WSDOT is responsible for the successful operations of the Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service. Through the management of partnerships, budgets, performance goals and customer service needs, WSDOT is able to provide passenger service that meets state requirements and passenger expectations.
WSDOT is working to recognize and implement opportunities for improvements within financial constraints and explore options for opportunities, which reduce costs and increase revenue. Information is also available regarding train safety.
PRIIA 209 (pdf 44kb), a federal act eliminating federal funding for state-supported trains, became effective Oct. 1, 2013, requiring states to absorb more costs. By working to reduce costs and increase revenue, WSDOT will reduce the financial impacts to the service.
WSDOT has defined four core focus areas for the Amtrak Cascades business model. These four areas help guide the implementation of new service and are used to measure proposals for new station stops, added amenities and additional trips:
- Improve customer service.
- Reduce costs.
- Increase revenue.
- Reduce taxpayer subsidies.
The Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) runs from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon. WSDOT is working with corridor partners to develop agreements to manage the service using a corridor approach, rather than WSDOT managing Washington's and British Columbia's portion, and ODOT managing Oregon's portion. WSDOT and ODOT developed the Cascades Rail Corridor Management Workplan. This workplan allows for the development of a Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor plan between the states. WSDOT will continue to work with British Columbia to add them to the partnership. Managing the service using a corridor partnership approach has many advantages for planning and funding support that would not occur otherwise. WSDOT and ODOT are currently updating the workplan.
WSDOT and ODOT each developed a new federally funded state rail plan. These plans look at freight and passenger rail systems at a policy level. Working as a partnership with plan developers provided opportunities to reduce costs and produce better end products. WSDOT State Rail Plan>> ODOT State Rail Plan>>
Improvement of Service Disruptions
From December through February (the worst of the rainy season), landslides may disrupt the Amtrak Cascades service throughout the corridor, and passengers may have to travel part of their trip on an Amtrak-provided motorcoach. These landslides primarily occur north of Seattle. WSDOT recognizes that this does not support customer service needs and may reduce the number of people that will take the train during that timeframe. WSDOT is working with its partners to develop strategies and actions that will reduce the impact of landslides and prevent them in the future.
Washington state recently received $16.1 million in federal funding to identify, design and construct slope stabilization needs along tracks between Vancouver, Washington, and the Canadian border. WSDOT and the BNSF Railway are collaborating on environmental and engineering work to survey problem areas and determine appropriate repair solutions in order to reduce landslide delays.
Crews also implemented low-cost, high-benefit slide reduction work on a 5-mile section of the BNSF rail line between north Seattle and Shoreline. This state-funded work included additional preventative drainage maintenance and debris removal. Amtrak Cascades operates 4,015 trains annually. There were a total of 124 trains cancelled or disrupted in 2014. In 2015, 16 trains were cancelled and 62 trains were disrupted. So far in 2016, there have been 3 trains cancelled and 32 trains disrupted by landslides.
WSDOT is also working with BNSF Railway, rail line neighboring jurisdictions and other stakeholders to work on minimizing landslides. Passenger safety is the number one priority in the decision-making process.
Faster U.S./Canada Border Crossing with Pre-Clearance
As part of the United States-Canada Beyond the Border Action Plan, WSDOT is working with Amtrak and British Columbia, United States and Canadian federal agencies to implement pre-clearance at the international border. Pre-clearance allows immigration and customs to happen at a single location prior to boarding the train (similar to how airlines handle Customs) and could shave 10 minutes off travel time in the north corridor.
National Standards for Equipment
Washington state was invited to participate on a national committee to develop processes, practices and standards for procurement and management of new equipment. The committee is sanctioned by federal law under PRIIA Section 305.
Work with the committee continues, including the development of standards for fleet management that will be applied to the new locomotives and a trainset to be procured with federal funds for the Amtrak Cascades service. The Fleet Management Plan (pdf 1.5mb) will help ensure the most efficient use of equipment for the corridor and manage maintenance requirements to keep equipment running optimally.
Want to ride the train? Visit www.amtrakcascades.com/ to plan a trip, view schedules, and make a reservation. For fares and reservations, you can also call 1-800-USA-Rail.