All Aboard Washington, Climate Rail Alliance, and Solutionary Rail crafted a Joint Statement, on Washington State Rail Policy. Click HERE for the most recent version with endorsers.
Improved rail transportation is a solution to both transportation equity and climate challenges. Investment in rail provides benefits such as jobs, equitable access, improved mobility, health and safety of railway workers and the public, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, reduced highway infrastructure damage and congestion.
Our Legislature needs to recognize the importance of a robust rail transportation appropriation that positions Washington to leverage grant opportunities such as offered by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act given that most federal grant opportunities require matching funds. Washington state must be proactive in developing project plans that are ready for construction when funding becomes available.
We support Governor Inslee’s and the Legislature’s commitments to clean transportation. However, statistics show that Washington is not on track to fully achieve its climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Rail must be the backbone of our surface transportation network because of its energy efficiency, low carbon emissions, electrification potential, and reduction in vehicle miles traveled.
The following specific steps must be taken in Washington state in order to rapidly build a regional rail network that will help achieve our transportation climate goals within this decade.
Update the Amtrak Cascades Long Range Plan
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has been instructed by the Legislature to develop a Service Development Plan (SDP) for the Amtrak Cascades. In order to leverage our state’s prior investments, the Legislature needs to ensure that the SDP includes service goals commensurate with those contained in the “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades” (2006):
- Seattle-Portland travel time of 2 hours 30 minutes,
- Seattle-Vancouver BC travel time of 2 hours 45 minutes,
- All current stops,
- Maximum headway 1 hour, clock-face schedules,
- Minimum service day 6 am until 8 pm first and last departures from endpoints.
WSDOT must expedite completion of the SDP to be positioned to acquire federal funding for rail improvements in Washington state that will help meet our climate goals.
Implement East/West Passenger Rail Service
Further immediate actions are needed to connect Washington’s underserved cities from East to West via Burlington Northern Santa Fe Stampede Pass tracks with an implementation timeline that meets our state’s climate goals. It is especially important that this service not be defined by the endpoints of Seattle and Spokane, but rather as an essential statewide corridor providing access to/from the national network for underserved, burgeoning, and diverse population centers in Kittitas county, Yakima county, the Yakama Nation, and Benton/Franklin counties.
Induce Demand for Rail (not Roads)
To achieve as much mode-shift of passenger and freight transportation as possible from roads to rail, we must plan rail service based on a high ridership scenario. This means that our infrastructure must support fast, frequent, reliable service for passengers and shippers. This is especially important in anticipation of continuing population increases in our region. In order to dramatically reduce vehicle miles traveled, passenger rail service should be as attractive as possible – frequent, reliable, with high speed internet, abundant sustainable transit and multi-modal connections at stations, healthy menu, comfortable seating, and bike racks.
Electrification of regional rail lines, drayage, rail yards, and ports is needed to reduce carbon emissions. Mode shift of people and freight from roads to rail has an advantage over electric cars and trucks because rail can be electrified by multiple means, including overhead power lines which reduce the extraction and waste stream impacts related to batteries. The combination of mode shift from roads to rail, and electrification of rail, is the most effective path to transportation decarbonization and improved health for workers and communities living near transportation corridors and hubs.
Determine Practical Applications of High-Speed Rail
High Speed Rail (HSR), as defined by the Federal Railroad Administration, refers to a wide range of passenger rail options beginning with speeds of 90 miles per hour. HSR projects with a speed of over 160 mph require land acquisition for new rights-of-way and potentially decades to complete. Therefore, it is important to differentiate between HSR projects that can provide an effective climate solution and other benefits within this decade, and those that cannot.
As we plan for a more effective, beneficial surface transportation system, we must prioritize expansion and improvement of our existing rail corridors and determine where various applications of HSR may be appropriate. Applications must be consistent with the goals of rapidly reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.
Support Freight Rail
Expanding and improving existing passenger lines is beneficial for freight rail operating on the same corridors by providing shippers more options to decrease the number of long-haul trucks on highways. Although most freight rail is privately owned in the United States, the public benefits from safe, efficient, affordable freight rail service. Private freight rail companies have legal “common carrier” obligations including obligations to Amtrak that need to be enforced.