Expect to see trains going 79 mph through Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont soon

Expect to see trains going 79 mph through Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont soon
Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train pulls into Olympia’s Centennial Station in 2011. (Courtesy: The News Tribune)

Three years after the first train run on Amtrak’s Point Defiance Bypass ended in a fatal derailment, testing is set to begin in January with trains running up to 79 miles per hour.

Amtrak will run test trains between the Tacoma Dome Station at Freighthouse Square and the Nisqually Junction, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 16 and 17, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff announced Thursday.

A reopening date for passenger trains on the 14-mile route has not yet been announced.

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New safety measures have been installed along the route since the derailment. That inaugural run on Dec. 18, 2017 ended with a disastrous crash onto Interstate 5 that killed three men and injured more than 70 people. The derailed Cascades train, it was later determined, had not slowed before approaching a curve just before crossing a bridge over I-5.

The train was unable to complete the turn, left the track and sent rail cars onto I-5, closing the freeway for days.

The bypass route and passenger train use of it is a joint project of Amtrak, Sound Transit and the state Department of Transportation. Each agency has specific roles.

Currently, Amtrak passenger trains, including both the Los Angeles to Seattle Coast Starlight and the regional Cascades, use a route that runs along Tacoma’s waterfront, underneath Ruston, under the Narrows Bridge and along Puget Sound before merging with the bypass route east of I-5 near the site of the derailment.

During testing, trains will run just under 80 miles per hour along some of the bypass route which goes through Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont.

“Travelers may experience some traffic delays at railroad crossings, and the public is asked to use extreme caution as always around railroad crossings,” Rogoff said.

Rogoff said Sound Transit has conducted extensive outreach to Pierce County communities.

“We have demonstrated, I think, to them and everyone else that all of the necessary safety measures that Amtrak is expected to take before this testing have been fully submitted and reviewed and approved,” Rogoff said.

Sound Transit will continue to update communities as Amtrak conducts more testing, Rogoff said.