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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis March 11, 2011
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HSR Partnerships Key to Success in WA, OR

In Washington State late last month, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the signing of agreements that guaranteed $590 million in federal funding to improve the Amtrak Cascades rail corridor from Portland to Seattle. This project, one of 28 moving forward on high-speed rail, provides an example of a successful initiative attained through a series of partnerships.

With these agreements, work can now begin during this year’s construction season, which will create more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs. “This is another great development for our state in that this rail work will generate thousands of highly skilled construction and operating jobs and result in important improvements in rail passenger service,” Gregoire said.

One agreement was signed between the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that guarantees the funding amount initially awarded in early 2010.

Separately, Amtrak, BNSF Railway, and WSDOT signed an agreement that outlines how rail investments will be made based on service outcomes and passenger rail performance benchmarks on rail lines shared by freight and passenger rail, such as on-time performance and faster travel times.

This funding will provide for:

* Two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round trips added between Seattle and Portland, for a total of six, by 2017;

* Increased on-time reliability (from 62 percent to 88 percent);

* More consistent speeds throughout the corridor, resulting in faster travel times between Seattle and Portland;

* Completion of major construction projects, including construction of bypass tracks to allow for increased train frequency and multiple upgrades to existing track; and 

* Such safety-related projects as grade separations and the latest technology in advanced-warning signal systems.

Gregoire credited the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA), as instrumental in working with federal partners in Washington, DC, to secure this passenger rail funding.

“Our state and region’s partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration will make a major contribution to moving rail passengers between our fast-growing cities,” said Sound Transit Deputy CEO Celia Kupersmith. “We are pleased that Sound Transit’s investments in establishing long-awaited commuter rail service between Tacoma and Lakewood are moving forward in close coordination with the Washington State Department of Transportation’s establishment of a high-speed rail corridor in Washington. Our residents are grateful for the federal support for both of these important priorities.”

“We believe reaching this agreement is consistent with that long-term relationship with WSDOT and our agreement with Amtrak, which will bring improved passenger service in the corridor,” said Matt Rose, BNSF Railway chairman and chief executive officer.

“Amtrak congratulates all the parties in reaching this important agreement to advance America’s high-speed rail program,” said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman. “We look forward to the opportunity to deliver improved intercity travel options for rail passengers in the Pacific Northwest.”

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