By Nancy Covert
Shortly after the turn of the 2oth century, Steilacoom residents became accustomed to the sounds of passenger and freight trains passing through the community along the waterfront route.
If Washington State Department of Transportation’s plans for its “Pt. Defiance Bypass,” shifting the passenger rail service line inland through the Lakewood I-5 Corridor, proceed as planned, the rail line’s relocation would not only remove the present Amtrak service from one of its most scenic segments, but it also would reduce an estimated 10 minutes of travel time from its trip.
The down side of the proposed relocation plans is that it could also cause traffic congestion in the areas surrounding its new route, from South Tacoma through Lakewood, Tillicum and DuPont.
Numerous citizens’ meetings have been held and will continue to be held, as the plan is fine-tuned. Increased education about railroad safety, through the Operation Lifesaver program, also is planned.
According to a WSDOT presentation held at Steilacoom’s Town Council meeting on March 1, the project proposes to “reroute passenger trains to an existing (and upgraded) rail line along the west side of I-5. The new route travels along South Tacoma, and through Lakewood, Tillicum and DuPont in order to increase Amtrak Cascades service, make service more reliable and reduce rail congestion on the main line” (although freight lines pick up again around Olympia and continue south).
This proposed route of this project also is the same route that Sound Transit will use to extend Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood. The changes, however, will not be operational until 2016-17.
Freight traffic patterns, however, will not change, with most freight trains continuing to use the existing mainline near Pt. Defiance and along southern Puget Sound.
Updates about the project can be viewed at www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/rail/pnwre_ptdefiance/
This project is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Kevin Jeffers, P. E., is the project manager, who can be contacted at (360) 705-7982.
Note: Steilacoom’s history book “Town on the Sound” contains a story about the train coming through town in 1914 when the first passengers gathered at the Commercial Street depot to board for the celebratory trip to Centralia
That inaugural trip was re-enacted in 2004 as a Steilacoom Sesquicentennial Event when 50 residents boarded the train at the depot for the occasion.
The article: From Indian Paddles to Amtrak’s Whistles focuses on several railroad-related events in town, including the visit of actor Ronald Reagan to the area for a movie premiere.