Study Backs High-speed Rail in Cascadia Corridor

High-speed rail service between British Columbia and Oregon could cover its operating costs as soon as 2040 a recently released study concluded.

The study, released by the Washington State Department of Transportation, said that a route between Vancouver and Portland via Seattle would deliver economic and social benefits but before it can be implemented decisions must be made as to what equipment would be used and where it would operate.

Among the options are conventional rail, maglev or hyperloop. Other unresolved issues include funding and the cost of construction.

The benefits of the rail system would include a faster travel time, reducing current traffic congestions, cutting greenhouse emissions and creating jobs.

The travel time between Seattle and Portland could be as little as an hour.

Ridership was projected at more than 3 million trips annually with farebox revenues of $156 million to $250 million a year by 2040.

The recent study is an extension of one conducted earlier. Funding for the study was provided by Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and software maker Micosoft.

“The need for continued additional transportation infrastructure investment in the Cascadia megaregion is clear — crowded roads, congested airports, and limited intercity rail service constrain the mobility of residents, businesses, and tourists,” the report said. “Vancouver; Seattle; and Portland have the fourth, sixth, and tenth-most congested roads in North America, respectively. Airport delays are making air travel increasingly unreliable, and the travel time and frequency of intercity rail service are not competitive for most trips.”
The study focused on what it termed ultra-high-speed ground transportation, which would travel as fast as 250 miles per hour.

No construction timeline was provided other than it could being in six to eight years with costs ranging from $24 billion to $42 billion. Who would pay those costs is not directly address by the study.

“It’s really like building another I-5, only one that is faster, more reliable, safer and more environmentally friendly,” said Janet Matkin, a spokesperson for WSDOT.

Trains would operate on a dedicated right of way and service frequency would be 21 to 30 roundtrips a day.

The $42 billion cost of the system caught the eye of a state legislator who said he doesn’t see the state taking on the project on its own and doesn’t see construction starting in eight years as outlined in the study.

“I don’t see that happening,” state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said of the ambitious schedule.

Saying the cost can’t be covered by the state, Hobbs said it needs to be in partnership with the private sector.

“There needs to be more analysis, especially on the financial part,” he said.

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