August 18, 2011

Second train saved by Canadian government

cascadia center staff


The second Amtrak Cascades service to Vancouver, B.C., which could have ended in October if the Canadian government had decided to implement a previously proposed $1,500 inspection fee, received a reprieve when Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced after a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, his decision to permanently waive the proposed fee.

Cascadia had worked closely with the Washington Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) and All Aboard Washington in pointing to the strong ridership and great economic impact to B.C. from both trains. In July, at the PNWER Summit in Portland, we collectively pressed the case with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer. Canadian Consulate General Denis Stevens also deserves great credit for focusing Ottawa on the regional impact of the train.

Now the region can continue to press for "pre-clearance" of southbound passengers at the Pacific Central Station (to eliminate the 15-minute delay from the current double inspection at the station and at Blaine). We are counting on the new Beyond the Border Accord between Prime Minister Harper and President Obama for this reform.

Posted by cascadia center staff at 2:43 PM |
March 7, 2011

European Experience with Competitive Rail Operations

Bruce Chapman


By Heiner Bente and Ray Chambers

The Corridors: Best Practices from Around the World. Intercity American passenger rail service is not close to the standards of the other industrialized nations of the world. With growing population and congestion it is time take a new look at the way rail passenger service is operated in America. While America has slumbered for decades with its lax, government run passenger service, the rest of the world has been wide awake. The US is stuck with an inefficient uneconomic model that dates from the mid-20th Century. Meanwhile much of the rest of the world has introduced competition and private sector innovation into passenger railroading. For more than two decades international institutions, including the World Bank, vigorously pressed reforms that broke up bureaucratic and monopolistic state railroads, demanded competition for rail operations and promoted substantial infrastructure investment. The European Union followed suit. Perhaps we can learn something here.

Today, private railroads operate first class regional and high-speed service across Asia, including Australia and Japan. Britain, Sweden and Germany among others have successfully initiated controlled competition for passenger operations. In each country, these experiments in competitive passenger operations have resulted in new sleek equipment and increased ridership. Britain undertook the most extensive privatization. With new private operators, passenger traffic grew so fast it outpaced the independent infrastructure company. The infrastructure deficiency has since been corrected with creation of a new public-private hybrid organization called Network Rail. It is no coincidence that the country with the greatest commitment to private operators has had the fastest passenger growth in Europe. In Britain, between 1990 and 2005, traffic rose from about 9 billion passenger miles to 35 billion passenger miles.

To put it in perspective, the United States has a population of 300 million and Amtrak provides only about 24 million passenger trips annually. In Britain, with a population of 61 million, private contract operators manage 1.2 billion passenger trips a year.

The German Model. The German experience may provide the best reform template for the U.S. For years Deutsche Bahn (DB), the government-owned monopoly operation of intercity rail service, experienced unsustainable losses. In 1996 the DB monopoly over the regional German corridor lines was ended. The previous federal responsibility to determine and finance (i.e. subsidize) regional passenger rail services was spun out to state authorities. However, the states were protected financially in assuming the service. Financial resources were provided to the states for both infrastructure and operating subsidies.

Most importantly these state authorities were given the right to put long-term rail-services out for competitive tender. A number of smaller domestic and several large international railroads rushed into the market and were fairly successful in winning market shares from the incumbent. A federal oversight agency was established to set standards for operations, check safety requirements and set and enforce the rules of competition.

The resulting system has been a major success. Today there are 60 local and regional railway companies operating. Among them some companies have grown into significant competitors to DB. For years, about every second bidding process was won by DB's competitors. The state-owned DB, which in the meantime has also lost monopoly control of the long distance services, has reacted to the competitive pressure from market entrants and has restructured successfully to survive in the new competitive world.

Recently, a German federal court ruled that the legal right of authorities to put contracts out for tender is now a legal obligation. German state authorities in charge of contracting rail services expect a massive "wave" of bidding procedures in coming years

Across Germany's regions, private and state investment have sparked a significant increase in passenger traffic. For example, one new operator in the Rhineland-Westphalia started with 800 passengers a day. The average now is 16,000 passengers a day. On the NordWestBahn network there was a 70 percent traffic increase in one year following the takeover by a new operator. These numbers are not unusual. Across the board there has been a modernization of equipment. In 2002 more than 1,000 new rail cars were put into service on the regional lines. New investment volume for rolling stock alone amounts to 11 billion dollars. Many innovative services have been introduced: Internet access on regional trains; regional gourmet food services and taxi/rental cars as a part of the basic train ticket.

The US passenger rail debate is bogging down between advocates of huge government subsidies, on the one hand, and those who see no future role for passenger rail. A better approach, following the German example, would facilitate maximum competition and private investment to provide modern rail intercity service as one part of a national transportation program.

Heiner Bente is an internationally recognized expert in passenger rail restructuring. He was one of the architects of the German Model described in the above article. Mr. Bente is currently Chairman of the Advisory Board of Civity Management Consultants in Hamburg, Berlin. His email is

Ray Chambers is Senior Transportation Fellow of the Cascadia Center/Discovery Institute in Seattle. Mr. Chambers is also sole proprietor of RBC & Associates of Washington, D.C. where he serves several clients as a transportation policy advisor. His email is

(Photo: Sebastian Terfloth, Wiki Commons)

Posted by Bruce Chapman at 4:46 PM | | Comments ( 1 )
November 17, 2009

Eat Your Way Across Town On Light Rail

Matt Rosenberg

Transit News

Here's a one way to market light rail: highlighting the ethnic eats along the route. The new Gold Line in L.A. has mad culinary appeal. In Seattle, Sound Transit's new "Link" light rail line might also benefit from a promotional campaign highlighting adjacent dining and other neighborhood attractions. Just one of many points of interest: In between the Othello and Edmunds stops, and right across from the Link tracks at Graham Street, is Joy Palace, one of the region's best restaurants for Hong Kong style Chinese entrees, and the bite-sized savories and sweets known as dim sum. Take it from me, or Yelp fans of the place. In the same urban mall is a wondrous Asian supermarket, Viet Wah. Go there to buy shredded green papaya, Asian greens and fresh herbs, Asian fruits, fresh egg and rice noodles, fresh meats, fish and seafood, Chinese barbeque, Tibetan beer, and condiments galore. The mall also features Tony's Vietnamese deli, with tasty, budget-friendly hot take-out, and a traditional Chinese apothecary.

And you thought there was no such thing as a sexy bus. Launching in full Nov. 30 is Washington state's first "bus rapid transit" line, from Community Transit in Snohomish County. It'll ply the SR 99 corridor, going as far south as the Aurora Village Transit Center in north Seattle, where King County Metro buses continue on to other points in the city. No corridor length bus-only dedicated lanes, but many other BRT features. How about on board WiFi one day?

Another piece of the puzzle begins falling into place. New partners announce their intent to join with the Port of Seattle to buy and preserve for public use a strategic commuter rail and recreational trail corridor in high-growth Eastside suburban cities.

Across Puget Sound in Kitsap County, the Port of Kingston has pulled together $3.65 million, just $350K short of their estimated full nut, for four years of fast passenger-only ferry service to and from Seattle. Commissioners may opt for a used vessel.

Surface Transportation Funding

NYT reports that a growing tab and lower-than-expected sales tax revenues have left a $2.2 billion gap in Denver's planned light rail system, approved by voters in '04. Another tax vote is due. But sales tax hikes aren't the future of transportation funding; they're the past. A better way to fund roads and transit: congestion-based electronic tolls of express lanes on all a region's highways.

An old bridge across Lake Champlain between upstate New York and Vermont has been closed. It is considered too dangerous for traffic and beyond renovation. There is no money available at present to pay for replacement. There are 110 more bridges in New York state classified similarly, but yet to be closed, and many more moving toward that status. New York's plight is emblematic of deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure nationwide. Federal money alone won't be nearly enough. To repair, operate and maintain key roads and bridges; and to help fund carefully-vetted road extensions and widenings, plus transit system improvements, states and regions need RFID tolling of highway corridors now, public-private partnerships, and eventually charging for all miles driven by time, distance and place, as the gas tax is phased out. No more rowboats, OK?

Highways, streets bridges are like your house: there's a lot to do after the purchase, thanks to wear and tear, or growing usage. Congressional Budget Office Director and Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin - now at Brookings - says regions must employ robust road user fees such as congestion pricing on highways and eventually a vehicle mileage tax.

A Brussels-based satellite navigation expert tells a Portsmouth, U.K. transportation technology symposium that taxing drivers by miles traveled rather than fuel purchased would have a major green upside. Developed nations should explore the policy further at Copenhagen talks.

The Dutch are aiming to implement wide area pricing, also known as a "vehicle mileage tax," by 2012. This approach typically includes on-board units in vehicles, and is likely coming to U.S. within 10-15 years. Washington state and Oregon have already completed key field tests. The University of Iowa is conducting a 12-region, federally-funded field test. Major funding for more R&D, and advanced testing of the concept is likely in the next federal surface transportation bill. If, as is possible, the long term approach adopted by U.S. policymakers is to package wide area pricing with the phase-out of the ineffective per gallon gas tax and the phase in of mileage based consumer incentives such as pay-per-mile car insurance, then the controversial strategy could be a somewhat easier sell.

An international conference on road pricing was held last week in Toronto, on the heels of an OECD report that the region loses $2.7 billion a year in productivity and consumers pay an extra $3.3 billion annualy due to traffic gridlock. The regional transportation board will closely consider expanding electronic (variable-rate) express lane tolling on the region's highways to help pay for $40 billion in transit and road improvements needed over next 25 years.

China's Electric Vehicle Challenge

"China Confronts Global Warming Dilemma," the Christian Science Monitor reports. If China is not a full partner, global action on greenhouse gas emissions will be ineffective. It's already the world's largest emitter and per-capita rates will grow with increasing urbanization. The state-owned power sector is reliant on cheap coal, and projections are for an increase in vehicles from 65 million now to 300 million by 2030. A carbon tax to drive faster adoption of renewable energy sources would help, as would ramp-up for widespread electric vehicle infrastructure.

Auto sales are already hitting a record pace in China as the huge nation's economy continues to grow. Some key players in China are trying to help gear up for electric vehicles. The source of electricity matters, but even with coal, there are significant emission reductions on a per-vehicle basis when electrics replace fossil-fuel-powered. Air pollution and public health are additional reasons for developed and developing nations to move beyond oil and coal. The worst form of air pollution, particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), is at heinous daily levels in urban China; 750,000 people there die prematurely each year from fouled air. James Fallows, in The Atlantic.

The "X" Files

NYT: apparently there are limits to communitarianism, even in Paris, and under a genuine Socialist mayor. Nearly 80 percent of the 20,600 Velib public rental-bikes put into circulation there have been stolen or vandalized. They cost $3,500 each. Sheesh. France a civil society?

Iranian president Ahmedinejad wants to unleash his mojo on Tehran's traffic jams. Remember, Mahmoud: more carrot, less stick.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:26 AM | | Comments ( 1 )
October 30, 2009

Weighing The Future Of High Speed Rail In America

Ken Orski

It's a familiar Washington scenario: a major new federal grant program is launched and soon a brand new constituency is born with an army of supplicants and lobbyists eager to secure a piece of the action. The Administration's high speed rail initiative has been no exception. It has spawned a large and enthusiastic following. Two regional coalitions -- the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition (IL, WI, IO, MN, MS, MI,IN, OH) and the Western High-Speed Rail Alliance (AZ, CO, NV, UT)-- have entered the competition, supported by the umbrella States for Passenger Rail Coalition headed by Frank Busalacchi, Secretary of Wisconsin DOT. Also in the running are several statewide rail corridors including California, the sole state with a tangible high-speed rail project, having secured voters' approval for a $10 billion bond measure. Cheering on the sidelines is the newly formed One Rail Coalition which includes many of the established rail-oriented lobbies such as the Associations of American Railroads (AAR), the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Railway Supply Institute.

Other members of the new constituency include foreign high-speed rail operators and equipment manufacturers; the domestic engineering and construction industries which are eyeing the program as a potential source of hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts; the green lobby; and just plain old railroad enthusiasts. They were all in evidence at the September 22-23 conference of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association-- a new membership organization established specifically to "advocate, educate and support the development of a state-of-the-art national high speed rail network across America."

What brought these disparate interests together was the lure of big money.

Continue reading " Weighing The Future Of High Speed Rail In America " »

Posted by Ken Orski at 7:29 AM | | Comments ( 4 )
August 19, 2009

Second Daily Seattle-Vancouver Passenger Train Starts Today

Matt Rosenberg

On Oregon Public Broadcasting this morning Tom Banse reported about the long-awaited second daily train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., which begins service today.

Tom Banse: ...(It) makes its inaugural run Wednesday evening, starting from Portland. The president of the Clipper Vacations company, Darrell Bryan, books many customers on the route. He plans to board the run in Seattle. Bryan says the additional train to British Columbia will give travelers more flexibility.

Darrell Bryan: "It's a much needed service. As you know, the congestion on I-5 is terrible; the issues at the border with long waits. With this, (comes) the ease and convenience of crossing the border and clearing once you arrive in Vancouver."

Tom Banse: Amtrak was ready to start the second cross-border train a year ago. The service expansion was held up until the Canadian government relented on a demand for an expensive border-crossing inspection fee. The Canadians have waived the fee until after the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The cross-border Amtrak service will be reevaluated by both countries after that.

The service expansion also means that Portland will now for the first time enjoy same day Amtrak service to Vancouver, B.C., as The Oregonian reports. Our Cascadia Center - particularly our Director Bruce Agnew - and corridor allies have championed expanded Northwest corridor passenger rail travel, including the second daily train to Vancouver. Northwest passenger rail expansion garnered the spotlight from Vancouver B.C., to Portland during Cascadia Rail Week, in May. Cascadia Center is organizing a delegation of train supporters to take Amtrak Cascades to Vancouver, B.C. this evening. Other participants include representatives of Amtrak, WSDOT and tourism representatives from Washington state and the province of British Columbia. The inaugural ride will depart Seattle's King Street Station on the Amtrak Cascades #516 at 6:50pm. This train departs Everett at 7:42 pm, Bellingham at 8:45 and arrives in Vancouver, BC at 10:45 pm.

Tomorrow, August 20, Cascadia and The Pacific Northwest Economic Region will convene a special meeting of regional business, political and non-profit leaders in Vancouver to discuss policy and marketing issues related to the expanded Seattle-Vancouver passenger rail service. The meeting will focus on marketing of the new train service, border and rail policy, and a special event with the Honourable (Federal) Minister of Public Safety, Peter van Loan. His ministry's duties include Canada-U.S. cross border security. This meeting will be held at the Vancouver Convention Center from 10AM to 2:30PM.

UPDATE - 8/21/09: Libby Tucker of The Columbian reports Washington State transportation officials will keep a close eye on ridership, and that to offset operating costs and keep the second daily train running they will need to see an average of 100 daily passengers on each leg of the trip.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 2:10 PM |
July 6, 2009

Second Seattle-Vancouver Amtrak Run to Start Next Month

Matt Rosenberg

The Seattle Times reports that the Canadian government has dropped its insistence Amtrak pay $1,500 per day for immigration and customs inspections for passengers on a planned second daily train between Seattle and Vancouver. As a result, service will expand next month, and continue on at least through the 2010 Winter Olympics and paralympics in Vancouver. Over-time, cross-border trade and tourism supporters have previously said, up to four daily Seattle-Vancouver trains would be feasible. The second daily train will allow same day round-trips on Amtrak between Seattle and Vancouver's Pacific Central Station (pictured above) and will speed travel times on the Portland to Vancouver route, as well. Vancouver Sun columnist Miro Cernetig reported earlier on studies showing an additional $1.87 million (C$) in additional annual tax revenues north of the border from the second daily passenger train and an additional $16-33 million in annual economic activity. The Times:

Bruce Agnew, policy director at the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, a think tank that studies transportation issues...said that Canadian officials are viewing the second daily route as a pilot project that Public Safety Canada will reevaluate after the Olympics to determine whether it is popular enough to be continued. Agnew is confident that the second daily service, which is to run later in the day, will have high ridership numbers because the route offers service from Portland and Seattle to Vancouver.

Cascadia Center has worked closely with the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, The Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other allies to win approval of the increased frequency.

In March, 2007, the British Columbia government agreed to share in the costs of building a second rail siding near Surrey, south of Vancouver, to facilitate the second daily trip. Cascadia Center in this Vancouver Sun op-ed applauded that decision to proceed, and continued its behind-the-scenes networking on the initiative. The siding work was completed in the summer of 2008. But until the Friday July 3, 2009 announcement, the Canadian Border Services Agency had insisted Amtrak foot the daily cost of immigration and customs inspections, though no such arrangement exists for the current Seattle-Vancouver service. A cross-border coalition of political, non-profit and business leaders urged a broader view in a letter on the matter in late April to Canadian Public Safety Minister Peter van Loan, who announced the approval last week.

Increased daily trips are one piece of the puzzle. Further improvements to inter-city rail in Cascadia - paid for with U.S. federal stimulus dollars, additional U.S. funds in subsequent years, and money from Ottawa, the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia - could boost passenger train average speeds and reduce travel times in the corridor. A long-term goal is totally separate tracks for freight rail and passenger rail, so that both can function more smoothly.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:25 PM |
June 17, 2009

The Race Is On: Obama Administration Tells States, Regions How To Get High-Speed Rail Funds

Mike Wussow


Today in Washington, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the long-awaited guidelines that states and regions will use to compete for economic recovery funds for high-speed rail.

"The time has finally come for the United States to get serious about building a national network of high-speed rail corridors we can all be proud of," Secretary Ray LaHood said. "High-speed rail can reduce traffic congestion and link up with light rail, subways and buses to make travel more convenient and our communities more livable."

According to the LaHood's statement, the "guidelines...require rigorous financial and environmental planning to make sure projects are worthy of investment and likely to be successful."

Continue reading " The Race Is On: Obama Administration Tells States, Regions How To Get High-Speed Rail Funds " »

Posted by Mike Wussow at 1:41 PM |
June 12, 2009

Visitors From Sonoma-Marin Stress Commuter Rail's Possibilities

Matt Rosenberg

As part of our recent Cascadia Rail Week, Cascadia Center hosted a gathering at Novelty Hill Winery In Redmond, where officials from the Sonoma-Marin commuter rail line recently approved by voters discussed their plans with supporters of Puget Sound's Eastside commuter rail initiative, which would use parts, and eventually all, of the BNSF's underutilized Snohomish-to-Renton corridor. In today's Seattle Times, editorial page columnist Lance Dickie, who attended the session, writes:

Connections between where people live and work are the essence of public transit. The 42-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail corridor between the cities of Snohomish and Renton -- including a spur from Woodinville to Redmond -- is ripe with potential. Or so it seemed in 2007, when the Port of Seattle said it would buy the line for $107 million and issue bonds to raise the cash. In March, the Port announced the sale was postponed because the nation's credit markets were frozen. In the absence of a financial thaw, the Port has not said what comes next. The lingering question of who will buy and preserve the right of way along the corridor splashes cold water on the excitement about a rail-and-trail combination between growing Eastside population centers.

In late May, the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center hosted state and federal lawmakers, mayors, and state and local transportation officials at meetings in Portland and Seattle to learn more about high-speed rail from Oregon's Willamette Valley to the Canadian border. They were also looking at how freight lines have been converted to multiple-use corridors that accommodate walkers, cyclists, commuter rail and freight. Portland's metropolitan transportation agency, Tri-Met, recently opened the Westside Express Service, 14.7 miles of rail and five stations.

Cascadia's template for the Eastside rail corridor might well be the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District, which is installing passenger rail service and a 12-foot-wide path for pedestrians and cyclists along 70 miles of Northwestern Pacific Railroad right of way. John Nemeth, SMART's rail planning manager, spoke to a dinner gathering at Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville. The setting was convivial, but the tourism potential of regional rail service is not lost on the local wine industry or the mayors from Bellingham, Leavenworth and Woodinville.

In California, from Cloverdale on the north to Larkspur on the south, the emphasis might appear to be on getting to a ferry connection to San Francisco. Instead, Nemeth said, commute patterns are changing to focus on population and job centers within the two counties. SMART is fueled by a quarter-cent sales tax passed in 2008 with 70-percent approval. Service begins in 2014.

According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, SMART does face some financial challenges resulting from a downturn in expected sales tax revenues and changes in the bond market. The line's opening may be delayed slightly, or perhaps built to slightly less than the full 70-mile length at the outset. Many public transit systems, current and planned, face similar challenges at present. The solutions will lie jointly in an upturn in the economy, finding new ways to economize, and in some cases, developing ancillary funding tools.

For more on Cascadia Rail Week, read this informative summary posted earlier here at our blog by my colleague Mike Wussow. There's also this link-rich news coverage summary.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:16 AM | | Comments ( 2 )
May 29, 2009

Rail Week Focuses Attention On High-Speed Passenger Rail For The Northwest

Mike Wussow


As most of our regular readers know, this week as part of Cascadia Rail Week, Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute (along with a host of industry and community co-sponsors listed at the end of this post) has been rekindling the debate about national high-speed passenger rail and especially the development of service in the Northwest's "Cascadia Corridor." With the strongest commitment to rail in generations (President Obama's budget request is $8 billion to upgrade and expand rail lines), one of Cascadia's longest running concerns is getting new life.

"Rail Week" began Tuesday evening at the Columbia Tower Club in downtown Seattle with a welcoming dinner honoring Vancouver, B.C.'s Mayor Gregor Robertson. It ends tonight with a closing dinner and discussion at Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville, Wash., one of several of the cities on Seattle's "Eastside" that would be served by a 42-mile Eastside commuter "rails and trails" corridor from Snohomish in the north to Renton in the South. (View the week's agenda here.)

The Tuesday and Friday evening bookends are emblematic of the breadth of the rail week sessions as well as the issue as a whole. On the one hand, Cascadia is seeking solutions to national and regional passenger rail challenges, exemplified in part by Mayor Robertson's participation; the mayor is a strong advocate of high-speed passenger rail between his city and points south along the West Coast. On the other hand, Cascadia recognizes that the success and development of shorter commuter rail corridors such as Seattle's Eastside will be just as critical to the eventual overall health of a future passenger rail system in the Northwest and the country. "Rail Week," which has so far included a train excursion, policy-focused luncheon sessions, and a well-attended public lecture at Seattle's City Hall, has been designed to bring attention to both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.

Continue reading " Rail Week Focuses Attention On High-Speed Passenger Rail For The Northwest " »

Posted by Mike Wussow at 12:28 PM | | Comments ( 1 )
May 21, 2009

The Two Train Tango: What Will It Take To Get A Second Train To Vancouver?

Mike Wussow

It seems simple enough. Trains carry passengers between locations such as, say, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, Wash. When those passengers disembark, whether for business or pleasure, they spend money. When money is spent, those receiving it benefit.

Would you dish out $500,000 a year if someone would then send you $33 million?, Miro Cernetig, The Vancouver Sun, "Ottawa's lack of vision may derail dream of fast-train service," May 19, 2009

So, it would also seem then, if all the stars were aligned to have Amtrak begin running a second daily train between Vancouver and Seattle, that officials would do what they could to make it happen -- that bureaucratic hiccups could be managed, addressed and not hold things up. But as in life, in governance and regulation oftentimes the simple becomes unnecessarily complex.

Click below to read the extended post.

Continue reading " The Two Train Tango: What Will It Take To Get A Second Train To Vancouver? " »

Posted by Mike Wussow at 11:52 AM | | Comments ( 2 )
May 5, 2009

With Olympics On Horizon, Coalition Urges Action To Accelerate Second Amtrak Cascades Run To Vancouver

Mike Wussow


In a letter delivered to Canada's Minister of Public Safety Peter van Loan, a cross-border coalition made up of think tanks, business executives and elected officials encouraged the Canadian government to relax customs fees for train travel between Washington State and British Columbia. Cascadia Center's Bruce Agnew, who also serves as the co-chair of the PNWER Transportation Working Group is among the signatories of the letter.

"...we urge you to expand the fee waiver period from June 1, 2009 to June 1, 2010 to allow commencement of service as proposed by Amtrak and Washington State Department of Transportation."

As the commencement date for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver approaches, at issue in the immediate short term is the ability of "Amtrak to test and market the service (a second Amtrak Cascades train) during the busy summer tourism and cruise ship season."

The letter cites a study by the Border Policy Research Institute that found that "implementation of the service over a year would allow the federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada to collect $1.87 million in GST, PST and room taxes combined as a result of increased passenger travel."

Click below to read the extended post and the coalition's letter.

Continue reading " With Olympics On Horizon, Coalition Urges Action To Accelerate Second Amtrak Cascades Run To Vancouver " »

Posted by Mike Wussow at 4:26 PM |
February 25, 2009

Cascades Corridor Intercity Rail Poised For Growth

Matt Rosenberg

The newly-signed federal stimulus legislation includes $8 billion for intercity passenger rail projects - preferably high-speed rail in major corridors connecting metro regions. In addition, as reported by The Politico, the Obama administration will seek an additional $5 billion in high-speed rail funding over the next five years.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated six main high-speed rail corridors, all of which would link major metro areas. Here's a map. The corridors are: Eugene-Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, B.C.; San Diego-Los Angeles-Bay Area-Sacramento; South Central; Midwest; Southeast; and Northeast (a.k.a. "Keystone-Empire"). The California High Speed Rail Authority, which last fall won voter approval for $10 billion in bonds to help develop its system, has already prepared preliminary plans for how it would spend a requested $2 billion slice of the high-speed rail stimulus pie. The authority's plans include nine "grade separation" crossings, which employ overpasses or underpasses to separate vehicle traffic and train tracks, and thus eliminate the costly delays that result when their pathways cross.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the existing Amtrak Cascades route between Portland and Seattle (pictured, right) includes extensions south to Eugene and north to Bellingham, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C. Operated by Amtrak in concert with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon DOT, the route's ridership hit a record high in 2008, up 14 percent from 2007. Travelers like the alternative to slogging on Interstate 5. WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond says:

"While we suspect high gas prices last summer helped entice people to try Amtrak Cascades, we think the excellent service and convenience for travelers will continue to stimulate even more growth in Amtrak Cascades ridership. Amtrak Cascades is a great investment for Washington and provides motorists with yet another travel option."

The Washington State Transportation Commission in its Rail Capacity System Needs Study issued in December, 2006, wrote:

A high-quality intercity passenger rail service offers an alternative to automobile and air travel that can help reduce congestion, energy use, and environmental impacts of highways. If the rail system cannot accommodate frequent and reliable intercity passenger rail service, the State risks losing the benefits of passenger rail as an alternative to highway and air travel.

Against that backdrop, the Commission sounded a warning about the I-5 rail corridor which serves the Amtrak Cascades route, plus frequent freight rail operations, and commuter rail. The corridor, said the Commission: subject to frequent stoppages when trains tie up the mainline to enter and exit the many ports, terminals, and industrial yards along the corridor. Some half dozen sections are chronic choke points, causing delays that ripple across the entire Washington State and Pacific Northwest rail system. The pressure on the rail system will increase in the next decades...many more rail lines within Washington State will be operating at or above their practical capacity....As freight and passenger trains compete for time and space on the rail system, the capacity constraints may also frustrate the service and ridership plans for the State's passenger-rail program....

Among the policy recommendations in the commission's report:

  • where public benefits are clearly demonstrated by rigorous cost-benefit analysis, the state should invest in preserving and improving freight and passenger rail systems;
  • additional private investment in the state rail system which benefits the general public should also be sought.
  • In an interview aired yesterday on KOMO-AM 1000 in Seattle by reporter Travis Mayfield (mp3 file here), Cascadia Center's Bruce Agnew said the Amtrak Cascades route has good prospects for winning a share of the $8 billion high-speed rail stimulus - and that a slice of that pie could improve service frequency, some route infrastructure, and average speed. The Spanish-made Talgo trains can reach 110 miles per hour but currently average closer to 70 mph due to factors including at-grade crossings, other train traffic, and track condition.

    The U.S. Senate and House Appropriations Committees will get an outline within 60 days from U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood on criteria for a national competitive grant program for the high-speed rail funds in the stimulus bill. The funds are then to be allocated to winning recipients within another 120 days.

    Over the long term, additional funding will be needed to build a separate freight rail track between Seattle and Portland. Nationally, the stimulus money just approved for intercity and high-speed passenger rail will provide important benefits but also underscores the necessity of state and private investment.


    Vancouver-Seattle Rail Link Needs Strengthening, Jon Ferry, The Province, 11/17/08.

    "High Speed Rail Would Be Ultimate Efficient Addition To Northwest Transportation System," Brad Perkins, The Oregonian, 12/28/08

    "Bringing The Country Up To Speed With 21st Century Transportation," Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun, 12/29/08

    "Full Speed Ahead On High Speed Rail," The Oregonian, editorial, 2/22/09

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:12 PM | | Comments ( 2 )
    November 6, 2008

    A Green Light For California High Speed Rail Plan

    Matt Rosenberg

    California won voter approval this week to attempt development of an approximately $44 billion intercity high speed rail system, connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with later extensions to Sacramento, San Diego, and Riverside County, east of L.A. (Artist's rendering below). Top speed is billed as 220 miles per hour.

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that in addition to the $10 billion in government-backed bonds okayed by voters, the California High Speed Rail Authority will shoot for another $10 billion in federal aid and billions more from private investors. Other private partners might join in, to help the state manage construction, and operate the system.

    It's the beginning of a big headache," joked Mehdi Morshed, director of the authority. "But it's the good kind. We're looking forward to it."

    Travel times between L.A. and the Bay Area, it's claimed, would be a mere two-and-a half hours, versus the current 11- to 12-hour trip on Amtrak's Coast Starlight run. If California manages to pull this off successfully, the upside is huge: convenient, speedy travel between major metropolitan regions without the hassles of highway traffic or air travel, while cutting increases in greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

    But possible pitfalls include land acquisition, environmental obstacles, cost overruns, construction delays, and failure to achieve ridership and travel time projections. The San Jose Mercury News reports:

    James Moore, a professor and director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California....said he believes the project's backers have overstated ridership projections and the trains' maximum speed in urban areas, while underestimating the costs of acquiring right-of-way, building the system and operating the trains. Still, many of the state's top political leaders endorsed the bond issue, along with business and construction interests, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The rail network would be a boon for Silicon Valley because it would bring lower-priced housing in Central Valley communities within a comfortable commuting range of less than an hour's ride to the Bay Area, (High Speed Rail Authority board member Rod) Diridon said. He added: "That makes it so much easier to recruit top talent."

    Backers have claimed the project will create 160,000 construction jobs and eventually 450,000 jobs in other industries that benefit from the transit network. Diridon, a driving force behind creation of Santa Clara County's light-rail system, said construction contracts could go out to bid by 2011 and an initial north-south line could be in operation by 2020.

    It all pencils out economically, compared to road and air travel alternatives, claims the rail authority.

    To serve the same number of travelers as the high-speed train system, California would have to build nearly 3,000 lane-miles of freeway plus five airport runways and 90 departure gates by 2020 -- costing more than twice the high-speed train system and having much greater environmental impacts. What's more, the proposed high-speed train system will provide lower passenger costs than for travel by automobile or air for the same city-to-city markets.

    It's looking like an opportune time for ramping up inter-city rail in the U.S. President-elect Barack Obama wants to see more high speed inter-city passenger rail, as do many key members of the U.S. House and Senate. The surface transportation reauthorization bill in 2009 and the push for a national transportation stimulus spending package will provide a vehicle for additional passenger rail system development. Already, by a veto-proof majority Congress last month passed a $13.1 billion passenger rail funding bill including $3.4 billion for high speed rail corridors and state passenger rail improvement projects.

    In the Cascadia region, the Amtrak Cascades service from Eugene, Oregon through Portland to Seattle would benefit greatly from construction of a third rail between Portland and Seattle, allowing separation of freight from passenger rail. Upgrades to or replacement of at-grade rail-road crossings are also key, and combined with a third rail for freight could allow the Portland-Seattle Spanish-made Talgo passenger train to travel closer to its top speed of 110 mph. It now doesn't usually exceed 70 mph and averages less than that. When running on time, the Portland-Seattle run currently clocks in at three-and-a-half hours, longer - in most instances - than driving. Shaving six minutes off the trip with a routing change through Tacoma is a start, but more work remains.

    With major population growth projected for metro Portland and Seattle, and a new $4 billion bridge to be built across the Columbia River between Portland and Washington state, it would be smart to boost non-vehicular travel alternatives in the I-5 corridor with an investment in speedier Seattle-Portland passenger and freight rail. The cost for necessary improvements would likely run into the low billions, but yield a great net benefit in eased delays, saved vehicle emissions and improved freight mobility. Our ability to meet similar challenges across the nation with improved rail mobility will help drive U.S. mastery of the global economy. We snooze, we lose.

    California's ambitious high speed rail project bears close watching. Now that the enabling ballot measure has passed, skeptics should be trying to add value with suggestions on cost control and optimizing performance. However this grand initiative fares, growth in the West Coast Corridor from Baja to B.C. is only going to intensify in decades to come. From one end of the corridor to the other, the time to solidify plans for better, faster inter-city passenger and freight rail is now.

    Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 1:58 PM | | Comments ( 2 )
    April 16, 2008

    Commuter Rail Projects, Proposals Multiply Across U.S.

    Matt Rosenberg

    In Austin, Texas, Capital Metro's new 32-mile long commuter rail line using state-of-the art diesel multiple unit (DMU) cars will begin operations this fall. Officials from around the U.S. are flocking to Austin for demos. Among them were a transportation-focused Washington state contingent in early April organized by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, including WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, King County Council Member Julia Patterson, Cascadia Center Director Bruce Agnew and Cascadia Senior Fellow Steve Marshall. Agnew is spearheading our Eastside TRailway commuter rail and recreational trail initiative, and Marshall is leading our charge on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which are gaining traction thanks in part to the outstanding work of Austin-based Plug-in Partners and their national grassroots initiative.

    The new Austin commuter rail line came to fruition after a $1.9 billion light rail proposal was rejected by voters, according to this Austin American-Statesman article on outgoing Capital Metro Chairman Lee Walker, who championed the new line.

    In the San Diego region, the newly-opened, 22-mile, $480 million Sprinter commuter rail line between Oceanside and Escondido, utilizing DMU railcars, is drawing more than 7,000 passengers per day and that number is eventually expected to exceed 11,000, as the San Jose Mercury News reports. The North County Times provides the backstory on development of the line.

    Near Portland, Oregon the regional transportation agency Tri-Met will initiate DMU railcar commuter rail service (pictured, above left) next fall on a 14.7-mile line between Beaverton and Wilsonville in Washington County. The project cost $117.3 million and is expected to draw between 3,000 and 4,000 daily riders by 2020. (UPDATE: As The Oregonian reports on Sunday April 20, it's the state's first commuter line; called the Westside Express Service; and at Beaverton connects with two light rail lines into Portland).

    The Northstar Commuter Rail project in the Minneapolis is progressing toward likely implementation. Expected to cover much of the funding is a newly-created multi-county transit improvement district that could generate $100 million per year after admininstrative costs. Initial station construction is underway.

    North of Dallas, several towns are considering funding an approximately $100,000 feasibility study of a new commuter rail line on an underutilized freight corridor. The NBC-TV affiliate serving Dallas-Fort Worth has more in this report.

    Here in Puget Sound, the Eastside TRailway proposal energetically supported by Cascadia Center and others continues to advance. It would run from the town of Snohomish south to Bellevue, Redmond and eventually Renton, connecting growing residential areas to burgeoning job centers. This week, King County Executive Ron Sims wrote to the county council affirming the county will hold to its reversal of an earlier recommendation to rip out the tracks. All this comes as part of a complicated deal with the Port of Seattle, which is buying the 42-mile abandoned rail corridor from BNSF to augment regional freight rail mobility and to facilitate a possible public-private venture for commuter rail with a parallel trail. That dual use is key, Sims said. More from The Seattle Times:

    Just about everyone, including rail advocates, agrees that the old tracks would not work for a commuter rail line and will need to be torn out eventually. But keeping the tracks would preserve the ballast underneath and make it much easier to install new, modern tracks, said Bruce Agnew, director of the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center think tank, which has pushed for commuter rail. Rail advocates were worried that if the tracks were removed, a trail would be built right down the middle of the corridor and leave no room for a rail line to return, Agnew said. The Legislature this year approved $100,000 for a study to see if potential ridership is high enough to pursue a commuter rail line on the BNSF corridor.

    Additional funds for the study are expected to total as much as another $200,000 combined; coming from The Puget Sound Regional Council and Sound Transit. There's a growing recognition that keeping the railbeds intact is the right move, as The Seattle Times remarks in this editorial about the Sims letter:

    For the plainspoken, there are also multiple, unvarnished commitments to preserve the 42-mile BNSF freight corridor for future use as a high-capacity passenger-rail line.In the spirit of safeguarding -- in Sims' words -- this tremendous regional asset, there are no immediate plans to remove the existing rails, even though their useful life may have expired. They represent a valuable placeholder to reinforce the passenger-rail potential. The continued, purposeful physical presence of the rails will help guide and shape public discussions as plans proceed with a parallel and complementary hiking-and-biking trail.

    Cascadia gave a well-received presentation on Eastside commuter rail earlier this week to the Snohomish City Council. As elsewhere on the proposed line, there's a high level of interest but also an awareness that running commuter rail through a town takes careful planning. More here, in an an Everett Herald article previewing the council's public forum featuring Agnew and a team of Cascadia rail experts.

    By the way, did we mention the Rail Runner Express commuter rail line that's been running since 2006, in the Albuquerque region? (It's above, right).

    The upshot of all this: as traffic congestion and population continue to grow in major metro regions across the nation, transit solutions including commuter rail will become increasingly attractive to residents, employers and employees. As will ride-sharing strategies and time-variable tolling.

    RELATED: "The Eastside TRailway: Making Trail And Rail Happen For Snohomish And The Eastside," Loren Herrigstad, for Cascadia Center.


    February 19, 2008

    Freight Railroads Undergoing Dramatic Expansion

    Ken Orski

    According to the Association of American Railroads, freight railroads carry more than 40 percent of the nation's freight measured in ton miles, and had aggregate revenues of $54 billion in 2006. The Association's January 2008 report "Overview Of U.S. Freight Railroads" notes that "a typical train takes the freight equivalent of several hundred trucks of our highways." And freight railroads are experiencing unprecedented expansion. "For the first time in nearly a century railroads are making large investments in their networks," wrote Daniel Machalaba in the Wall Street Journal ("New Era Dawns For Rail Building," February 13, 2008). He reports that since 2000, freight railroads have spent $10 billion to expand track, build freight yards and buy rolling stock and they have $12 billion more in upgrades planned.

    "Their campaign is altering the corridors of American commerce, more so than any other development since interstate highways spread to the interior....It's been a century since railroads embarked on a similar spate of capital investment."

    Booming International Trade Fuels Freight Rail Growth

    The catalyst for this burst of investment has been the rapid growth of international trade and its rising demands to move containers of finished goods from ports to major cities. Demand for rail service increased sharply when Asian imports intensified starting in 2003. While long-haul trucking continues to be the backbone of the nation's land-based freight system, railroads are stepping in to supplement the goods carrying capacity in many corridors.

    Burlington Northern was the first to begin expanding the physical capacity of its rail network by adding a second set of tracks to portions of its Chicago-Los Angeles Transcon line, now nearing completion. Union Pacific followed with an upgrade of its Sunset Corridor from Los Angeles to El Paso, Texas. Norfolk Southern is improving access to the ports of New Orleans and Norfolk by expanding the capacity of its Crescent (New York- New Orleans) and Heartland (Chicago-Norfolk) rail corridors. CSX is doing the same in its Chicago-to-Florida Southeast Corridor.

    The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports that recognition of continued growth in Asian imports to North America, plus congestion at Southern California's busy ports, helped prompt the Mexican government's commitment of $1 billion to a hoped-for mega-port at Colonet, Baja California. It would include new inland rail connections to speed goods to north of the border, and requires $4 billion more, in private capital.

    A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce tells the newspaper that the proposed Baja port should compel further and timely investment in on-dock and near-dock rail at SoCal ports. She adds:

    Rail is not impacted by road congestion so it helps avoid bottlenecks, which provides an even greater benefit to the region.

    Financial Self-Sufficiency

    What is remarkable about the massive expansion and modernization of freight rail infrastructure in the United States is that it has been accomplished without the help of any public funds. From 1980, when the Staggers Rail Act partially deregulated railroads, through 2006, railroads have invested some $400 billion of private capital in their systems according to the AAR report issued last month. From 1980 through 2006, freight railroads invested a robust 40 cents of every revenue dollar in infrastructure and equipment, says AAR. They are able to do so because dramatic increases in freight volume due to  booming international trade have led to record earnings. Forecasts are for continued profitability, with freight railroads prepared to continue funding internally the vast majority of their planned infrastructure investment.

    A Model for Highways?

    Could highways become more like freight railroads? Could future highway infrastructure be financed with user fees and private capital, just like rail infrastructure? Or is the notion that highways are a public good to be supported primarily by taxpayers too deeply ingrained to allow for such a radical change in approach?

    The debate on this score has just begun and its eventual outcome is uncertain. Ultimately, the answer may hinge less on how Congress decides to fund the federal contribution to the surface transportation program than on how governors, state legislatures and local governments across the nation decide to approach the long term challenge of financing new road infrastructure.

    The signals from many state capitals suggest that user fees in the form of tolls are  increasingly being considered as the principal means of financing future highways and bridges. Governors and legislative committees in as many as 14 states are contemplating adding tolls to their arsenal of revenue measures. 

    This does not mean that the need for fuel taxes will disappear. The gas tax will continue to be needed to fund  the ever-growing costs of preserving and modernizing the nation's aging road facilities.  However, finding the resources to pay for new capacity will require a more entrepreneurial approach, with the freight railroads serving as a possible financing model. User fees in the form of tolls may turn out to be the most sensible way to ensure the long-term integrity of the highway system without imposing an unacceptable tax burden on the American people.


    January 22, 2008

    "Get On Board With Eastside Commuter Rail"

    Matt Rosenberg

    "Get on board with Eastside commuter rail," urges the Everett Herald in a Sunday editorial following two community forums on the policy initiative last week, in which Cascadia Center previewed a new 501c4 non-profit - the Eastside TRailway Partnership - to raise public and private funds for a pilot route between Snohomish and Bellevue on old Burlington Northern and Sante Fe tracks to be purchased by the Port of Seattle. The Herald:

    Imagine relatively small, quiet, fuel-efficient trains carrying thousands of commuters and tourists between Snohomish and Bellevue, and perhaps farther south, each weekday -- running every hour or even half-hour on tracks that already exist. Imagine a comfortable, scenic rail commute that includes seamless connections to buses to get you right where you need to go. Then imagine a bicycle/pedestrian trail safely using the same corridor, potentially connecting Snohomish County's Centennial Trail with King County's extensive trail system.

    It's not a dream, it's a real possibility....First, the Port of Seattle must complete its planned purchase of the 42-mile Burlington Northern Santa Fe corridor. The port...should follow through with this visionary investment.

    In the meantime, local leaders should get behind this eminently sensible idea and quickly identify funding sources. The nonprofit Cascadia Center, which is pushing the rail and trail idea, estimates that between $100 million and $250 million will be needed to get the line going -- a bargain compared with other projects. Cascadia's (Director) Bruce Agnew, a former Snohomish County Council member, says much of that could come from private investors who could put in amenities along the route.

    After the first Eastside TRailways Partnership forum held last week in Kirkland (Seattle Times article here), Agnew spoke at length with KIRO 710's Dave Ross. Agnew said:

    We're talking about a mixture of public and private financing. We'd like to see the track rehabilitated by public agencies like Sound Transit, Metro and Community Transit, since it extends up into Snohomish County. But the stations and the trail development and some of the other track work like sidings could be paid for by private developers in nodes around stations where they want to put parks or housing. For instance, Metro has a plan for housing that goes around the South Kirkland park-and-ride lots, similar to what was done with the streetcar in Seattle.

    Getting the old tracks up to snuff for commuter rail is eminently do-able. A Cascadia Center report by retired BNSF Northwest Director of Operations Read Fay emphasized the modest costs for rehabilitation of the tracks to accomodate trains at 40 miles per hour. Part of the proposal is to use smart trains. Cascadia has also stressed the preferability of Diesel Motor Unit double-decker coaches on the envisioned route, which can burn biodiesel and carry bicycles. They require no locomotive and can pull two more cars of the same type. (Above left is a DMU unit to be used in the San Diego region on the North County Transit District's "Sprinter" route between Escondido and Oceanside. Service is scheduled to begin in several weeks). As Agnew noted on the Dave Ross Show, so-callled DMUs are:

    ....extremely quiet, it's basically not louder than a bus, instead of the traditional commuter rail, which has a loud locomotive and a bunch of train sets following it....the vision is a quiet train operating once a half hour or maybe an hour, and a good trail system with small stations that are community oriented, lots of stops. We could see at South Kirkland park-and-ride a transfer to bus rapid transit at an expanded park-and-ride on (State Route) 520....

    Using double-decker DMU coaches, the passenger capacity of a two-car train would be almost 400, compared to just 200, Agnew noted, on the West Coast Amtrak run which includes Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Artist J. Craig Thorpe's preliminary sketches of Eastside commuter rail station designs - done for Cascadia Center - are here.

    The next step, as the Everett Herald noted, is for the Port to complete its purchase of the BNSF line. In a post-event recap, Cascadia Center provides names and e-mail addresses of key Port officials that the public may wish to contact regarding the proposed deal.

    It's important to note that not only does the Port of Seattle deserve credit for deciding to keep the valuable rail and trail corridor protected in public ownership, so too does King County, which in recent months has engaged in sometimes-complicated negotiations focused on buying some or all of the property from the Port and perhaps ripping out all the rails to focus solely on trail construction. In a Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed published yesterday, County Council Members Larry Phillips and Bob Ferguson affirm the Council's formal support of a dual use approach which leaves the rails intact and includes their use for transit.

    The county will quite understandably proceed with its own public process in part because it wants to encourage regional agencies to deliberate together on possible rail operations, and partly because the county retains an option to purchase from the Port the seven-mile-long Woodinville-Redmond spur, and track south from the Wilburton Trestle in Bellevue, to the end of the line in Renton.

    Meanwhile, a March public meeting in Bellevue is being tentatively planned, at which board members of the Eastside TRailways Partnership would meet formally for the first time. Priorities will include advancing the dialog on joint public-private financing of the Snohomish to Bellevue pilot project; plus balancing needs of trail and rail users; and seeking additional community input. Stay tuned.

    UPDATE, 1/28/08: Additional press coverage on Cascadia's push for Eastside commuter rail comes via the Everett Herald news staff; plus Seattle Times opinionator Lance Dickie, and the Kirkland Courier-Reporter.


    December 12, 2007

    One Step Closer To Eastside Commuter Rail

    Bruce Agnew

    The action taken by the Port of Seattle yesterday in moving forward with purchase of the BNSF rail line east of Lake Washington is an extremely important milestone for the future of rails and trails on the Eastside.

    The new wrinkle has King County purchasing rather than leasing from the Port the Renton-to-Bellevue and Woodinville-to-Redmond sections, to remove the track and develop a gravel trail. That will need to be reckoned with, but it isn't a deal killer. The Renton-to-Bellevue portion of the rail line was scheduled to be severed anyway, due to construction of an expanded section of I-405 at the Wilburton Trestle. What's left right now, for possible - and we believe, eminently feasible - Eastside commuter rail development, is the stretch of track between Bellevue and the town of Snohomish, to the north in Snohomish County.

    Properly developed, the Bellevue-to-Snohomish section of the rail line would provide a smart alternative to I-405 traffic congestion for residents of fast-growing eastern Snohomish County who work in King County's booming Eastside jobs centers. Recreational and leisure use of the line could also prove substantial, over time.

    Public and private transit will need to provide prompt, reliable intermodal connections to jobs centers and shopping cores in some instances along this stretch. That's a challenge worth embracing. Regionally, the need is evident for better intermodal connections, and for more transit corridors which provide faster and more amenable portal-to-portal service.

    In a recent report, our consultant, Read Fay (former Northwest operations director for BNSF) highlighted the viability of the BNSF line for 40-miles-per-hour commuter rail service, once the old rails and ties are replaced with newer ones.

    The question now is whether the track rehab and interim gravel trail can be done in a cost effective way, and not preclude laying new rail over an existing trail after the I-405 section is completed.

    Meanwhile we were pleased that the Snohomish-to-Bellevue section will retain rail. The original deal was for removal of the current rail line for the 31-mile section from Renton to Woodinville. Now we can actively plan for at least a rail demonstration project starting in Snohomish and ending in Bellevue for phase one.

    I've written here about how public and private capital could eventually be combined to make Eastside commuter rail a reality.

    UPDATE, 12/14/07: The Seattle Times reports this morning that the Port will buy the entire 42-mile rail line and the county will hold off for now on purchasing the two sections noted above for use as a trail. The county will have until July to do so, and will seek public input on the best use for the corridor. Port Commissioner John Creighton tells the Times he heard from a number of suburban mayors strongly opposed to the County's original proposal to lease the whole corridor from the Port, and rip out all the tracks for a trail.

    A rail and trail solution is still the best course.


    November 28, 2007

    Eastside Commuter Rail An Affordable Regional Asset

    Bruce Agnew

    Under a planned deal between the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad, the Port of Seattle and King County, a key 31-mile stretch of the Eastside BNSF rail line could be ripped out for scrap, and soon, to make way for a recreational trail. A recreational trail is a great asset, bring it on! But road congestion is a growing problem in Central Puget Sound; population is projected by regional planners to swell 52 percent by 2040; and current transit options are limited. The full Eastside rail corridor should be not only preserved, but utilized for commuter rail and a trail. The Seattle Times reports today on Cascadia Center's proposal for an Eastside commuter rail line on the existing, 42-mile BNSF tracks from Renton to Snohomish, and a report we released last week from former BNSF executive Read Fay highlighting its feasibility.

    Fay, who worked for BNSF for 35 years, rising to the post of Northwest operations chief, gave a presentation Monday night during a Cascadia-sponsored forum at Columbia Winery in Woodinville. Along with providing an overview of his report for us, he described existing machinery that can take up old track, and replace the wood ties with new concrete ones which will last 60 years. The cost is $800,000 per mile and it lays new track at a mile a day! What a relief for suffering Puget Sound commuters who wait for years for simple highway expansions.

    Fay walked the entire line (Seattle Times graphic here) and estimated that track, tie and bridge work needed to permit 40 mph commuter line service would cost $37 million. Our estimate for getting the line fully operational, including state-of-the-art, bio-diesel burning, bike-toting Deisel Multiple Unit train cars, is about $125 million. The cost for creating a similar system on 32 miles of track in Austin, Texas is $92 million. DMU commuter rail has been operational for six years in the West Palm Beach region and is coming on line between Oceanside and Escondido, California; in Washington County, Oregon; in Alaska; and on Amtrak's Vermonter line.

    One question is who will pay for an Eastside rail line. A possibility, though not the only one, is that Sound Transit, which already operates commuter rail on other lines in the region, could step in. From the Seattle Times story today:

    If Sound Transit decided to pay for diesel service, (King County Executive Ron Sims' Chief of Staff Kurt) Triplett said, "we would be delighted with that. We would have them do that tomorrow. It's not that King County is not trying to have a transportation system on the corridor. We want one. It's that no one is coming with money on the table."

    Here's an idea worth considering, one Cascadia and North Sound allies are already discussing in connection with an envisioned Everett to Bellingham DMU commuter rail line: a community rail partnership involving transit agencies and developers. Up north, that could involve (Snohomish County's) Community Transit, Sound Transit (which runs "Sounder" commuter rail from Seattle to Everett already), plus transit agencies in Skagit, Island and Whatcom counties, and private developers who help pay for station improvements in return for enhanced local economic benefits.

    For an Eastside community rail partnership, Sound Transit and Community Transit could be joined by (King County) Metro, plus private developers who pay for station improvements through Local Improvement Districts such as the one formed along the new South Lake Union street car line in Seattle. (A preliminary conceptual sketch of the Eastside line's South Kirkland station, by J. Craig Thorpe for Cascadia Center, is above, right).

    The flexibility of DMUs enhances their potential economic impact in Eastside communities. DMU coaches can travel not only on conventional rail, but also on track embedded in concrete, accessing downtown areas adjacent to the line, like Bellevue's.

    Another way to help pay for developing DMU commuter train service on the BNSF line is through tolling on the parallel highway, I-405. The Washington Department of Transportation is already implementing a new approach to tolling just south of I-405 on another north-south artery, State Route 167, with a High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lane for carpoolers and solo drivers who will pay a premium for access, via electronic transponder tolls. That's a good start, but there's more needed. The new general purpose lanes being added to I-405 in each direction should instead become HOT lanes, and each of those twinned with the one existing carpool (HOV) lane in each directuion, which would also be converted to HOT lanes. Dual HOT lanes in each direction should be added to SR 167 for continuity, and - here's the kicker - a portion of the I-405 tolls used to help fund the Eastside commuter rail line parallel to I-405. Another small portion of the tolls could help finance the planned recreational trail, for which current funding prospects are actually far less than assured.

    We need to think big, but act practical. Voters firmly rejected the roads and transit ballot measure, Proposition 1, earlier this month, including an extension of Sound Transit's light rail system east from Seattle across Lake Washington into Bellevue and north to Redmond. Given the election outcome, it seems smart to shift away from tax increases to pay for tens of billions of dollars worth of new light rail before the first leg (UW to Sea-Tac airport) is completed and operational. We should find a way instead to upgrade the existing BNSF track and run DMUs every 30 minutes at 40 mph between Renton and Snohomish, for a cost in the very low hundreds of millions.


    "Transportation Action Plan for Puget Sound," Cascadia Center;

    "Eastside BNSF Rail Line Inspection Report," Read Fay, for Cascadia Center;

    "Cascadia: Eastside Corridor Can Support Interurban Rail," KUOW-FM;

    KOMO 1000 story;

    "Preserve Eastside Rail Line for Snohomiish Transit Link," Bruce Agnew, Seattle Times;

    "Rails And Trails Could Co-Exist Easily On Eastside," Bruce Agnew, Puget Sound Business Journal.


    August 31, 2007

    It's Time for the Federal Government to Get Serious About Rail

    Bruce Agnew

    Recently, The Wall Street Journal provided a rosy update on Amtrak service and an increasing federal budget, particularly for the New York-Boston corridor.

    Airplanes are getting stuck in lots of traffic jams this summer, but Amtrak is on a roll. Ridership on the passenger rail system is up 6% so far this year, the biggest jump since the late 1970s. On the Acela Express, trains that run at higher speeds between Washington, New York and Boston, the number of riders has surged 20% over the past 10 months. That's enough new passengers to fill 2,000 Boeing 757 jets.

    Ridership is up, according to the article, as business people - wary of endless hassles at Northeast airports - increasingly turn to the comfort of Acela high-speed trains. Meanwhile, folks traveling on this side of the country (from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Ore.) are riding old Superliner equipment, while the eight-year-old sleek, highspeed, Spanish-made Talgo equipment is laid up because of cracks in the train sets.

    Congress and the Administration need to get serious about funding a national freight and passenger rail system. And they should reward states like California and Washington who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars worth of state transportation funds in partnership with Amtrak - not just the politically well-connected Northeast states that have hardly invested any state or local resources.

    Recently, the British Columbia government stepped up to invest nearly $5 million in track improvements to allow a second roundtrip between Seattle and Vancouver in advance of the 2010 Olympics. Perhaps it is time to petition Ottawa and Washington to form an international compact for coinvestment in the corridor for freight and passenger capacity. Real investment would go a long way toward relieving pressure on overcrowded I-5 and Highway 99. That, in turn, might have the added benefit of reducing this region's contribution to global warming gases.


    May 16, 2007

    Greater Scrutiny Urged For I-90 Light Rail Plan

    Matt Rosenberg

    In a Seattle Times op-ed published today, the former chief examiner of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, George Kargianis, and former state Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge assert Sound Transit's proposal to build light rail across Lake Washington to Eastside suburbs via the I-90 floating bridge just doesn't pencil out.

    We have taken no official position yet on either the Eastside light rail proposal or the larger November, 2007 roads and transit ballot measure of which it is a part. However, our Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute supports system wide, time variable automated highway tolling; taxpayer-friendly design-build contracting; enhanced opportunities for public-private partnerships to build and operate transportation infrastructure; improved transportation technology to help address congestion; regional governance in Central Puget Sound to plan, prioritize and fund road and transit projects; and cost-effective, speedy public transit that is well-integrated into the larger regional transportation system.

    According to Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom, the price of the fall roads and transit package, if approved by voters, would be $37 billion through 2028. This includes financing costs and inflation, but not the additional bond payments that are expected to be necessary after 2028.

    Headlines in April emphasized the draft package was not structured to fully fund completion of a crucial rebuild of the earthquake- and storm-prone State Route 520 floating bridge; and that the state treasurer urges tolls on both 520 and I-90 to pay for the 520 project in full.

    Against this backdrop, the Kargianis-Talmadge piece in The Times today raises additional concerns about the fall ballot measure which deserve further analysis by the media, stakeholders and voters.

    The co-authors note that Central Puget Sound transit ridership is now less than 3 percent of total daily travel in the region, and according to projections by the Puget Sound Regional Council, would grow to only 4.5 percent in 2030 with increased transit investments. They write:

    ...the I-90 center corridor would be acquired by Sound Transit exclusively for light rail between Seattle and the Eastside. Buses, vanpools, HOVs and all Mercer Island vehicular traffic now using this inner corridor would be rerouted to the outer lanes. The result would be increased delays and congestion on all traffic moving between Seattle and the Eastside...The I-90 bridge would suffer a vehicle capacity loss of one-third compared with today. Even with an optimistic doubling of transit ridership, there would be a 9-percent loss of total (vehicle and transit) person trips. Light rail would not give us either the flexibility or the capacity that rapid bus service offers at a small fraction of the cost. Bus rapid transit can share the center lanes, thus avoiding the one-third loss of vehicular traffic.

    .....The proposed taking of the I-90 center corridor should be viewed for what it really is: an unwarranted, unnecessary, unproductive, wasteful and essentially disruptive use that would contribute to congestion, not alleviate it.

    A very different and supportive view of the fall ballot measure is expressed in a guest op-ed by King County Council members Julia Patterson and Reagan Dunn in the current edition of The Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required). Another recent voice of support for the roads and transit proposal heading to voters was that of Aubrey Davis, former chairman of the Washington Transportation Commission, in the Seattle Times.

    The debate will surely continue, and sharpen, in coming months.


    April 6, 2007

    Research Compendium

    Matt Rosenberg

    Last updated August 25, 2008

    The research, it just keeps coming. On this page, we'll compile links to key studies and reports on innovation in transportation.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    "Lessons In Public-Private Partnerships & Climate Change: What British Columbia Taught California, And What Washington Can Still Learn," 10/07.

    "A Tale Of Three Cities: How San Diego, Denver and Vancouver, B.C. Raised Major Regional Funds For Transportation," Doug Hurley, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 9/06.

    "Travel Value Pricing: Better Traffic Operations Management & New Revenue For The Puget Sound Region," John S. Niles, for Cascadia Center, 4/06.

    "Transportation Working Group Recommendations," Transportation Working Group, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2/15/05.

    Transportation Working Group background, members, and resource book.

    "An Institutional Conundrum - A Simplified Overview Of Metropolitan Institutional Reform Applied To Transportation In The Puget Sound Region," Deb Eddy, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2004.

    "How Do We Get There From Here? A Transportation Future For The Puget Sound Region," Bruce Agnew & Bruce Chapman, Cascadia Center For Regional Development, 2003. View the video, as aired on Seattle Channel, 5/20/05.

    Other Reports

    "Just Pricing: The Distributional Effects Of Congestion Pricing and Sales Taxes," Brian Taylor, UCLA Institute Of Transportation Studies; Lisa Schweitzer, School Of Policy, Planning And Development, University Of Southern California, 5/08

    "Transportation For Tomorrow," National Surface Transportation Policy & Revenue Study Commission, 1/08.

    "Running On Empty - 2007 Annual Report," Washington Transportation Commission, 12/07.

    "Building New Roads Through Public-Private Partnerships: Frequently Asked Questions," Leonard C. Gilroy, Robert W. Poole, Jr., Peter Samuel, Geoffrey Segal, Reason Foundation, 11/07.

    "Review Of Congressional Earmarks Within Department Of Transportation Programs," Office Of The Inspector General, U.S. DOT, 9/7/07.

    "Case Studies Of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships In The United States," Aecom Consult Team, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 7/7/07.

    "Case Studies Of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships Around The World," Aecom Consult Team, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 7/7/07.

    Draft Vision 2040 Puget Sound Regional Council, 7/07.

    "Lake Washington Urban Partnership," Washington State Department of Transportation, 4/30/07.

    "Report On SR 520 Bridge Replacement And HOV Project Funding Alternatives," Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation, Montague DeRose & Associates, LLC, 3/28/07.

    "Destination 2030 - Taking An Alternative Route," Washington State Transportation Center/Booz Allen Hamilton (For King County Executive), 3/05/07.

    "Overview Of National Strategy To Reduce Congestion On America's Transportation Network," USDOT, 3/07.

    "Public-Private Partnerships For Toll Highways," Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, Testimony To U.S. House Committee On Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee On Highways & Transit, 2/13/07.

    "Report On The Transportation Innnovative Partnerships Program," Washington Transportation Commission, 1/07.

    "Regional Transportation Commission Final Report," Regional Transportation Commission (of Puget Sound), 12/31/06.

    "Washington Transportation Plan 2007-2026," Washington Transportation Commission, 11/06.

    "Reducing Congestion In Atlanta: A Bold New Approach To Mobility," Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, 11/06.

    "Public-Private Partnerships & The Development Of Transport Infrastructure: Trends On Both Sides Of The Atlantic," Benjamin G. Perez, PB Consult Inc., James W. March, Federal Highway Administration; 9/06.

    "Transportation Finance At The Ballot Box: Voters Support Increased Investment & Choice," Center For Transportation Excellence, 8/06.

    "Building Roads To Reduce Congestion In America's Cities: How Much & At What Cost?," David Hartgren, M. Gregory Fields & Robert W. Poole, Reason Foundation, 8/06; (WA state congestion analysis, from study).

    "Why Mobility Matters," Ted Balaker, Reason Foundation, 8/06.

    "Current Toll Road Activity In The U.S.: A Survey & Analysis," Benjamin Pereze, Steve Lockwood, for U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration, 8/06.

    "Remarks Of Pat Jacobsen - CEO, Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority - To House & Senate Transportation Committees of Washington State Legislature, 1/19/06.

    "Traffic Congestion & Reliability: Trends & Advanced Strategies For Congestion Mitigation," Cambridge Systematics & Texas Transportation Institute (for Federal Highway Administration), 9/1/05.

    "2005 Urban Mobility Report," Texas Transportation Institute, 2005.

    "Unclogging America's Highways - Effective Relief For Highway Bottlenecks," American Highway Users Alliance, 2/04


    " Canada: A Macroeconomic Study of the United States' Most Important Trade Partner,"U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Updated 9/15/06

    Canadian Embassy State Trade Fact Sheet 2006, Canadian Embassy, 2006.

    Canada/U.S. Regional Economies, Canadian-American Border Trade Alliance.

    "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: The Basics," U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    Resolution Of The West Coast Corridor Coalition, 11/03.

    "From B.C. To B.C. - And Beyond - the Story Of The West Coast Corridor Coalition."

    "Spatial Concepts & Cross Border Governance Strategies," Susan E. Clarke, University of Colorado, (presented to EURA Conference On Urban & Spatial Policies), 4/02.

    "The Character of Non-Governmental Transborder Organizations In The Cascadia Region of North America," Lawrence Douglas Taylor Hansen, Revista Mexicana De Estudios Canadienses, 2/02.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    "Testimony In Support Of King County Passenger-Only Ferry District," Matt Rosenberg, 11/13/07.

    "Alaskan Way Replacement: Alternative Approaches," Ove Arup & Partners, for Cascadia Center, 11/06.

    "A New Vision For Developing Transit For Livable Cities." Enrique Penalosa, former
    mayor of Bogota, Columbia speaks at a Cascadia Center co-sponsored event on implementation of Bogota's TransMileno Bus Rapid Transit system. Seattle Channel video, 9/27/06.

    "Statement of Tom Till to Washington Transportation Commission On Amtrak & Related Issues, Including Availability of Federal Funding," 1/18/06.

    Other Reports

    "King County Passenger-Only Ferries Project Briefing Paper," IBI Group, for King County Executive, 11/7/07.

    Puget Sound Regional Council Passenger-Only Ferry Study, 2007 (ongoing).

    Chapter 7, "I-405 Plan: Transit and HOV", in "I-405 Congestion Relief & Bus Rapid Transit Projects - Final Recommendations Report," WSDOT. (See "I-405 BRT Service").

    BNSF Corridor Preservation Study, Puget Sound Regional Council, 2/27/07.

    Statewide Rail Capacity and System Needs Study, Washington State Transportation Commission, 12/06.

    Columbia River Crossing Project Alternatives Page.

    Willamette River Ferry Feasibility Study, City Of Portland Department of Transportation, 2006.

    Waterborne Transit Policy Study, King County Department of Transportation, August, 2005.

    Rich Passage Passenger-Only Ferry Study, Phase I, WSDOT, Federal Transit Administration, 4/05.

    "Report Card For America's Infrastructure," American Society Of Civil Engineers, 2005.


    Cascadia Center Reports

    Speaker Presentations At Cascadia/Microsoft/Idaho National Laboratory "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" conference, 9/4/08 and 9/5/08, Redmond, Wash. (Topics included electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy, traffic management systems and technology, transit. Many of these files are very large and may take several minutes to open/download depending on your internet connection).

    9/4/08 Presentations:

    Sharon Banks
    Scott Belcher
    Charlie Botsford
    John Clark
    June Devoll
    Rob Elam
    Dick Ford
    Jim Francfort
    Andy Frank
    Arti Gupta
    Jerry Hautamaki
    Craig Helmann
    John Horsley
    Cornie Huizenga
    Ron Johnston-Rodriguez
    Preet Khalsa
    Dave Kristick
    Felix Kramer
    Justin McNew
    Paul Minett
    Brian Mistele
    Tim Murphy
    Jack Opiola
    Syd Pawlowski
    Dick Paylor
    Ron Posthuma
    Matt Sheldon
    Jim Stanton
    Ed Stern
    Julian Taylor
    Michael Weick

    9/5/08 Presentations:

    Kevin Banister
    Rob Bernard
    Don Foley
    Paul Genoa
    KC Golden
    Paula Hammond
    David Kaplan
    Rich Laukhart
    Jim Piro
    Bill Rogers
    Jim Walker
    Brian Wynn

    "Greening The Highway From Baja To B.C. - A Discussion Brief," Matt Rosenberg, 9/19/07.

    "Replacing Oil With Electricity And Biofuels In Transportation: The Convergence Of Technology And Public Policy," Steve Marshall, 8/7/07.

    Speaker Presentations at Cascadia-Microsoft "Jump Start To A Secure Clean Energy Future" Conference on Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Alternative Fuels, 5/7/07

    Roger Duncan, Austin Energy/Plug-In Partners (4.78 MB)
    Mark Duvall, Electric Power Research Institute (1.13 MB)
    Andrew A. Frank, University of California/Davis (1.33 MB)
    K.C. Golden, Climate Solutions (1.81 MB)
    David Horner, U.S. Dept. of Transportation (700 KB)
    Michael Kintner-Meyer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (1.91 MB)
    Felix Kramer, (708 KB)
    John M. Miller, Maxwell Technologies (496 KB)
    Philip Mote, University of Washington (3.88 MB)
    Tim Murphy, Idaho National Laboratory (674 KB)
    Vic Parrish, Energy Northwest (494 KB)
    Bill Reinert, Toyota USA (2.00 MB)
    Bill Rogers, Idaho National Laboratory (1.05 MB)
    Greg Rock, Green Car Company (82.9 KB)
    Neil Schuster, Intelligent Transportation Society Of America (2.14 MB)
    Rogelio Sullivan, U.S. Dept. of Energy (1.08 MB)
    John Wellinghoff, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (4.23 MB)
    Nick Zielinski, General Motors/Chevy Volt (1.79 MB)

    Other Reports

    "Basic Research Needs: Catalysis For Energy," (report from U.S. Dept. Of Energy Basic Energy Sciences Workshop), 8/07.

    "Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles," Electric Power Research Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/07.

    " Joint Science Academies Statement on Growth and Responsibility; Sustainability, Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection, for G8 Summit, 5/07.

    "Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change," United Nations, 4/07/07.

    Annual Energy Outlook 2007 - With Projections To 2030," U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 2/07.

    Impacts Assessment of Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles On Electric Utilities and Regional U.S. Power Grids; Michael Kintner-Meyer, Kevin Schneider, Robert Pratt; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 12/06.

    "Alternative Fuels Study: A Report To Congress On Policy Options For Increasing The Use Of Alternative Fuels In Transit Vehicles," Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 12/06.

    "Intelligent Transportation Systems Regional Architecture", Puget Sound Regional Council, IBI Group, 8/21/06.

    "Future Visions," Washington Transportation Plan Update Process, WSDOT/Washington Transportation Commission, 6/17/05. (See pp. 27-34, "Intelligent Transportation Systems").

    GridWise Program Overview, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    Technological Basis For GridWise, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    Primer On Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration, Intelligent Transportation Society Of America.


    Welcome to the blog of the Cascadia Center, a Seattle-based transportation policy center.
    (The views therein do not necessarily reflect those of Cascadia Center)