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.
We work 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.
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.
PRIIA 209, a federal act eliminating federal funding for state-supported trains, became effective Oct. 1, 2013, requiring states to absorb more costs. Early estimates indicate operating costs will escalate. By working to reduce costs and increase revenues, WSDOT will reduce the financial impacts to the service.
The Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) runs from Vancouver, B.C., to Eugene, Oregon. We are working with corridor partners to develop agreements to manage the service using a corridor approach, rather than WSDOT managing Washington's portion, British Columbia managing the Canadian portion, and ODOT managing Oregon's portion. WSDOT and ODOT have signed an agreement that 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 are developing new federally-funded state rail plans. These plans will look at freight and passenger rail systems at a policy level. Working as a partnership with plan developers will provide opportunities to reduce costs and produce better end products.
Improvement of Service Disruptions
From December through February (the worst of the rainy season), landslides may disrupt the Amtrak Cascades service north of Seattle, and passengers may have to travel part of their trip on an Amtrak-provided motorcoach. 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 2012, 55 trains were canceled due to landslides.
We are 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 our 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 States-Canada Beyond the Border Action Plan, we are 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 and shaves 10 minutes off our 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. We are 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 to gather information from 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 154 kb) 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 will help us shape our action plan for next year.
Want to ride the train? Visit www.amtrakcascades.com/ to plan a trip, view schedules, and make a reservation. For fares and reservations, you can also call 1-800-USA-Rail.