All Aboard Washington (AAWA), newsletter for February/March 2012:
John Sibold, Rail Director for WSDOT, spoke to AAWA at their mid-December meeting. He said that WSDOT is striving to attract more passengers, and to do that the trains must run on time and provide good customer service. His office works closely with BNSF and Amtrak, and expects an explanation whenever there are problems with Cascades operations. He said that crews are expected to be pleasant and accommodating to passengers, and should keep them informed on events that affect their trips. WSDOT is communicating with BNSF regarding their 48-hour rule that bars restoration of service following a mudslide.
New projects are underway to improve passenger ride comfort on the Cascades. it is hoped that this work will relieve both short and long-term slow orders that delay trains. The scopes of these projects are between the Canadian border and Everett, and between Nisqually and the Columbia River.
Construction is imminent for new storage tracks at Delta Yard in Everett. Tracks are often blocked now, causing problems for both freight and passenger trains.
Restoration of Seattle's King Street Station continues. New Amtrak ticketing and baggage facilities will soon be open on the north side of the building. A temporary waiting room will also open while the existing one is renovated. Completion should come around Spring 2013. Track improvements around King Street Station will upgrade and reconfigure the westerly tracks used by Amtrak.
The Point Defiance Bypass received over $89 million in federal funding. Besides having Amtrak and Sounder (upon extension to Lakewood) trains take a shorter route, Amtrak would also move to a new facility at Freighthouse Square. Improved on-time performance would also allow for more frequent Cascades service.
A third main track is going to be built between Kelso and Longview Junction, a project that also includes a new bridge over the Coweeman River.
A 2-1/2 mile bypass track will be built in the Vancouver, WA area to increase reliability and on-time performance. The bypass will serve trains using the BNSF Columbia Gorge line.
Empire Builder ridership dipped 12.1% for the calendar year 2011, when compared to 2010. This can be mostly attributed to flooding in North Dakota that curtailed through service and caused the Builder to operate as two stub trains for a while. Also the line's 8th busiest stop, Minot, was closed from late June to mid-November because of flood damage to the station.
The Cascades set another ridership record in 2011 despite one of its worst mudslide seasons on record. Ridership still rose 1.1%, much of it in Oregon between Portand and Eugene where there were not as many mudslides.
Coast Starlight ridership was down 4% from 2010 to 2011. Trackwork detours in California as well as the above mudslide issues in Washington contributed to the downturn.