Track swap set for next week

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Freighthouse Station and Marketplace will soon be home to the Amtrak station as well as Sound Transit’s Sounder train service as passenger trains shift to an inland route instead of the coastal route around Point Defiance. The shift will allow faster and more reliable train service between Tacoma and Portland because passenger trains will no longer have to wait for cargo trains along the set of tracks at the coastline. Work on improving the tracks between Tacoma and the Nisqually Delta started in 2010 as part of an $800 million upgrade to rail service around the state. Photo and rendering courtesy of WSDOT

Washington State Department of Transportation engineers and railroad crews are finishing the final testing of tracks between Tacoma and DuPont prior to the big bypass swap on Dec. 18.

The Point Defiance Bypass Project reroutes passenger trains to an inland rail line along the west side of Interstate 5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont that is partially used for Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood. The trains will then rejoin the coastal tracks around the Nisqually Delta. This bypass improves passenger train reliability by reducing congestion with freight trains and eliminating travel on tight corners and tunnels that required reduced speeds.

Amtrak Cascades’ passenger rail service will shift from the tracks along the waterfront to ones running further inland. The $180 million change allows the shore line tracks to be solely dedicated to cargo trains and provide faster and safer rail service. The change is part of a larger $800 million effort to improve rail service in the state. Work on the track shift started in 2010 with track upgrades and the installation of more crossing signals.

The shift allows for the addition of two daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland on Amtrak’s schedule to provide a total of six roundtrips between Seattle and Portland with stops in Tacoma. Those routes also will be served by new “next generation” rail equipment that improve fuel efficiency and safety upgrades as well as faster acceleration rates and higher top speeds, upwards of 70 miles an hour. The change shaves about 10 minutes off the Seattle-to-Portland trip.

The shift also triggers the opening of the new Tacoma Dome Station in the former Freighthouse Square, which has since been renamed Freighthouse Station and Marketplace, for passenger trains that started construction during the summer of 2016. First built in 1909 as the westernmost freight terminus for the Milwaukee Railroad, Freighthouse Station is also the hub for the Sounder train station as well as a host of shops and restaurants. Many of those businesses struggled during the construction of the Amtrak station in the middle of the 110,000-square-foot center since many street parking spaces were blocked by construction fencing while the station was being built.

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