Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo
Amtrak Cascades train No. 517 from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland arrives at Everett Station March 9, 2023, in downtown Everett.

Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo Amtrak Cascades train No. 517 from Vancouver, B.C., to Portland arrives at Everett Station March 9, 2023, in downtown Everett.

Forum: Taking the train must be made better travel alternative

State officials need to make the Amtrak Cascades route faster, increasing its value as an option to I-5.

“Good morning,” said the little prince.

“Good morning,” said the railway switchman.

“What is it that you do here?” asked the little prince.

“I sort the travellers into bundles of a thousand,” the switchman said. “I dispatch the trains that carry them, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left.”

And a brightly lit express train, roaring like thunder, shook the switchman’s cabin.

“What a hurry they’re in,” said the little prince. “What are they looking for?”

“Not even the engineer on the locomotive knows,” the switchman said.

And another brightly lit express train thundered by in the opposite direction.

“Are they coming back already?” asked the little prince.

“It’s not the same ones,” the switchman said. “It’s an exchange.”

“They weren’t satisfied, where they were?” asked the little prince.

“No one is ever satisfied where he is,” the switchman said.

And a third brightly lit express train thundered past.

— From Chapter 22 of “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

By Barbara Steller / Herald Forum

It’s obvious that, like the inhabitants of the universe of the Little Prince, we are a nation on the move. We need to be somewhere other than where we are. And to get to those places we rely overwhelmingly upon our personal vehicles, mostly ignoring thoughts of the harmful climate effects of carbon emissions.

In our immediate area, simply observe the traffic delays and bottlenecks along I-5 which largely confirms this. On the other hand, take in the recent news about Brightline, a high-speed electric express rail service under construction from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, just in time for the 2028 Olympic games. And then, closer to home, consider the Amtrak Cascade rail service, which was touted by the Washington Department of Transportation a couple of decades ago as a reasonable alternative to alleviate the traffic congestion along the I-5 corridor, as well as providing a welcome option for travel to accommodate people with disabilities.

From 1991 to 2019, the Transportation Department promised faster train service between Seattle and Portland with a travel time of 2 hours, 30 minutes and traveling between Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. in 2 hours, 37 minutes. Of course, the pandemic threw a wrench into these plans. Still, my Interfaith Climate Action group and I want these goals met for efficient travel times now more than ever! We call on state transportation officials to recommit to these faster travel times and plan to achieve it within 10 years, if not sooner. We respectfully request that the powers that be work to have Amtrak Cascades fulfill its purpose of making train travel comfortably competitive with driving.

I often take the Amtrak Cascades or Coast Starlight express. I am retired, share one car with my spouse (which means I walk or take transit most of the time), and I can choose to accommodate the extra time it takes to travel via Amtrak’s rail or bus service from my home in Edmonds to my family living in Tacoma and Eugene, Ore. I do this to eliminate another vehicle on the highway and to mitigate my carbon footprint. I enjoy the train’s comfortable seats, the restroom accessibility (no pit stops necessary) and the food options in either the dining car or the café or even to bring my own bagged meal to eat at my seat. The baggage service is convenient, easy and cost free; how wonderful is that!

I really would like to see train service that offers an energy efficient, lower-carbon option for traveling the the Pacific Northwest without being stuck in traffic. Train service needs to appeal to a wider rnage of people, particularly young families with children. Children love trains (thank you Thomas the Tank Engine and friends).

Our region deserves effective, timely rail options that are competitive with driving and flying.

In a USA TODAY article headlined “Amtrak’s new train fleet promises all the bells, whistles,” Associated Press reporter Tom Krisher interviewed Amtrak CEO William Flynn. Flynn said he was “excited about the environmental and sustainable considerations here. Riding a train per seat mile is 83 percent more fuel-efficient in some cases than driving and less environmentally impactful than flying.”

We need these options as soon as possible. I offer an example of my recent experience to attend a grandchild’s noon-time baseball game in Tacoma.

• On April 13, during the “Revive I-5” northbound repairs that recommended travel via other routes, I left my home (near Highway 99 and 220th Street) at 7 a.m. to walk to the Edmonds Station and board an Amtrak bus (leaving at 8:35 a.m.), to Seattle’s King Street Station.

• At King Street I took a 9:50 a.m. Coast Starlight train, arriving in Tacoma at 10:45 a.m., that was delayed to remove debris from the track. I was able to take the nearby Tacoma T-line to connect with my grandchild to make it to the baseball field near Cheney Stadium for the coach’s 11:30 a.m. pre-game gathering. The game concluded at 3 p.m..

• I caught a bus to the T-line to the Tacoma Dome Train Station to make the Cascade train departing at 4:50 p.m.. I arrived in Edmonds at 6:30 p.m., hopped on the Community Transit 102 bus departing at 6:44 p.m. and arrived home at 7:10 p.m.

• That added up to a 12-hour adventure for a three-hour baseball game; nearly nine hours including travel and wait times (with lots of reading accomplished). The average person is not going to use this option.

State officials should take action as soon as possible to make train travel faster and more convenieent for the masses, just as it is in Europe. Perhaps we might learn from that example to minimize re-inventing the wheel. Choo-choo!

Barbara Steller lives in Edmonds.

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