Point Defiance Bypass

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Point Defiance Bypass

The Point Defiance Bypass (officially the Lakeview Subdivision) is a 14.5-mile-long (23.3 km) rail line between the cities of DuPont and Tacoma in Pierce County, Washington. It was originally built by the Northern Pacific Railway - the Tacoma–Lakewood segment in 1874 as part of the Prairie Line, and the Lakewood–DuPont section in 1891. Passenger service on the lines declined after the 1914 completion of a flatter route along the Puget Sound, and ended entirely in 1956.

The route was identified as a passenger rail bypass in 1992. Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood began in 2012. The $181.1 million improvement of the remaining section began construction in 2015 as part of general improvements to the Amtrak Cascades corridor to eliminate the slow and winding route along the Puget Sound shoreline that included single-track tunnels. It was opened for Amtrak service on December 18, 2017, but the first Cascades train derailed at speed on a bridge over Interstate 5 while traveling southbound near DuPont. Amtrak service was rerouted to the old line pending investigation and upgrades.


The Point Defiance Bypass begins at a junction with the BNSF mainline near the Nisqually River bridge, east of Lacey. The railway crosses over Interstate 5 and travels along the freeway's north side through DuPont and Joint Base Lewis–McChord (JBLM). In Lakewood, it stops at a train station and turns north, merging with the Tacoma Rail mainline. Trains continue north through South Tacoma station and follow South Tacoma Way as it makes a gradual turn to the east.[1] The bypass passes under State Route 16 and over Pacific Avenue while approaching Tacoma Dome Station. The railway travels over the Dome District area of Tacoma along a high trestle bridge and rejoins the BNSF mainline near the Puyallup River bridge.[2]

The project included the construction of five upgraded at-grade crossings and several grade-separated overpasses and underpasses along Interstate 5 in Dupont and near JBLM.[3][4][5]


A section of the Point Defiance Bypass in Lakewood, seen from Lakewood station

The Northern Pacific Railway (NP) opened the Prairie Line - part of its planned transcontinental mainline - through Yelm and Lakewood on January 5, 1874.[6]:11 On May 1, 1891, the NP-owned Tacoma, Olympia & Grays Harbor Railroad completed a 24.7-mile-long (39.8 km) branch of the Northern Pacific between Lakeview (near modern Lakewood) and Lacey, passing through the Fort Lewis military base.[7] By 1914, the NP (plus the GN and UP under trackage rights) operated 11 daily round trips over the Prairie Line, plus 3 daily round trips to Grays Harbor over the newer branch.[6]:12

Just south of Tacoma, the Prairie Line had a 2.2-mile (3.5 km) section of difficult 2.2% grade. In 1914, the NP opened the Point Defiance Line along the coast of Puget Sound and around Point Defiance.[8] Part of the line to Grays Harbor was used by the new line; the section between DuPont and Lakewood became the American Lake Branch. Most NP and UP passenger and freight service moved to the newer, flatter line.[6]:12 On August 8, 1943, the GN moved its remaining Seattle–Portland round trip to the Point Defiance Line, leaving only NP trains to Grays Harbor on the old line. Those trains were discontinued in February 1956, leaving the American Lake Branch and the Tacoma–Tenino section of the Prairie Line used only by freight service.[6]:15 The GN and NP were merged into the Burlington Northern Railway (BN) in 1970. In 1973, the BN increased clearances on the Point Defiance Line, allowing trains carrying Boeing aircraft parts to use that line. Long-distance freight service was removed from the Prairie Line, and it was abandoned south of Yelm in 1986.[6]:16

The Point Defiance Line, however, proved not to be ideal for Amtrak passenger service. Mudslides frequently closed the line, and the 1988 conversion of two tunnels to single track to further increase freight clearances limited capacity.[9] In 1992, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) identified the American Lake Branch and the northern section of the Prairie Line as a potential alignment for a new Amtrak bypass of Point Defiance.[10][9] In April 2003, the BNSF Railway (the successor to the BN) removed the remaining 2.1 miles (3.4 km) of the Prairie Line in Tacoma from service, thus allowing Sound Transit to build the Tacoma Link without an expensive level crossing. In return, Sound Transit funded repairs to the American Lake Branch for continued BNSF freight service to Fort Lewis, while Tacoma Rail took over freight service on the line in Tacoma.[6]:16 BNSF sold the Tacoma–Lakewood section to Sound Transit for commuter rail use in 2004 for $13.4 million, with BNSF retaining a freight easement.[11][12]

WSDOT published a long-range plan for the Amtrak Cascades corridor in 2006, outlining a series of projects needed before reactivating passenger rail service on the line.[13] The projects, known collectively as the Point Defiance Bypass, included rebuilding of tracks and ties, a new signal system, improvements to at-grade crossings, and a $230 million bridge to replace a viaduct crossing Interstate 5 on a tight curve near the Nisqually River. The project ultimately did not include the Nisqually bridge, which became the site of the 2017 derailment.[14]

The Point Defiance Bypass project underwent environmental review in 2006 and started final design in 2007.[3] The $181 million project was funded through transportation packages previously approved by the state legislature, as well as the federal stimulus package of 2009.[3][15] Officials from Lakewood and DuPont voiced their concerns about safety and increased traffic congestion resulting from the bypass's construction, leading to concessions in the final design by the state.[16][17] Construction began in 2009, with the northern end connected to a former UP line at Tacoma Dome Station, and Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood began in October 2012.[3][18] Construction on the Nisqually–Lakewood segment began in 2015 and was completed in late 2016. Testing of trains at full speeds of up to 79 miles per hour (127 km/h) was conducted from January 2017 to December 2017.[19]

The bypass is planned to carry twelve daily Amtrak trains on the Cascades and Coast Starlight.[20] Sound Transit plans to extend Sounder commuter rail service to DuPont in 2036, with an additional station at Berkeley Street.[21]

2017 derailment[edit]

On December 18, 2017, during the inaugural southbound run of the Cascades on the Point Defiance Bypass, the train derailed while crossing Interstate 5 near the Nisqually River. Of the 84 people aboard (77 passengers and 7 employees) on board, 3 were killed.[22]

After the accident, which closed the bypass to Amtrak service, WSDOT announced that it would not resume service until the full implementation of positive train control (PTC). (Sounder service to Lakewood continued to operate.) Service was then scheduled to restart in early 2019.[23] The PTC system was fully installed by late 2018 and activated on the Point Defiance Bypass in March 2019.[24][25] The National Transportation Safety Board presented its final report on the accident on May 21, 2019[26], with WSDOT issuing a subsequent statement that they would need time to analyze the report before resuming service on the line.[27]

See also[edit]

Media related to Point Defiance Bypass at Wikimedia Commons

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  1. ^ Champaco, Brent (October 27, 2008). "Lakewood gets ready for a lot more rail". The News Tribune. p. A1.
  2. ^ "Point Defiance Bypass Project" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. July 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "Pt. Defiance Bypass Project" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. March 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  4. ^ "Construction to close I-5 south near Nisqually on July 9". The Olympian. July 2, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Point Defiance Bypass Project: Finding of No Significant Impact (PDF) (Report). Federal Railroad Administration. February 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "1: Catalog" (PDF). Prairie Line Terminal Section: Catalog of Character-Defining Features. University of Washington, Tacoma. April 2011. pp. 9–16.
  7. ^ Robertson, Donald B. (1986). Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History: Oregon, Washington. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Press. p. 292. ISBN 9780870043666. OCLC 13456066. Retrieved December 18, 2017 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Sailor, Craig (March 26, 2017). "Tacoma telegraph operators kept trains on track and on time". The News Tribune. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Point Defiance Bypass Project Technical Advisory Team" (PDF). Washington State Department of Transportation. July 15, 2010.
  10. ^ Joseph, Turner (August 4, 1998). "Commuter rail may hasten new Amtrak route". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. p. A1.
  11. ^ "Sound Transit takes ownership of Tacoma to Lakewood rail line" (Press release). Sound Transit. August 13, 2004. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  12. ^ "Finance Docket No. 34747, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority" (PDF). Surface Transportation Board. August 29, 2005. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  13. ^ Tucker, Rob (November 15, 2006). "State plans new route for passenger trains". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. p. A1.
  14. ^ Lindblom, Mike (January 2, 2018). "Straightening of curve at Amtrak derailment site in Dupont had not been state priority". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  15. ^ "Amtrak Cascades one step closer to faster, more frequent service" (Press release). Washington State Department of Transportation. March 4, 2013. Archived from the original on February 20, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  16. ^ Champaco, Brent (October 20, 2009). "Bypass worries Lakewood". The News Tribune. p. A1.
  17. ^ Champaco, Brent (April 27, 2010). "Dupont joins train fight". The News Tribune. p. A1.
  18. ^ Doughton, Sandi (October 7, 2012). "Lakewood area celebrates arrival of Sounder service". The Seattle Times. p. B2. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  19. ^ Lynn, Adam (January 17, 2017). "Look out for fast trains as Point Defiance Bypass tests begin". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  20. ^ Sailor, Craig (December 8, 2017). "One of the last great Washington train rides is coming to an end". The News Tribune. Tacoma, Washington. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  21. ^ "Sounder Extension to DuPont" (PDF). Sound Transit. July 21, 2016. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  22. ^ O'Sullivan, Joseph; Bush, Evan; Clarridge, Christine (December 18, 2017). "At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails from bridge onto Interstate 5 near Olympia". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  23. ^ Baker, Mike (December 21, 2017). "Washington state: No passenger trains on Amtrak derailment route until safety systems are in place". The Seattle Times. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  24. ^ Bruell, Alex (December 18, 2018). "WSDOT says it's on track for train safety deadline". The Daily News. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  25. ^ "Positive train control fully activated on Amtrak Cascades corridor, WSDOT says". KIRO 7. March 25, 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  26. ^ "Amtrak Passenger Train 501 Derailment". www.ntsb.gov. Retrieved 2019-07-28.
  27. ^ "December 2017 derailment | WSDOT". wsdot.wa.gov. Retrieved 2019-07-28.