Amtrak station construction to begin this spring

The Washington Department of Transportation plans to start construction of Tacoma’s new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square this spring.
The Washington Department of Transportation plans to start construction of Tacoma’s new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square this spring. Staff file, 2014

With the politically arduous site selection and design process finally behind it, the Washington Department of Transportation says it will begin construction of Tacoma’s new Amtrak station at Freighthouse Square this spring.

The new station is necessary because Amtrak passenger trains will start using a new route through Tacoma in 2017. The existing Amtrak station on Puyallup Avenue is on the waterfront route Amtrak trains now use. The new station will be on a line that cuts through South Tacoma to rejoin the BNSF Railway main line near Nisqually.

The South Tacoma route will help cut eight minutes from the Seattle-to-Portland timetable and will relieve congestion on the waterfront line constricted by the single-track Nelson Bennett Tunnel under Point Defiance.

WSDOT spokeswoman Janet Matkin said architects are finishing final plans for the station. The department is scheduled to advertise for bids for demolition and construction in February, with construction to start in mid-spring.

The department spent nearly two years working with the Tacoma community to determine where the new station would located and how it would look.

The outreach effort came after an initial design met strong criticism from Tacoma civic leaders and residents.

The new station will be in the middle section of the former Milwaukee Road railroad warehouse now called Freighthouse Square. The middle portion of the historic 1,000-foot-long building at East 25th and D streets near the Tacoma Dome will be demolished and the new station will be built on the building’s footprint.

The department and Freighthouse Square owner Brian Borgelt are negotiating price and terms of the building’s sale.

“I’d like to think that we’re very close to an agreement,” said Borgelt on Friday. “Negotiating with the state is a very strange, compartmentalized process.”

The process requires negotiating with different divisions of the transportation department, he said.

“There’s been a lot of going back and forth,” Borgelt said.

One of Borgelt’s objectives during talks is protecting the businesses in other parts of Freighthouse Square during and after construction.

“Our concern is keeping everybody viable during the construction and demolition,” he said. Borgelt has already moved tenants out of the section to be razed, which is west of the Sound Transit Sounder commuter rail station.

Freighthouse Square houses a variety of merchants and restaurants, including a popular food court and an event venue at the building’s east end.

The station’s construction is part of an $89 million Point Defiance Bypass project that will make possible the shortcut route for Amtrak trains. The project is funded by the federal government. The route, which leaves the BNSF main line near the Puyallup Tribe’s Emerald Queen casino, follows a former Tacoma Rail industrial line through Nalley Valley, South Tacoma and Lakewood to Dupont. At Nisqually, the line rejoins the BNSF route. While much of the line was rehabilitated for Sounder commuter rail service to Lakewood, further improvements are being made on the route between Lakewood and Nisqually.

The Point Defiance Bypass project is part of an effort to improve passenger train speed and reliability on the Cascade corridor between Vancouver, B.C. and Portland. The new route will allow the state and Amtrak to add two daily passenger roundtrips to its schedule between the Emerald City and Portland. Five daily passenger trains travel each way on the route now. The number will increase to seven in 2017.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663