According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Point Defiance Bypass Environmental Assessment (Appendix F: Traffic and Transportation Discipline Report, p.83), “None of the individual crossings are predicted to experience accidents more frequently than one in every 10 years.”
This to save an estimated 10 minutes of Amtrak travel time from Seattle to Portland, and this in spite of proposed safety upgrades.
In March of 2013, Lakewood sued WSDOT to stop the Point Defiance Bypass project which would reroute Amtrak trains through local neighborhoods.
“The state has proposed moving trains from a waterfront rail line around Point Defiance to an inland route passing through DuPont, Lakewood and South Tacoma. The move would mean trains traveling as fast as 79 mph through seven at-grade rail crossings in urban and residential neighborhoods in Lakewood. Trains would not make passenger stops in the city.”
One year later, March of 2014, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Katherine M. Stolz ruled against Lakewood.
Lakewood cited safety among its concerns specifically with regards the Tillicum community.
“The Tillicum community would be directly impacted by the rerouted trains,” wrote reporter Brynn Grimley in the Tacoma News Tribune, January 8, 2014.
Lakewood’s lawsuit described Tillicum, together with its cross-I-5 neighbor Woodbrook, as comprising a total of 4,754 people with but one way, in the case of Tillicum, in and out of town: across the railroad tracks.
“The Point Defiance Bypass Project threatens to destroy progress made in this neighborhood,” said Lakewood.
In its lawsuit, Lakewood charged WSDOT with “arbitrary and capricious conduct,” and inadequate mitigation. “No meaningful mitigation is proposed,” read the city’s complaint.
Though David Smelser, WSDOT’s high-speed rail program manager, said in Grimley’s May 5, 2014 article that “the state has made changes to intersection upgrades and is working with the city,” Lakewood evidently believes it’s not enough.
At its recent City Council Retreat, October 11, Lakewood placed on its legislative agenda a request for “$3 million to fund rail safety improvements.”
WSDOT’s take on safety is based on statistics from October 2006 through September 2011 during which time, WSDOT claimed, “only three at-grade crossing collisions occurred between roadway vehicles and trains on the Bypass Route and one on the Puget Sound Route.”
One (of three on the Bypass Route) was in Lakewood and involved injuries. Evidently WSDOT was referencing the headline of March 26, 2010 that read “Two injured when car hits train in Lakewood.” This was subtitled “Two people were injured early today after their car hit a cargo train at a Lakewood railroad crossing.”
“Along the Puget Sound Route,” according to WSDOT, “only two accidents occurred and both involved fatalities: one at the Sunnyside Beach pedestrian crossing; and one at the Steilacoom/Union Ferry Terminal crossing.”
However, headlines covering that same period indicate “an 85-year-old woman using a walker was struck and killed by a train as she tried to cross to Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom” (Oct. 26, 2008); “a 20-year-old woman was killed by an Amtrak train at Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom” (March 23, 2010); “an 18-year-old woman was killed and her male companion injured when they were struck by a southbound Amtrak Train near Titlow Beach” (August 8, 2010); “car-train crash on Tacoma tide flats injures one person” (February 4, 2011); and two more were killed by trains in a 24-hour period, one a pedestrian in Steilacoom (August 5, 2011).
Of course this doesn’t include a host of others that died in neighboring jurisdictions; nor the nine train deaths in one year alone (2005) in Pierce County; nor “the dozens of pedestrians killed over the last decade on ribbons of track that twist through South King and Pierce counties.”
That “someone in America is hit by a train about every 115 minutes,” is not at issue here, evidently, as WSDOT concerned itself only with accident statistics within the boundaries of its project.
And may have missed some of those, WSDOT’s report apparently having focused only on accidents at street-level crossings.