Washington secures $590m in passenger rail funds

Washington will get $590 million in federal funds to improve the Amtrak Cascades rail corridor from Portland to Seattle. Washington was originally awarded the money in early 2010, however, a new agreement was reached yesterday between the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that commits FRA to allocate 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money to the state’s passenger rail projects.

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, faster travel times and frequency of service.

Washington plans to use the money to add two additional daily Amtrak trips between Seattle and Portland, improve safety and finish existing construction projects. The state expects that the funding will increase not only the number of trips but on-time reliability, while reducing congestion.

The agreements will also ensure that rail projects begin during construction season therefore creating nearly 6,000 direct and indirect jobs in the area. Ridership between the two cities has steadily increased each year, growing from 100,000 in 1994 when the service began to over 800,000 passengers last year. Washington has invested more than $331 million in passenger rail since 1994.

“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,” Governor Gregoire said in a statement.

Gregoire also took a moment yesterday to join the chorus of Governors asking for Florida’s rejected rail funds. The state originally applied for $1.3 billion to increase capacity between Seattle and Portland.

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