The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has given a green light to re-route Amtrak Cascades passenger trains through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont.
The FRA determined that the Point Defiance Bypass project would not result in any significant adverse impacts to the environment and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), thus giving a green light to the project. A statement released by the Washington State Department of Transportation said that the WSDOT’s project team will now advance design work to reroute passenger trains from the BNSF Railway main line near Point Defiance to an existing, and less congested, rail line that travels through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. WSDOT expects construction to begin in 2015 and open the new route to service in 2017.
The new bypass route is located along an existing 18-mile lightly used freight corridor owned by Sound Transit. Part of the bypass route is the same route that Sound Transit uses for Sounder commuter rail to Lakewood.
Melanie Coon with the WSDOT said that DuPont’s exit 119 at Barksdale Avenue will see upgrades to the crossing signals and synchronization to the traffic signals.
“Right now the traffic lights at this intersection work with out any rhyme or reason, so there will be some huge improvements to the traffic signals. Current track conditions are also an issue in DuPont, so we will be upgrading the tracks as well,” she explained.
There will also be an advanced warning system upgrade for the intersection, and a push for safety education in local schools.
“As we move forward with this project, we want the public, especially kids and parents, to know that this is going to be a corridor of fast moving trains. This is a big change for this area. Our first and foremost priority is providing railroad safety education in the schools,” Coons stressed.
WSDOT says it continues to consult with local tribes, the cities of Tacoma, DuPont and Lakewood, Pierce County, Camp Murray, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The reason for the bypass project is because current Amtrak passenger trains must slow down due to curves and single-track tunnels on the BNSF Railway main line tracks near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound.
This project will reroute passenger trains to an existing rail line that runs along the west side of Interstate 5, from south Tacoma through Lakewood and DuPont. It reconnects back to the BNSF Railway main line near Nisqually, on the east side of I-5.
WSDOT says that freight train traffic patterns will not change with most freight trains continuing to use the existing main line near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound. The few freight trains that currently use the bypass route will continue to use it during and after the project.
Much of the public and stakeholder involvement took place in 2010, 2011 and October 2012 through a series of community meetings and presentations to local governments including the City of DuPont and the City of Lakewood. Both cities sent in written comments to WSDOT, addressing their concerns about grade-level crossings and interference with emergency vehicles accessing Interstate 5.
The City of DuPont adopted a resolution in March of 2010 that objected the proposed at-grade rail crossing modifications at Barksdale Avenue and Exit 119. The City of Lakewood filed written responses objecting the proposed grade-level modifications of the Clover Creek, Berkeley and North Thorne Lane crossings. WSDOT officials have said that passenger train speeds would be traveling 79 mph with an average crossing time of 45 seconds per intersection.
Coons told South Puget Sound News that WSDOT plans on keeping all the stakeholders informed as the project progresses.
“We will keep city officials and council members in Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont updated as the project moves forward, and we will have some public meetings as well, ” she said.
You can learn more about the Point Defiance Bypass project by clicking here.