High-speed rail between Vancouver and Seattle, and possibly as far south as Portland, needs to be seriously considered for its immense bilateral benefits, says Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.
Earlier today, during a rare speech to MLAs at the BC legislature, Inslee highlighted his advocacy for a cross-border passenger train line that could run at speeds as high as 400 km/hr.
This comes just ahead of next month’s release of the findings of a $1-million study funded by the state government on the feasibility of such a service. The study, launched in late-July, is being conducted by engineering consultancy firm CH2M, which has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.
“It could promote economic integration, enable affordable housing, help clean our air, and reduce traffic,” he said.
“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 high-speed rail link is spurred from the Cascadia Innovation Corridor agreement signed by the government leaders of BC and Washington State in fall 2016. The agreement committed both jurisdictions to growing the Vancouver-Seattle corridor into a tech corridor and innovation hub and improving transportation connections.
Currently, there are 13 highway crossings, four railway lines, and three ferry routes connecting BC with Washington State.
An initial budget bill for the study suggested Washington State station locations in Bellingham, Everett, SeaTac International Airport, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, Washington.
High-speed rail also has the backing of Microsoft, which contributed $50,000 towards the cost of the study.
“It is time for us to start serious efforts in doing this, not just for the economic reasons but for someday having essentially a subway series for NHL franchises,” Inslee lightheartedly added.
While the study will likely answer some preliminary logistical, routing, and market demand questions, funding for the construction endeavour will not be addressed for some time. A high-speed rail line of this scope and length will cost billions of dollars.
In the meantime, transportation links between the city centres of Seattle and Vancouver will improve from a new Harbour Air seaplane route between South Lake Union and Coal Harbour.
A seaplane service could be very beneficial for tech workers traveling between company offices in both cities. Major Seattle-based tech companies, namely Amazon and Microsoft, are growing their presence in Vancouver.
“I’m also excited about the prospect of a new seaplane service between South Lake Union and Coal Harbour,” Inslee continued.
“Premier Horgan and I agree that this could be a game changer in cross-border collaboration and improved connectivity. We have asked the Prime Minister for his assistance in getting this across the finish line, and we just heard some good news about today and I look forward to that service.”
Currently, Vancouver and Seattle are linked by the twice daily Amtrak Cascades service, but the train service is excruciatingly slow – with a travel time much longer than a car trip – and highly unreliable because of the indirect route it takes and prioritization freight trains receive.
Canada is the only country in the G7 without a high-speed rail service, but that might not be in the case by 2025 if Ontario proceeds with its plan to build an interregional high-speed rail service through the southern Ontario corridor from Windsor to Toronto. The first phase, estimated at a cost of $20 billion, would run from London to Toronto.