WSDOT Expects to Have Point Defiance Bypass Operational This Fall

The $150 million project will make rail travel more efficient in the corridor stretching from Vancouver, B.C. to Portland, Ore.

📅 Mon February 20, 2017 - West Edition
By Lori Tobias


The funding for the massive overhaul is being driven by a federal government $8 billion program known as Pria Section 209.
The funding for the massive overhaul is being driven by a federal government $8 billion program known as Pria Section 209.

When Friday rolls around, crews on the Point Defiance Bypass Project are ready to attack their job building new rail line, but when Monday arrives, it's back to business for the railroad. It's a tightly synchronized operation of a $150 million project that will make rail travel all that more efficient in the corridor stretching from Vancouver, B.C. to Portland, Ore.

The project is part of the Washington Department of Transportation's railroad upgrade program that features 20 projects statewide, including eight new locomotives. Thirteen of those 20 projects are completed; seven remain under construction.

The funding for the massive overhaul is being driven by a federal government $8 billion program known as Pria Section 209.

“What it did was take all the lines and move those to state responsibility from Amtrak,” said David Smelser, capital program manager of the Rail, Freight and Port Division of WSDOT. “The government said 'Hey you have a lot more responsibility so here's some funding.' Washington ended up with $800 million. This funding is all inside of Washington, all spent inside the state. Oregon also got some planning money. It strengthened our partnership with Oregon. We operate the line from Seattle to Portland jointly.”

The Point Defiance Bypass Project will allow WSDOT to add two new round trips between Seattle and Portland for a total of six round trips. It will shorten travel time and improve on-time performance, Smelser said.

The project routes passenger trains from BNSF Railway main lines to an inland route of existing rail line that is lightly used by freight trains. The current route requires trains to slow for curves and single line tunnels. The bypass includes 14.5 mi. (23.3 km) of new and upgraded tracks, five at grade crossings with full safety improvements.

“The old rails are in the 100-year-old range,” Smelser said. “Tacoma Rail services a few freight customers on that line. It's a major upgrade to get it into condition to be used by passenger rail. Crews are tearing out the old track and rebuilding the road bed. All new ties, all new rail, concrete ties, new ballast. They're tearing out the old track and rebuilding the road bed, new signals, new ditches, new access road. We're basically rebuilding the entire railroad.”

The project is broken into five parts, with work beginning on the first two years ago. The last contract to be let was for the new station, a necessary addition since the old station is located on the rail line the state is going to bypass.

Construction crews rebuilding the lines must work around the Tacoma Rail services. That's where the weekend work comes in.

“They have about a 48-hour window to do work over the weekend, which involves removing existing rail, ties, ballast and rail bed and building that back up with new materials,” Smelser said. “When they prepare for the weekend work, they have already built the access road and have the new materials staged. As soon as they get the shutdown window, they will attack a piece of track. With their experience now they are able to get 1,500 to 2,000 feet done in a weekend. Their goal is to have it operational on Friday, when they get their shut down and will start removing the existing line. Sometime on Saturday, they'll be rebuilding the rail bed and will have it ready to go on Monday morning for the freight trains. It goes very smoothly. I think they initially thought they could build around 1500-1600 feet. They can't work on the railway the rest of the week. They have to be off the line sometime Monday in the morning.”

The rest of the week, crews do utility work and take delivery of materials for the weekend.

“There's all kinds of equipment on the job,” Smelser said. “There's the on-track equipment for laying rail. Excavators, dozers, graders, trucks. It's very similar to rebuilding roadway or a two-lane highway. The only difference is what you put on top. Instead of paving with asphalt, you put sub base, ballast [open graded rocks that support the ties], rail and ties.”

Construction is scheduled to be complete in the spring. The new bypass will need to be tested, and then is expected to open to passengers in the fall. —CEG