run true High Speed Rail!

  • Allison

    Super. Effing. Awesome.

    If they want to know if it’ll increase ridership, they should know that it’ll at least increase by one – me. (Or two if you count my husband)

  • JP

    It makes sense to invest in the Seattle-Portland corridor. According to a recent article on Planetizen, the PNW is expecting huge growth in the next 15 years. There are also great opportunities for commerce between these two population centers, including tourism. Finally, the citizens of Seattle and Portland are very “green” and pro-transit, so one would expect high ridership along this corridor.

  • NikolasM

    How about rerouting the train in Oregon to go through Corvallis? That way both major universities in that state are connected to the major population centers of the region. It isn’t even that out of the way.

  • Ray Whitford

    The big issue for this corridor is not on the WA side of the border. It’s on the OR side and the bridge that is currently in use. First the BN Bridge downriver from the I-5 Bridge (being upgraded, see CRC) isn’t ready for 12 trips per day, I think. I could be right about this.

    The biggest issue is that the State of Oregon isn’t improving the PDX to Eugene corridor at the same pace as WA has been doing during the last few years. OR is behind WA in our investments to get higher speeds through the Willamette River Valley (God’s Country from those of you who know about The Oregon Trail).

    The ODOT doesn’t really have any investments to improve passenger rail speeds that I can point too. WA does invest in these improvements. It’s true that the main part of this corridor lies mainly in WA but the time is quickly arriving that the ODOT will not be able to ignore or delay the investments that are required.

    Currently we in Portland have a wonderful rail station at Union Station. But it is on the wrong side of the Willamette River and is to small for the future demands for HSR (both N/S and future E/W line following the I-84 Corridor). Currently the Amtrak trains have to slow to 5mph to make turns across two railroad bridges in the City of Portland. One of this bridges (Steel) is used by seven types of transit (people walking and biking, passenger rail, freight rail, light rail for our MAX system, cars and trucks, and buses). It is a one of a kind bridge. But isn’t designed for higher speeds for passenger rail, let alone a future true HSR Corridor through Portland.

    We are a real bottleneck for both rail freight, passenger freight, and for cars and trucks (see CRC documents about this reality.

    Once Oregon gets its act together for our two sections (OR/WA Bridge to the downtown station is the main section (only five miles max.) and then the corridor South of downtown Portland to Eugene is the second section that will need investments for that 100 miles of track) of this corridor then I will feel like we have caught up with the investments that WA is making now.

  • anon.

    Hmm. I guess for Portland it’s really that bridge to downtown which matters.

    Steel Bridge is a long-term problem. The HSR corridor is clearly going to terminate at Portland for a long time to come, unfortunately. The Eugene service has not gotten much love.

  • Nathanael

    “Tom – interesting. Does Stanwood have a regional component to attract a train?”

    Google Maps makes it look unlikely. However, it also makes Stanwood look like a *destination*. The other thing it demonstrates is that the trains are already slowing down on various curves and grade crossings near Stanwood.

    I think worrying about lost time on the northern Cascades is not appropriate until something is done about the disastrous state of the route north of the border, which eats many more minutes than the 1 minute station stop here. Until BC or Canada gets serious about the Cascades, this is always going to be a low-speed line. Hence the prioritizing of speed investments in the Seattle-Portland corridor.

  • EngineerScotty

    The westside branch (Portland to Newberg to McMinnville to Monmouth to Corvallis) is in pretty bad shape–much of the track is FRA exempt; and the line presently does not connect to Eugene.

    Rail connections in the Willamette Valley seem to be generally pretty poor–the only line in any reasonable shape (the UPRR main line) is single-track for most of its length, and geographic constraints (such as where the line passes through the Willamette River gorge through the Tualatin Mountains–the Canby to Oregon City stretch) probably will keep it that way.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I wounder would this line be worth adding catenary and eletric trains to it if sections of it are growing to double and three tracks in that there is no real mainline catenary powered lines in this area.

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