Wednesday, March 06, 2013

FRA approves WSDOT environmental assessment for Point Defiance Bypass project

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has signed off on the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) environmental assessment for the Point Defiance Bypass project.

WSDOT's project team will now advance design work to reroute passenger trains from the BNSF mainline near Point Defiance to an existing and less congested rail line that travels through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. The project will cost $89 million and WSDOT expects construction to begin in 2015 and the new route to be open for service in 2017.

"This is an important step in alleviating rail congestion and reducing travel time for passenger rail service between Seattle and Portland," said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo. "Incremental successes, like this one, are critical to helping states and regions achieve their long-term vision for higher-performing passenger rail service."

The current route used by Amtrak Cascades is congested, carrying nearly 50 freight and passenger trains a day. The proposed inland route is shorter and will allow Amtrak Cascades to reduce travel times by avoiding rail congestion and delays. The bypass route also allows Amtrak Cascades to expand the service and add two more daily trains between Seattle and Portland.

The new bypass route is located along an existing 18-mile, lightly-used freight corridor owned by Sound Transit. Part of the bypass route is the same route that Sound Transit uses for Sounder commuter rail to Lakewood.

WSDOT evaluated two possible scenarios in the Environmental Assessment. The first scenario included rerouting passenger trains with improvements to the Point Defiance Bypass route. The second scenario was a no-build alternative and included only routine maintenance and repairs on the Point Defiance route owned by BNSF.

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