The vision of building a high-speed rail line connecting the Pacific Northwest’s three largest urban regions – Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland – and other communities in-between recently gained more momentum on two fronts.
Last week, Washington State’s legislature approved a further US$1.2 million in funding to proceed with another study on the project that will examine its business case. The study will involve representatives from communities and stakeholders from the public and private sectors ,including BC and Oregon.
This follows a study last year, initiated by the state government, that did a preliminary analysis of the possible routes, station locations, and costs. High-speed rail and magnetic levitation were considered for the trans-border train service.
Such a project could cost between US$24 billion and US$42 billion based on early estimates and see 2.1 million annual riders upon opening in 2033.
Future phases of the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed rail project could extend the line east to Spokane and south to Sacramento, which would provide a connection with California’s under-construction high-speed rail system.
Just last month, the results of a separate state government-supported economic benefits study, with funding partially provided by Microsoft, found that a high-speed rail project would create anywhere from 157,200 to 201,200 average jobs per year, $242 billion to $316 billion in labour income, and $621 billion to $827 billion in business output.
Washington State’s interest with high-speed rail comes from top leadership, with governor Jay Inslee repeatedly voicing his support for the idea.
“It could promote economic integration, enable affordable housing, help clean our air, and reduce traffic,” said Inslee during a speech in the BC legislature last fall.
“The initial ridership and revenue numbers from the study will be coming back in a few weeks, and I’m excited about the prospect of a train that can reduce the travel time from Seattle to Vancouver from three hours to less than one. We’re good enough to do this.”
Interest in a the project has spurred the creation of Cascadia Rail, a new advocacy group that plans to mobilize support across the Pacific Northwest.
The group, launched last month, says more infrastructure is needed to support the growing population across the Cascadia region. If done properly the group believes there could be benefits such as shorter commutes, enforcing the region’s global cities as a place for business, tourism generation, commercial and residential development, and environmental sustainability.
“Every time a mom or a dad spends ninety minutes on a 35 mile commute between Tacoma & Seattle, or 5 hours just to get to Portland, we know something is wrong. WE. DESERVE. FASTER. Our quality of life, and of our children’s lives, depends on it,” reads their launch announcement on Seattle Transit Blog.
“Our goal is clear: a safe, fast, high capacity connection between Cascadia cities. Our role will be to advocate with partners to make it possible.”