By Malcolm Russell
On Thursday Lakewood UNITED hosted Andrew Wood, the deputy director of the WSDOT Rail and Marine Division. Wood said that by 2012 the City of Lakewood could experience high-speed trains passing through town up to 8 times per day.
Unlike freight trains Wood said that Amtrak Cascade passenger trains are relatively short and because they travel at speeds of 79 miles per hour they typically only restrict rail crossing traffic for about 42 seconds.
Mr. Wood reports that the coming of passenger trains through Lakewood would be in connection with the proposed Point Defiance Rail Bypass project. The project is intended to increase the capacity and reliability of passenger rail and fright traffic along the corridor and between Nisqually and Tacoma.
The state is currently seeking $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money to provide for the expanded service. Washington is competing with other applicants for a pool of $8 billion in federal funding. The feds are expected to announce their funding decision next month.
If approved project construction is slated to begin the spring of 2010, without the federal stimulus money the project will be delayed much later. Since the Amtrak and Sounder commuter trains would run on the same improved rail lines, Sound Transit and development of the commuter rail line to Lakewood Station would greatly benefit from approval of the federal stimulus funds.
Mr. Wood also reports WSDOT projections that both Lakewood and Tacoma could benefit from the construction project by way of related construction jobs and additional tax revenues of about $2 million for each city.
Wood said that improvements to the rail line would also include increasing safety and grade crossing improvements. While no grade separations are budgeted at this time, Wood mentioned that if rail traffic were to increase beyond the current projections that some grade separations may become more necessary.
The bypass would save passengers only 6 minutes and no Amtrak stops are foreseen in Lakewood for the short term. But Wood points out that the big picture is improving capacity and reliability to better connect the region and ultimately Oregon, Washington and Canada by high-speed passenger rail service.