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14.12.2015
Waldo Florida, Named for Benjamin Waldo, a wealthy land owner in Alachua and Marion Counties. While previous issues still occasionally cause delays or cancellations, such as Pacific Northwest mudslides or high water at Devils Lake (an intractable problem in an endorheic basin), the blame this time around falls squarely on North Dakota’s oil boom and the constrained track capacity it has caused.
I’m a strong supporter of intercity rail, but we do ourselves no favors to downplay this terrible performance or to sugarcoat the human misery these delays cause. Lost in this mess is the fact that the Empire Builder runs rather well here in Washington (see chart below and compare above), and we shouldn’t let miseries in the upper Midwest deter us from seeking better service across our state. Meanwhile, on this side of the Cascades, we have 7 trainsets making only 13 daily runs, an overcapitalized and underused fleet that awaits the completion of the Point Defiance Bypass and other projects.
Although the lower chart looks much better than the upper one, it still doesn’t look great. True, but note that many of those are related to late arrivals in Seattle not being able to turn on time the same day towards Spokane (scheduled layover is 6.5 hours).
If you included a quick stop in Cheney and Wenatchee…would be interesting if that proved to be a draw. Not only that, but this would open up other things that have previously been impossible, such as visiting Leavenworth without having to stay two nights, or using the train to connect to flights either at SEA or GEG.
Unfortunately, I believe BNSF operates the single track westbound in the morning and eastbound in the afternoon.
The Empire Builder route serves only Everett, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, and Ephrata en route to Spokane.
The north route to Spokane is more direct, so I suspect we will want both routes eventually. I could envision a scenario where we restored both sets of tracks and ran trains in both directions. I know of two Talgo train sets up for sale, with some investment in the cascade tunnel, and signaling and siding improvements I’m sure BNSF would be happy to provide more train service.
If WSDOT wants to fund another Seattle to Spokane trip, it should be protected with 2 trainsets doing one trip per day.
Obviously, that schedule is better with lower risk, but gives you terrible equipment and crew utilization. Just because there is a 12 hour limit doesn’t mean you have to make them work a 12 hour day.
Starting in Seattle, the CW loop would follow the path of the Empire Builder to Spokane using similar stops.
This would give most major EW cities two trains a day, each train going in opposite directions. The Stampede line would need a full CTC implementation, since BNSF is using it for directional running it would probably also need more and longer sidings. This would probably require sidings immediately after the tunnel on the east side so that the electric locomotives could be decoupled immediately for reuse.
Alaska Air does, or has done, something similar to this in Montana between Missoula, Billings and Seattle. It’s a complete abomination that just when the people of this country have started to come around to using trains, many precisely for their beneficial effect on the environment, we have to have one of our main lines put permanently behind schedule over cargoes that are nothing but sticky airborne filth.


This country can also afford to find new industries to put Dakotans to work on projects that will benefit the planet, the passenger trains, and them- especially when, like any other depletable resouce, the oil runs out. Meantime- what’s the farthest east from Seattle, and the farthest west from Minneapolis that good passenger rail service can be maintained? And meantime, let’s enlist these senators and congressmen to help in passing a Federal mandate that all interstate railroads side-track freight trains whatever the cargo in favor of passenger service- which I believe used to be standard practice. As citizens of the State of Washington, let’s us start doing everything we can to keep both oil and coal out of the way of passenger trains in our own state. Which, like with oil workers when the wells run dry, and coal miners when the coal’s all gone, we might as well do sooner than the inevitable later. North Dakota citizens love Amtrak because there’s no east-west bus service up there, you have to take a north-south bus down to I-94 and another one back up.
I’d like to see the population there surprise me and win the vote for AMTRAK- if there ever is a vote. Having talked with working people from Washington State who support coal transport through our territory, and having lived in the upper Skagit Valley for a couple of years, though, my word to environmentalists is that we have to start lobbying real fast and very hard to get decently-paid work to people who haven’t had any for 40 years. Do that and balance of votes between passenger trains and oil ones could shift faster than oil out of a derailed tanker car can spill and catch fire.
Under current conditions, Stampede Pass is probably the most likely route for additional trains between the two.
The bad news with Stampede Pass is that it is a very long route to get to Spokane due to going all the way to Pasco, and then back north to Spokane. What the Cascade Tunnel really needs is re-electrification, maybe using low voltage 3rd rail, so that it would be easy to run the 600 volt DC section of the locomotives off of that while in the tunnel.
Another thing to consider would be getting some Spokane – Portland traffic into the mix.
I see this as a quick off-the-shelf service addition, so it’d be the current route and stations. Stevens is doable, and sources at BNSF have told me that in the near future carbon monoxide detectors will be installed in the Cascade tunnel, potentially allowing the flush time to be reduced from 30-60 minutes to just 5-10 minutes. In Europe even though you can cross the country, you often switch trains, so no one line would be responsible for such a long distance.
To me, a better evaluation would be how often the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight and Cascades, are on time for the intra-state routes. While track expansion projects are underway, causing additional delay themselves, the problem will persist indefinitely.
As someone who¬†particularly cares about eventually giving Spokane better than its current graveyard service, seeing our fate so miserably tied to North Dakota’s ¬†is a shame. This new schedule will have the (accidental but pleasant) effect of giving Spokane decent eastbound service, with a 9:00pm arrival time. I would love to see WSDOT fund a temporary pilot project to give daily roundtrip service to Spokane through 2017 using one of those surplus sets, just to give Eastern Washington a taste of intercity travel that is better than either uncomfortable buses or unreliable trains.
In addition to writing for STB, he owns and operates Pedal Anywhere, an on-demand bike rental company. Spokane is the second biggest city in Washington (although it is essentially tied with Tacoma).


With Talgo sets (or older surplus equipment) and good dispatching, I think the trip could be done reliably in 7 hours, which is 30 minutes faster than the Trailways bus and 90 minutes slower than Greyhound.
Everett is a city, Wenatchee might get some minimal ridership, and Leavenworth attracts tourists and skiers. This would give Spokane double the amount of potential service to Seattle, while also serving most of the major towns and cities on the East side of the Cascades.
On the Seattle-Evt-SPK, I’d recommend adding stops in Monroe, and Skykomish (to serve the winter market). From Spokane it would turn south and hit Cheney, Ritzfille, Tri Cities, Sunnyside, Yakima Elensberg, Cle Elum, Auburn and back to Seattle.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked for full double track from Spokane-Pasco, although they are making strides on their own.
And also start making whatever adjustments in our own way of life are needed to be sure the requisite industries understand we’re willing to put money and effort where our mouths are. They may be time-coordinated but not necessarily for all trip combinations, and each of them runs once a day. However, I suspect that whatever the population thinks, their legislators, being the ones who each get a lot more oil company money than their constituents, Liberty itself means freedom to put a mile of tank cars in front of every passenger train between them and every coast. If so, likely the oil industry will put Wyoming grads in their lobbying offices- but none of their engineering offices and certainly not on any oil rig.
Furthermore, the ex-Northern Pacific route between Spokane and Pasco is slow and curvy, and filled with long heavy trains headed to the Columbia River Gorge route to Seattle, Portland, and everywhere else.
Aren’t there a number of single tracked portions that limit the capacity of this line?
Stampede’s problem is that is does not have full CTC signaling, it has CTC islands around the sidings so they have power switches. And doing the trip that way would ensure that the train overnights in Seattle for maintenance.
Along that northern corridor, you won’t find anything bigger until you get to Minnesota (a long ways away). Boise is just a tad bigger, but still a long ways away (much further than Spokane to Seattle). There’s freight tracks all the way through but I gather it would cost a significant amount of money to restore passenger-train quality to Stampede Pass. This is why it is crazy that the Spokane to Seattle run is being held up by anything to the east.
Still, Washington should add it to its long-range plan and have at least daily service on both routes.
There is nothing substantial to the east unless you go so far (Minnesota) that a train ride becomes a huge, multi-day ordeal. It is far enough to gain a big speed advantage over a car if rail ever becomes high speed through there, but not so far that a plane will easily beat it.



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