How we manage the trains

Trains travel to 18 cities on the 1-5 corridor between Vancouver, BC (Canada), Seattle, Portland and Eugene. Amtrak Cascades passenger trains are paid for primarily by ticket revenue, and by sponsorship from WSDOT and ODOT.

The Rail, Freight, and Ports Division oversees the management of the Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail service along the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor, one of 11 federally designated rail corridors in the United States.

Through the management of partnerships, budgets, performance goals and customer service needs, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is able to provide passenger service that meets state requirements and passenger expectations.

Amtrak Cascades train service began in 1994. WSDOT is responsible for train operations; budgeting; performance tracking; local, regional, state, and national program coordination; working with the freight rail partners that own the railroad tracks; public outreach; and marketing activities.

Normally, the Amtrak Cascades service operates more than 4,000 trains annually with daily stops in 18 Pacific Northwest cities. The service includes*:

  • 4 daily round trips between Seattle and Portland
  • 2 daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia
  • 2 daily round trips between Portland and Eugene, Oregon

*Travel is reduced due to COVID-19. See AmtrakCascades.com for current schedules and to book your next adventure.

2019 Washington State Rail Plan

The 2019 Washington State Rail Plan focuses on both freight and passenger rail in Washington state. The plan analyzes existing rail systems, identifies trends, outlines suggested strategies, and sets forth an investment plan for infrastructure and equipment.

Amtrak Cascades data

Amtrak Cascades has operated for more than 20 years. 829,000 passengers rode Amtrak Cascades in 2019 compared to 172,000 in 2020 and 250,000 in 2021, due to the pandemic. Farebox recovery, the amount of operations funding provided by ticket revenues, was 63% in 2019 but dropped to 21.7% in 2020 and 40% in 2021, due to restricted travel. More detailed information is available in the annual Cascades  performance reports

Corridor management 

The Amtrak Cascades corridor is 467 miles long: 300 miles in Washington, 134 miles in Oregon, and 33 miles in British Columbia. Operating Amtrak Cascades trains requires functional partnerships between Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Amtrak, four railroads, international customs and border control agencies and a train manufacturer:

  • WSDOT and ODOT sponsor and pay for the service.
  • Amtrak operates the service via a contract with each state.
  • BNSF Railway, Union Pacific and Sound Transit own the sections of tracks used by Amtrak Cascades trains.
  • BNSF dispatches the Amtrak Cascades trains in Washington; Union Pacific dispatches trains in Oregon; Canadian National provides dispatching in British Columbia.
  • Trainset manufacturer Talgo and Amtrak maintain the train equipment

Business model

Under the PRIIA 209 legislation, the states of Washington and Oregon now fully fund the remaining operating costs of the Amtrak Cascades rail service not covered by ticket revenue. No ongoing federal funding is available. WSDOT has defined four core focus areas for the Amtrak Cascades business model used for investments and future planning:

  • Improve customer service
  • Reduce costs
  • Increase revenue
  • Reduce taxpayer subsidies

Food and beverage product placement

If you are interested in placing your Pacific Northwest food or beverage on the Amtrak Cascades Bistro car menu, please review our placement process (PDF 398KB). Contact rail@wsdot.wa.gov or 360-705-7900 for application information.

Faster U.S./Canada border crossing with pre-clearance

WSDOT is working with Amtrak as well as British Columbia, and United States and Canadian 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 corridor north of Seattle.

Train equipment

Amtrak Cascades runs a combination train equipment:

  • WSDOT owns the locomotives; eight state-of-the-art Siemens Charger locomotives.
  • WSDOT and ODOT lease Amtrak Horizon trainsets.
  • ODOT owns two train sets; Talgo Series 8 European trainsets .

WSDOT took delivery of eight Siemens Charger locomotives in 2017. The locomotives are powered by 16-cylinder, 4,400 horsepower Cummins engines. The new locomotives offer the strictest Environmental Protection Agency Tier-IV emission rates, as well as higher acceleration rates and top speeds than the equipment they replaced.

The two Talgo 8 Series Amtrak Cascades trainsets seat approximately 250 passengers and consist of 13 train cars, including: one baggage car, two business class (first-class) coaches, seven standard coaches, one bistro (cafe) car, one lounge car, and one service car that provides onboard electricity for the train.

Talgo passenger cars have comfortable seats, ADA accessible cars and restrooms, and onboard Wi-Fi. The bistro and lounge cars provide additional amenities.

The Horizon equipment is interim and will remain in service on the Amtrak Cascades route until new trains are manufactured and delivered starting in the 2025-26 time period. These new trainsets will be acquired as part of Amtrak's national contract. The new Cascades trainsets will be the first off the Siemens assembly line and will be similar to the Venture trains in service elsewhere in the country.

December 2017 derailment

Amtrak Cascades train 501 derailed on Dec. 18, 2017 in DuPont, Washington. It was the inaugural trip on the new Point Defiance Bypass, an inland route rebuilt to allow for more frequent service between Seattle and Portland, with less travel time and more on-time reliability.

The derailment occurred on a railroad bridge directly over I-5 and sections of the derailed train came to rest on the highway. I-5 was initially closed in both directions; however, lanes in the northbound direction were reopened that day, while lanes in the southbound direction were closed for several days pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and removal of the train equipment.

Three passengers lost their lives in the derailment and some 70 were injured and transported to local hospitals. Train service reverted to the previous route along the waterfront between Tacoma and Steilacoom.

WSDOT, Amtrak, Pierce County and the Washington State Patrol presented before the House Transportation Committee on January 10, 2018. Information shared with the legislators included the following:

Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar halted service on the Bypass until two milestones were reached: (1) positive train control was activated in the corridor and (2) the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) completed its investigation. Positive train control was fully activated on the entire Amtrak Cascades corridor, including the Point Defiance Bypass, by the December 31, 2018 federal deadline. The NTSB investigation was completed, and final recommendations were presented on May 21, 2019.

The NTSB investigation abstract is available online – including the May 2019 announced probable cause and recommendations. Previously released information about the accident investigation is available on the NTSB derailment webpage and investigation docket.

Sound Transit, as owner of the railroad tracks where the derailment occurred, conducted an independent safety analysis based on the NTSB investigation recommendations. That analysis led to several changes in Sound Transit’s safety protocols and determined activities related to a return of passenger rail service to the Point Defiance Bypass. Amtrak, as operator of the trains, implemented stricter safety standards for all its operations nationwide. WSDOT and Amtrak retired all their Talgo Series 6 trainsets from service.

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