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Rail - Tacoma - Bypass of Point Defiance

Project news

January 2020 update

The Point Defiance Bypass was created as part of the long-range plan to improve and expand passenger rail service in Washington state. It eliminates a major congestion point on the single track corridor between Tacoma and Nisqually where freight and passenger trains often interfere with one another. By separating passenger trains from freight traffic, the Bypass allows Amtrak Cascades to add more trips between Seattle and Portland, reduce travel times, and improve on-time reliability. 

It has been two years since the derailment of a passenger train taking its inaugural run on the Point Defiance Bypass. Since that time, passenger rail service has reverted to the previous route along the waterfront through Tacoma, Steilacoom and Nisqually.

Following a 17-month investigation of the derailment by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), several recommendations were issued related to safety improvements that should be made prior to returning to the Point Defiance Bypass. WSDOT, Amtrak and Sound Transit, have taken these recommendations seriously, while simultaneously remaining committed to returning to the Bypass and fulfilling federal grant requirements for increased reliability, reduced travel time and more frequent service.

Over the last two years, all of the involved agencies have worked together toward that goal. Major activities have included:

  • Amtrak, BNSF Railway and Sound Transit fully activated positive train control (PTC) on all passenger rail corridors in Washington, including the Point Defiance Bypass.
  • Amtrak developed and is implementing a Safety Management System that includes proactive identification and mitigation of risks, expanded crew training and redesigned safety training courses.
  • Sound Transit implemented graduated speed restrictions approaching the curve where the derailment occurred, going from 79 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph, with more speed limit signage prior to each incremental decrease.
  • Sound Transit, as the track owner, commissioned an independent third-party review of the derailment that identified recommendations that Sound Transit is implementing.
  • WSDOT announced the Talgo Series 6 trains will be taken out of service as soon as possible, in keeping with NTSB recommendations. Temporary replacement equipment is expected to be in place prior to the return to the Point Defiance Bypass.
  • WSDOT was awarded a $37.5 million federal grant to cover 50% of costs to procure new passenger rail cars to replace the three WSDOT-owned Talgo Series 6 trainsets (including two currently in service and the one lost in the derailment) as recommended by the NTSB.

In upcoming months, the involved agencies will be focused on activities in order to have the capability to return passenger service to the Point Defiance Bypass in 2020. The next steps, which must be completed prior to returning to the Point Defiance Bypass, include:

  • Sound Transit is developing policies, procedures and requirements to address all of the recommendations found in its independent review.
  • Amtrak will work closely with Sound Transit to implement requirements for resuming service on the Point Defiance Bypass.
  • Amtrak is working to lease and upgrade temporary passenger equipment to replace Talgo Series 6 trainsets for operation in the Pacific Northwest over the next three to five years until new passenger rail cars are manufactured. Amtrak has committed to completing modifications and having the temporary passenger equipment ready and transitioned for service in the Pacific Northwest by July 1, 2020.
  • Amtrak will requalify and train all crew members in compliance with its new training standards on the Point Defiance Bypass prior to the restart of service. Sound Transit will ensure that Amtrak’s training meets its expectations as the track owner.
  • WSDOT, Amtrak and Sound Transit will conduct extensive public outreach on railroad safety and the restart of service in the communities surrounding the Point Defiance Bypass, including DuPont, Lakewood, Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, prior to the return of service.
  • WSDOT and Amtrak will facilitate the move back to the new Tacoma Dome Station.

An exact date for the restart of service on the Point Defiance Bypass is dependent on completion of all of these steps. Once a timeline has been finalized, the information will be shared.    

 

May 2019 update

The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report with recommendations related to the 2017 derailment will be issued May 21, 2019. For details and updates on the report, please visit our December 2017 derailment page.


March 25, 2019 update

Point Defiance Bypass rail corridor update

Following the December 18, 2017, derailment in DuPont, passenger rail service on this route was halted until two milestones were reached: (1) Positive Train Control was activated in the corridor and the (2) National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had completed its investigation.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is now fully activated on the entire Amtrak Cascades corridor from Blaine, Washington to Eugene, Oregon.  Amtrak Cascades trains have been operating under this system for several months. The Point Defiance Bypass has all its PTC trackside equipment installed and tested and is ready for operation.

NTSB will hold a board meeting on Tuesday, May 21, to present its findings. The hearing will be live-streamed online beginning at 10 a.m. (PST) at ntsb.windrosemedia.com. WSDOT does not know what the final NTSB recommendations will be.

Previously released information about the accident investigation is available on the NTSB website, including materials that were shared during NTSB’s July 10-11, 2018 investigative hearing.  The “Docket” found on this page includes several reports, interviews, and photographs of the derailment that are being used by NTSB to develop its final recommendations.

Once the final NTSB report is issued, WSDOT and others involved with the service will assess the recommendations to determine next steps for returning the Amtrak Cascades and Coast Starlight service to the Point Defiance Bypass.

August 2018

Update on return of Amtrak Cascades service to the Point Defiance Bypass

In spring 2019, Amtrak anticipates returning Cascades passenger train service to the Point Defiance Bypass between Tacoma, Lakewood, JBLM and DuPont.

This schedule allows time for the National Transportation Safety Board to complete its investigation and issue its recommendations related to the 2017 derailment in DuPont. It also provides time to monitor how Positive Train Control (PTC) is working on the current Amtrak Cascades route, before returning the service to the bypass.  Amtrak, Sound Transit, and BNSF are all working together to ensure PTC is operating seamlessly in the entire Pacific Northwest and they are confident they will meet the December 31, 2018, federal deadline for implementation in our region.

PTC equipment testing and crew training will occur on the Point Defiance Bypass throughout the fall and winter in preparation for the return of daily service next spring. 

June 2018
Point Defiance Bypass testing, train travel update

PTC status
Implementation of the positive train control system on the entire Amtrak Cascades line, including the Point Defiance Bypass, is progressing well. Amtrak, WSDOT, BNSF and Sound Transit all are working together to implement PTC prior to the national deadline at the end of 2018. The goal is to seamlessly integrate the three elements that must all work together for the system to be fully activated. As of June 2018, the following progress has been made:

  1. Trackside equipment is in place and operational
  2. Onboard equipment is undergoing final equipment testing and approval
  3. Back office servers are in place and Amtrak and BNSF are working to integrate their systems with one another

The next step in the process is to test the entire system on the rail line. Throughout the summer, trains will be traveling along the bypass conducting various system tests and train crew qualifications. During this testing, expect trains on the bypass traveling at speeds up to 79 mph on both weekdays and weekends.  As always, you are encouraged to stay safe around the railroad tracks.

January 2018

Construction of the tracks and new Amtrak station is operationally complete, but due to the Dec. 18, 2017, derailment, trains will not use the bypass route or the new station for the foreseeable future. Tacoma passengers will catch Amtrak Cascades trains at the previous Amtrak station, 1001 Puyalllup Ave. The station at Freighthouse Square is not operating at this time.

Watch a time-lapse-video of the new station construction at Freighthouse Square.

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Overview
The Point Defiance Bypass Project will reroute passenger trains to an inland rail line along the west side of I-5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont.  Sound Transit currently uses a portion of this route for Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood.

This project will improve passenger train reliability by reducing congestion with freight trains and eliminating travel on tight corners and tunnels.

Why is WSDOT upgrading tracks for passenger trains to bypass the Point Defiance area in Tacoma?
Passenger trains, including Amtrak Cascades, currently must slow down due to curves and single-track tunnels on the BNSF Railway main line tracks near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound.

This project reroutes passenger trains to an inland route.  The bypass is on an existing rail line that runs along the west side of Interstate 5 (I-5), from south Tacoma through Lakewood and DuPont. It reconnects back to the BNSF Railway main line near Nisqually, on the east side of I-5. It also adds a new Amtrak Cascades station in Tacoma's Freighthouse Square building.

Freight train traffic patterns will not change with most freight trains continuing to use the existing main line near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound. The few freight trains that currently use the bypass route will continue to use it during and after the project.

The End Result
The end result is more frequent, more reliable, and faster Amtrak Cascades service.
When completed, the Point Defiance Rail Bypass project will bring a total of six daily round trip Amtrak Cascades trains and one Coast Starlight train through Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont intersections, with an average crossing time of 45 seconds per intersection and a maximum speed of 79 mph. Use of the bypass will add two additional daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland for at total of six.

Needs & benefits

Timeline

While the station is complete, due to the Dec. 18, 2017, derailment the staion and bypass are not being used for the foreseeable future. Amtrak Cascades continue to run on the previous rail route.

Funding

Washington state is delivering nearly $800 million in federally funded rail corridor improvements using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) high-speed rail grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration. The Point Defiance Bypass is one of those ARRA-funded projects.

  • Project budget - $165.3 million

Contact

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WSDOT Rail Division
PO Box 47407
Olympia, WA 98504-7407
360-705-7900
E-mail: mailto:rail@wsdot.wa.gov

thumbnail map of project area


Design for new Amtrak Cascades station at Freighthouse Square in Tacoma.
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Excavators lower part of a turnout track near Nisqually as part of the new route trains will use in and out of Tacoma.
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See more project photos in the project Flickr album