Look out for fast trains as Point Defiance Bypass tests begin

A new rail line through Pierce County designed to speed Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland is ready for testing.

Transportation officials are warning people who live near or cross the tracks between DuPont and Lakewood — the so-called Point Defiance Bypass — to be aware of increased train traffic in the coming months.

“We’re trying to raise awareness that people will be seeing more trains, and many traveling at faster than usual speeds, in the area,” said Rachelle Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Sound Transit, which is overseeing the bypass project.

The action could begin this week as a Tacoma Rail locomotive pulling freight cars is to begin running up and down the line.

That train’s job will be to stabilize the new tracks and ballast, Cunningham said.

After the stabilization efforts, other trains will test the signals at five at-grade crossings along the route. Those crossings are:

▪ Clover Creek Drive Southwest.

▪ North Thorne Lane Southwest.

▪ Berkeley Street Southwest.

▪ 41st Division Drive.

▪ Barksdale Avenue.

The test trains will travel up to 79 miles per hour during February and March.

“During the testing, the fast-moving trains will come from either direction, both day and night, with the exception of peak commute times,” according to a news release issued by Sound Transit and the state Department of Transportation.

“Because these tracks previously were used by slower freight trains, residents should be prepared for the more frequent and faster trains.”

Officials encouraged people to practice good rail safety, including:

▪ Not walking on the tracks.

▪ Not stopping their vehicles on the tracks.

▪ Obeying all signals, both as pedestrians and drivers.

▪ Waiting for crossing arms to rise and/or for warning lights to stop flashing before entering a crossing.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin is participating in a series of safety messages to help get the word out, according to Sound Transit and the Transportation Department.

The $149 million Point Defiance Bypass project is being built to divert Amtrak service off a highly traveled freight line that follows the shoreline around Tacoma’s Point Defiance.

Transportation officials hope the bypass will shave 10 minutes off the travel time between Seattle and Portland, make room for at least two more daily round-trips and improve reliability.

The new line is expected to be ready for passenger-trail traffic in the fall.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam