WSDOT Improves Rail Travel in the Pacific Northwest

King Street Station One of Many Capital Projects

King Street StationWhen people think of rail service in the Pacific Northwest, they most likely think about the Amtrak passenger train service, and freight operators like BNSF. But you might be surprised to learn that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) – in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Transportation – actually manages its own passenger rail service, the Amtrak Cascades.

The WSDOT Rail Division is a vital component of the transportation network in Washington, and currently manages almost $800-million worth of federally-funded capital improvement projects across the state. Currently, fifteen Local 17 members are part of the 40-person Rail Division at WSDOT. These members work in various engineering and transportation planning capacities. One of their recent projects was the remodeling of the King Street Station in Seattle – a major hub for passenger rail service.

Alex Countouriotis, Transportation Engineer and Local 17 member, was the Project Lead for the $16.2-million seismic retrofitting phase of the King Street Station project – an endeavor that returned the station to its original architectural glory, while implementing seismic codes and safety standards to ensure that the station will be around for many years to come. In this 13-month-long phase, the building interior was reinforced with a new steel structure, and the Italian marble, mosaic tile, polished terrazzo, and intricate plasterwork were restored to its original 1906 look and feel.

“The field verifications during the construction phase were my favorite part of the project,” said Countouriotis, who visited the station weekly from the WSDOT Rail Division offices in Olympia. “I enjoyed being on-site during construction and documenting its progress.”

In addition to being a safer structure, the King Street Station is a beautiful representation of classical architecture and design. “I am awestruck by its architectural beauty,” said Countouriotis. “I am happy that future generations of King Street Station visitors and travelers will be able to experience the same sense of awe.”

Many of WSDOT Rail’s other capital improvement projects are slated to be completed over the next few years. These projects aim to improve the on-time performance, reliability, and safety of rail service in Washington. They will also support two additional round-trip passenger services between Seattle and Portland by 2017.

Teresa Graham, Rail Operations Research and Data Specialist, has been a part of the Rail Division for 19 years. “When I first started, there were eight people total in the Rail Division. At that time, Amtrak Cascades service was just beginning.” Graham tracks and maintains all of the data for Amtrak Cascades.

Because they are working on big-picture plans for the future of Northwest rail, as well as the detail work necessary to implement those plans, the staff needs to have diverse skills.

Local 17 member Jeremy Jewkes is a Rail Planning Engineer who helps develop and implement the Washington State Rail Plan. He leads rail-planning studies, conducts pre-design analysis, and reviews rail system data for Amtrak Cascades, among other duties. “We all need to have a wide range of skills in order to provide the best possible product for our customers,” said Jewkes.

For staff, working in the Rail Division provides the opportunity to be at the forefront of multi-modal, inter-city transportation efforts. With increased rail service between cities, people are better able to travel for work or leisure without having to be on already congested highways. The same can be said for freight travel.

“Transportation modes are moving away from highways to a more network-based approach,” said Cameron Harper, Local 17 member and Rail Project Lead. Harper oversees the implementation of programs and projects related to freight rail.

“It’s good to be a part of this movement,” said Harper.