Amtrak Cascades

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Amtrak Cascades
Amtrak Cascades 2006.jpg
The Cascades at Seattle's Carkeek Park in 2006
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Active
Locale Pacific Northwest
First service May 1, 1971
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Ridership 2,038 daily
792,481 total (FY16)
Start Vancouver, BC
Stops 18
End Eugene, OR
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
On-board services
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 12 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, 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.[1] For trains that do not travel directly to Vancouver, BC or Eugene, connections are available on Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach services.[1] Additionally, Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach services offer connections to other destinations in British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington not on the rail corridor.

As of fiscal year 2016, Cascades is Amtrak's eighth-busiest route[2] with a total annual ridership of 792,481.[3] In fiscal year 2015, Farebox recovery ratio for the train was 58.6%.[4]


The Mount Rainier in 1974. Note the dome car and coaches still bearing pre-Burlington Northern liveries.
Departure board at Seattle's King Street Station in 1981, listing the Mount Rainier, the Pacific International, and other since-discontinued trains

The Cascades passenger train route was originally operated as a joint partnership by the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Union Pacific.[5]

Amtrak took over intercity passenger rail operations from the private railroads on May 1, 1971. Initial service consisted of three Seattle-Portland round trips, with no service to Vancouver, BC. The trains were initially unnamed; in November 1971, one became the Coast Starlight (which continues south to San Bernardino), while the other two became the Mount Rainier and Puget Sound.[6] 1972 brought the return of Vancouver service with the inauguration of the Seattle-Vancouver Pacific International, which operated with a dome car (unusual for short runs).[7]

Amtrak introduced the Seattle–Salt Lake City, Utah Pioneer in 1977. The Pioneer took over one round-trip between Seattle and Portland, arriving in Seattle in the late evening and Portland just before noon. Amtrak eliminated the Puget Sound altogether, and shifted the Mount Rainier's northbound trip to replace it.[8]:59

The corridor grew in August 1980 with the State of Oregon financially subsidizing two daily round trips, the Willamette Valley, between Portland and Eugene. The Pacific International was discontinued in September 1981, followed by the Willamette Valley at the end of the year.[6][9] This left three trains on the Portland-Seattle corridor: the Coast Starlight, the Pioneer and the Mount Rainier. This situation remained unchanged for the next 13 years.

Expansion in the 1990s and 2000s[edit]

The Northwest Talgo at Portland in August 1994
Amtrak Cascades consist in Portland, Oregon with NPCU at the head of the train.

In 1994, Amtrak instituted a six-month trial run of modern Talgo equipment over the Portland-Seattle 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.[10][11] 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.[12]

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.[13][14] Amtrak renamed the Mount Rainier the Cascadia in October 1995; the new name reflected the joint Oregon-Washington operations of the train.[15]

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. Amtrak announced the new Amtrak Cascades brand in the Fall 1998 timetable; the new equipment began operation in December.[16][17] Amtrak extended a second train to Eugene in late 2000.

In 2004, the Rail Plus program began, allowing cross-ticketing between Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak between Seattle and Everett on some Cascades trains.[18]

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[19] 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,[20] which resulted in the Canadian government permanently waiving the fee.[21] Two additional Seattle–Portland round trips will be added in Fall 2017 to enable same-day business travel between the two cities.[22]

Rolling stock[edit]

The baggage car from the Mount Adams set separate from the rest of the cars. Note the shared-wheel arrangement.
Inside the bistro car with the route on the ceiling.

Service on the Cascades route is provided by 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. Despite a maximum design speed of 124 miles per hour (200 km/h), current track and safety requirements limit the train's speed to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), although $781 million work is currently underway for the Cascades route which will allow them to operate at speeds up to 110 miles per hour (180 km/h).[23]

The Cascades is painted in a special scheme consisting of cream, brown and dark green. The train is normally operated in a push-pull configuration with an EMD F59PHI or GE P42DC at one end, a 12- or 13-car Talgo-built trainset, and an unpowered EMD F40PH locomotive called a Non-Powered Control Unit (NPCU) on the other end used as a cab car.[24]:140 The NPCU contains a concrete weight to meet FRA weight requirements for collision safety as well as regulations for crash safety for the Talgo cars, which are not FRA crash-rated.[citation needed]

Four of the five 1998-vintage trainsets are named after mountains in the Cascade Range: Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood. The last set is named after Mount Olympus, in the Olympic Range. A typical train consists of a baggage car; two business-class coaches; one lounge/dining car; one cafe car (also known as the Bistro car); six standard coaches; and one service car.[25] From the mid 1990s to the May 12th, 2008, Amtrak System timestable, 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 Systems Timestable. As noted, the cars still run but, are now only used for lounge services and are open to all passengers. One of the five sets currently in service, the Mount Adams set was originally built as a demonstrator for potential service between Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. It was built with two additional standard coaches, for a total of 14 cars. It operated on the Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. run for several years in its original configuration. It was also originally painted in a different color scheme, using the blue, black and silver of Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner instead of the green, brown and cream found on the other sets.[24]:139

A six-car spare set, including a baggage car, service car, lounge-dining car, café car and two standard coaches, was also built. The two additional coaches from the fifth trainset and the two coaches from the spare set were placed in service on four of the other sets, resulting in four 13-car trains and one 12-car train. Fins on the baggage and service cars serve only as an aesthetic transition from the high top of the American-built locomotives to the roof of the low-slung European-designed passenger cars.[citation needed]

During 2013, two new Talgo 8 trainsets, owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation, ODOT, entered traffic to enable further expansion of services.[26] These trainsets differ from the original five by having cab cars integrated into the set, therefore not requiring the use of ex-F40PH NPCUs. Additionally, these sets also maintain other minor interior differences such as cafe car layout and onboard electrical systems. The two new sets are named Mount Bachelor and Mount Jefferson, after the respective peaks located in Oregon.[citation needed]

In early 2014, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), awarded a contract to Siemens USA to manufacture 8 new locomotives for Cascades Service. Upon awarding this contract, WSDOT joined Illinois, California, Michigan, and Missouri to be the buyers of the new Siemens Charger locomotive. These locomotives are expected to be delivered to WSDOT in spring 2017. As of February 2017, the first of WSDOT's 8 locomotives have been constructed and are awaiting testing at TTCI in Pueblo, Colorado.[citation needed]


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.

Local partnerships[edit]

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.[27]
  • The Sound Transit RailPlus program allows riders to use weekday Cascades trains between Everett and Seattle with the Sounder commuter rail fare structure.[28]

The Cascades service also benefits from Sound Transit's track upgrades for Sounder service, notably the upcoming Point Defiance Bypass project.

Proposed changes[edit]

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.[29] 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.[30]

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);[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33][34] 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.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37] The schedule is for the Leadership Council to vote on this in December 2015, then a Draft Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement should 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.[38] Then if funds can be found, design and engineering must be done before any construction can begin.

Point Defiance Bypass[edit]

Map of 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. The first phase will decrease travel time through the corridor by 6 minutes; the second phase will decrease travel time by at least another 5 minutes.

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.[39] The first phase of construction began in June 2009; by that time the completion date had been pushed back to 2019.[40] In 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided additional funding for the project, enough to bring the completion date forward to 2017.[40] Construction between Lakewood and Dupont began in December 2014 and should be completed by the summer of 2017.[41][42]


Total ridership for 2008 was 774,421, the highest annual ridership since inception of the service in 1993.[43] Ridership declined in 2009 to 740,154[44] but rose 13% in fiscal year 2010 to 836,499 riders,[44] 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.[45][46] 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.[47]

Data from the Washington State Department of Transportation:[4][48][49][50][51]

Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Ridership 94,061 180,209 286,656 304,566 349,761 425,138 452,334 530,218 560,381 584,346 589,743 603,059
YoY Diff. 86,148 106,447 17,910 45,195 75,377 27,196 77,884 30,163 23,965 5,397 13,316
YoY Diff. % 91.6% 59.1% 6.2% 14.8% 21.6% 6.4% 17.2% 5.7% 4.3% 0.1% 2.3%
Year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Ridership 636,092 629,996 676,765 774,531 761,610 838,251 847,709 836,000 807,000 782,519 751,148 792,481
YoY Diff. 33,033 -6,096 46,769 97,766 -12,921 76,641 9,458 -11,700 -29,000 -26,000 -31,371 41,333
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%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Amtrak Cascades Schedule" (PDF). Amtrak. February 20, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  2. ^ "Amtrak Fact Sheet, Fiscal Year 2016 - State of Washington" (PDF). Amtrak. November 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  3. ^ Magliari, Marc (November 17, 2016). "Amtrak Delivers Strong FY 2016 Financial Results - Amtrak Media". Amtrak. Retrieved January 15, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Amtrak Cascades Annual Performance Report 2015" (PDF). WSDOT. Retrieved 12 June 2016. 
  5. ^ The Official guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the U.S., Rand McNally & Company, May 1966, The guide shows that the service was operated jointly, some trains using Seattle's King Street Station and the rest Seattle's Union Station
  6. ^ a b Schafer, Mike, Bob Johnston and Kevin McKinney.All Aboard Amtrak. Piscataway, NJ: Railpace Co., 1991
  7. ^ Zimmermann, Karl. Amtrak at Milepost 10. Park Forest IL: PTJ Publishing, 1981.
  8. ^ Amtrak (May 1, 1977). "National Train Timetables". Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wyant, Dan (December 29, 1981). "Slide closes rail line near Oakridge". The Register-Guard. p. 1A. 
  10. ^ Esteve, Harry (March 31, 1994). "Talgo 200 tantalizes train fans". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  11. ^ Amtrak (October 30, 1994). "Pacific Northwest Corridor". National Timetable. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  12. ^ Bishoff, Don (November 2, 1994). "Seattle in six, and a nap, too". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  13. ^ "For Riders, Vancouver Train's Just the Ticket". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. May 27, 1995. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  14. ^ "TRAVEL ADVISORY; Amtrak Resumes Seattle-Vancouver Run". The New York Times. June 11, 1995. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  15. ^ Amtrak (January 1996). "Pacific Northwest Corridor". National Timetable. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  16. ^ Bishoff, Don (December 2, 1998). "Budget boosts trains service". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  17. ^ Wade, Betsy (December 13, 1998). "Practical Traveler: On Amtrak, Full Speed Ahead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  18. ^ "The New Math: Sound Transit + Amtrak Cascades = RailPlus" (Press release). Sound Transit. 17 September 2004. 
  19. ^ "Second Amtrak Cascades train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C to begin service August 19, 2009" (PDF) (Press release). Amtrak. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  20. ^ "Washington state working to keep second Vancouver, B.C., Amtrak train". Trains magazine. September 22, 2010. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "Second daily Amtrak train to Vancouver, B.C., made permanent". The Seattle Times. August 17, 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  22. ^ Shaner, Zach (July 7, 2016). "Amtrak Cascades Looks Toward 2017". Seattle Transit Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2017. 
  23. ^ "Amtrak Cascades - About". Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  24. ^ a b Solomon, Brian (2004). Amtrak. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 0-760-31765-8. OCLC 56490949. 
  25. ^ "Trainset Roster". On Track On Line. January 1, 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-02. 
  26. ^ Oregon DOT
  27. ^ Amtrak Cascades. "Amtrak Cascades - Special Offers". Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  28. ^ Sound Transit. "Sounder train fares". Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  29. ^ "Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades" (PDF). WSDOT. February 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  30. ^ a b Schrader, Jordan (May 17, 2011). "Federal money to improve Amtrak Cascades train travel". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  31. ^ WSDOT - Second Amtrak Cascades Train to Canada
  32. ^ "Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan" (PDF). WSDOT. December 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  33. ^ The Official guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the U.S., Rand McNally & Company, May 1966
  34. ^ Amtrak Winter-Spring Timetable 2013
  35. ^ "ARRA Funded High Speed Rail". WSDOT. Archived from the original on July 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  36. ^ Esteve, Harry (July 25, 2009). "Oregon bids big for faster trains". The Oregonian. 
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Tacoma-to-Lakewood Track & Facilities". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on June 14, 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  40. ^ a b WSDOT - Project - Rail - Tacoma - Bypass of Point Defiance
  41. ^
  42. ^ "Status - June 2014". WSDOT. Archived from the original on July 8, 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 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 
  43. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation. "Amtrak Cascades Annual Ridership Report 2008" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  44. ^ a b "Amtrak sets new ridership record, thanks passengers for taking the train (link to PDF download)". Amtrak. October 11, 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  45. ^ Pucci, Carol (July 7, 2012). "BoltBus gives Amtrak a run for the money on Seattle-Portland travel". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  46. ^ Cook, John (May 1, 2012). "Seattle to Portland for a $1? That’s the promise of BoltBus". GeekWire. Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  47. ^ Johnson, Graham (April 1, 2016). "Amtrak Cascades ridership declining but state predicts a rebound". KIRO 7. Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  48. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (December 2009). "Amtrak Cascades Fourth Quarter and Annual Ridership Report - 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  49. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (December 2010). "Amtrak Cascades Quarterly Ridership Report - October to December 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  50. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (December 2011). "Amtrak Cascades Quarterly Ridership Report - October to December 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  51. ^ "Amtrak ridership is down in the Northwest - is Bolt Bus to blame?". 

External links[edit]

Route map: Google
KML is from Wikidata