Local officials want Auburn to be an Amtrak stop once more

The state is looking at the suitability of the Auburn Transit Station in terms of its proximity to Amtrak
The state is looking at the suitability of the Auburn Transit Station in terms of its proximity to Amtrak's market.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Passenger trains came to Auburn for a total of about 80 years.

And for the years that Amtrak stopped in Auburn on its Seattle-to-Chicago line, the passenger train service had a station between Seattle and Portland.

It's no secret that local officials want Auburn to be an Amtrak stop once more.

"The city of Auburn has been a train town almost since its beginning," said Mayor Pete Lewis. "The reality is that Auburn has been made a central location by geography and our road system for the transportation needs of communities from Lake Tapps and Enumclaw, Black Diamond, Maple Valley and Covington, along with Algona and Pacific, with many of the residents of Federal Way needing to use Amtrak.

"As a longtime user of trains and a member of the National Amtrak Advisory Board," Lewis added, "I understand that you cannot achieve a successful passenger rail system without having multiple or 'Skip-stops,' enabling as much of the population as possible to use the system without lessening the efficiency of the system."

State Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn, District 47) recently asked the Washington State Department of Transportation to conduct a study of the Auburn area to determine if the City's idea would work.

That study, now under full steam, is to be wrapped up in June.

The study covers the connections to what Amtrak calls its "Cascades Trains," which operate between Seattle and Portland.

Auburn Transportation Planner Joe Welsh said Monday that WSDOT's evaluation is focused heavily on the operational side of things, as Amtrak would have to fit the stop into the 60-plus trains a day it already has on the mainline.

The state is looking also at the suitability of the Auburn station in terms of its proximity to Amtrak's market. What the state wants to know is whether there are enough people living within a 5-, 10- and 20-mile radius of the Auburn station who would ride the train here, where they would board and where they would park.

It also will consider the station's proximity to transportation corridors.

Auburn's station, if chosen, Welsh noted, would be one of the few with direct freeway access, in this case, State Route 167.

Because Congress wants Amtrak to be self-sufficient, it plans to take away its federal subsidy. That means it will have a $3 million hole in its budget next year. One way to get more people to ride the trains is to make the stations — sometimes hard to get to and hard to park at — more accessible to the public.

"We're the first place that they have actually done a study to determine whether a station would make a suitable stop," Welsh said. "This is actually a process they're putting together for the first time. They will be coming up with a recommended policy out of this study. They wanted to get more out of it than accessibility of the station, also whether a policy to move forward with.

"Then will they apply that criterion to existing stations to see if we might be more suitable than others?" Councilman John Holman asked.

"As far as we know, they would be looking at all stations. It's very difficult to remove a station once it's put into service. ... This part of the study is not asking, 'stop at Auburn, don't stop somewhere else,' " Welsh said. "What we are looking at is when you add two additional trains, will they be able to stop here? We believe in Auburn we have a fair amount of people within a 10-to 20-mile range who really would rather come here because they can get here in 15 minutes as long as we provide them safe parking for Amtrak."

WSDOT has said that its customer demand forecast and customer analysis will be done in April and its technical reports and policies in May.

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