Washington’s long-awaited draft state rail plan update has been released. Due out in 2019, the draft finally surfaced last week from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) highlighting the status of the state’s railway infrastructure as well as projected demand and needs. The draft plan shows that mainline railways are becoming more congested, which is in line with a growing economy and population.
Also featured in the draft plan are forthcoming passenger rail enhancements, possible Amtrak Cascades service growth scenarios, and discussion of intercity passenger rail studies underway. A final state rail plan is expected to be adopted in the spring, but the public can comment on the draft plan through February 14th. The plan could serve as a catalyst for a major expansion of passenger rails service.
Context of the state railway system
The bulk of Washington’s railway system is privately owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Union Pacific. Several dozen other private and public entities (e.g., state, ports, and local governments) own shortline railway segments for economic development purposes that connect to the mainlines. Thus, passenger rail is largely operated over private tracks owned by BNSF. The exception is the Point Defiance Bypass, which is forms a small segment of tracks from Tacoma to the Nisqually Valley and is owned by Sound Transit. That segment currently has commuter rail service as far south as Lakewood but will once again feature Amtrak Cascades service sometime this year.
The draft rail plan includes a baseline analysis of mainline railway service levels as of 2016 and three growth scenarios through 2040. The analysis uses the traditional transportation planning quantitative measure: level of service (LOS). There are five LOS ratings with LOS A being limited to no delays and LOS F involving regular delays and system breakdown. All three growth scenarios assume no additional track improvements are made to facilitate more capacity.