LAKEWOOD – For riders aboard Amtrak passenger trains, a new train route along Interstate 5 through Fort Lewis would be a shortcut and would shave minutes off trips between Seattle, Tacoma and Portland.
For people who live in communities like Tillicum, the trains threaten to add noise and blocked grade crossings.
The tracks that are here are old and twisted but are used several times a week by short freight trains, mostly serving the giant military base. Locomotives marked for Tacoma Rail move along them slowly.
The new tracks are being designed to handle Amtrak trains that travel up to 79 mph. Construction could start in 2015, and be ready to host higher speed trains in 2017. The cost is $89 million.
The Federal Railroad Administration said it found no significant adverse impact to the communities as part of the Environmental Assessment filed by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“It’s a $100 million boondoggle," said Lakewood mayor Don Anderson.
Anderson said he believes the shortcut will only save train riders about six minutes. He says while the city is officially opposed to more trains running at higher speeds, he’s not sure the city council will want to spend the money to appeal.
Right now, passenger and freight trains are all crowded onto a mainline that runs along Commencement Bay out to the community of Ruston, site of the old Asarco smelter, and then heads south along Puget Sound. A new 18 mile long route would go directly between Tacoma to a point near Nisqually, but would also miss some of the best scenery along the route.