New bypass route set to open near Seattle Dec. 15

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A map for the Point Defiance, Wash., bypass project.
Washington State Department of Transportation
SEATTLE — The end of 2017 is bringing some significant changes to rail passenger traffic on the busy Interstate 5 corridor between Portland and Seattle. After nearly a decade of studies and construction, the $181.2 million dollar Point Defiance Bypass Route will be hosting a flood of daily passenger and commuter trains south of Tacoma, Wash.

The multi-year project will culminate with the completion of a new Amtrak depot in Tacoma at the former Milwaukee Road Freighthouse and upgrades 14.5 miles of track and right-of-way on the nearly 20-mile route between Tacoma and Nisqually, Wash., where the bypass will rejoin the mainline to Portland, Ore. Part of the upgraded route still retains the original 100-plus year-old alignment on the former Northern Pacific south of the Tacoma Amtrak depot where the tracks climb a steep 2.85-percent grade to South Tacoma.

Although much more scenic, the alignment along Puget Sound was beset with freight congestion, tight curvature and a single-track tunnel under Point Defiance. The stretch of track along the Sound was also subject to yearly mudslides which resulted in delays and cancellations of Amtrak service.

Amtrak is adding an additional daily Amtrak Cascades round-trip in the morning and the evening between Seattle and Portland bringing their total trains to 14 including the Coast Starlight. The daily Sounder commuter train count north of Lakewood, Wash., is 16 daily trains which will result in 30 daily passenger trains on the new single track line. The new route is slated to reduce Amtrak passenger times by 10 minutes.

Washington state officials and local dignitaries are expected to gather Dec. 15 for the dedication of the new Tacoma depot as well as the bypass route.

More information is available online.
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