Two weeks after an Amtrak train went off the rails in Steilacoom, the new railroad tracks that will keep passenger trains off that scenic — but out-of-the-way— coastal route are about to get a new round of testing.
Sound Transit will run a test train this weekend on a series of 50-mph runs from Tacoma to DuPont along the new Point Defiance Bypass route to test tracks and signals, the agency said Monday. The agency ran similar test trains earlier this year.
The train will make runs in each direction at varying times of day with only rail workers on board, Sound Transit said.
The new route is to come online in the fall. It and the completion of the Tacoma Trestle east of Freighthouse Square near the Tacoma Dome will help shave 10 minutes off Amtrak Cascades trips between Seattle and Portland.
Part of the time savings will come from cutting the distance of going around Point Defiance. The new route runs parallel to Interstate 5 and will keep passenger trains from having to slow for tight turns, tunnels and freight traffic on the tracks they currently use.
The passenger rail improvements, including the under-construction Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square, are budgeted to cost $180.7 million total.
The project will cut, but not end, train runs along the scenic coastal tracks. Freight trains will continue to make the longer run through North Tacoma, Ruston and Steilacoom, where BNSF Railways-owned tracks currently handle about 60 trains a day, including 10 Amtrak trips.
When the new tracks go into service, they will carry passenger trains through Joint Base Lewis-McChord intersections at up to 79 mph.
JBLM Police Chief Ted Solonar posted a video to YouTube on June 30, warning of “a very short time window” between the signal and the rapid trains, as opposed to freight trains traveling 35 mph.
“I cannot stress this message enough: Do not try to beat these trains, because you simply won’t do it,” Solonar says in the video.