Washington state rolling along on high-speed rail

The Portland-Seattle-Vancouver passenger-rail corridor isn't as far along as a few parts of the country, but the progress continues.

An Amtrak train arrives in Bellingham (2008).

An Amtrak train arrives in Bellingham (2008). Sue Frause/Crosscut Flickr group

High-speed rail has become a whipping-boy for congressional Republicans intent on picking away at what they perceive as federal spending run amok, but Washington state, which boasts one of the nation's oldest state passenger-rail programs, appears poised to survive this downturn in passenger rail's political fortunes.

"I'm enthusiastic" is the pithy assessment of Andrew Wood, deputy director for operations at the Rail and Marine Office at the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The threats faced by passenger rail include congressional Republicans' threat to rescind billions in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds already appropriated for high-speed rail (HSR) projects, and the likelihood that Republican control of the House will lead the incoming Congress to shut off most of the HSR spigots. Adding spice to the situation are the possibility that up to three states will refuse to accept billions in HSR funds already awarded to them, and a looming federal requirement that states pay a greater share of subsidies for shorter-distance “corridor” trains — such as those now partially sponsored by WSDOT in the so-called Pacific Northwest corridor, which runs from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C.

HSR seems to have escaped being tossed into the initial deal on tax cuts between congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama, but HSR's congressional backers still have plenty of row to hoe.

Passenger rail's prospects in Washington thus look generally good, however, even as the troubling winds swirl overhead. Within state government, Washington's program is relatively well-protected because it is funded by a dedicated revenue stream from automobile licensing fees and rental-car taxes. Other public-transportation providers, including Washington State Ferries and local transit systems, share the dedicated funding. The legislature may soon find it necessary to slash all manner of spending in the general fund to balance the upcoming state budget, but, in Wood's words, “that doesn't necessarily affect us.”

By contrast, many if not most of the other 14 states with passenger rail programs have to go to their legislatures for general-fund outlays. Other states have simply hopped on the Obama administration's HSR bandwagon without any experience in running trains.

Congressional rescission of already-appropriated HSR funds poses the nearest-term threat. “The move would face some challenges”, says Justin Harclerode, Republican communications director for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which oversees rail programs. It would probably hit a wall in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and even if it got through to the president's desk, would face an almost certain veto there.

Beyond rescission of already-appropriated funds, however, the plot thickens further. The agency administering the HSR dollars, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), has been handing out the cash at a snail's pace. At present, of the $8 billion in the original round of HSR funding, the FRA as of Dec. 3 had "obligated" just over 20 percent — that is, committed it contractually to the recipient states. In the opinion of Ray Chambers, a transportation fellow for Seattle-based Cascadia Center for Regional Development who works primarily in the other Washington, Congress cannot claw that money back, since it belongs to the states. Harclerode views the possibility as "difficult." Still, the Beltway insider website innobriefs.com says that "congressional GOP aides are reported to be reviewing agency records to identify particular stimulus-funded projects that could still be 'reasonably' killed because work on them is only beginning."

Far more vulnerable to rescission are the billions already awarded — promised — to the recipients, but not yet obligated. And it is that category in which every penny of Washington state's federal HSR money is languishing. Chambers sees such a rescission as "unlikely," but nonetheless a palpable threat. "There’s clearly going to be an effort by the House Republicans to roll all unobligated ARRA funding into deficit reduction. There's a lot of momentum from the Tea Party, and rail is right in the crosshairs." Still, he adds, "The Patty Murrays of the world don’t want to see that happen."


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

two extra notes regarding hsr

All the proposed upgrades to the pacific northwest rail plan amounts to $3 billion, which is tiny compared to road spending.

Also, despite higher readership here, Florida got more stimulus money for hsr. Florida also happens to be a swing state. Coincidence?

A few answers for wilbur
After those 3 billion are spent, we will have hourly trains to Portland, taking 2.5 hours getting there (currently 3.25, 3 by 2012), and 4 daily trains each direction to Vancouver, I believe taking 3 hours to get there. I don't who which of those projects the stimulus went to.

Natehc

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

The more we expand trains in this corridor, the less push there will be for more/expanded airports in each city along the line, and the less push there will be for road widenings. Rail is an excellent deal. And the current trains are often completely full.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Natehc,

Florida also has a high tourism aspect that is the typical selling point for Tampa <-> Orlando (and sometimes <-> Miami). Having grown up there I don't honestly see it working. It's definitely not as well accepted part of the culture as it is here.

This area essentially already has the system in place, it just needs the technological upgrades. Rail also makes sense for the region since most of the population is located along one linear corridor along I-5 from Vancouver down to Eugene. Later it could be expanded but it just seems like a sound investment since the existing rail service already has comparatively good ridership relative to other portions of the country such as the midwest and deep south.

planetes

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

I love train travel, and would like very much to visit Vancouver (BC) via rail. However, the 2 daily runs that the train makes from Seattle to Vancouver are at what I consider to be inconvenient times (i.e., starting really early in the morning or late in the afternoon). Amtrak also lists other departure times, but these involve bus travel rather than trains. Until Amtrak can get its act together on this, I'll have to continue making my Vancouver trips via automobile. Could this scheduling problem be one of the reasons that these trains are running at only half their capacity?

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

http://www.echinacities.com/biz-china/business-topics/chinese-academy-of-sciences-high-speed-rail-construction-201.html

"Some local media have reported recently that the recently enabled Wuhan - Guangzhou high-speed rail is currently running an average daily attendance of less than half capacity, while the newly opened Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed rail attendance is even lower. The main reason for the high-speed rail low attendance is that fares are too high; the high-speed railway ticket prices are usually double or higher than normal train fares.

"The report submitted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China's high-speed rail construction has caused debt that has already reached unsustainable levels; particularly since the end of 2008, the government introduced a stimulus plan to fight the global economic crisis and the size of local government borrowing is already very high"

Why high-speed rail? What is the point? This is just another terrible waste of tax revenues.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group recently released a report on HSR called “A Track Record of Success detailing how HSR has provided economic benefits around the world and what the US needs to do – it’s online at http://www.washpirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/more-reports/more-reports/a-track-record-for-success-high-speed-rail-around-the-world-and-its-promise-for-america

WashPIRG has also focused on what this means for the PNW – including recent allocations for Amtrak’s Cascade Corridor (http://www.washpirg.org/news-releases/transportation-solutions/transportation-news/new-washpirg-study-high-speed-rail-can-boost-economy-reduce-traffic).

We think that Gov. Gregoire, WSDOT and the Legislature should jump all over any HSR funding that other states don’t want and use it to its fullest advantage.

We know these kinds of projects are great long-term investments, especially during tough economic times. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Grand Coulee Dam was the cornerstone of economic development during the mid-20th century; it cost $2.5 billion in today’s dollars when it was built in the 1930’s. For a fraction of the cost of the Grand Coulee Dam, we could develop a high-speed rail system that would be an equally powerful economic force.

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tech-transport/plane-train-automobile-travel.html

"Long Distance Bus Travel Beats the Train

"Taking the bus for long distances was consistently the lowest emissions of all public transit methods. (This isn't the case for inner city travel, but hold that thought for a moment.) From New York to San Francisco, St Louis or Washington DC the emissions are about 1.7 times those of packing the Prius to the maximum. A trip from NYC to San Francisco would emit 520 lbs of CO2.

"Trains Much Better Than Flying Though

"Roughly equal in emissions are either taking the train or driving all by yourself in a car with high fuel economy. Either way, this is about 4 times the emissions of sharing that car (duh! only one person's in it...) or somewhere between 2.25 and 2.5 times the emissions of taking the bus. From New York to San Francisco, you're emitting about 1,220 lbs of CO2 on the train."

Taking a bus on distances over 20 miles is less polluting than taking a train. I suspect high-speed rail is even less energy-efficient than the trains that are currently operating.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124528126290225307.html

New, Improved Bus Service taking passengers away from trains.

"In April, Greyhound Lines Inc., which is based in Dallas, launched 102 new "motorcoaches" in the Northeast featuring leather seats, additional legroom, Wi-Fi access and power outlets in every row."

"The new breed of buses also has a cleaner, more-luxurious feel -- whether it's cupholders at seats, spiffier bathrooms or tables that allow commuters to spread out and get some work done on the ride. "The amenities were created to attract those who might not have otherwise considered bus travel," says Greyhound's Ms. Plaskett."

"When Rachel Snyder, 25, moved to New York from Washington, D.C., four years ago, she took Amtrak for weekend visits to her family the first year, but grew tired of paying more than $100 round-trip. Then, about a year ago, she came across BoltBus.

"It's always clean, always on time," says Ms. Snyder, who works in artist relations at an entertainment company. She says she particularly likes being able to check email and the Web on her laptop if she's traveling on a workday. The most she has ever paid for a one-way ticket is $22. But she has also bought tickets for as little as a dollar, when ordered far enough in advance. "I don't do Amtrak anymore," she says.

The Seattle-Vancouver, and Seattle-Portland corridors are perfect for this improved bus service, which actually makes a profit, and requires no tax subsidies to operate. This is what we should be encouraging -- not billion-dollar boondoggles like high-speed rail, which require never-ending tax subsidies for operations, and gigantice up-front capital costs, paid by taxpayers.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Buses should be an ingredient too. They can connect the bigger cities to smaller towns, and places away from the main corridor. A good bus system and a good train system can be symbiotic by feeding passengers to each other.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Train to Portland and back is nice for afternoon business meeting in Portland -- if it leaves on time. The train that was to leave Seattle at 0730 on Dec 2, 2010 was 1 hour and 34 minutes late leaving, putting many of us with business meetings (eg, court, depositions, etc) scrambling for a way to get to Portland on time.

WA State's web page here:

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Rail/AmtrakCascades

suggests that rail is not a high priority, given this very outdated graph:

"How will WSDOT improve Amtrak Cascades in 2007?
WSDOT will work with the BNSF Railway Company and Amtrak to improve Amtrak Cascades on-time performance throughout 2007. Ensuring that the trains stay on schedule is very important to WSDOT, the Governor, and Amtrak Cascades passengers."

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

A lot of the improvements that have happened or will happen are associated with being on-time....new sidings, grade separations, etc. (The same improvements also benefit Sounder and freight.)

I use it for business trips too. My company's offices are a mile or so from the station in Seattle and Portland.

When traveling with co-workers, I've gone by car and plane too. Maybe I've been lucky with Amtrak but it's always been on-time...much more on-time than car or plane, both of which get delayed frequently.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

What is the current and anticipated average and peak speed of the HSR?
What is the current and anticipated ridership of the rail?
How much per rider will taxpayers be forced to subsidize?
How will the increasing noise from antique metal rail technology affect the cost structure of rail.

Taxpayers are being forced to subsidize an archaic inflexible system. It would have made better economic sense to fund a new permanent maglev www.levx.com type system that would allow better route flexibility (up to 45% inclines, sharper curves), much quieter operations, less energy usage, and lower operation costs.

Haven't we already spent $300 million on the 'high speed rail' just to increase the average speed 4 mph?

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, how can you say bus service requires no subsidy? Did our massive freeway system just drop down from some auto heaven? Our petroleum industry is massively subsidized.

HSR works rather well in the rest of the world, and it is being expanded everywhere but in the USA.

Also, most (all?) HSR systems are run on electricity. Most of our electricity around here comes from hydro power, which has zero carbon emission. Electric train beats bus.

Also, as any computer geek will tell you, bus systems don't scale well. At some point the labor and maintenance costs of a bus system are much more than rail. This is why every other developed country has a spine of HSR, supported by air travel, normal rail, buses and auto highways.

andy

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, read this article:

http://www.grist.org/article/2010-10-21-william-lind-makes-the-conservative-case-for-public-transit-but-/

Lind is a rare example of a conservative critical thinker. You could learn much from him, grasshopper.

andy

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Good points Andy.

randydutton, the upgrades have been to enable additional service, improve reliability, and allow freight, commuter rail, and Amtrak to operate on the same corridors, while also reducing road backups by eliminating crossings. The slight speed increase is one of several goals of the upgrades.

True high speed rail is a great idea, for the future. What's happening now is that our well-used regular-speed trains are getting improved service that also significantly helps other transportation modes.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 12:38 p.m. Inappropriate

For cryin out loud. So-called "true" high-speed rail is overkill and its high cost will indeed 'kill' HSR in the USA - California, LA/LV, everywhere. Bi-partisan lust for gold-plated Cadillacs makes me sick. Perhaps republican representatives Mica indeed plans to kill HSR except in his own state?

The Amtrak Cascades 80% ridership proves modest-speed passenger rail systems are viable. The Talgo-type non-electrified system works fine, thank you. If it ain't baroque, don't fixit, losers. Improvements can be limited to basic rail upgrades, welded rail, grade separation for safety, side track, station area development, etc, and are most applicable to freight rail and doubly productive.

Check out this Talgo XXI promotional video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az6vux4i86A

Wells

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

I provide public information for WSDOT's Passenger Rail Program and hope that you will visit our website highlighting the latest information about the work we're doing to increase the frequency and reliability of Amtrak Cascades between Seattle and Portland. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Funding/stimulus/passengerrail.htm

I also appreciate learning from these comments where I need to update and fill in our information gaps.

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I've not taken the Seattle-Vancouver BC ride.

Does the train go all the way from Seattle to Vancouver BC, or is there some connection to a bus or another train near the border?

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 1:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Wells, I partially agree with you. It seems the definition of HSR in USA in 110mph, which is modest-speed in the rest of the world. I would be happy with a 110mph talgo here and I think that would serve us very well. I believe that is the plan, and if we want to call that HSR and get HSR funding that is fine.

The true HSR San Fran <-> L.A. system would make sense to me, though. The tricky part is somehow de-subsidizing the highway auto system and airlines so the rail can compete on a level playing field.

andy

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

In our I-5 corridor, the main trip is Seattle-Portland, and the need there is for a good, solid, reliable 2-hour trip, which can be achieved with a 110-mph system. Faster than than 110 gets you diminishing marginal returns. The 2-hour trip to Portland beats driving and flying (when you include time in airports, and getting to/from the airports).

Oh, and Lincoln, HSR competes mainly with air travel, not intercity buses. Greyhound will be forever limited in speed, no matter how many tax dollars are spent upgrading I-5. And riding in a full Greyhound is similar to riding in a full Prius (or a full airplane) -- something to avoid if you can.

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Portland to Vancouver BC is the low hanging fruit of high speed rail, like New York to DC. I'm waiting to see how this transit model plays out in the context of, say, Chicago to Dallas or even Spokane to Missoula.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

The common definition of HSR is 200+mph, Andy. Promoters never mention average speed, which for the LA-SF run will supposedly average 170mph over the 255 miles between LA and Fresno, with 5 stops in between.

The average speed between Portland-Seattle currently is about 45mph on the 150 mile trip with its 6 stops in between. I've been on the trip dozens of times and never cared about it being too slow. Being on-time is more important.

Wells

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 4:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Kilgore, the train goes all the way to Vancouver, though the wait at the border is pretty rediculous.

R, I find the 3.5 hour trip a pretty good deal too. The duration isn't that different from driving or flying if you're traveling between the downtowns. And you can walk around. Hell, a few weeks ago I wandered to the dining car and grabbed a beer to take back to my seat...a nice surprise. Higher speeds should be a goal but aren't necessary to make the system succeed, as it already has.

mhays

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 4:44 p.m. Inappropriate

In the United States, high-speed rail is defined as having a speed above 110 mph (180 km/h) by the United States Federal Railroad Administration

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail#Definition_of_high-speed_rail

I've been on the Portland-Seattle run about 10 times. I agree that delays are very frustrating, but speed is important to many people, especially business travelers. If the train is the fastest way to go, it will have a huge advantage over auto or air.

Drinking a bloody mary in the bar car is, of course, the most important advantage over auto or bus travel! The Sounder needs a bar car...

andy

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

I just hope we get something usable in place, low, moderate or "high' speed. The cheap oil's gonna disappear...soon.

Besides all the many efficiencies of scale that trains have over buses, they are just way more attractive to travel on in numerous ways, as several commenters note. No one has ever made a TV series called "Great Bus Journeys."

Posted Wed, Dec 8, 11:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Who cares if some people feel that trains are "more attractive to travel on than buses"? What does that have to do with anything? If you are willing to pay the full cost of taking a train, without any tax subsidies, then go ahead. You won't need any tax revenues for that. Just have a private company start up a passenger train service.

There are new private bus companies that need no tax subsidies -- in fact they PAY taxes (gas tax, tire tax, license fees, etc.). Tax subsidies for passenger trains are just stupid. There are plenty of ways to get from Seattle to Portland, Vancouver, B.C., etc. without huge public subsidies.

And highways are paid for with gas taxes.

Take the bus. If you don't like buses, rent a car or a limo. Pay your own way.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 6:35 a.m. Inappropriate

There seems to be some confusion by Lincoln and other anti-train commenters.

The reason WSDOT is investing in passenger rail is to reduce the cost of their primary mission- meeting our transportation needs, now and in the future.

So, Lincoln, if you think WSDOT is wrong about all of this, I suggest you get in touch with them and explain all your ideas about highways being paid for by the gasoline tax and so forth. Every project they do has a public comment process, and I'm sure you'll find many other people who share your opinions.

It's not as though you're the only one who has ever thought about these matters.

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, sometimes I don't understand how your mind works! You just got done describing this nice new attractive bus service and how people love it since it has leather seats, and now you say: "Who cares if some people feel that trains are "more attractive to travel on than buses"? What does that have to do with anything?" At least be consistent in the same comment thread.

Also, did you do your homework and read the Lind article?

http://www.grist.org/article/2010-10-21-william-lind-makes-the-conservative-case-for-public-transit-but-/

He is a fellow conservative, so I thought you could relate to him. Lind does a very good job of explaining how highways are subsidized much more than rail travel.

Also, learn your history. The freeway system was built with money from the defense budget (from the general fund). Also, the highway trust fund is bankrupt and has been bailed out from the general fund for the last few years.

andy

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

175 miles at 10 mpg = 17.50 Gallons. 17.5 X $4.00 Per Gallon = $70

175 miles at 20 mpg = 8.75 Gallons. 8.75 X $4.00 Per Gallon = $35

Now divide the above one-way numbers by how many folks are in your traveling party. Now, compare that price per person with the train.

Google Maps tells me that it will take just under 3 hours to go from Seattle to Portland by car and 3 and 1/2 hours by train.

When the Train saves me time, maybe then I'll be interested in paying for the convenience. When gas hit's $6.50 a gallon and the train saves me money, maybe then I'll be willing to sacrifice the time.

Until then, the train will be for folks who can't drive that far (no car, no license, too old etc.) and/or just really don't care how long it takes but think it might be fun to take a choo-choo train.

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

That would make so much sense if gas was the only cost of driving. To say nothing of the costs of owning a car.

mhays

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Mhays - sorry, we live in an automobile based society. This is not going to change. If you want to zipcar your way through life, that's great. Some of us don't work M-F 9-5. We have weird hours and we have children and spouses and significant others - we're dating and looking for them.

If you want to add the wear on the tires and the oil and wiper fluid to the costs above - go for it. If you want to add in that days car insurance, be my guest. Good luck making it pencil out when you add a passenger or two to the car in the above equation. Good Luck making it pencil out if you're not driving a Hummer - towing a boat.

My point is simple - if the goal of any rail project, high speed or otherwise, is to provide a real alternative to the automobile, then it needs either be less expensive or more convenient. Currently, Amtrak isn't even close between Seattle and Portland unless, like our one lucky poster, you work or live withing walking distance of both stations. If the goal is to get people out of cars and planes between Seattle and Portland, then you'll have to provide an option that people like me will use or at least consider.

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 12:37 p.m. Inappropriate

So why are the trains full, to the point that you can't always get a ticket?

mhays

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Becuase there's not enough demand to justify enough trains. There are enough folks without cars due to various reasons to fill the few trains that run. How many folks a day are actually making the trip by train - 2,000? Does this really impact the traffic congestion? Are these folks who would have otherwise driven? Look, I like the idea of High Speed Rail. It's just that whenever I read one of these stories, the "High Speed Rail" that's promised sometime in the future (maybe) turns into upgrades to the existing system that will shave off a few minutes. Yawn.

I'm a big, fat lazy American, Dammit! If you want to save the planet and make the trains really work as an option, you have to get folks like me on the darn things. If you want to get me to consider taking my next trip to Portland by train, you have to make it make sense. I have a car. I am not interested in life without one. The train, then, has to compete with my car for my business. The train has to save me a significant amount of time, money or hassle in order to be a viable option. Until it does, you simply won't get us big, fat, lazy bastards to ride 'em.

Posted Thu, Dec 9, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/us/10rail.html?_r=2&hp;

Hooray!

"The other states that will get Ohio and Wisconsin’s money will be Washington, which will get up to $161 million; Illinois, which will get $42.3 million; and Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Vermont, which will all get less than $10 million."

Tea Party blunder is our gain! I am so glad I live in Washington. Martin and Lincoln, perhaps Ohio is more your kind of place?

andy

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

So days I think I'd like to see a transit strike, and an Amtrak/Cascades strike, so all these complainers can see for themselves what the world would be like with all that extra traffic on our roads and highways. Talk about a world-class traffic jam, that would be it.

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/transportation/high-speed-rail

Here is a great article on what a boondoggle high-speed rail is.

By the way, the Highway Trust Fund is not going bankrupt. Gas taxes pay for our highways, but for the past 20 years or so, they have been taking billions of dollars of the federal gas tax and using them on transit -- not roads. The recent transfer of several billion dollars from the general fund to the highway trust fund was to pay back money transferred from the highway trust fund to the general fund back in about 1998 -- that was a repayment of a loan, not a subsidy for highways.

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

R- the Amtrak/Cascades is not Transit. Metro is Transit. Sound Transit is Transit. Sounder is Transit. Our cute little light rail line is kinda like transit and if it ever grows up, it will be. But the Cascade? That's the point I'm trying to make - it's too slow, infrequent and not really cost effective anyway. You take it because you like to ride the train.

Today it was reported that a Chinese Train hit 300 mph. That's 35 minutes to Portland. Sure, there would be a few stops and the milk run trains would still take a bit longer, but now you would have something that could be part of a commute. Give me an express "commuter" train that get's me from downtown Seattle to Downtown Portland in 1 hr and you've got something. That's a half hour from Centralia and maybe 15 minutes from Tacoma. THAT would be transit. Get met from downtown Seattle to Downtown San Francisco in 4 hrs and now you REALLY have something.

I'm all for HIGH speed rail - I just didn't read about anything above that would qualify as anything close to HIGH speed.

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 11:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, martin7341, I agree with you. Where do we get the money, though?

andy

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

@martin7341 - Your calculations are incorrect. You like a lot of people assume your car only needs to be fed gas to run. I'm currently researching a very in depth article on business travel between Seattle and Portland. Using the IRS calculation for cost per mile driving will run you more than double what taking the train will. If you have two adults in the car it's very close to being the same price and draws equal if you have two adults and one child (children ride for half price on Amtrak). Only if you have 3 adults or more does driving become cheaper than the train.

As far as time the car wins if all conditions are perfect. Without traffic you will shave 30 minutes off the downtown to downtown times. If however you drive on any normal day the train and car are dead even. Again keep in mind that my research is not about car vs train but why 1300 people per day are flying to Portland and paying $200 rt. Flying downtown to downtown using the Link and Maxx (arriving at the airport 30 minutes before boarding) take exactly the same amount of time as the train (or car with normal traffic). The plane is the pure and simple loser in the equation. The car triumphs if you have 3 adults and traffic is good. The train wins for trips of two people or less and/or two people and a child.

The only time where the car truly wins the comparison is if your destination isn't downtown.

I'll be gathering random people next month to take the various trips and interview them for ease, comfort etc... My opinion again will be that flying loses out and the decision between car and train have to do with how many people are going and where their destination is but we'll see.

I will later be writing an article with a more family oriented scenario.

During my research I've also realized that the train schedules to Portland are actually very well laid out even allowing for daytripping. However, I think another two trains are needed to completely offer the same options as flying. With the Point defiance cutoff being done next year the average time a train takes to get to Portland will be identical to the average time a car takes to get to Portland (3:15). With other track improvements in the mix they'll shave another 30 minutes off the journey beating all other methods for speed in all circumstances. They also plan to double the number of trains a day since the current trains are running near capacity.

Reading "Waiting on a Train" I realized that for short 200 mi corridors like ours we don't need 200 mph trains. If we can get the Seattle to Portland or Seattle to Vancouver trips down to 2.5 hrs and the frequency is often enough the train will be by far the best way to get there. If those improvements don't happen it will still be equal to driving half the time.

I haven't even addressed the comfort issue or environmental impact aspects. I will be interviewing my subjects to get an idea how they liked their travel to Portland and back using the various methods. Again I expect that air travel will be the loser, train will be the most comfortable (40 inches of legroom and a cafe bar..) and the car is the most flexible but again we'll see. I've done both the car and train but not the flight so it will be interesting.

As far as your comments that we should have real high speed rail I hear you and I used to agree. Now I realize that if we don't have to have HSR for the train to be the best way to get to Portland.

And for anyone that says rail is always a money loser you might want to check out the TGV which is HSR and makes 1.6 Billion dollars a year in profit. It CAN be done. Airlines overall have never made a profit since inception. They have good years then they nearly go bankrupt. If it weren't for tax subsidized airports they'd not be able to afford to fly.

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Grant - thanks for the thoughtful response - I'll be looking forward to your article. I would like to make a couple of quick observations. First, my initial calculations of $4.00 per gallon at 10 MPG are intended to be a bit out there - most folks are going to do better by quite a bit on both accounts. My second set - at 20 mpg, still assumes gas at $1.00 more than it is right now. While I've gotten a bit of flack for the idea that there is more to operating a car than gas - I'd like to make a counterpoint. I have a car. If rail is going to work, it has to work in such a way that causes me to leave my car either at home or the station. Only so many tree-huggers/train lovers exist. I'm not going to make a car vs. train decision based on the tire or break pad wear. I'm not going to figure that taking the train will let me drive another week longer before changing my oil. I'm not going to save that day's insurance costs by taking the train. My car will still depreciate in the driveway at home (so I might as well use it, right?). The IRS cost per mile is about all of those things. As a fat, lazy American, I just don't care. I'm already in my car to drive to the station, why shouldn't I just keep on going?

The Bottom Line - Show me how the train is more convenient or quicker or cheaper than the car I'll have to leave behind.

Posted Fri, Dec 10, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

All of us 'rail fans' should listen carefully to Martin's comments. As a computer programmer, he reminds me of that user with the requests that we really don't want to hear because they are too difficult to implement, but deep down we know he is correct.

andy

Posted Mon, Dec 13, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

"why 1300 people per day are flying to Portland and paying $200 rt. "

When you look at these numbers remember that many folks fly to Portland on a ticket that is going somewhere else. ie, Portland is the layover stop on a flight to Atlanta, or Phoenix or L.A. Thus a train ride to the Portland Downtown, and then a transfer to the airport then a flight LA is not currently in these travelers best interest, either time or cost wise.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Feb 21, 4:53 p.m. Inappropriate

GaryP,
I thought about that but I don't believe you're correct. Why would someone buy a ticket from Seattle to Atlanta and that flight would take them on a propeller plane to Portland before boarding a jet to Atlanta? It probably wouldn't happen.

Posted Mon, Feb 21, 4:57 p.m. Inappropriate

martin7341,
This last month in my research I've been taking all forms of transit between Seattle and Portland. Before I started this article I though that it would be a toss up between flying and driving. What I found out from the numbers that it was a toss up between driving and taking the train. However, once I started doing field research I've found that the Cascades experience is so much nicer than driving back and forth that the two don't even compare even if they cost the same amount and take the same amount of time. This outcome I didn't predict. For my needs I need a couple more round trips a day to satisfy my personal needs with at least one late night train. At this point I wouldn't even consider driving to Portland as long as there was a train available unless I was going to the suburbs or I needed to carry a lot of gear back with me. I have a lot of work left to do before exhausting all options but I'll keep everyone posted.

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