An agreement signed July 28 by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and BNSF Railway clears the way for work to begin on rail improvements that ultimately will generate hundreds of jobs and improve Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Portland, according to WSDOT officials.
The agreement means the state can begin initial work this fall using some of the $781 million in federal grants awarded to Washington in the past two years. This money is part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) high-speed-rail grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Building bypass tracks and making upgrades to existing tracks shared by Amtrak and BNSF will result in faster and more reliable Amtrak Cascades service while also allowing BNSF the ability to provide world-class freight rail service, according to WSDOT officials. The ARRA money will also be used to purchase new locomotives and passenger coaches.
The agreement allows BNSF to move forward on projects, worth nearly $400 million, that are expected to generate 1,000 jobs through 2017. The first rail-improvement project will occur in Everett, where two new tracks will be built for freight trains entering the rail terminal, taking them out of the way of oncoming passenger trains. These added tracks will eliminate a substantial rail-yard bottleneck and the work is expected to support about 30 local jobs.
“The immediate benefit of this agreement is jobs — from engineers to site supervisors, to construction workers,” said Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “The longer-term benefit is that improvements in the rail corridor will reduce travel times and improve the on-time performance of passenger rail, which provides a viable transportation alternative along the West Coast.”
The agreement essentially sets up a clear contractual relationship between WSDOT and BNSF, according to WSDOT officials. As such, it outlines mutually agreed upon requirements and performance measures, including project schedules and budgets, contracting methods, procurement and purchasing processes, and budget and billing procedures, among other things.
“We’re pleased with this progress and our long standing relationship with WSDOT,” said BNSF Chairman and CEO Matt Rose. “This is an important step towards improving the trackage infrastructure to help meet current and future demands for both passenger and freight rail service.”
BNSF has been working with the state of Washington for two decades in a public-private partnership that has expanded passenger services while maintaining the ability to move goods and freight throughout the region.
With the ARRA funds, the goal is to add two additional Amtrak Cascades daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland, for a total of six. The improvements are also intended to reduce travel times, as well as improve average on-time performance from the line’s current 62 percent to 88 percent.
For more information, visit http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Funding/stimulus/passengerrail.htm .