The Pacific Northwest continues to live up to its reputation for tricksy weather, as even with La Niña conditions, our December has been as dry as the proverbial bone. KIRO meteorologist Morgan Palmer has the record-setting numbers for you: Seattle has had just one-quarter of an inch of rain in December, compared to almost seven inches last year, and an average of over three inches. Our snowpack is below normal, too.
One beneficiary of this unexpected aridity is the Amtrak Cascades line, which is routinely plagued by mudslides when we get steady rain. This spring and November’s on-time percentages suffered because of rainfall-driven slides, but December’s fair weather has Amtrak Cascades on track to surpass its target of 828,000 (2010 ridership totaled 840,000 passengers, up seven percent from 2009–or 850,000, up ten percent, depending upon whose figures you believe).
The Seattle Times‘ Mike Lindblom reports that, mudslides aside, the trip between Vancouver, BC, and Seattle is going to get a little speedier:
Right now, the U.S. conducts agriculture and immigration inspections in the Vancouver station, and then stops trains on the trackway near Blaine — causing a delay of 12 minutes to 20 minutes to check baggage and Customs declarations. Evening inspections often make passengers interrupt dinner to file forms while dogs sniff items in the train.
Lindblom also notes that August ridership between the two cities was up significantly, “a 26.5 percent increase from a year earlier.” Having access to free WiFi makes delays a little easier to bear.
Meanwhile, here in Seattle, $16.7 million in federal high-speed-rail money is driving the next phase of the King Street Station restoration project, due to be finished in two years. King Street Station is the busiest train station in the Northwest. Renovations to come will:
…strengthen King Street Station and its clock tower to better withstand earthquakes, as well as restore the historical features of the station’s main hall and upgrade electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to modern standards. To restore the main hall to its original grandeur, the building’s white marble walls, decorative lighting and other features removed during “modernization” of the station more than 50 years ago will be rehabilitated or replaced, where possible. Also, improvements to both the Jackson Street and King Street entrances will significantly improve the public’s access to the station.