|Termini||Vancouver, BC –
|Train number(s)||501, 513, 507, 509, 513, 517 (odd)
510, 500, 504, 506, 516, 518 (even) northbound
|Owner||Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) (track)|
|Line length||467 miles (752 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 81⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Amtrak Cascades route|
The Amtrak Cascades is a passenger train route operated by Amtrak in partnership with the states of Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and the province of British Columbia in Canada. It is named after the Cascade mountain range that the route parallels.
The corridor runs 156 miles (251 km) from Vancouver, British Columbia south to Seattle, Washington, continuing 310 miles (499 km) south via Portland, Oregon to Eugene, Oregon. Two daily trains travel to and from Vancouver, with Seattle or Portland as its starting or ending point; supplemental Thruway Motorcoach service connects travelers from Vancouver, BC to trains heading south from Seattle, as well as providing additional service between Portland and Eugene, and connections to other Amtrak Thruway destinations in Washington and Oregon. The second daily service between Seattle and Vancouver, BC started on August 19, 2009. Two daily trains run between Portland and Seattle, one daily train runs from Eugene to Portland, and one daily train runs from Eugene to Seattle. This scattered schedule makes the Cascades unusual. Amtrak is considering adding one daily train from Eugene to Vancouver, end-to-end.
Total ridership for 2008 was 774,421, the highest annual ridership since inception of the service in 1993.
The Amtrak Cascades route is an outgrowth of the original routes between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC. Originally operated as a joint partnership by the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Union Pacific, this route has evolved to become one of Amtrak's most popular.
When Amtrak started in 1971, there were three trains running between Seattle and Portland; the connection to Vancouver was discontinued upon Amtrak's founding. These three trains were unnamed at first, but with the advent of Amtrak's first "official" timetable in November 1971, one became the Coast Starlight, while the other two became the Mount Ranier and Puget Sound.
1972 brought the return of the Vancouver service, with the inauguration of the Pacific International. It always was a small train, though for a time it had one of the most unusual consists in the Amtrak system, carrying one of the few observation cars that Amtrak operated.
The corridor grew in 1980 with Oregon sponsoring two daily round trips between Portland and Eugene. Named the Willamette Valley, these trains were ultimately unsuccessful and were discontinued in April 1982. This was on the heels of the Pacific International's discontinuance in September 1981.
By the 1990s, the Portland-Seattle corridor was on shaky ground, with only a single round trip supplementing the Coast Starlight. But, with a change in attitudes toward Amtrak, in 1993 Oregon and Washington began Cascades service begins with a single daily round trip between Seattle and Portland. A second train was added in 1994. And, in 1995 the Vancouver connection was brought back (originally called the Mount Baker International), along with Oregon helping out to extend one train to Eugene again. The corridor grew with a third Seattle-Portland train in 1998, and a second train to Eugene in 2000.
The corridor has continued to grow in recent years, with another Portland-Seattle train arriving in 2006, and the long-awaited through service between Vancouver and Portland, eliminating the need to transfer in Seattle, beginning in August 2009.
The Amtrak Cascades is a unique train painted in a special scheme. The train is normally operated in a push-pull configuration with an EMD F59PHI at one end, and an unpowered EMD F40PH locomotive called a Non-Powered Control Unit (NPCU) on the other end. The NPCU contains a cement weight to meet FRA weight requirements for collision safety. The NPCU units also serve to meet Federal Railroad Administration regulations for crash safety for the Talgo cars, which are not FRA crash-rated.
The NPCUs in Cascades service are different from those Amtrak has converted in the past. Earlier versions, operating in several other Amtrak corridors, are sometimes called “cabbage cars” because they serve as both a cab control car and a baggage car. In "cabbage cars", the engine of the locomotive is removed and the empty space is utilized as baggage space, with roll-up baggage doors in the carbody sides. The Cascades NPCUs have some baggage room features, but since the TALGO sets include a baggage car, the NPCUs in Cascades service retain their original engine-access doors. Unusually, the TALGO baggage cars feature hooks for roll-on bicycle transport; most other Amtrak services require bicycles to be boxed.
This stripped locomotive still contains controls in the cab so it can be used as a cab control car when the train is going northbound, and the powered F59PHI becomes a pusher from the rear. When traveling south the train is operated from the cab of the powered F59PHI. The NPCUs have five-digit numbers (i.e., #90253) rather than the powered F59PHI’s three-digit numbers. Each NPCU's number directly corresponds to its number when it had its prime mover, in that the previous number had the prefix 90- added to it when the F40PH was de-motored. The F59PHI's assigned to Cascades service are numbers 465-470.
The passenger cars themselves are produced by Talgo, the only cars by that company in operation in the United States. These cars are designed to passively tilt into curves, allowing the train to pass through them at higher speeds. Despite a maximum design speed of 124 mph (200 km/h), current track and safety requirements limit the train's speed to 79 mph (127 km/h), although future plans for the Cascades route may allow them to operate at up to 110 mph (176 km/h).
The Talgo trainset is articulated – each passenger car in the Talgo set shares a single pair of wheels with the next, such that they cannot be uncoupled without lifting one car onto a support. This design can also reduce jackknife in a derailment.
One of the five sets currently in service, the Mt. Adams set was originally built as a demonstrator and for potential service between Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada. This was built with two additional standard coaches, for a total of 14 cars. It operated on the Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. run for several years in its original configuration. It was also originally painted in a different color scheme, using blue, black and silver instead of the green, brown and cream found on the other sets.
A six-car spare set, including a baggage car, service car, lounge-dining car, cafe car and two standard coaches, was also built. The two additional coaches from the fifth trainset and the two coaches from the spare set were placed in service on four of the other sets, resulting in four 13-car trains and one 12-car train.
The fins on the baggage and service cars serve only as an aesthetic transition from the high top of the American-built locomotives to the roof of the low-slung European-designed passenger cars.
During the Thanksgiving (U.S.) holiday period in late November, extra Cascades trains are operated. These normally use conventional single-level coaches and cafe cars from the Amtrak fleet, but can also use bi-level Superliner cars if they are available. When a TALGO set is out of service for maintenance or repair, a train of conventional cars is substituted, usually on the Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. train, leaving the available TALGO sets for the services between Bellingham and Eugene.
In August 2007, a problem involving a crack in a suspension arm assembly between two cars of a TALGO trainset resulted in Amtrak and Washington DOT temporarily pulling all the sets from service. The agencies replaced them with standard single-level Amfleet- and Horizon-series coaches and food service cars.
Because the conventional rolling stock did not have the tilting features found on the TALGO sets, runs were lengthened by 30 minutes, resulting in four-hour schedules between Seattle and Portland. Amtrak returned the remaining sets to service over several weeks starting in late September 2007, with the final set returning around October 21. Amtrak resumed its regular Cascades service pattern with its October 29, 2007 Fall schedule change.
Funding for the route is provided separately by the states of Oregon and Washington, with Union Station in Portland serving as the dividing point between the two. As of July 1, 2006, Washington state has funded four daily round trips between Seattle and Portland. Washington also funds two daily round trips between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Oregon funds two daily round trips between Eugene and Portland. The five trainsets are organized into semi-regular operating cycles, but no particular train always has one route.
As a result of Cascades service being jointly funded by the Washington and Oregon departments of transportation, public transit agencies and local municipalities can offer a variety of discounts, including companion ticket coupons.
The Cascades service also benefits from Sound Transit's track upgrades for Sounder service, notably the upcoming Point Defiance Bypass project.
According to its long-range plan, the WSDOT Rail Office plans eventual service of 13 daily round trips between Seattle and Portland and 4-6 round trips between Seattle and Bellingham, with four of those extending to Vancouver, BC. Amtrak Cascades travels along the entirety of the proposed Pacific Northwest High Speed Rail Corridor; the incremental improvements are designed to result in eventual high speed service.
The eventual high speed rail service is planned to result in the following travel times:
In order to increase train speeds and frequency to meet these goals, a number of incremental track improvement projects must be completed. Gates and signals must be improved, some grade crossings must be separated, some track must be replaced or upgraded and station capacities must be increased. In order to extend the second daily Seattle to Bellingham round trip to Vancouver, BNSF must make track improvements in Canada, to which the government of British Columbia has been asked to contribute financially. On March 1, 2007, an agreement between the province, Amtrak, and BNSF was reached that will allow a second daily train to and from Vancouver. The project will entail the construction of an 11,000-foot (3.35 km) siding in Delta, BC at a cost of US$7 million; construction started in mid-2007 and now has been completed.
In December 2008, WSDOT published a mid-range plan detailing projects needed to achieve the midpoint level of service proposed in the long-range plan. WSDOT is applying for $900 million in high speed rail stimulus funds for projects discussed in the mid-range plan, since the corridor is one of the approved high speed corridors eligible for money from ARRA. Depending on federal grant awards, the timetable of any of the following projects may speed up.
Additionally, in summer 2009, Oregon applied for a $2.1 billion Federal grant to redevelop the unused Oregon Electric Railway tracks, parallel to the Cascades' route between Eugene and Portland, to enable more passenger trains and higher speeds.
With these three projects, WSDOT projects to have an additional two round trips added daily between Portland and Seattle.
These projects allow trains to switch mainlines at higher speed, reducing time lost when passing another train.
These projects remove a crossing by creating either a rail or road bridge, allowing for higher train speeds and the best possible crossing safety.