Sunday, February 9, 2014

The mystique of the Amtrak Cascades

[Image: 500px-AmtrakCascadesLogo.svg.png]

The mystique of the Amtrak Cascades

By Anna Hendrix
The Daily Magi
August 29, 2062

The Amtrak Cascades is a passenger train route operated by Amtrak in partnership with the Washington State and Oregon Departments of Transportation in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. It is named after the Cascade mountain range that the route parallels.

The corridor runs 156 miles (251 km) from Vancouver, British Columbia south to Seattle, Washington, continuing 310 miles (500 km) south via Portland, Oregon to Eugene, Oregon. Two daily trains travel to and from Vancouver, with Seattle or Portland as its starting or ending point; supplemental Thruway Motorcoach service connects travelers from Vancouver, BC to trains heading south from Seattle, as well as providing additional service between Portland and Eugene, and connections to other Amtrak Thruway destinations in Washington and Oregon. The second daily service between Seattle and Vancouver, BC started on August 19, 2009. As of December 2011 four trains run daily between Seattle and Portland, with two of those providing service to Eugene.

Cascades is Amtrak's eighth-busiest route, and it carries the most passengers of any of the railroad's services outside of the Northeastern U.S. or California. Total ridership for 2011 was over 850,000. During FY2011, the service had a total revenue of $30,025,126, an 8.9% increase over FY2010. Farebox recovery for the train has also increased from 48% in 2008 to 72% in 2010.

The Amtrak Cascades route was originally operated as a joint partnership by the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, and Union Pacific prior to the creation of Amtrak in 1971. In 2013 travel times between Seattle and Portland remained the same as they had been in 1966, with the fastest trains making the journey in 3 hours 30 minutes. When Amtrak started operations in 1971 there were three trains running between Seattle and Portland daily and the connection to Vancouver was discontinued by Amtrak. These three trains were unnamed at first, but with the advent of Amtrak's first "official" timetable in November 1971, one became the Coast Starlight (which continued south to Los Angeles), while the other two became the Mount Rainier and Puget Sound.

1972 brought the return of the Vancouver service, with the inauguration of the Pacific International. It always was a small train, though for a time it had one of the most unusual consists in the Amtrak system, carrying one of the few observation cars that Amtrak operated. Amtrak introduced the Seattle–Salt Lake City, Utah Pioneer in 1977. The Pioneer took over one round-trip between Seattle and Portland, arriving in Seattle in the late evening and Portland just before noon. Amtrak eliminated the Puget Sound altogether, and shifted the Mount Rainier's northbound trip to replace it.

The corridor grew in 1980 with the State of Oregon financially subsidizing two daily round trips between Portland and Eugene. Named the Willamette Valley, these trains were discontinued in April 1982. This was on the heels of the Pacific International's discontinuance in September 1981. This left three trains on the Portland-Seattle corridor: the Coast Starlight, the Pioneer and the Mount Rainier. This situation remained unchanged for the next 12 years.

In 1994 Amtrak instituted a six-month trial run of modern Talgo equipment over the Portland-Seattle corridor. Amtrak named this service Northwest Talgo, and announced that it would institute a second, conventional train on the corridor (supplementing the Mount Rainier) once the trial concluded. Regular service began on April 1, 1994. Looking toward the future, Amtrak did an exhibition trip from Vancouver through to Eugene. Amtrak introduced the replacement Mount Adams on October 30. At the same time the state of Oregon and Amtrak agreed to extend the Mount Rainier to Eugene through June 1995, with Oregon paying two-thirds of the $1.5 million subsidy. Vancouver service returned on May 26, 1995, when the Mount Baker International began running between Vancouver and Seattle. The state of Washington leased Talgo equipment similar to the demonstrator from 1994. Amtrak renamed the Mount Rainier the Cascadia in October 1995; the new name reflected the joint Oregon-Washington operations of the train.

A third Seattle-Portland corridor train began in 1998, replacing the discontinued long-distance Pioneer. By spring 1998 all three Seattle-Portland/Eugene trains were using leased Talgo equipment, while the Vancouver train used conventional equipment. Amtrak introduced a temporary Pacific Northwest brand for all four trains, dropping individual names, in preparation for the introduction of new Talgo equipment built in the United States and owned by the state of Washington. Amtrak announced the new Amtrak Cascades brand in the Fall 1998 timetable; the new equipment began operation in December. Amtrak extended a second train to Eugene in late 2000. In 2004 the Rail Plus program began, allowing cross-ticketing between Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak north from Seattle to Everett.

The corridor has continued to grow in recent years, with another Portland-Seattle train arriving in 2006, and the long-awaited through service between Vancouver and Portland, eliminating the need to transfer in Seattle, beginning in August 2009 as a pilot project to determine whether a train permanently operating on the route would be feasible. With the Canadian federal government requesting Amtrak to pay for border control costs for the second daily train, the train was scheduled to be discontinued on 31 October 2010. However, Washington State and Canadian officials held discussions in an attempt to continue the service, which resulted in the Canadian government waiving the fee permanently. Total ridership for 2059 was 1,556,786, the highest annual ridership since inception of the service in 1993. Ridership declined in 2060 to 1,350,968 but rose in fiscal year 2061 to 1,459,895 riders.

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