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Passenger Train Operations

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 revenues. Information is also available regarding train safety.

Business Model

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 revenues, 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 revenues.
  • Reduce taxpayer subsidies.

Corridor Management   Amtrak Cascades travels through scenic Washington

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 have developed the Cascades Rail Corridor Management Workplan. This workplan will allow 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 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. In 2014, 58 trains were canceled and 116 trains were disrupted due to 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.

Amtrak Cascades Bistro and Lounge Car Revitalization

WSDOT worked with Amtrak and Talgo to renovate 11 Amtrak Cascades Bistro and Lounge cars. These heavily-used cars were showing wear and tear after more than a decade of daily use. Renovations to the Bistro and Lounge cars completed the series of interior upgrades on the entire fleet, which began in 2008. The cars received new floors, interior paint and re-upholstered leather seating. The interior color scheme retained the popular northwest character and matched the recently completed interior work in the Business and Coach Class cars.

Faster U.S./Canada Border Crossing with Pre-Clearance

As part of the United State-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 has been 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 will also include 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 will help ensure the most efficient use of equipment for the corridor and manage maintenance requirements to keep equipment running optimally.

Request for Information for Intercity Passenger Rail Service

Recent changes in federal law shifted responsibility for the cost of intercity passenger rail operations under 750 miles in length entirely to the states. Washington and Oregon are now responsible for the full operating cost of the Cascades Intercity Passenger Rail Service. This means the states incur additional costs, but it also allows the states to take a stronger, more active role in management of the service to control costs.

In recognition of the increased costs the state has absorbed for intercity passenger rail, the Legislature directed WSDOT to analyze the Amtrak operating agreement and find cost saving alternatives. WSDOT is identifying opportunities for cost reduction and developing priorities based on what will generate the best value relative to the resources required. Some cost management strategies are already underway or can be implemented in the coming year; others will be addressed in future agreements with Amtrak. As part of these efforts, WSDOT issued a Request for Information (pdf 132kb) to providers of rail services about service delivery options to provide more convenient, rapid and reliable intercity passenger rail service between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon. Thirteen respondents (pdf 154kb) provided information in response.  

The purpose of the RFI is for industry to explore ideas about strategies to manage costs and revenues for the Cascades Intercity Passenger Rail Service. These submittals are not proposals to deliver the service but will be used to identify potential improvements to the Cascades Intercity Passenger Rail Service that may be implemented in the future. No contract will be issued from any information provided as part of this RFI. Responses were due Wednesday, April 30. Information gleaned through respondent interviews helped WSDOT shape the 2015 Rail Division Action Plan (pdf 971kb) for next year.

View the Request for Information folio (pdf 1.2 mb).

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