All Aboard Washington has had a busy spring with virtual advocacy in both Washington, D.C. and Olympia. The ongoing pandemic continues to present countless challenges, but there is renewed interest in passenger rail service from coast to coast. Here are some updates on what’s been going on and what you can do to help make things happen.
Good News From D.C.
The national picture for passenger rail is perhaps the best it’s been in many decades.
Amtrak’s long-distance national network trains will be returning to full service for the summer. The Empire Builder and Coast Starlight will both resume daily operation beginning May 24th, alongside the restoration of additional Cascades trips between Seattle and Eugene. Service to Vancouver, B.C. will begin shortly after the reopening of the U.S.-Canada border.
Announcement of New Equipment
Siemens Mobility Inc. has been identified as the preferred bidder for Amtrak’s procurement of 83 new Intercity Trainsets (ICT). The ICTs will gradually replace older equipment on the Northeast Corridor, Palmetto, and various state-supported routes, including the Cascades. Amtrak expects to finalize the ICT procurement contract this summer.
Congressional Interest in Pro-Rail Policy Proposals
AAWA and the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) have conducted a number of meetings with congressional officials and their staff throughout the spring. Transportation and infrastructure are two high-profile topics in D.C. right now., and we have generally found these congresspeople to be receptive to the many ideas we spoke about for passenger rail.
Bad News Closer to Home
The Pacific Northwest is still facing numerous obstacles to the restoration and expansion of regional passenger rail service.
Limited Success in Advancing Needed Projects in Olympia
While Washington’s budget shortfall wasn’t as bad as originally projected, priority was once again given to status-quo projects. Funding for continued operation of the Cascades, a Cascades Service Development Plan (SDP), and a corridor connectivity study was passed. The Cascades SDP should set out a path for the service’s improvement and increase its competitiveness for federal grant funding.
Limited Equipment for Service Restoration
With the removal of four Talgo VI trainsets from service in June 2020, the Cascades is lacking the equipment pool needed for a full restoration of the pre-pandemic schedule. WSDOT is borrowing old Amtrak passenger cars for now, but service restoration across the Amtrak national network is likely to strain the availability of this spare equipment within the next year. Amtrak does not anticipate the availability of new ICT passenger cars for approximately 5-7 years.
Amtrak’s 2035 Connect US Vision Lacks Rural Service
AAWA is supportive of improvements to existing corridor services and expansions into new urban markets. However, we do not believe Amtrak’s business interests should be advanced at the expense of equity for rural and small-town communities that have few intercity transportation options. Amtrak’s 2035 Connect US vision needs to demonstrate a stronger commitment to the Northwest’s rural residents, particularly Central and Eastern Washingtonians and Eastern Oregonians.
What We Plan to Do
East-West Stories Video
Washington’s legislators aren’t hearing the voices of their constituents who need better intercity transportation options. Our elected officials need to hear your stories and learn about how you can benefit from enhanced East-West passenger rail services in the Yakima and Kittitas Valleys. AAWA can help amplify your voice through the creation of a video showcasing the East-West project and the needs of Washingtonians who need it most.
Presentation for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region
Rail is becoming an increasingly important topic of discussion across North America. The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) will host an event in Big Sky, MT this summer, and AAWA has been invited to share a presentation on the need for more and better passenger trains. This is an incredible chance for AAWA to share your needs with both American and Canadian elected leaders.
How You Can Help
There’s a lot you can do to advance our mission for more equitable transportation in the Northwest.
Engage With Your Elected Officials
The biggest thing you can do to help us actualize our vision is to engage with our elected officials in both Olympia and Congress to help them understand our region’s needs for better intercity transportation options. Visit our Take Action page to learn more about our greatest local and national needs.
Write For Our Newsletter
AAWA is seeking content for its second-quarter edition of Northwest Rail News. We welcome interesting, informative content on the connections between rail and the health of our society, especially topics related to economics, the environment, and equity. Please submit your content via our Contact page by May 10th.
Volunteer With AAWA
AAWA is busier than ever. If you want to use your skills for the betterment of Northwest transportation, we can always use an extra hand. Check out our Volunteer page to learn about our current opportunities.
Donate to AAWA
AAWA is your voice for a better statewide transportation system. We couldn’t do what we do without your generous support, and we’re appreciative of your help during these challenging times. Our goal is to raise $20,000 before our 2021 summer picnic, scheduled for August 7th. Visit our Support page to make a one-time or recurring donation to AAWA using a credit or debit card, bank account, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. Thank you!
All Aboard Washington