Tuesday, July 14, 2020

An update on Amtrak Cascades as we move through the summer

By Janet Matkin

As with many other transportation modes, 2020 is proving to be a challenging year for Amtrak Cascades service. The spread of COVID-19 led to large drops in ridership, Canadian border closures, new safety and distancing protocols to protect passengers and staff and significant decreases in revenue.

Amtrak Cascades is currently only operating one daily roundtrip between Seattle and Eugene, including Portland and all other stops in between. All other train service, including all service north of Seattle due to the border closure, is suspended. We continue to monitor ridership levels and will start adding more trips as demand increases. Ridership is down more than 90% below levels as at the same time last year and we continue to follow the Governor's directives related to non-essential travel. This includes limiting ticketing on the trains to 50% capacity to allow plenty of room for physical distancing. Our ultimate goal is to return to a full schedule when it's safe and smart to do so.
Amtrak's Horizon equipment now operating in the Cascades corridor

Train equipment

Amtrak recently delivered Amtrak-owned Horizon train cars to Seattle to replace the Talgo Series 6 trainsets taken out of service in June 2020. This interim Horizon equipment will remain in service on the Cascades route until new trains are manufactured and delivered in the years ahead. In addition, the Talgo Series 8 equipment owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation will continue to operate in the corridor and Amtrak is evaluating adding other interim equipment as demand for service increases.
Consistent with our fleet management plan and as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, we are disposing of our two Talgo Series 6 trainsets and spare cars this summer. Information on this competitive bid process is posted on our web pages, with bids due by Aug. 3, 2020.

A new Charger locomotive will be delivered to Seattle by September to replace the one lost in the 2017 derailment. It's being paid for with insurance proceeds from Amtrak. Locomotive 1408 was manufactured at the Siemens facility in Sacramento – the same site all our other locomotives were crafted – and is now at the Transportation Technology Center test site in Pueblo, Colorado. It will be moved to Washington once testing is completed.
Amtrak Cascades locomotive 1408 on its way to the testing facility.

Point Defiance Bypass

We continue to meet bi-weekly with Sound Transit, Amtrak, ODOT and Federal Railroad Administration to move forward on the return to the Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma and DuPont. As the track owner, Sound Transit is leading those discussions and managing the schedule and next steps.

Currently, Sound Transit is developing its Rail Activation Plan related to safety criteria, outreach activities and processes they need completed before they will approve track testing and Amtrak crew qualification. Once those activities are underway, Sound Transit will determine a date for returning passenger rail service to the Point Defiance Bypass.

When service returns to the Bypass, the demand for intercity travel increases, the pandemic risk is minimized and the state transportation budget issues are resolved, we will move forward with adding two more daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle. These will offer passengers both an earlier morning and later evening trip in each direction, allowing both business and leisure travelers to take day trips back and forth between the cities. We do not have a date when this will happen.

The years ahead

Despite the challenges facing Amtrak Cascades service in the years ahead, we're committed to continue to provide memorable intercity passenger rail service in the Pacific Northwest. The Cascades route is one of the most scenic and popular routes in all of North America. We look forward to the return of riders and the expansion of service in the years ahead.

30 comments:

Unknown said...

We love riding the train. We appreciate your efforts to keep things rolling.

Tim said...

Thanks Janet, re the Bypass, I appreciate you meet each week with Sound Transit but how many issues still need to be resolved and how many have been. I am struggling with understanding why and how so many meetings are needed to resolve progress on this question. I know I have asked this a lot in the past few years but are we leaping forward or just moving by inches?

John Q Public said...

What a complete waste of taxpayer money. I hope the OIG and GAO audit the heck out of BNSF and WSDOT who colluded to subvert The most basic compliance requirements from the inception of the project. Buy American? How is a signal system made in America?? You all relied on loose interpretations that were not the spirit of the law and requirement that was intended to protect Americans and our economy. How did you ensure Davis Bacon requirements were followed? By putting it in a contract?? Where are all the certified payrolls from RCL?? It’s no wonder the inaugural trip resulted in fatalities, and I hope BNSF and WSDOT face severe civil and CRIMINAL PENALTIES! You all couldn’t even deliver the most basic program deliverables - 2 extra round trips, yet BNSF buzzes along those very tracks all day and night. It’s THEFT of taxpayer money in broad daylight from the beginning and I just don’t see how you all sleep at night - blood on YOUR hands, relying on interagency confusion and workarounds of the compliance requirements. Too many lawyers and not enough common sense. Pandemic or not, a day of reckoning is coming... Of course you couldn’t deliver the 1/2 + billion dollar program, not even a projection of when the service to the north will resume. Shame! Shame! Shame!

Adina said...

As an Edmonds resident and frequent transit rider, I'm disappointed that the northern limit of service is Seattle and not somewhere closer to the border. There are days I need to get from Edmonds to Tacoma and the Cascades is the most efficient route. The fastest alternative is two local buses PLUS two long, bumpy regional buses, one of which is an uncomfortable coach-style.

Unknown said...

I love riding the train it's safe for me.

Unknown said...

I love riding the train it's safe for me.

Unknown said...

This is disappointing. I used to be a regular rider, but I don't think I'd consider taking the train anymore. Those old Amtrak cars feel like punishment tubes. And I assume they must be running slower now. Is this why the 505 has been chronically late all week? Because they can't match the old Talgo schedule? The old Amtrak cars aren't even as nice as modern buses.

Taking the train has always been a little longer than driving, but without the traffic hassles. But the added travel time was already at the upper end of what I was willing to trade. Any longer, and I'll stick to driving.

Don said...

It is a bit surprising that WSDOT has shut the door on stations North of Seattle. I guess a train cannot run in two directions between Seattle and Bellingham daily. Push/pull

WSDOT said...

Unknown -

You are very welcome! We appreciate your support of Amtrak Cascades.

WSDOT said...

Tim -

Janet is out on state-mandated furlough today. She will be able to respond tomorrow. We apologize for the delay.

WSDOT said...

Adina -

We apologize we are not able to offer you service right now and appreciate you for being a customer. We have a comfy bus that runs daily between Seattle, Everett, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham. Unfortunately, Edmonds is too far off of I-5 for the bus to stop there and maintain a short schedule. We apologize for your inconvenience.

WSDOT said...

Unknown -

You are very welcome. We appreciate your support of Amtrak Cascades.

WSDOT said...

Unknown -

We are sorry you are disappointed. We would love to keep you as a passenger. The seats have been fully refurbished on the Horizon equipment we are running and these trains can run the same schedules as the Talgo trains. Some trespassers interfered with freight trains and Train 505 has been held up by that and I think some equipment had to be swapped out too. We apologize for the delay and we hope you’ll keep riding.

WSDOT said...

Don -

We didn’t want to stop running. The reason we are not running trains north of Seattle is that demand has been too low north of Seattle for us to run trains and the Canadian border has been closed. We have a comfy bus that runs daily between Seattle, Everett, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham. You can visit www.AmtrakCascades.com for bus tickets north of Seattle if you are interested. The bus is a very nice MTR Western coach.

Unknown said...

What is the projected date for amtrak using the new bypass through tacoma?

WSDOT said...

Unknown -

Currently, Sound Transit is developing its Rail Activation Plan related to safety criteria, outreach activities and processes they need completed before they will approve track testing and Amtrak crew qualification. Once those activities are underway, Sound Transit will determine a date for returning passenger rail service to the Point Defiance Bypass.

alss said...

Any idea as to when more round trips will be offered. By saying ridership is down 90% begs the question as to how you are coming up with that data.

You drop all but one roundtrip of course ridership is down 90%, but you have taken away most options for people to take.

Bring the trainsets back soon or you will lose your riding public for good.

WSDOT said...

alss -

You’re right, the decrease in available trains does limit the ridership options. However, over the last several months we had to incrementally decrease the number of trips as ridership dropped lower and lower. We cannot afford to run empty trains. As ridership starts to increase, we will re-introduce more trips, but that will be a slow process as we weigh ridership against costs. We are all looking forward to returning to our regular schedule as soon as sensible.

Gerald said...

I would like WSDOT and/or AMTRAK do a better job in helping passengers maintain "social distancing" while riding the train. When I select a seat with no one in front or behind me and then someone gets on down the line and sits in the seat in front of or behind me, then I need to get out of my seat and move to another one or possibly move to another car which is annoying to need to do that.

7968 said...

Does WSDOT own the Amtrak Cascades line or is Amtrak a separate company?
What is the name of the highest person in charge?

WSDOT said...

7968 -

WSDOT and ODOT co-sponsor the Cascades service. Costs are paid through ticket sales, other fees, and state funding. We contract with Amtrak (a separate national company) to operate the service, including providing onboard and station staff, ticketing, track rights, a portion of the trains, and maintenance of equipment.

Ron Pate is the Director of WSDOT’s Rail, Freight and Ports Division.

Mark said...

The current Cascades trains are trains 500 and 505, both showing a 3 hour, 30 minute schedule between Seattle and Portland. These trains are now being operated with Horizon cars, which cannot operate at the faster speeds that Talgo (tilt) trains can. So, every train is late. Is there a plan to change the schedule back to the pre-Talgo 3 hour 50 minutes or 4 hour schedule?

WSDOT said...

Mark -

The Horizon cars are able to meet the same time schedules as the Talgo cars. There will not be any changes to the schedules due to the change in equipment.

WSDOT said...

John Q Public -

The Point Defiance Bypass capital improvement project met all of the Buy America requirements of the federal FRA grant, including the purchase of signals, ties, and all other materials. In addition, payrolls for all contractors working on the project were certified as compliant with Davis Bacon laws.

Tim said...

I fully support WSDOT on the bypass project but struggle only with how long it is taking to get Sound Transit to apparently meet their obligations to restore service. I think we need an overarching vision here to bring the different agencies together coherently and effectively. The bypass project has been languishing for well over two-and-a-half years now. Progress should be complete?

Unknown said...

WSDOT - How can you claim that Horizon car speeds are the same, when the speed limits on the line are posted higher on most curves for the Talgo vs all other passenger cars? Why are schedules longer at Thanksgiving when they are running extra Horizon trains? Why is the Coast Starlight so much slower?

I've been watching the OTP to decide if I can start taking it again, and performance to Albany has been abysmal. And delays are generally being chalked up to "speed restrictions along the route" or not even defined.

Bryan

WSDOT said...

The Horizon trains are approved and running at the same speeds as the Talgo equipment.

Unknown said...

How can the Horizon-equipped trains run as fast as Talgos? Talgos allowed a schedule time reduction when introduced to replace initial Horizon/Amfleet equipment and speed boards approaching curves showed higher allowed speeds for Talgos. For a comparable passenger capacity, the Talgos could accelerate faster than Horizon equipment with lighter weight and fewer axles.

Amtrak was behind the withdrawal of the Talgos in a discussion with regulators before the derailment "findings" were published. There was no discernable structural failure other than vestibule areas where the only fatalities occurred (train enthusiasts) that I believe were posted. Amtrak was jealous that their authority was subverted by the states' independent purchase and their "one size fits all" equipment policy based on Northeast Corridor compatibility and restrictions.

I rode a Cascade Talgo between Seattle and Portland visiting relatives and a boyhood friend in 2004 and was favorably impressed.

Unknown said...

Did WSDOT apply for and receive a waiver to allow higher speeds for Horizon trains which will result in noticeable discomfort on curves even if safe? I experienced a similar situation riding the "Lyonnaise", an all-reserved seat extra-fare train between Lyon and Paris in 1974. I had difficulty walking to the toilet as it rounded frequent curves.

WSDOT said...

Amtrak obtained approval to run the Horizon equipment at Talgo speeds.

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment