Sunday, May 2, 2010

WES vs. Sounder: The Numbers

Someone left me a comment on YouTube trying to defend WES, I decided to look into the numbers, and I found the results interesting and want to share them. WES, or Westside Express Service, is a commuter rail service run by TriMet (and P&W employees) that currently runs 16 round trips a day between Wilsonville and Beaverton, just outside of Portland. Sounder, operated by Sound Transit (and BNSF Personnel), currently has 9 round trips a day between Seattle and Tacoma (plus 4 round trips to Everett), but I have to back up to compare apples to apples.

WES opened Feb 2009, with the same 16 Round Trips they run today (TriMet refuses to cut it back). As of March's Ridership report, WES is averaging 1,230 Daily Boardings. So over a year in service, with many trips a day, 76 people are riding each WES Train (Seems inflated, but ok). If you look at one year ago, WES had 1,260 daily boardings, spread over 16 round trips. So all-in-all ridership has stayed flat, despite the "Ridership increase" TriMet is touting.

Sounder opened in Sept 2000, with 2 round trips a day between Tacoma and Seattle. When it first opened, Sounder was averaging 1,000 boardings per day, or 250 riders per train. One full year later the same service was averaging 2,400 riders per day, or 600 people per train.

I think the numbers speak for themselves, but you can not tell me that WES is in the same boat as Sounder as far as gaining ridership. Sounder had almost 8 times the ridership, with a quarter of the service of WES, in the same timeframe. Also take note WES has flat ridership over that year, Sounder saw 140% in that same timeframe. Biggest reason? People need to go to Seattle, if WES went to Portland, I think WES would not have near as much scrutiny as it does now. It clearly illustrates my "Boondoggle vs. REAL Commuter Rail" video is fairly accurate......Sounder is a good example of a successful Commuter Rail as compared to WES.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Just some clarification and fun w/ your numbers

Daily ridership (from ST and TriMet)
WES = 1,230 (April 2010, up 7.9% YTD)
Sounder = 9,221 (Q1 2010, down 7% YTD)

System length (from railroad timetables and guessing a little for the south end)
WES = 15 miles, 5 stations & had to create new ROW and rehabilitate track and bridges
SDRX = 73 miles, 10 (+2 soon) stations & uses existing track

Top speed (from railroad timetables)
WES = 60mph
SDRX = south 79mph on about half of the line, north 60mph on most of the line

Average speed
WES = 37mph
SDRX = 39mph south*, 34mph north*

Type of service
WES = DMU, suburb to suburb with light rail connection
SDRX = push-pull passenger trains, city-suburb-city

WES = 3 DMU's, 1 trailer car
SDRX = 11 locomotives, 58 cars

Cost (from ST and TriMet)
WES = $130 million
SDRX = $1.2 billion + $1.1 billion authorzed by ST2

Years in operation
WES = 1.3 years
SDRX = 9.5 years

Expandable service?
WES = more off peak trains can be added, but no more cars
SDRX = 4 more south trains by 2014 and can add one more car to each south train but requires station lengthening, new maintenance facility, longer storage tracks, 3rd main to please BNSF Railway. No north expansion planned until ST3.

Your "first full year" comment is inaccurate. The Sounder did not start with all 7 south stations. It started with 4 then added 3 as they finished construction between Sept 2000 and Sept 2001. So of course south end ridership increased because the number of stations did as well. Sounder had 2,718 boardings/day on its 3 southbound trains in Q2 2003, which is just 300 more than the Tacoma Link at that time.

WES is also an experiment in suburb-to-suburb DMU rail service. It's give us in the transit community a lot of good information about what to do and what not to do. Additionally, TriMet cannot cut off WES service as federal funding went into the project. Federal funding comes with the requirements that it must be open X number of years. WES was a cheap alternative between doing nothing, freeway widening, and MAX extension that didn't work as well as everyone had hoped for.

BTW, I love the Sounder and have been a north train rider for 4 years, so I'm no stranger to I-5 and crappy CT buses. Edmonds to Seattle, best hour of my day. And my dad has been a rider since day 1.

*King Street Station is MP0 on BNSF's timetables. Everett Station is MP34 on the Scenic Subdivision, and the trains do the run in 59 minutes, so thats 34mph. Tacoma Sounder Station is roughly MP39X, also 59 minutes, giving an average speed of 39mph. And the trains cannot be early in this measurement as we're going by scheduled times. Sounder routinely holds in Edmonds for 3-4 minutes because it's going too fast, which is bad for fuel consumption anyways.