Improving Rail Mobility in the Puget Sound: A Mapped, Annotated Plan.

15

August 26, 2015 by seradt

COMPLETELY UPDATED: The February 19, 2017, technical updates to the SPIRE plan, linked here, supersede the proposals detailed within this post. Please review the new plans to stay up-to-date with project developments.

—————>
This plan is not intended to improve intra-Seattle mobility.

In fact, unlike that of Link Light Rail, the objective of this plan is clear: to provide rapid mass transit between the region’s cities as affordably, efficiently and as swiftly as possible.

I introduce Link into the discussion because Sound Transit is currently extending Link Light Rail southward from Seattle to Tacoma. Link is envisaged as being the region’s new passenger rail spine. With a brand new political alignment, it will be expensive, serve sprawled areas, and be unacceptably slow as it attempts to perform a role better suited for intercity trains.

While much of the final alignment is undetermined, it is quite possible, if not probable, that the routing of the new railroad will be politically expedient and ultimately lacking in the qualities that define world-class transportation systems. With a skeptical eye, we can already see the planted seeds of a new, BART-like system that disappoints more than it engenders praise; indeed, it threatens to be a mediocre system that does not meet any reasonable metric for high-capacity, rapid transit excellence.

Already, the Link Light Rail line south of Seattle features numerous sharp curves and an alignment panned by astute transit planners and critics. At full build out to Tacoma, a worst case scenario sees the line running alongside Interstate 5 for miles to serve suburban park-and-ride stops sited away from the sprawled centers that Link should be serving. These are the same suburban centers that urgently need to densify. This worst case scenario is not hyperbole.

Incredibly, despite the massive investment that will have been made to build the line, which already costs at least $5 billion (when including projected costs only to Federal Way, and not including existing infrastructure like the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel), the trains will never achieve trip time parity with that of the wildly popular ST Express buses that currently use busy, parallel I-5. Ridership per mileage will be low and maintenance costs will rise for a Link Light Rail that gets you around the corridor reliably, albeit far too slowly for such a prominent and wealthy region.

For the expenses to be paid and effort expended, we should expect better. We deserve better.

There is an alternative.

While Sound Transit puts all of its eggs in the Link basket, betting it all on a new alignment and operating technology wholly unsuitable for swift regional mobility, Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter train popularly operates a nearby corridor without any intense focus from the agency (or from Puget Sound area voters that influence our transportation agenda). The South Line, as it is called, is actually the BNSF railway mainline between Seattle and Tacoma and hosts, courtesy of expensive rented time slots, ten round-trip Sounder trains each day. For a two-track line already running 50-60 trains daily (pg. 22), it has several real, complex problems: Sounder speeds are limited to roughly 20mph faster than the quickest freight train, artificially capping speeds and significantly disrupting freight traffic; passenger operations are restricted to a frustratingly brief window of time during the rush hours, and there is no weekend service; onerously heavy diesel locomotives and passenger cars are required by federal law because of the mixed traffic, rendering impossible the acceleration, deceleration and top-speed standards that a modern passenger railroad should attempt to meet; platforms are low due to an antiquated state law and railroad policy that prohibits taller platforms, rendering illegal the level boarding of passengers that is a necessity for precision scheduling, and; well, you get the drift. This is not a world-class operation. Sounder commuter trains are merely freight trains in passenger train clothing, and which also happen to carry people.

However, Sounder commuter trains have an incredible asset that render its otherwise mediocre service quite exceptional: an arrow straight alignment that serves many historic, fine-grained cities in the central Puget Sound, allowing for run times that are respectably fast—oftentimes faster than the bus, and occasionally even driving.

My plan is the securing of this right-of-way for the deserving public, and its subsequent upgrading into world-class electric railway infrastructure featuring a modern passenger operation.

The cost will be billions and the politics likely complicated.

Crucially, it will require triple tracking one of two railroad mainlines into Seattle to radically increase its low track capacity, which will be followed up with a seamless diversion of all freight traffic to it. This corridor, currently owned by the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) and hosts little over ten trains per day (pg. 22), would become a freight-dedicated corridor that is to be shared and jointly managed with BNSF. The two railroads already jointly dispatch shared corridors in the United States, so there exists an established template for cooperation. Once built, never again would a passenger train delay cargo traveling between Seattle and Tacoma. The corridor will also be grade separated, eradicating dangerous roadway crossings from the regional map. As a bonus, also eliminated is the majority of the noise pollution generated by honking trains rolling across roadways, once and for all neutralizing a nuisance of a federal mandate. For those living near crossings, real estate values might rise (and they undoubtedly would for those near the BNSF line).

The capital cost to triple-track the UPRR will be substantial, but not prohibitive: the existing rail corridor easily accommodates the one or two extra tracks with utterly zero takings of property. Only existing road crossings would be affected by construction; however, the grade separation of both the BNSF and UPRR rail corridor should be done anyway, whether or not this plan is realized. In fact, a significant portion of the expense of this project is attributable solely to upgrades that should have already been completed. Railway malinvestment in the Puget Sound will force the capital costs of this reasonable project to be higher. Ultimately, the opportunity cost for not making these investments—investments that free up the BNSF line for a strictly public use, a major win for citizens—would be tremendous.

Besides the modest widening of historic track curves to a minimum of 1900m (6235ft) in support of 200kmh (125mph) operational speeds, the most impacting change will be the relocation of the Auburn Yard to a site near the Emerald Downs racetrack, also in Auburn. This is the most suitable location for a large rail yard on the new freight corridor. Without this new facility, old Auburn Yard continues to exist and perform its critical function of storing freight trains waiting for their travel slot into Seattle. It is imperative to note that any mixed traffic on the BNSF line is the undoing of this plan, and the public would need to settle for a drastically reduced quality of passenger service (think Utah’s Frontrunner as opposed to commuter sections on the Dutch national network). However, should the yard be relocated, and should a trench be dug connecting the Stampede Pass rail line to the freight corridor, every significant BNSF rationale for holding onto the line, besides its real estate value and historical importance, would be eliminated. With a direct purchase agreement, we can divert freight trains onto the shared corridor, remove toxic cargos from our city centers, and take over a railroad line primed for hauling people.

Dependent upon the quality of service the public expects—with this plan offering a fine balance between affordability and operational excellence—all, some, or none of the plan can be constructed. This vision specifies top-speeds of 125mph using off-the-shelf electric trains that have terrific top-speed, deceleration and acceleration specifications. The trains would tilt to maintain comfort on highly super-elevated curves. The curves on the right-of-way themselves would be widened to accommodate world-class urban speeds. A passenger-dedicated section north of Tukwila would be constructed on a largely greenfield alignment to overcome geographic constraints and heavy freight traffic, starting just before the location where the BNSF & UPRR corridors rejoin for their final jaunt into Seattle on historically shared right-of-way.

Simply possessing the BNSF corridor would drastically improve commuter service in the region. However, it must be noted that the type of service levels envisioned in this plan require dedicated tracks and the standard electrification and signaling systems of advanced passenger railroads. Without the tracks the line is partially shared with numerous freight trains, and the constant disruption to all trains would be a never ending reminder that the business goals of freight and passenger are often mutually exclusive. Without the electrification and signaling, precluded is the scheduling of a world-class passenger service. Should such choices be made in the interest of politics, money or time, the rail line will never be world-class, will never provide a future connection to a high-speed rail line to Portland, Oregon, and will eventually fail to meet growing service demands in an expanding region. This could be our shot to get it right the first time, or risk having our children paying far more for new capacity later.

Best yet, it would catalyze the rejuvenation of the historic cities of the corridor, all of which have urbane street grids from the pioneer era that would become logical places to densify. These cities demand recognition. These are cities deserving of new infrastructure, of new investment, of new citizens and new vitality. Urban life here would fundamentally change with grade separation and the eradication of railroad noise pollution, to say nothing of fast, frequent service to the area’s biggest job centers. It would allow for the flowering of central Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn and Kent, even as their cores already experience healthy growth. It would be a reward for sensible development patterns.

Truly, the most responsible plan for regional rail mobility is not the one Sound Transit is struggling to iron out, but the one already in existence and time-tested, just waiting for its moment to transform. Very technically feasible, all that is needed is political and civic will. Indeed, Mike Reilly, the Port of Tacoma’s director of intermodal business, previously advocated for such a rerouting of trains as early as 2013, though this proposal is far more transformational both in its approach and ultimate goals for regional rail mobility. Never involving a courtroom, the key players in this plan would reach consensus through negotiation. The quid pro quo nature of the plan would generate agreement between the railroads and the government as it satisfies all parties equally.

While this alignment includes new-build track miles, the majority of it already exists and awaits meaningful public investment. Instead of building an entirely new line, a pointless and wildly expensive endeavor, this plan best utilizes the region’s resources, eliminates redundancy, and delivers the goods affordably and efficiently. We could do this.

From here, I’ll let my plan speak for itself. I welcome feedback and constructive criticism.

—————————–>

Proposal Overview:

Overview Map (SEP 2016)
Overview Map (Original)
—————————–>
Section View:
Page 1, Tacoma


******
Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Improving Rail Mobility in the Puget Sound: A Mapped, Annotated Plan.

  1. Dan H says:

    Feel free to send me an e-mail at some point. Not sure if you can see it through here but feel free to get in contact. I so far like this and would like to look a bit deeper and advance this further. I would love to work on this as a proposal to bring up at open houses for Sound Transit.

    Instead of saying no to rail to Tacoma, let’s be saying yes to something better.

    Like

  2. Nathanael says:

    (1) BNSF is likely to demand higher clearances. The Great Northern Tunnel under Seattle is 28 feet tall, so BNSF will probably not allow an overhead crossing lower than that. South of the Boeing plant, BNSF will want *huge* clearances, because they bring in completely ridiculously oversized loads to that plant. This affects all the proposed flyovers.
    (2) Page 25, SODO: Try trenching under BNSF as well as under UP. The passenger trains are not as tall as the freight trains, even with the extra clearances for electrification.
    (3) Page 25, SODO, again: The 1.4 miles shared with BNSF in Seattle is trouble! They will never agree to “passenger-only during the day”. Find a way to get two passenger tracks and two freight tracks in there, somehow. Maybe extend the trench further north?
    (4) Page 25, SODO, again: You pretty much have to trench under Spokane St. in order to grade-separate it given the viaduct above and the street on ground level.
    (5) Page 25, SODO, again: If you want to get BNSF out of your hair, you also have to get past the busy freightyards (serving PCC Logistics) between Horton and Lander St., which are not going to close and which will probably require daytime service.

    Given all of this, I’m inclined to suggest starting the tunnel just south of the Amtrak/Sounder shops, north of Lander St. Elevate Lander Street over the tracks. Run the tunnel, descending, to the west of the existing freight tracks. Then tunnel in a broad curve all the way past the I-5 on-ramp as in your existing plan. I’d suggest running due north-south under the Spokane St. in order to avoid the support columns for the viaduct; maybe along the alignment of Occidental Ave.

    If you can turn the tunnel into mostly a single end-to-end bored tunnel it’ll probably be cheaper than a complicated set of elevateds. It’s short enough that it needs no ventilation (because electrified rail!)

    (6) The double flyovers north of Tukwila are undesirable and very expensive. You want to stay on the west side of the freight lines the whole way from SODO to Tukwila. I see why you couldn’t figure out how to do that, but maybe there’s a way?

    More comments to come…

    Like

  3. Nathanael says:

    (7) There are serious long-term proposals to put passenger trains back through Stampede Pass, and it’s a good idea. You need to accomodate them…. probably simply by retaining the existing connections.
    (8) Relocating Auburn Yard is going to be a hard sell. If there’s a preexisting redevelopment scheme, with developers slavering over it, it would stand a better chance…
    (9) There’s got to be some way to segment this into pieces of individual utility.

    For instance, suppose that you tie Auburn Yard’s north end into the UP line while connecting the Stampede Pass Line: that has independent utility. Then you make whatever improvements to the UP line are necessary to get freight off the line from Black River Junction to Auburn Yard. Then you have a passenger-exclusive section in the middle, which you can make *high-speed*.

    With this and with passenger-priority tracks at the Tacoma end, you can then pursue the “SODO-Tukwila passsenger line” and the “Auburn Yard relocation / Auburn-Tacoma passenger line” as two subsequent projects. So you’ve broken it into three pieces.

    Alternatively,the SODO-Tukwila passenger tunnel could be done first, but I wouldn’t recommend it because it gives BNSF less incentive to make a deal for the south-of-Black-River line. The tunnel should only be done after the south-of-Black-River line has been sold to the state.

    Like

  4. Nathanael says:

    (10) The rare Mountain Division traffic on Tacoma Rail (all running at night) will still need to connect to BNSF/UP/Port of Tacoma. This requires a connection through the Tacoma station to the UP/BNSF tracks to be maintained. This shouldn’t be too hard as it mostly just requires leaving in place some of the existing infrastructure.

    Like

  5. seradt says:

    (1) BNSF is likely to demand higher clearances. The Great Northern Tunnel under Seattle is 28 feet tall, so BNSF will probably not allow an overhead crossing lower than that. South of the Boeing plant, BNSF will want *huge* clearances, because they bring in completely ridiculously oversized loads to that plant. This affects all the proposed flyovers.
    My response: per BNSF’s own technical guidelines, and as per grade separation technical documents at two points on the BNSF line that carry Boeing parts—Lander Street in Seattle and Haley Street in Kelso—BNSF clearances for new overpasses are 23-1/2ft from top of the rail. My 25 foot clearances easily meet this standard, which is also a standard that is easily adjustable with very minor grade alterations. I am satisfied with that detail of the plan.
    By the way, the Great Northern tunnel was famously overbuilt even at the time of construction.
    ——————–>
    (2) Page 25, SODO: Try trenching under BNSF as well as under UP. The passenger trains are not as tall as the freight trains, even with the extra clearances for electrification.
    My response: Trenching must be kept to an absolute minimum, for it may require shoofly tracks to preserve existing freight operations, and it can endanger the integrity of the track versus an overpass. Additionally, trenching may not even be a realistic option, or at least cost effective, due to high water tables in an area that was formerly water. All of SODO is landfill. Viaducts here more easily accommodate existing rail operations in a space constricted area.
    The only trenching on the plan required is to permit UPRR access to existing track networks and businesses. This requires feasibility study, but it will likely be close enough to suitable topology to avoid any significant issue.
    Also, note that the only reason the line is trenched there, specifically, is due to clearance requirements emanating from ground-level UPRR trackage and the elevated Airport Way. Elevating the passenger tracks there would very likely be impossible, though that should be further studied.
    ——————>
    (3) Page 25, SODO, again: The 1.4 miles shared with BNSF in Seattle is trouble! They will never agree to “passenger-only during the day”. Find a way to get two passenger tracks and two freight tracks in there, somehow. Maybe extend the trench further north?
    My response: BNSF would lose one 1.4 mile section of track on an otherwise triple-track-plus section of rail right-of-way. North of Argo (my Seattle flyover junction area), traffic levels decline substantially compared to Seattle-Tacoma. This traffic can easily be accommodated on the remaining two mainline tracks. Now, whether BNSF puts up a fight or not is another question, but if the trade-off for one mile of track on a three-track section is nearly forty miles of road and passenger separation, I would imagine that BNSF could be convinced to take the bait.
    ————–>
    (4) Page 25, SODO, again: You pretty much have to trench under Spokane St. in order to grade-separate it given the viaduct above and the street on ground level.
    My response: Spokane St. Viaduct is unaffected by the ramp over the BNSF tracks in SODO. There is sufficient length to provide the slope for clearance. The viaduct begins in the Spokane Street area, but it does not impact that roadway.
    —————>
    (5) Page 25, SODO, again: If you want to get BNSF out of your hair, you also have to get past the busy freightyards (serving PCC Logistics) between Horton and Lander St., which are not going to close and which will probably require daytime service.
    My response: I am happy you brought PCC Logistics to my attention, and I was duly anticipating smaller businesses served somewhere along the line that I would miss when preparing this plan.
    PCC Logistics is precisely the type of business that would have to do their movements across this part of the traditional network exclusively at night, or do strictly scheduled movements over the passenger-dedicated tracks during passenger operating hours, all to avoid facing eminent domain to shutter the business.
    Several hundred million dollars of elevated or trenched infrastructure to preserve spur tracks, all for a minor business to shuttle a few cars at any hour, is the definition of reckless spending, the type of spending neither me nor this plan endorses. The public deserves better, too.
    Eminent domain serves a valuable public tool when irreconcilable property differences arise. When confronted with a transportation system that could move, one day perhaps, dozens of millions of people, the state would be well within its right to take the property, or assist with the business’ relocation.
    This is a massive infrastructure project, the type which should’ve been done a generation ago. Naturally, people and business will be negatively affected in some areas. This does not negate the extraordinary overall value these corridors would bring to the people of Washington.
    ——————->
    Given all of this, I’m inclined to suggest starting the tunnel just south of the Amtrak/Sounder shops, north of Lander St. Elevate Lander Street over the tracks. Run the tunnel, descending, to the west of the existing freight tracks. Then tunnel in a broad curve all the way past the I-5 on-ramp as in your existing plan. I’d suggest running due north-south under the Spokane St. in order to avoid the support columns for the viaduct; maybe along the alignment of Occidental Ave.
    If you can turn the tunnel into mostly a single end-to-end bored tunnel it’ll probably be cheaper than a complicated set of elevateds. It’s short enough that it needs no ventilation (because electrified rail!)
    My response: It would deserve further study and scrutiny, but I am highly doubtful that a tunnel would be technically feasible in the SODO area, and I am very pessimistic that a tunnel would provide any value to the plan. It would be prohibitively expensive, worthlessly disruptive, and simply not very necessary. Viaducts do not disrupt the soil like a tunnel would, they preserve ground operations, and can be snaked into areas more intelligently than a tunnel or similar civil works. Besides, when other options are plainly more realistic, why would we deep-bore tunnel the line? That’s a needless civil structure.
    —————–>
    (6) The double flyovers north of Tukwila are undesirable and very expensive. You want to stay on the west side of the freight lines the whole way from SODO to Tukwila. I see why you couldn’t figure out how to do that, but maybe there’s a way?
    My response: Outside of (to a lesser extent) Tacoma and SODO, Tukwila represents the most challenging section of the plan. To maintain the already tight curves and high cants that allow for 200km/h services—1900m and 290mm of equilibrium cant is the line standard—the current routing is the apparent optimal one. I am very open to ideas, however, if the alignment can be improved.
    Maintaining the minimum radiuses; skirting the existing alignment to avoid property takings (though some have to be claimed or their businesses relocated); to duck under I5 and then immediately over the tracks; to get the passenger tracks on the necessary east side of the freight tracks north of the interstate crossing; to avoid too much time bridging the river, and; not tunneling the hill on the east side of the tracks near S 129th Street, Tukwila becomes an extraordinary challenge.
    I believe that the current alignment meets that challenge responsibly and most affordably.
    I will concede, however, that a tunnel here should be explored as a viable option for improved routing. If it proved viable and the passenger tracks were provided a pathway to permanently stay east of the freight corridor, it would change the alignment here rather substantially. As it stands, the viaducts do not seem to be avoidable. The passenger line has to swerve over the tracks to preserve minimum curve radii.
    No matter what, this area will clearly be pricey.
    ———————>
    (7) There are serious long-term proposals to put passenger trains back through Stampede Pass, and it’s a good idea. You need to accomodate them…. probably simply by retaining the existing connections.
    My response: I think pigs will fly before any passenger service is scheduled over Stampede, and as far as I know there are zero plans circulating about to reinstate such a service; however, writing in hypotheticals, the existing wye can be preserved and the service accommodated as long as the equipment coming off the pass can reliably handle the electrified passenger-dedicated line’s geometry and high speeds. The same is true for Amtrak.
    Otherwise, they have no place on a modern rail line that benefits millions more people and transforms regional mobility.
    ——————–>
    (8) Relocating Auburn Yard is going to be a hard sell. If there’s a preexisting redevelopment scheme, with developers slavering over it, it would stand a better chance…
    My response: The whole line is a hard sell, as you put it, because it affects the status-quo. Relocating Auburn Yard is no exception to that rule.
    The going theory behind this plan, though, is that if you mitigate concerns drastically and you replace existing essential corridor facilities, BNSF has far less leverage in the debate about diverting its freight traffic for a brief thirty miles of corridor in a region where hundreds are already shared.
    The politicking of this will no doubt be important, as well as patience.
    ——————->
    (9) There’s got to be some way to segment this into pieces of individual utility.
    My response: There is a way, and I think it logically plans itself. First, you have to build the components that permit the freight diversion. Then relocate yards. Then add as much passenger service as possible (which has to be capped because of track sharing north of Black River). Widen the curves near Tacoma, and then the rest of the South Sound. Finally, while electrifying and modernizing signaling, build your dedicated tracks TUK>SODO, or begin that earlier in the advanced stages of this process.
    Each phase wildly improves passenger service and has enormous independent utility.
    As you prove, there are a variety of ways this phased implementation could be organized, though I think the focus should be on rebuilding the freight corridor first.
    ——————->
    (10) The rare Mountain Division traffic on Tacoma Rail (all running at night) will still need to connect to BNSF/UP/Port of Tacoma. This requires a connection through the Tacoma station to the UP/BNSF tracks to be maintained. This shouldn’t be too hard as it mostly just requires leaving in place some of the existing infrastructure.
    My response: I am not sure of all the businesses served on this line, but I know it is not many. Like PCC Logistics, these businesses should be examined for their market value to determine if their continued existence is warranted on a line that should otherwise be dedicated to passengers and serving millions.
    I highly doubt it.
    If, of course, there is justification, they will have to discover some other way of getting back to the port. Freight services would happen after-hours.
    The existing connections in Tacoma, specifically the rail bridge over the Puyallup River and the (go-figure!) shared BNSF-UPRR tracks at Reservation, has to be decommissioned and removed to accommodate the very tight 1450m radius bridge for the passenger lines.
    ———————>
    Nathanael, I love all of your scrutiny and criticism; keep it coming. Ideas like yours only better this plan and make it more palatable to a public hungry for better options that have a meaningful impact on their lives.
    Let’s tear apart and argue over this plan until its bare bone fundamentals are more solid than bedrock.
    The public deserves it.

    Like

  6. Nathanael says:

    Just as a political point, I think it’s worth designing the connections necessary to retain existing freight service, even if they seem uneconomic. Tacoma Rail’s Mountain Division has been specifically retained and promoted by the City of Tacoma, and they’re going to keep doing that. These connections don’t need to be fast. A single-track link to the Port trackage, on the Tacoma side of the river, has to be possible within the available space.

    Second point: elevateds do require disrupting the soil. Massive support beams have to be drilled very deep, and eart. They might be cheaper… they might not. Bored tunnels generally come in on budget these days, Bertha being an obvious exception due to a bunch of idiotic choices (“largest bore in the world”, etc.)

    Third point: I think you misconstrued my comment about Spokane St. It’s going to be desirable to grade-separate the tracks against Spokane St. in the long run, or you’re going to have a grade crossing there forever, which is bad. With a road on the ground (can’t be removed, too crucial to local road traffic) and one in the air (can’t be removed, too crucial for through traffic), your choices in the long run are to run the railroad *under* Spokane St. or super-high over the viaduct.

    Which are you going to do? You need to design your long-term plan to enable this grade-separation. Otherwise you end up with a really undesirable situation like the grade crossing of the Milwaukee-bound tracks at Canal St. in Chicago, which can’t be eliminated ever.

    Like

    • seradt says:

      Just as a political point, I think it’s worth designing the connections necessary to retain existing freight service, even if they seem uneconomic. Tacoma Rail’s Mountain Division has been specifically retained and promoted by the City of Tacoma, and they’re going to keep doing that. These connections don’t need to be fast. A single-track link to the Port trackage, on the Tacoma side of the river, has to be possible within the available space.

      My response: I totally understand the urge to preserve existing business connections on our railroad lines, and I empathize with the businesses that would have to shutter or relocate because of this massive, intelligent investment into public infrastructure. Yet here we are trying to redesign a railroad corridor for the efficient movement of people and still we burden ourselves with the obligations of comparatively low-value short line business(es).

      ————>

      I implore you to consider the costs of such a connection. One, it requires a pricey new bridge and related track infrastructure because the passenger upgrades sever the existing line at the bridge over the Puyallup River. Two, it unnecessarily re-integrates the traditional network with the passenger-dedicated line between the Puyallup River and Tacoma Station, and perhaps much farther should the line eventually connect to Olympia. This has tremendous implications on buff strength (heavy weight), train speed (slow) depending on the freight schedule, superelevation restrictions (low), signaling requirements (for freight; expensive), platform height, and electrification—amongst many others. Currently, only a brief, non-high-speed, single, 1-1/2 miles of track leading to King Street Station would be shared with the traditional network—because it utterly must—and it will not be used by any freight trains during passenger operations (and at three tracks, the two remaining BNSF tracks are plenty enough for SEA-EVR cargo traffic).

      Some people agree that freight services can be maintained; sure, it may be possible here and elsewhere, but it has to be understood that any connection to the traditional freight network, especially in high-speed areas, immediately compels these FRA mandates to be adhered to, destroying critical train performance specifications and affordability. It also requires different and expensive types of infrastructure to co-exist, which would prove to be a ludicrous expense when contrasted with its benefit to society. As much as possible, this passenger line must be a system disconnected to the traditional network, with zero or as few exceptions as possible. This is what secures urgent FRA waivers for us. Otherwise, we literally imperil the high-speed design of the line.

      American transit aficionados who champion high-speed trains and rapid, mass transit have to be informed of this truth and be willing to make tough decisions. We either progress and move forward, or we deny ourselves the rare opportunity.

      ————>

      Second point: Elevateds do require disrupting the soil. Massive support beams have to be drilled very deep, and eart. They might be cheaper… they might not. Bored tunnels generally come in on budget these days, Bertha being an obvious exception due to a bunch of idiotic choices (“largest bore in the world”, etc.)

      My response: Yes, elevated structures disrupt the soil and I hope I have not made any allusion to the contrary. However, suspended bridges with rooted anchors are an entirely different animal from trenching and tunneling, both of which are exclusively a massive disruption of the soil. While I am not opposed to the alternative and think it should be studied, I fervently doubt that a tunnel or trench could be as easily snaked into the constrained Spokane St. area as could a flyover viaduct. Prefabricated with precision, these viaducts simply eliminate a lot of the risk, and therefore expense, of a tunneling or trenching project in an area with actively functioning systems (e.g. a busy freight railroad line).

      ————>

      Third point: I think you misconstrued my comment about Spokane St. It’s going to be desirable to grade-separate the tracks against Spokane St. in the long run, or you’re going to have a grade crossing there forever, which is bad. With a road on the ground (can’t be removed, too crucial to local road traffic) and one in the air (can’t be removed, too crucial for through traffic), your choices in the long run are to run the railroad *under* Spokane St. or super-high over the viaduct.

      My response: There would be zero at-grade crossings on these railroad corridors through this plan, freight or passenger. Spokane St. would either be elevated over or trenched under the tracks. I am of the opinion that local municipalities should determine how they wish to affect change on their own streets, so the “how” of these grade separations is not something I am overly concerned about.

      ————>

      I should note that I think you’ve done a very good design job from Reservation to Black River, which is why I’m mostly concentrating on the north-of-Black-River plans, where I think we can do better.

      My response: Nathanael, I want to thank you for your continued input into the project, and I encourage you to review the system map pages 20-22. These pages detail a new, preferred, alternative alignment that I devised based upon your very wise considerations. You’re right: there is a better alignment through Tukwila, Black River and Duwamish, and while it needs to be further studied (by engineers on the ground), the new routing is superficially far superior to the original line that I mapped. Nice work, and keep it coming.

      Like

  7. Nathanael says:

    I should note that I think you’ve done a very good design job from Reservation to Black River, which is why I’m mostly concentrating on the north-of-Black-River plans, where I think we can do better.

    Like

  8. […] against the individual plans or overall scheme have been made before, notably on this very blog (here). They […]

    Like

  9. mic says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to chime in here, albeit late since I only read STB these days having given up trying to carry on a dialog with most of the echo chamber crowd left standing over there;.
    Now, separating passenger rail from freight has long (since early 90’s) been a goal of many, starting with the first ST director Paul Price, a willing and vibrant WSDOT rail office, WashARP, and many others I’ve known.
    I don’t have first hand meeting details about negotiations with the Class 1’s, but can say the BNSF slammed ST down pretty hard for even attempting to tell them how to run their railroad.
    Later attempts to untie the Gordian knot between UP/BNSF didn’t produce much either. Maybe that crossover situation has been resolve by know.
    Hence we have todays situation of the BNSF able to dictate impossible terms to ST and if any progress is to be made, bags-o-cash containing $50mn each seems to be the going rate for getting any concessions for another time slot. Heck, $5mn/mile would get you a 3rd main 20 years if the RR wanted it.
    I don’t see any incentive for either RR to do as you correctly ask, and treat both 100′ wide corridors as one, and separate the HSR and any other kind of passenger rail from as many freight trains as is possible, yet maintaining growth potential for everyone over the coming years.
    I’m not an engineer by trade, but implore you to keep pushing the idea to reality.
    For me, I’m too old to carry torches down the street anymore, but sure would like to see it happen in my remaining lifetime.

    Like

    • seradt says:

      Mic, thank you very much for this history.

      Do you have any insight as to where I can find more information on these discussions? Brief searches into Sound Transit’s document library was not productive.

      I would imagine these discussions would contain very useful information for the purposes of this project.

      Like

      • mic says:

        I would start with a call to the Rail Office at WSDOT in Olympia, asking for the Director. Ask for ‘Proceedings of Discussion’ or some such title about meetings held since 1996 to the present with re3gards to getting better utilization out of both the BN and UP corridors between Seattle and Tacoma. In particular, ask about any interties that still exist, such as the one at Black River Junction where all UP trains had to cross both BN mains. Ugh. Try that with a freeway and see what congestion looks like’
        Former Rail Office Director Jim Sleky (sp?) was a good friend, but I understand the Rail and Transit Office is but a couple of people left, so it may be they just don’t know and don’t want to pursue the shelves for 20 years worth of studies.
        Next, I would contact another good friend from ‘All Aboard Washington’, a non profit promoting rail travel in WA. Their Director is Lloyd Clem, from Centralia, but has worked the halls at Olympia for 3 decades, and has great institutional knowledge about all these matters.
        That should keep you busy for a time.
        Happy hunting, and best of luck on making the corridor work better for both freights and passengers.

        Like

  10. mic says:

    PS, just rode the Lisbon #28 tram from end to end today. Narrow gauge, crush loaded, operator makes change in narrow wooden cars doing 10% grades with full loads in a light rain on mostly single track and passing sidings holding 11 min headway all day. No train control, except a couple of lights at snake single line sections on single lane roads.
    These guys earn every penny they make.
    We made 3 cabs backup uphill to clear the tracks on one of the snakes.
    Just crazy.
    I loved it!

    Like

  11. […] originally proposed by this blog, the SPIRE plan was to feature routine operating speeds of 125mph (200kmh) on largely tangent track […]

    Like

  12. […] originally proposed by this blog, the SPIRE plan was to feature routine operating speeds of 125mph (200kmh) on largely tangent track […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: