Story and photos by Phil Raschke
Amtrak is currently planning on running 12 high speed trains through Lakewood, Tillicum, Fort Lewis and DuPont on a daily basis. Sound Transit may also use the tracks to extend its Sounder service southward. Freight trains may follow Amtrak’s and Sound Transit’s lead. Trains will run on existing ground level tracks and will have no grade separation (overpasses). Although Amtrak is spending $780 million on this project, it says it has no money to build grade separation. Amtrak says running high speed trains through Lakewood, Tillicum, Fort Lewis and DuPont will save six minutes per train on the Seattle to Portland run. Trains will run mostly during daylight hours at speeds over 55 mph and take slightly over 1 minute to enter and clear each crossing.
While Amtrak loses billions annually, it is apparently willing to spend $780 million of taxpayer dollars to create potentially huge traffic backups in the already congested Lakewood, Tillicum, Fort Lewis and DuPont areas rather than continuing to use the existing low impact route along Puget Sound.
These potentially huge traffic delays would occur during the peak morning, noon and late afternoon commute times and literally thousands of motorists will be inconvenienced on a daily basis so Amtrak’s passengers can save 6 minutes on their re-routed trip to Portland.
Besides increased traffic congestion for all involved, the proposed route poses a greatly increased danger to motor traffic. At major crossings, the road distance between I-5, South Tacoma Way and the train tracks is very short. Without grade separation or overpasses, large vehicles such as Pierce Transit buses, tractor trailers, school buses as well as local trucks could easily get trapped on the crossing due to current backups and congestion. A quick look at the photos below will clearly highlight the danger to all ground transportation. At the speeds the trains will be traveling, stopping to avoid a collision will be nearly impossible.
Besides the congestion and risk to life, noise pollution from the roar of the trains with horns blaring will just make matters worse for the residents and businesses that reside near the tracks.
According to a recent News Tribune Viewpoint article by two State Senators, all this grief for the sake of saving six minutes at the cost of $780 million simply makes no sense. A counter Viewpoint article says trains are more fuel efficient and environmentally benign. Additionally, more trains and improved on-time performance are what today’s train riders want.
Taking exception to Amtrak plans, a local group called “Community Matters” has formed. This group believes traffic congestion is already maxed out and daily traffic backups at Lakewood, Tillicum, Fort Lewis and DuPont crossings will simply get much worse.
Community Matters also believes the increased congestion, danger to vehicles and noise pollution presented by the trains will simply keep folks from wanting to enter Lakewood, Tillicum and DuPont. This in turn, will have an adverse effect on their respective local economies.
Individuals and businesses wanting additional information on Amtrak’s high speed rail plans can go to the Community Matters website at: www.CommunityMattersWeb.com
Volunteers wanting to help prevent the Amtrak high speed trains from running through Lakewood, Tillicum, Fort Lewis and DuPont may contact Community Matters at: CommunityMattersWeb@gmail.com