Tell WSDOT: Finish the Job! Implement the Long Range Plan for the Amtrak Cascades by 2030

Join Solutionary Rail and our allies in an emergency campaign to restore a higher speed vision for the Amtrak Cascades.  

Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) current draft of its Service Development Plan (SDP) for the Amtrak Cascades is a betrayal of the public trust. It abandons the very purpose of the Amtrak Cascades and the service criteria critical to fulfilling that purpose. And their timing is terrible. Just when other states are jumping on the opportunity to get new federal support to finish important improvements to rail service, WSDOT is abandoning decades of work to deliver faster, more reliable service on the Amtrak Cascades. 

The founding purpose of the Amtrak Cascades is to make rail competitive with driving. The criteria for accomplishing that are simple:
shorten the trip times and provide frequent, reliable service.

The Long Range Plan for the Amtrak Cascades charted a path to do that with a set of infrastructure enhancements to allow:

  • 2.5 hour trips between Seattle and Portland and
  • 2.7 hour trips between Seattle and Vancouver, BC
  • 14+ round trip trains per day (SEA-PDX)
  • 5+ round trip trains per day (SEA-VBC)
  • Trains still stop at every station, with 95% on time service.

These shorter trip times have been the north star for progress since 1991 and affirmed as recently as the 2019 State Rail Plan. The on-time service and reliability are made possible with the addition of nearly 200 miles of dedicated passenger track, allowing speeds of up to 110 mph. (Current on-time performance is dismal, hovering around 50%.)

The Long Range Plan is NOT the hyper-expensive "UltraHSR" project Microsoft has been pushing. The above improvements have been planned for existing BNSF corridor. 

Why would BNSF agree to this? Partly because the Long Range Plan started with investing nearly one billion dollars of taxpayer money to untangle the BNSF freight system. The higher-speed, dedicated track was part of the 20 year Master Agreement BNSF signed. Though WSDOT allowed it to expire on June 30, 2023, it remains better for both freight fluidity and on time passenger service for there to be dedicated lanes for passenger and freight trains. So, WSDOT needs to be instructed to renew that Master Agreement with BNSF as well.

WSDOT's proposed current "Service Development Plan" is really a service under-development plan. They are doing a bait-and- switch to trick Washingtonians into waiting for the UltraHSR project, which may or may not ever happen. If it does go forward, the UltraHSR project with its 90 miles of tunnel (on new - yet to be acquired - right of way) promises to be 10x more expensive and take 3x longer to accomplish than the above improvements to the Amtrak Cascades. Regardless, a future bullet train is only as good as the intercity rail system it augments. It is not a replacement for that system. 

Therefore, the public needs to make it loud and clear that we can't wait 30 years. We want WSDOT to Finish the Job! by updating and implementing the Long Range Plan for the Amtrak Cascades as a central element of the Service Development Plan it submits to the Federal Railroad Administration this summer. 

Once this Plan is finalized and goes to the Federal Railroad Administration, there's no going back. It will define what improvements the Federal government's Corridor ID program will and will not support.

For a deep dive into the history and potential future of the Amtrak Cascades check out our Amtrak Cascades 2024 Improvement Plan (download PDF). Solutionary Rail and our allies commissioned this in-depth report from rail expert Thomas White. It provides a detailed description of why dedicated track and 110mph higher speed track are essential for reliable, robust service that draws people out of their cars and onto the Amtrak Cascades trains.