Express Trains: TAC-PDX in 2 hours, TAC-SEA in 43 minutes

Limited stop service could cut time between Tacoma and Portland to only 2 hours.

Amtrak Cascades Limited Express:
Tacoma to Portland in 2 hours

An exciting new idea for express train service between Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland has surfaced on the Seattle Transit Blog.  If WSDOT can implement the idea, it could cut the trip time between Tacoma and Portland from 3 hours to 2 hours.  At that rate, taking the train would beat the time to drive to Portland by roughly a half hour assuming traffic during rush hour.

In his post, Zach Shaner explains how his plan could fit neatly into current WSDOT plans to add two new roundtrips to Amtrak Cascades service:

Imagine a new morning southbound train from Seattle to Portland leaving around 6:30am, stopping only in Tacoma and Olympia before arriving in Portland at 9:15am.

Tukwila riders could transfer via Sounder at Tacoma (with added RailPlus ticketing), Kelso and Centralia riders would retain their local service one hour later, and Vancouver WA riders would already be taking C-Tran anyway.

Conversely, imagine a train leaving Portland for Seattle around 6:30am, but instead stopping only in Vancouver WA and Olympia, as Tacoma and Tukwila riders would already take Sounder.  After adding that limited-stop service, you could still add a 5th fully local service and meet the ARRA requirement for 2 additional roundtrips.

Tacoma’s express trip to Portland would be made daily from Freighthouse Square at ~7:15am for arrival at 9:15am.  The return time for such a trip was not described, but it would allow for a day-trip or for regular commuting.  So when the Point Defiance Bypass is completed and Tacoma has a new intercity train station at Freighthouse Square in 2017, it could be possible for someone to live in the Dome District and regularly work in Portland, 140 miles away.

Think of the possibilities for enhanced economic development in the Dome District; additional demand for housing, office space, and hotel rooms.  From one spot at the multimodal hub of Freighthouse Square, Tacomans will have access to Sounder, streetcar, local and express bus, and intercity trains.

RailPlus on Sounder South:
Tacoma to Seattle in 43 Minutes

Another thought that Zach has also written about is allowing Tacoma commuters to use Amtrak Cascades trains in addition to Sounder trains using an arrangement called RailPlus.  With RailPlus, people can buy a Sounder ticket and board a Cascades train.

Amtrak makes only one stop between Tacoma and Seattle (in Tukwila), which makes the trip faster than regular Sounder Trains (by about 15 minutes).  If commuters were allowed to use ORCA cards on Amtrak Cascades, they would also get access to expanded train frequency and span in addition to shorter trip times.

With this arrangement it would be possible to depart Seattle at 5:30pm and arrive in Tacoma at ~6:13pm, soundly beating Sound Transit Route 590/594, which is endlessly and hopelessly mired in heavy traffic between Federal Way and Fife on Southbound I-5 thanks in no small part due to a lack of HOV lanes.

Sounder South RailPlus and limited express Cascades trains could mutually reinforce one another as well.  Commuters from Tacoma could benefit from the additional trains both to Seattle and back, while filling unused demand from return trips to Portland assuming sufficient capacity and demand.

If HOT lanes can somehow be pioneered in lieu of HOV lanes, but at a more rapid schedule, I would be willing to consider it. So far DOT has said we have to wait for many more projects on I-5 in the Downtown/Port area before Federal Way – Tacoma Mall HOV is completed.

I’ll put this on my bucket list of things to check on with WSDOT.

Lack of HOV lanes in Tacoma/Fife, but also clogged HOV lanes for the ST buses from Seattle to Fife (and vice versa in the a.m.) at times. How about HOT lanes for cars under 3 people to keep the HOV lanes clear for the buses?

Good news on the trains, too.