Transporation Officials Seek Comment on State Rail Plan

How many more freight and passenger trains a day can we
expect in the next two decades?

Will more Amtrak trains make rail more convenient for commuters,

daytrippers and camera-toting tourists?

What does it mean for roadway drivers and pedestrians
when more goods move by train?

Through December 2, 2013, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) wants to hear from the public input about its draft Washington State Rail Plan.

Bigfoot ConductorThe draft plan — which includes 5- and 20-year strategies for investing in passenger and freight rail — paints a picture of how rail movement is expected to change over time. It also frames issues and opportunities regarding safety, land use, reliable transportation and economic development. This, in turn, helps local and regional planners to prepare for the implications in our back yard. 

Our region’s long-range transportation plan considers how to help more commuters travel to work (by road, car, bus, rail, vanpool, and avoid trips through telework), how to keep freight flowing (to our homes, stores, manufacturers and freight hubs), and how to keep the transportation system working efficiently.  It’s cyclical: these local and regional issues then flow back into the state rail plan to address a whole range of interests, resulting in more informed policy and projects.

The state rail plan focuses on three types of passenger
rail service in Washington:

  • Amtrak’s long-distance service, including the Seattle-Chicago “Empire Builder” line
  • Interregional “Amtrak Cascades” service between Vancouver, B.C., and Eugene, Ore supplied by WSDOT and the Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Sound Transit’s commuter rail service between Everett and Lakewood

According to the plan, WSDOT will use $800 million in federal funding to provide two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round-trips between Seattle and Portland, improve on-time performance and reduce travel times. Sound Transit will also expand Sounder service in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

Many of the state’s passenger rail stations serve multiple transportation modes and services, so the plan recommends that service providers coordinate schedules and co-locate parking to make passenger transitions as smooth as possible. The Amtrak Centennial Station in southeast Lacey already features a park-and-ride lot and stops for two Intercity Transit bus routes.

Other recommendations of the state rail plan include:

WSDOT should:

  • Continue to pursue the incremental implementation of passenger rail service
  • Improve recognition of rail-related needs in its highway engineering activities
  • Periodically re-evaluate and adjust its passenger system plans to achieve operational improvements in pursuit of transportation system goals
  • Adopt a formal policy on adding or consolidating stops on Amtrak Cascades
  • Use performance measures to evaluate its passenger and freight rail programs, and ensure that the program funding is aligned with demonstrated need
  • Continue to coordinate pedestrian access in and around Amtrak Cascades stations to meet safety performance goals
  • Focus on the specific requirements of Amtrak Cascades service to minimize public costs and operate the system in the most efficient manner possible.

The state should:

  • Ensure that passenger and freight rail measures are in place that can appropriately evaluate the performance of mobility, efficiency, safety, reliability and environmental compatibility of proposed new projects
  • Support efforts to identify those intermodal and multimodal connectors that provide “first and last mile” connectivity to businesses and locations that generate freight and passenger demand and include this designation in the project prioritization process

Statewide rail stakeholders should:

  • Regularly work through regional and state transportation planning processes to ensure that their needs and opportunities are understood, and are used to inform any state rail investments or planning efforts


Additional Information

WSDOT expects to complete the state rail plan in December 2013 and begin implementing in spring 2014. Visit the State Rail Plan for more information or click here to comment on the plan.

For general rail info visit WSOT’s Passenger Rail in Washington page.