Thoughts on the Modernized Seattle-Tacoma Rail Plan.


September 14, 2015 by seradt

NOTE: For those looking for a broader, annotated overview of the corridor, please review my previous blog post, here.


A major rebuild of our regional railroad system is certain to instigate a lively discussion on the merits of a plan: how fast should it go; what stops should be served; should it be electrified or remain diesel; should this area be tunneled, trenched or bridged; should freight services be allowed on it; should short-line business connections be preserved on or over portions of the rail line, etc. These are all valid and worthwhile questions to ask that impact the fundamental nature and purpose of any plan involving rails.

The plan I have put forth has very specific aims: create a cost-effective infrastructure that moves people rapidly, all-the-while nurturing a healthy urban development in places that directly benefit from the railroad upgrades.

To accomplish this goal I made assumptions that dictated the nature and purpose of my plan. 1) The planning focus must be on everyday people. 2) It has to be high-speed and be much swifter than any vehicle trip times between Tacoma and Seattle. 3) It has to be financially palatable, utilizing existing resources to control costs and keep them low. 4) It has to create tangible value in the lives of people and in the places it serves by being quiet, swift and safe. 5) It cannot have grade-crossings. 5) It has to be intuitive and easy-to-use for all. 6) It has to be agreeable to regional stakeholders.

With these fundamental planning principles established for the corridor, the plan presented to you naturally unfolded. Utilizing existing resources, it capitalizes on infrastructure redundancy and provides high-capacity mainlines for both passenger and freight dedicated services, and does so in existing rights-of-way. It uses advanced, quiet electric trains on modern infrastructure to quickly move about the corridor. Platforms are level with the train car floor and services are scheduled logically, disproving once-and-for-all that American transit must be lackluster and confounding. Curves are banked, or superelevated, and train speeds kept high on a railroad unencumbered by crossing gates, cars and pedestrians. City centers are served well, connecting historically dense suburbs to job centers with high service frequency. New dedicated trackage is built in the least disruptive manner possible and only where necessary, ensuring that the public’s train schedules are never hampered by a routine delay ever again. Most importantly, the plan would responsibly address through a myriad of solutions the very legitimate concerns of those businesses and homes to be shuttered or relocated. All this accomplished in effort to transform the way we live and move around the south Puget Sound.

Indeed, the plan is true to the civic goals established at the commencement of the design process.

It is essential to note that aside from constructing an entirely new passenger-dedicated alignment between Seattle and Tacoma, whose financial and political cost would be astronomical and even damaging, this is the most effective plan that can be conceived to confront pervasive challenges to our regional mobility. As it is currently planned it represents a local rail system to be proud of, certainly one that ranks among the best in the world. However, it does not have to be built this way, and many will fight to reject components of the plan to suit their personal agenda, well-intentioned or otherwise.

For example, the line does not have to be high-speed, and the related high-speed infrastructure (namely the curves) then becomes unnecessary. It does not have to be electrified, canceling every related infrastructure and equipment expenditure. It does not have to be totally passenger-dedicated, removing the cost of building dedicated-trackage between Tukwila and SODO. In fact, it does not have to be passenger-dedicated at all, preserving local businesses at the sacrifice of precision passenger schedules and respectable speeds. It does not even have to be great, just better, some will argue, happy to settle for a cheaper and lousier variant of a plan that should have been exceptional. Some would be satisfied with an affordable Sounder-plus, dismissing the idea of a railroad system that produces real benefit to society, and wholly discounting the opportunity cost associated with their quest for affordability at any expense.

I am not here to sell Sounder-plus; no, I am here to detail what is technically feasible to a region hungry for intelligent solutions that provide a meaningful improvement to their livelihood.

This is that plan.

After several discussions with civil and transportation engineers, transit and rail aficionados, and members of an engaged public, this rail plan is beginning to develop into a tested, scrutinized, technically-feasible option available to explore as a Plan B to link Seattle and Tacoma. Again, for those looking for a broader, annotated overview of the corridor, please review my previous blog post, here.

Now, let us continue to have a conversation regarding smart, responsible transportation investments.


One thought on “Thoughts on the Modernized Seattle-Tacoma Rail Plan.

  1. […] profound ways. It is entirely technically feasible as has been documented on this blog (here and here); the practice of sharing trackage and joint dispatching is well developed and even employed […]


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