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The Cascades at Seattle's Carkeek Park in 2006
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|First service||May 1, 1971|
792,481 total (FY16)
|Distance travelled||467 miles (752 km)|
|Train number(s)||northbound (even): 500, 502, 504, 506, 508, 510, 516
southbound (odd): 501, 503, 505, 507, 509, 513, 517
|Class(es)||Business class, Coach class|
|Catering facilities||Bistro car|
|Observation facilities||Lounge car|
|Baggage facilities||Checked baggage available at select stations|
|Rolling stock||EMD F59PHI diesel locomotives
Talgo articulated tilting train sets
Non-Powered Control Units (former EMD F40PH locomotives)
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Operating speed||79 mph (127 km/h) (top)|
|Track owner(s)||Union Pacific and BNSF|
The Amtrak Cascades is a passenger train route in the Pacific Northwest, operated by Amtrak in partnership with the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia. It is named after the Cascade mountain range that the route parallels.
The corridor runs 157 miles (253 km) from Vancouver, British Columbia south to Seattle, Washington, continuing 310 miles (500 km) south via Portland, Oregon to Eugene, Oregon. No train travels the entire length of the 467-mile (752 km) corridor from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon.
As of February 2016[update], two daily trains operate between Vancouver, BC and Seattle or Portland, four daily trains operate between Seattle and Portland, and two trains operate between Eugene and Seattle or Portland. In December 2017 four new daily trains will be added to create two new round trips between Seattle and Portland. For trains that do not travel directly to Vancouver, BC or Eugene, connections are available on Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach services. Additionally, Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach services offer connections to other destinations in British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington not on the rail corridor.
Amtrak took over intercity passenger rail operations from the private railroads on May 1, 1971. Initial service on the Seattle–Portland portion of the corridor consisted of three round trips, with no service north to Vancouver, BC or south to Eugene. The trains were unnamed until November 1971, when the two corridor trains were named the Mount Rainier and Puget Sound and the long-distance train (with service south to Southern California) became the Coast Starlight.
Passenger rail service to Vancouver, BC was restarted on July 17, 1972 with the inauguration of the Seattle–Vancouver Pacific International, which operated with a dome car (unusual for short runs). The train was Amtrak's first international service.
The next major change to service in the corridor came on June 7, 1977 when Amtrak introduced the long-distance Pioneer between Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City, Utah. To maintain the same level of service between Seattle and Portland, the Puget Sound was eliminated, and the schedule of the Mount Rainier was shifted.:59
The corridor expanded south of Portland to Eugene on August 3, 1980 with the addition of the Willamette Valley, which operated with two daily round trips, financially subsidized by the State of Oregon.
This left three trains on the Seattle–Portland Seattle corridor: the Coast Starlight, Pioneer and Mount Rainier, the same level of service as the day Amtrak began operation a decade prior. The situation would remain unchanged for the next 13 years.
Expansion in the 1990s and 2000s
In 1994, Amtrak began a six-month trial run of modern Talgo equipment over the Seattle–Portland corridor. Amtrak named this service Northwest Talgo, and announced that it would institute a second, conventional train on the corridor (supplementing the Mount Rainier) once the trial concluded. Regular service began on April 1, 1994.
Looking toward the future, Amtrak did an exhibition trip from Vancouver through to Eugene. Amtrak introduced the replacement Mount Adams on October 30. At the same time, the state of Oregon and Amtrak agreed to extend the Mount Rainier to Eugene through June 1995, with Oregon paying two-thirds of the $1.5 million subsidy.
Vancouver service returned on May 26, 1995, when the Mount Baker International began running between Vancouver and Seattle. The state of Washington leased Talgo equipment similar to the demonstrator from 1994. Amtrak renamed the Mount Rainier the Cascadia in October 1995; the new name reflected the joint Oregon-Washington operations of the train.
A third Seattle-Portland corridor train began in 1998, replacing the discontinued long-distance Pioneer. By spring 1998, all three Seattle–Portland/Eugene trains were using leased Talgo equipment, while the Vancouver train used conventional equipment. Amtrak introduced a temporary Pacific Northwest brand for all four trains, dropping individual names, in preparation for the introduction of new Talgo equipment built in the United States and owned by the state of Washington.
From the mid 1990s to the May 12th, 2008, Amtrak System timetable, full service dining was available on trains going north out of Seattle's King Street Station to Vancouver, BC. The southern trains to Portland Oregon briefly had full dining services until the May 16th, 1999 System Timetable.
The corridor has continued to grow in recent years, with another Portland-Seattle train arriving in 2006, and the long-awaited through service between Vancouver and Portland, eliminating the need to transfer in Seattle, beginning on August 19, 2009 as a pilot project to determine whether a train permanently operating on the route would be feasible. With the Canadian federal government requesting Amtrak to pay for border control costs for the second daily train, the train was scheduled to be discontinued on October 31, 2010. However, Washington State and Canadian officials held discussions in an attempt to continue the service, which resulted in the Canadian government permanently waiving the fee.
Two additional round trips between Seattle and Portland will be added on December 18, 2017. A new early morning departure from each city will be matched by an evening return, to enable same-day business travel between the two cities.
Service on the Cascades route is provided using seven articulated trainsets manufactured by Talgo, a Spanish company. These cars are designed to passively tilt into curves, allowing the train to pass through them at higher speeds than a conventional train. The tilting technology reduces travel time between Seattle and Portland by 25 minutes. Current track and safety requirements limit the train's speed to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), although the trainsets are designed for a maximum design speed of 124 miles per hour (200 km/h).
A typical trainset consists of 12 or 13 cars; one baggage car; two "business class" coaches; one lounge car; one cafe car (also known as the Bistro car); six or seven "coach class" coaches; and one power car (which houses a head-end power generator and other equipment). Trainsets are typically paired with an EMD F59PHI locomotive painted in a matching paint scheme. Additionally trainsets without a cab car are paired with a Non-Powered Control Unit (NPCU), an older locomotive with no engine, that is also painted in a matching paint scheme and is used as a cab car.:140
The fleet consists of five Talgo Series VI trainsets built in 1998 and two Talgo Series 8 trainsets built in 2013. The service offered by the different trainset types is similar, but there are some minor differences between the two models. The most notable difference is the older Series VI trainsets have 7-foot tall tail fins at both ends of the train that serve as an aesthetic transition from the low-profile trainsets and the larger locomotives. The Series 8 trainsets do not have the tail fins, but instead have a cab built into the power car allowing push-pull operation without a separate control unit. There are also minor differences in the interior appointments.
The Cascades service started in Fall 1998 with four Series VI trainsets, two were owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and two were owned by Amtrak. Each trainset was built with 12 cars and a six-car spare set, including a baggage car, service car, lounge car, café car and two "coach class" coaches, was also built.
In 1998, Amtrak also purchased an additional Series VI trainset as a demonstrator for potential service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This trainset was built with two additional "coach class" coaches, for a total of 14 cars. The demonstration route was not funded and WSDOT purchased the trainset in 2004 to expand service. The purchase also allowed Amtrak and WSDOT to redistribute the "coach class" coaches. By using the two additional coaches from this new trainset and placing the two coaches from the spare set into regular service, the agencies were able to create four 13-car trains and one 12-car train.
The Cascades equipment is painted in a special paint scheme consisting of colors the agency calls evergreen (dark green), cappuccino (brown), and cream. The trainsets are named after mountain peaks in the Pacific Northwest (many in the Cascade Range). The four original Series VI trainsets were named after Mount Baker, Mount Hood, Mount Olympus, and Mount Rainier. The Series VI trainset built to operate between Las Vegas and Los Angeles was renamed the Mount Adams when it was purchased by the state of Washington. The two Series 8 trainsets are named Mount Bachelor and Mount Jefferson.
In early 2014, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), awarded a contract to Siemens USA to manufacture 8 new Siemens Charger locomotives for the Cascades. The order was part of a larger joint purchase between Illinois, California, Michigan, and Missouri. These locomotives were delivered to WSDOT in Summer 2017 and are expected to go into service in late 2017. The additional locomotives will enable two additional runs to be added as part of the Point Defiance Bypass project and will replace the six EMD F59PHI locomotives leased from Amtrak.
Funding for the route is provided separately by the states of Oregon and Washington, with Union Station in Portland serving as the dividing point between the two. As of July 1, 2006, Washington state has funded four daily round trips between Seattle and Portland. Washington also funds two daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Oregon funds two daily round trips between Eugene and Portland. The seven trainsets are organized into semi-regular operating cycles, but no particular train always has one route.
As a result of Cascades service being jointly funded by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, public transit agencies and local municipalities can offer a variety of discounts, including companion ticket coupons.
- FlexPass and University of Washington UPass holders receive a 15% discount (discount code varies) on all regular Cascades travel. Employers participating in these programs may also receive a limited number of free companion ticket coupons for distribution to employees.
- The Sound Transit RailPlus program allows riders to use weekday Cascades trains between Everett and Seattle with the Sounder commuter rail fare structure.
The Cascades service also benefits from Sound Transit's track upgrades for Sounder service, notably the upcoming Point Defiance Bypass project.
According to its long-range plan, the WSDOT Rail Office plans eventual service of 13 daily round trips between Seattle and Portland and 4–6 round trips between Seattle and Bellingham, with four of those extending to Vancouver, BC. Amtrak Cascades travels along the entirety of the proposed Pacific Northwest High Speed Rail Corridor; the incremental improvements are designed to result in eventual higher-speed service. According to WSDOT, the "hundreds of curves" in the current route and "the cost of acquiring land and constructing a brand new route" make upgrades so cost-prohibitive that at most speeds of 110 mph (177 km/h) can be achieved.
The eventual high-speed rail service according to the long-range plan should result in the following travel times:
- Seattle to Portland – 3:30 (2006); 3:20 (2017, assuming completion of Point Defiance bypass); 2:30 (planned)
- Seattle to Vancouver BC – 3:55 (2006); 2:45 (planned)
- Vancouver BC to Portland – 7:55 (2009); 5:25 (planned)
In order to increase train speeds and frequency to meet these goals, a number of incremental track improvement projects must be completed. Gates and signals must be improved, some grade crossings must be separated, track must be replaced or upgraded and station capacities must be increased.
In order to extend the second daily Seattle to Bellingham round trip to Vancouver, BNSF was required to make track improvements in Canada, to which the government of British Columbia was asked to contribute financially. On March 1, 2007, an agreement between the province, Amtrak, and BNSF was reached, allowing a second daily train to and from Vancouver. The project involved building an 11,000-foot (3.35 km) siding in Delta, BC at a cost of US$7 million; construction started in 2007 and has been completed.
In December 2008, WSDOT published a mid-range plan detailing projects needed to achieve the midpoint level of service proposed in the long-range plan.
In 2013, travel times between Seattle and Portland remained the same as they had been in 1966, with the fastest trains making the journey in 3 hours 30 minutes. WSDOT received more than $800 million in high-speed rail stimulus funds for projects discussed in the mid-range plan, since the corridor is one of the approved high-speed corridors eligible for money from ARRA. The deadline for spending the stimulus funds is September 2017.
In 2009, Oregon applied for a $2.1 billion Federal grant to redevelop the unused Oregon Electric Railway tracks, parallel to the Cascades' route between Eugene and Portland. But it did not receive the grant. Instead, analysis of alternative routes to enable more passenger trains and higher speeds proceeded. In 2015, the current route, with numerous upgrades, was chosen by the Project Team as the Recommended Preferred Alternative.
The schedule was for the Leadership Council to vote on this in December 2015, then a Draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement was to be released in 2016 and hearings held on it, for the Leadership Council to finalize the Recommended Selected Alternative in 2017, then publish the Final Tier 1 EIS and receive the Record of Decision in 2018. Then if funds can be found, design and engineering must be done before any construction can begin.
Point Defiance Bypass
The Point Defiance Bypass is a partnership with Sound Transit to bypass BNSF Railway Puget Sound shore track for an alignment between Tacoma at the north end and the Nisqually River at the south. It increases train speeds in this corridor with a straighter, shorter track alignment, while eliminating the need for Cascades trains to use the single-track Nelson Bennett Tunnel. In exchange for improved freight throughput as a result of the bypass, BNSF agreed to increase the priority of passenger trains along the shared portions of the corridor. The opening of the bypass in December 2017 will reduce Seattle–Portland travel times by around 20 minutes per trip.
Sound Transit construction of the line between Tacoma and Lakewood was completed in 2012 after feasibility studies, design work and acquisition of land had begun in 2005. The first phase of construction began in June 2009; by that time the completion date had been pushed back to 2019. In 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided additional funding for the project, enough to bring the completion date forward to 2017. Construction between Lakewood and Dupont began in December 2014 and was completed in mid-2017 and the new line will open to passenger service on December 18, 2017.
Total ridership for 2008 was 774,421, the highest annual ridership since inception of the service in 1993. Ridership declined in 2009 to 740,154 but rose 13% in fiscal year 2010 to 836,499 riders, and to 847,709 riders in 2011.
Ridership declined steadily between 2011 and 2015, attributed in part to competition from low-cost bus carrier BoltBus, which opened a non-stop Seattle–Portland route in May 2012. Low gas prices and schedule changes due to track construction also contributed to the decline. Ridership rose again in 2016, and is expected to continue rising in 2017 and beyond, after the completion of the Point Defiance Bypass construction project.
|YoY Diff. %||—||91.6%||59.1%||6.2%||14.8%||21.6%||6.4%||17.2%||5.7%||4.3%||0.1%||2.3%|
|YoY Diff. %||5.5%||-1.0%||7.4%||14.4%||-1.7%||10.1%||1.1%||-1.4%||-3.5%||-3.2%||-4.0%||5.5%|
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- WSDOT - Second Amtrak Cascades Train to Canada
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WSDOT’s project team will now advance design work and expects construction to begin in 2015 and open the new route to service in 2017
- Washington State Department of Transportation. "Amtrak Cascades Annual Ridership Report 2008" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-17.
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