Imagine getting off Sounder or a bus at Auburn station and a few short minutes later, another sleek, quiet train pulls into the station. This could happen in a few short years for Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond residences.
The cities of Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond have joined together for a feasibility study to implement commuter rail service, running from the Auburn Sounder Station to the Black Diamond/Ravensdale communities, in hopes to relieve congestion off Highway 18, Hwy 169, and create transit communities around the stations or TOD, much like Kent Station. More after the jump…
The concept of the project was touted a few years back but never gained any ground until January at a joint council meeting. Christy Todd, Maple Valley City Manager said in the Covington Reporter “This idea was first floated at our joint meeting,” Todd said. “It generated a lot of excitement.”
On December 9, 2009, Senator Patty Murray secured $360,000 to fund the study for the rail service, which is assumed to use Diesel Multiple Unit or DMU for short. The commuter rail service is seen as not a priority, but rather a necessity, by the city councils to relieve congestion on Highway 169. The planned expansion of Hwy 169 would cost nearly $600 million dollars. With the idea still in its planning stages, it will still be another 7 to 10 years before it can become a reality.
There are some who believe that the commuter rail will not work and will be prohibitively more expensive but their own facts use numbers from Sounder which has a much higher capital expense than what the Auburn – Black Diamond service would have. At the most, the route will be roughly 13 to 16 miles in length and require track and signal upgrades that, in my opinion, would cost no more than $150 million dollars with a maximum speed of no more than 60 to 70mph.
Like many agencies looking at starting a new commuter rail system on the cheap, they are considering DMU vehicles. However, these have many limitations. Without being too technical, there are 2 types of vehicles available. The “non-compliant” DMU’s do not meet the FRA’s crash worthiness standards. They therefore must be in a “sealed” corridor separated from freight traffic and other passenger trains, like Sounder or Amtrak. Non-compliant vehicles are typically restricted to 55mph, like Sprinter and Capital MetroRail. The FRA-Compliant vehicles can operate with freight and passenger without a time separation or a “sealed” corridor since they meet the requirements of 49 CFR Part 238 Compliant DMU.
Selecting an FRA compliant vehicle will be a challenge with only one manufacturer, U.S. Railcar, formally Colorado Railcar, being the sole maker of these vehicles. These vehicles are currently running on Tri-Rail in Florida, Tri-Met WES in Portland, Oregon, and in Alaska. Operating non-compliant DMU trains would enable more frequent service, like the Escondido Sprinter light rail system which is using the Siemens Desiro Classic DMU’s. Both the Siemens and the U.S. Railcar models are capable of adding multiple sets together.
With the BNSF Stampede Subdivision line currently not handling any trains (it is being maintained, inspected and plowed in case of derailment or slide on Stevens Pass or the Columbia River Gorge routes) at this time, establishing commuter rail service would be beneficial over the next 5 to 10 years as more people continue to move into the region. When trains start running once again, BNSF may request additional track work, such as rebuilding South Auburn siding (connected but with manual switches and very poor roadbed) to prevent any bottlenecks at the Auburn Wye. Planners must also figure out a location for Westbound trains to layover (most likely a half mile North of Auburn Station). Stampede is all single track, but even at its peak it rarely saw more than 10 daily trains.
I’ll stay on top of this. The study should be completed some time next year.
What are your thoughts and opinions on this? Do you believe this will work out as the councils believe it would? Do you foresee this as a way for cities to expand Sounder, such as out East to Monroe or Sultan? Or extending North to Marysville and Stanwood? What about funding?