This fall, work will begin to build bypass tracks along congested stretches of the Cascades route between Seattle and Portland. The move would allow Amtrak to avoid a single-track bottleneck between Tacoma and Olympia-Lacey.
Take: Kudos to Washington State's DOT and BNSF.
It may be baby steps, but it's something
After a few delays, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway is finally up and running. Revenue service began on July 21. The 56-mile route has five flag stops between the endpoints. The Saratoga Springs station now houses two intercity rail operators as it's also home to Amtrak (the predecessor was an excursion operator that only ran trains between Corinth and North Creek).
Take: Even though SNCR owner Iowa Pacific recently took Amtrak to court over the Ski Train controversy, the connections between SNCR trains and the New York-Rutland, VT Ethan Allen Express are definitely a positive gesture.
SNCR is already looking ahead
I caught this blurb from Iowa Pacific president Ed Ellis:
We will run additional trains for ridership demand, or if one or more units of government will pay for additional trains. As you may know, New York State DOT is paying for a second track on the CP at Ballston Spa (about two miles, connects two long sidings yielding maybe five miles of double track) and between Albany and Schenectady. It’s no secret they would like to have two more pairs of trains between Albany and Saratoga. We would be willing to consider operating trains such as those under contract, and would be willing to add whatever qualifications and insurance that would be necessary to do so. That could also yield a year-round operation to North Creek.
Take: Let the speculation begin. Assuming that Mr. Ellis deems such an extension financially feasible, things could get really interesting in the Empire State. Suppose the state actually hands a contract to SNCR for one or both roundtrips, what kind of impact would that have on Amtrak? It would technically be in Amtrak president Joe Boardman's backyard but it wouldn't be that damaging unless the company has long-term plans to either add Adirondack or Ethan Allen Express roundtrips.
Now, if SNCR wins the Saratoga Springs-Albany contract, there could be some difficulties with the extension. But if it happens, what's to prevent the shortline railroad to extend it even further southward to NYC? The only thing is that Iowa Pacific would have to buy electric engines and switch in the capital city so the train could comply with NYC regulations.
When it comes to the stations, the train could stop in Albany instead of the current Rensselaer station served by Amtrak, but where? Union Station was moved from its original location and tracks and its old site removed to make way for an I-787 ramp. As a result, no tracks are at its current location. Central Warehouse was badly damaged by fire last year and might be costly to rebuild and replace. The ultimate solution may be a proposed transit center in downtown Albany. If SNCR wants to call the Big Apple home, Grand Central Terminal would be a better fit than Penn Station because of overcrowding.