Passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Washington (AAWA) has called upon the Washington State Legislature to provide funding to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to implement existing plans for an expanded statewide passenger rail network. Restoring the full Amtrak Cascades passenger train schedule, and expanding Cascades service to Central and Eastern Washington, are critical components of statewide economic recovery and development.
AAWA, which has represented the state’s rail passengers for over forty years, believes that now is the time to implement previously-planned expansions of the state-supported Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service. The ongoing budgetary, mobility, and climate crises all demand commitment to proactive solutions that foster stable economic recovery from the pandemic while furthering Washington’s efforts to fight global climate change.
With targets for reductions of vehicle trips, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic fatalities all coming due over the next decade, immediate legislative actions should be taken to sustain our state’s financial solvency and our citizens’ quality of life.
Why the Cascades?
The Amtrak Cascades is an established, essential public transportation service. In 2019, the Cascades service provided nearly 829,000 annual trips as an alternative to driving and flying along the I-5 corridor. Washington has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in local, state, and federal funds toward creating and maintaining the Cascades.
Our State has included passenger rail in its transportation vision for over thirty years. Cascades service improvements were included in the East-West passenger rail expansion goals promulgated by the 1993 legislature (RCW 47.79.020), and in WSDOT’s 2006 Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Amtrak Cascades.
2021 Legislation Needed
Legislative leaders plan to focus its 2021 session on a small number of priorities, including economic recovery and climate change. AAWA’s members ask the Legislature to pass economically-responsible legislation that will further these goals.
Immediate Restoration and Improvements to Amtrak Cascades
Washingtonians are traveling again, and they can’t use a train that isn’t there. Amtrak Cascades must return to its pre-pandemic capacity and schedule. This will help Cascades accommodate travelers as safely as possible, provide employment to workers who have fallen on hard times, and allow the state to meet its trip reduction, climate, and safety goals. WSDOT is short on passenger train equipment and has few viable options. This session, the Legislature should approve:
- Funding for additional passenger train equipment;
- Restoration of pre-pandemic frequencies with service north of Seattle temporarily terminating in Blaine or Bellingham; and
- Restoration of Point Defiance Bypass service and additional Seattle-Portland trips.
Passenger Rail Planning and Cost Sharing
The Legislature must also turn its attention toward the future. Passenger rail needs planning and operating resources similar to highways, ferries, and airports. AAWA asks the Legislature to support:
- Comprehensive Amtrak Cascades and East-West rail corridor studies;
- A cost-benefit analysis of the East-West rail corridor serving Spokane and Boise;
- Regional Rail Commissions (RRCs) that improve competitiveness for federal grants;
- County Rail Districts (CRDs), including for Kittitas County; and
- Maintain cooperation with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
Legislation in 2022 and Beyond
In 2022, the Legislature should provide the funding needed to implement WSDOT’s 2006 LRP for Amtrak Cascades. That plan envisioned:
- Four daily Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. trips in 2 hours and 37 minutes; and
- Thirteen daily Seattle-Portland trips in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
AAWA believes that a timely realization of this LRP will improve mobility across the Northwest and increase the utility of future connecting services, like the proposed East-West train service between Seattle and Spokane. We will continue to work with the Legislature in 2022 and beyond to fund and implement a statewide passenger rail network that will serve communities of all sizes, and create a solid foundation for ultra-high-speed corridors throughout the Northwest.
President Harvey Bowen said, “Frequent passenger train services will continue to be essential because they provide safe, green, and convenient transportation. All Aboard Washington believes our state needs to support economic recovery by resuming the complete Cascades service schedule, allowing us to reach the approximately one million annual trips mark that the planned service levels provide for. We are committed to advocacy for a return to pre-pandemic services, and to holding WSDOT and the Legislature to their goals and plans with a minimum of delay despite the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on our state.”
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