Trains For America

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Washington state corrodor update

How are they doing out in the Pacific Northwest without the fast and modern Talgo equipment? The Columbian, serving Clark County, took a ride, wrote a lengthy and detailed story, and here is part of what they found.

“Ridership has held up well, considering the service disruption,” said Ken Uznanski, passenger rail manager for the Washington Department of Transportation.

Still, the numbers were down, Amtrak statistics show, aggravated by the loss of three days’ travel over a summer weekend while the replacement cars were brought together.

Some of those numbers:

– August 2007 ridership on the Cascades trains was 61,021, down 8.4 percent from 66,589 in August 2006.

– Ridership from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31 is up 11 percent, to 459,944 from 414,508 the previous year, probably due to a new through train from Portland to Bellingham.

– The number of passengers boarding or leaving trains in Vancouver reached 535,298 in 2006, a new high.

Officials aren’t sure when the Talgo cars will return but they will probably go back on line slowly, as repairs are made.

The problems have been found and the solution identified, officials said, but the exact schedule won’t be set until perhaps next week.

The Talgo cars, decorated in distinctive green and brown earth tones, have been in service since 1999.

The cars tilt around curves, so the trains don’t have to slow as much. The trip on the substitute cars is 25 minutes longer.

Some of the replacement cars look old and faded on the outside, but they’re no less clean and roomy inside. They show their age in other ways. Not everything works smoothly, crew members reported. The public address system doesn’t work in some cars. Some toilet tanks have to be emptied after only one round trip. No one seems sure yet whether the heaters will work. And the drop-down stair-steps are steep and sometimes balky.

“Piece of junk,” one conductor muttered while struggling to lower the steps in Centralia.

There’s no business class, no movie and no baggage check-in. Passengers have to carry their own bags on board and then find a place to stow them. Suitcases sometimes clog the fronts of the cars. The crew helps, but can do only so much. One woman boarded a train last week with five suitcases and four garbage bags filled with her belongings. She was moving.

“Stuff like that happens,” said Pat Gleason, a conductor.

The food selection isn’t as varied and the trip isn’t as smooth as on the Talgo trains, with a lot more bumping back and forth.

And there are also a few facts you may not already know.

– The Seattle-Portland trip on the Talgo takes 3½ hours, but the time could drop to three hours in the next decade.

– Talgo trains can reach 100 mph but can’t exceed 79 mph in Washington because of track conditions and safety equipment.

– More than 20 percent of Cascades riders are business travelers, a 2003 survey said.

– Washington is spending about $12.4 million in the year ending Oct. 1 to operate Cascades trains; the 2008 cost could drop to $11.3 million.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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