With the passage of King County’s 2023-24 biennial budget earlier this week, a new study will look at the feasibility of increasing rail capacity through Stampede Pass thanks to $150,000 in funding provided by a budget amendment sponsored by Councilmember Reagan Dunn. The study, to be performed by Washington State University, will look at the costs and benefits of modifying railway tunnels to accommodate the double stacking of rail cars.
StoryWith the passage of King County’s 2023-24 biennial budget earlier this week, a new study will look at the feasibility of increasing rail capacity through Stampede Pass thanks to $150,000 in funding provided by a budget amendment sponsored by Councilmember Reagan Dunn. The study, to be performed by Washington State University, will look at the costs and benefits of modifying railway tunnels to accommodate the double stacking of rail cars.
“There is an exciting opportunity before us to potentially improve rail transport across Stampede Pass, said Dunn. “This project seems to hold promising benefits for local trade, traffic congestion, and our environment, and is worth a closer look and serious consideration.”
Stampede Pass rail corridor runs through the Cascade Mountains between southeast King County and Kittitas County. Currently operated by BNSF, the rail corridor provides a critical route for goods from eastern Washington to Puget Sound ports. However, the capacity of the route is currently limited to a single stack of rail cars due to the Stampede Pass Tunnel, originally constructed in 1888.
“Our two counties share more than just a major interstate freeway,” said Kittitas County Commissioner Cory Wright. “With freight ever increasing as products move west to Puget Sound ports, Councilmember Dunn’s proposal to maximize this underused intermodal transportation route stands to benefit not only our inland agricultural producers, but also drivers passing back and forth over Snoqualmie Pass.”
Much of Washington state’s agriculture industry accesses export markets through the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the fourth largest international container port in the United States. In 2018, Washington growers moved 3.8 million TEUs through facilities in Seattle and Tacoma. From farmers to consumers, many rely on an optimized freight transportation system to ship transport goods and internationally and across the country.
“We are very encouraged by the support of King County to help us understand alternatives in moving containers from Eastern Washington to the Ports in Seattle and Tacoma,” said Mark Anderson of the Anderson Hay & Grain Company. “Long term we need to understand alternatives to our current over the road trucks and the impacts they have on the environment, highway systems and traffic congestion in general.”
Currently, Washington agricultural producers accessing export markets currently do so via truck-highway shipments over I-90 to the Port of Tacoma and Seattle, adding to traffic congestion going over Snoqualmie Pass and also on I-405 and I-5 within King County. An increase in rail capacity through Stampede Pass could provide numerous public benefits in King County related to congestion, collisions, road maintenance, and emission improvements, as well as broader regional public benefits from changing traffic and supply chain patterns. The study will consider all of these potential benefits as well as costs.
The study will begin in January 2023, to be completed by February 2024.