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The Sounder Trip Seattle to Lakewood 1/6/2017

by Chris Guenzler

I bought my one-way ticket to Lakewood and then boarded an extremely crowded train finding a pair of seats on the mezzanine level of the cab car. I then had my lunch and waited for Elizabeth to arrive. I spotted her outside and someone saved my seats, found Elizabeth and brought her on board. It was a good thing I did this as the Sounder train left Seattle standing room only.

The Point Defiance Bypass Project

The Point Defiance Bypass Project will reroute passenger trains to an inland rail line along the west side of I-5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. Sound Transit currently uses a portion of this route for Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood. This project will improve passenger train reliability by reducing congestion with freight trains and eliminating travel on tight corners and tunnels.

Why is WSDOT upgrading tracks for passenger trains to bypass the Point Defiance area in Tacoma?

Passenger trains, including Amtrak Cascades, currently 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 reroutes passenger trains to an inland route. The bypass is on 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. It also adds a new Amtrak Cascades station in Tacoma's Freighthouse Square building.

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.

The End Result

The end result is more frequent, more reliable, and faster Amtrak Cascades service.

The improvements will allow passenger trains to use the bypass route without being delayed by freight or Sounder trains. After the completion of other capital rail projects, two additional daily round trip passenger trains could be added. Freight train traffic will not increase on this line beyond the minimal amount that utilizes it today.

When completed, the Point Defiance Rail Bypass project will bring a total of six daily round trip Amtrak Cascades trains and one Coast Starlight train through Tacoma, Lakewood, and DuPont intersections, with an average crossing time of 45 seconds per intersection and a maximum speed of 79 mph.

Our Trip

Our train at rest in Seattle. We left on time and headed to our first stop of Tukwila then continued on to Kent where we discovered the old Northern Pacific station still stands. From here we went to Auburn and then Sumner.

Mount Rainier. We went to Puyallup and then headed to Reservation where we turned on to, at this point, the exclusive use of the Sounder. We went across the old Milwaukee Road wooden trestle for the last time before stopping at the Tacoma Dome station. Leaving here, I was on new mileage for exactly one block due to the fact we did that rare mileage with Bart Jennings from Elbe to Tacoma in 2006.

The track we came down on on that trip. From the switch of that line to Lakewood would be new rail mileage for myself.

Crossing Pacific Avenue you can see the tracks of the Tacoma Link streetcar.

Crossing Tacoma Avenue South.

Crossing Yakima Avenue.

We next crossed over South Wilkeson Street.

Trees and open countryside before we arrived at South Tacoma station.

South Tacoma station.

Crossing over South 60th Street.

Crossing over South 66th Street.

The underpass of South 74th Street.

Mount Rainier seems to be always watching over us.

The maintenance facility being built near Lakewood.

Steilacoom Boulevard before we pulled into Lakewood station, thus ending our trip on the Sounder. Now it wa time for a few pictures.

Our Sounder train at Lakewood.

Our engine at Lakewood. Elizabeth called Bob for his location which was on the other side so we walked into the parking structure, climbed the stairs and across the bridge then down the stairs when we found Bob waiting in a cul-de-sac. We drove back to Lynnwood where I would spend the next three nights at the Alkires.