Amtrak Cascades

Amtrak Cascades
Amtrak Cascades
Amtrak Cascades at King Street Station.jpg
Service type Inter-city rail
Status Active
Locale Pacific Northwest
First service 1993
Current operator(s) Amtrak
Average ridership 2,292 daily
836,499 total (FY10)[1]
Start Vancouver
End Eugene
Distance travelled 467 miles (752 km)
Train number(s) 501, 513, 507, 509, 513, 517 (odd) southbound
510, 500, 504, 506, 508, 516 (even) northbound
Rolling stock EMD F59PHI diesel locomotive
EMD F40PH locomotive used as non-powered control units
Talgo articulated tilting trainsets
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Track owner(s) Union Pacific and BNSF
Route map
Head station
0 Vancouver, BC
Restricted border on track
Canada/U.S. border
Stop on track
62 mi (100 km) Bellingham
Stop on track
88 mi (142 km) Mount Vernon
Stop on track
103 mi (166 km) Stanwood
Stop on track
123 mi (198 km) Everett
Stop on track
139 mi (224 km) Edmonds
Station on track
157 mi (253 km) Seattle
Stop on track
168 mi (270 km) Tukwila
Station on track
196 mi (315 km) Tacoma
Stop on track
232 mi (373 km) Olympia-Lacey
Stop on track
251 mi (404 km) Centralia
Stop on track
294 mi (473 km) Kelso
Stop on track
334 mi (538 km) Vancouver, WA
Unknown BSicon "eGRENZE+WBRÜCKE"
Washington/Oregon border (Columbia River)
Station on track
344 mi (554 km) Portland
Bridge over water
Steel Bridge (Willamette River)
Stop on track
359 mi (578 km) Oregon City
Station on track
396 mi (637 km) Salem
Stop on track
424 mi (682 km) Albany
End station
467 mi (752 km) Eugene

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 (500 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.[2] As of March 2010,[dated info] four trains run daily between Seattle and Portland, with two of those providing service to Eugene.[3]

Cascades is Amtrak's eighth-busiest route, and it carries the most passengers of any of the railroad's services outside of the Northeastern U.S. or California.[1] Total ridership for 2010 was 836,499.[1] During FY 2010, the service had a total revenue of $27,564,069, a 31.6% increase from FY 2009's total of $20,944,809.[1] Farebox recovery for the train has also increased from 48% in 2008 to 72% in 2010.[4]



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,[citation needed] 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 (which continued south to Los Angeles), while the other two became the Mount Rainier and Puget Sound.[5]

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.[6]

The corridor grew in 1980 with the State of Oregon financially subsidizing two daily round trips between Portland and Eugene. Named the Willamette Valley, these trains were discontinued in April 1982. This was on the heels of the Pacific International's discontinuance in September 1981.[5]

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 Cascades service began 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 providing assistance 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.

In 2004 the Rail Plus program began,[citation needed] allowing cross-ticketing between Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak north from Seattle to Everett.

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[7] as a pilot project to determine whether a train permanently operating on the route would be feasible. With the Canadian federal government requesting Amtrak to pay for border control costs for the second daily train, the train was scheduled to be discontinued on 31 October 2010. However, Washington State and Canadian officials held discussions in an attempt to continue the service,[8] which resulted in the Canadian government waiving the fee permanently.[9]

Total ridership for 2008 was 774,421, the highest annual ridership since inception of the service in 1993.[10] Ridership declined in 2009 to 740,154[1] but rose 13% in fiscal year 2010 to 836,499 riders.[1]


Amtrak Cascades consist in Portland, Oregon with NPCU at head of train.

The Amtrak Cascades is painted in a special scheme. The train is normally operated in a push-pull configuration with an EMD F59PHI at one end, a 12 or 13 car Talgo-built rake, and an unpowered EMD F40PH locomotive called a Non-Powered Control Unit (NPCU) on the other end used as a cab car. The NPCU contains a cement weight to meet FRA weight requirements for collision safety as well as regulations for crash safety for the Talgo cars, which are not FRA crash-rated.

Most of the Talgo sets are serviced in Seattle, but major repairs are done in Los Angeles' Amtrak 8th St. Coach Yard and the Redondo Junction. On some occasions,[11] you can see a Cascades engine on the Coast Starlight heading down to LA.

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. In rare occasions, either there will be two powered locomotives on each side or their will be no control unit at the other end of the train.

Tilting Cascades passenger cars made by Talgo.
"Cabbage Car" #90340 at King St. Station in Seattle WA.

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.

Bistro dining car with route on ceiling.

A typical train consists of a baggage car; two business-class coaches; one lounge/dining car; one cafe car (also known as the Bistro car); six standard coaches; and one service car.[citation needed]

Four of the five trainsets are named after a mountain in the Cascade Range: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood. The last set is named after Mt. Olympus, in the Olympic Range.

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.

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.[citation needed] 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 buffet 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.[citation needed] 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.

Local partnerships

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.

  • FlexPass and University of Washington UPass holders receive a 15% discount (discount code varies) on all regular Cascades travel. Employers participating in these programs may also receive a limited number of free companion ticket coupons for distribution to employees.
  • The Sound Transit RailPlus program allows riders to use weekday Cascades trains between Everett and Seattle with the Sounder commuter rail fare structure.

The Cascades service also benefits from Sound Transit's track upgrades for Sounder service, notably the upcoming Point Defiance Bypass project.

Proposed changes

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.[12] Amtrak Cascades travels along the entirety of the proposed Pacific Northwest High Speed Rail Corridor; the incremental improvements are designed to result in eventual higher speed service. According to WSDOT, the "hundreds of curves" in the current route and the cost of acquiring land and constructing a brand new route" make upgrades so cost-prohibitive that at most speeds of 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) can be achieved.[13]

The eventual high speed rail service is planned to result in the following travel times:

  • Seattle to Portland – 3:30 (2006); 3:20 (2017, assuming completion of Point Defiance bypass)[13]; 2:30 (planned[vague])
  • Seattle to Vancouver BC – 3:55 (2006); 2:45 (planned[vague])
  • Vancouver BC to Portland – 7:55 (2009); 5:25 (planned[vague])

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 was required to make track improvements in Canada, to which the government of British Columbia was asked to contribute financially. On March 1, 2007, an agreement between the province, Amtrak, and BNSF was reached, allowing a second daily train to and from Vancouver.[14] The project involved 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17][dated info]

Vancouver to Seattle projects

Swift Customs Facility

  • Adds a siding to allow freight trains to move off the mainline for Customs inspections; increases reliability for Vancouver to Seattle trains.
  • Construction began in July 2008 and was completed in October 2009.[18]

Bellingham Waterfront Redevelopment Project

  • Relocates 0.75 miles (1.21 km) of BNSF track to avoid the current sharp curve.
  • Would increase passenger train speeds above 30 mph.
  • Not yet fully funded.
  • Construction is scheduled in the 2009-2011 biennium.[dated info]

Mt. Vernon siding upgrade

  • Adds a siding to allow southbound trains from Bellingham to pass northbound trains from Seattle; allows for earlier southbound departure.
  • Closes the grade crossing at Hickox Road.
  • Construction began in March 2005; siding upgrade is completed but siding extension is delayed until 2008.[dated info]

Stanwood siding upgrade/repair

  • Lengthens and repairs siding to ensure freight trains are accommodated; increases reliability for Vancouver and Bellingham to Seattle trains.
  • Construction began in February 2008 with and is now completed.

Everett PA Junction and Delta Yard Realignment

  • Realigns sharp curves to increase passenger train speeds from 30 mph to 50 mph, resulting in a two minute time savings to Bellingham and Vancouver.
  • Upgrades warning and crossing equipment to improve safety for pedestrians and vehicles at Pacific/Chestnut crossing and Railroad Avenue crossing.
  • Construction is delayed.

King Street Station track improvements

  • Allows more trains to access the station at one time.
  • Prevents passenger trains traveling between the service yard and the station from having to cross the mainlines.
  • Construction began in October 2006 with expected completion in Winter 2011.

Seattle to Portland projects

With these three projects, WSDOT projects to have an additional two round trips added daily between Portland and Seattle.

Point Defiance Bypass

Map of Point Defiance Bypass.
  • Partnership with Sound Transit to bypass BNSF Railway Puget Sound shore track for an alignment between Tacoma at the north end and the Nisqually River at the south.
  • Increases train speeds in this corridor with a straighter track alignment.
  • Eliminates the need for Cascades trains to use the single-track Nelson Bennett Tunnel
  • First phase decreases travel time through the corridor by 6 minutes; second phase decreases travel time by at least another 5 minutes.
  • Sound Transit construction was originally scheduled to be completed by 2012, after feasibility studies, design work and acquisition of land began in 2005.[19] The first phase of construction began in June 2009; by that time the completion date had been pushed back to 2019.[20] In 2010, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided additional funding for the project, enough to bring the completion date forward to 2016.[20]

Kelso-Martin's Bluff rail project

  • Constructs new sidings totaling 10 miles (16 km) between Kelso and Martin's Bluff, Washington, near Woodland.[21]
  • The project will cost $199 million, and was funded by a grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.[21] The grant was announced in 2010, but was not assured until an agreement between the state, the Federal Railroad Administration and BNSF was reached in late February 2011.[21][22]
  • Construction is scheduled to begin around 2013 with a required completion date by 2017 under the terms of the federal grant.[21]

Vancouver Rail Project

  • Constructs a double-tracked bypass alignment to decrease freight congestion and to increase passenger train reliability.
  • Constructs a crossing over the tracks at W. 39th St, increasing vehicle and pedestrian safety (Completed).
  • Construction began mid-2009 with an anticipated completion date in 2013.[citation needed]

High-speed crossovers

These projects allow trains to switch mainlines at higher speed, reducing time lost when passing another train.

Grade separations

These projects remove a crossing by creating either a rail or road bridge, allowing for higher train speeds and the best possible crossing safety.

  • S. Lander Street (Seattle)
  • Royal Brougham SR 519 Phase 2 (Seattle) This project has already been completed in 2010.
  • S. 212th Street (Kent)
  • Willis Street (Kent)

Ridership statistics

Data from the Washington State Department of Transportation.[23][24]

Year 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Ridership 94,061 180,209 286,656 304,566 349,761 425,138 452,334 530,218 560,381 584,346
YoY Diff. N/A 86,148 106,447 17,910 45,195 75,377 27,196 77,884 30,163 23,965
YoY Diff. % N/A 91.6% 59.1% 6.2% 14.8% 21.6% 6.4% 17.2% 5.7% 4.3%
Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Ridership 589,743 603,059 636,092 629,996 676,765 774,531 761,610 838,251
YoY Diff. 5,397 13,316 33,033 -6,096 46,769 97,766 -12,921 76,641
YoY Diff. % 0.1% 2.3% 5.5% -1.0% 7.4% 14.4% -1.7% 10.1%

See also


Specific references:

  1. ^ a b c d e f "AMTRAK SETS NEW RIDERSHIP RECORD, THANKS PASSENGERS FOR TAKING THE TRAIN (link to PDF download)". Amtrak. 11 October 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Sullivan, Jennifer (July 3, 2009). "Amtrak cleared for 2nd daily train to Vancouver, B.C". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Washington State Rail Program Update, WSDOT, March 21, 2011,, retrieved 2011-04-30 
  5. ^ a b Schafer, Mike, Bob Johnston and Kevin McKinney. All Aboard Amtrak. Piscataway NJ: Railpace Co., 1991
  6. ^ Zimmerman, Karl. Amtrak at Milepost 10. Park Forest IL: PTJ Publishing, 1981.
  7. ^ "Second Amtrak Cascades train between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C to begin service August 19, 2009" (Press release). Amtrak. 12 August 2009.;filename=Amtrak_ATK-09-060_Amtrak_Cascades_2nd_RT_Pilot.pdf. Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  8. ^ "Washington state working to keep second Vancouver, B.C., Amtrak train". Trains Magazine. 22 September 2010. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Second daily Amtrak train to Vancouver, B.C., made permanent". Seattle Times. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades" (PDF). WSDOT. February 2006. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  13. ^ a b Schrader, Jordan (May 17, 2011). "Federal money to improve Seattle-Portland Amtrak". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2011-05-17. 
  14. ^ WSDOT - Second Amtrak Cascades Train to Canada
  15. ^ "Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan" (PDF). WSDOT. December 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  16. ^ "ARRA Funded High Speed Rail". WSDOT. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  17. ^ Esteve, Harry (July 25, 2009). "Oregon bids big for faster trains". The Oregonian. 
  18. ^ Jeffers, Kevin. "Rail - Blaine - Customs Facility Siding - Complete October 2009". Washington State Department of Transportation. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  19. ^ "Tacoma-to-Lakewood Track & Facilities". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on 14 June 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  20. ^ a b WSDOT - Project - Rail - Tacoma - Bypass of Point Defiance
  21. ^ a b c d "Agreement assures $200 million in high-speed rail work in Cowlitz County". 28 February 2011. Archived from the original on 1 March 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  22. ^ "At last, good news for the Amtrak Cascades". Trains Magazine (blog). 27 February 2011. Archived from the original on 1 March 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  23. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (December 2009). "Amtrak Cascades Fourth Quarter and Annual Ridership Report - 2009". Retrieved 2011-07-29. 
  24. ^ Washington State Department of Transportation (December 2010). "Amtrak Cascades Quarterly Ridership Report - October to December 2010". Retrieved 2011-07-29. 

General references:

External links

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