Microsoft to host conference on Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed rail

Oct 29 2019, 7:20 pm

The first major conference on the ambitious vision to connect the Pacific Northwest’s three major urban centres with a high-speed rail service will be held next week.

Government officials from all three jurisdictions, various business and industry interests, and rail industry representatives will be descending on the Microsoft headquarters in the Seattle suburb of Redmond for the Cascadia Rail Summit from November 6 to 8, 2019.

Attendees will be learning more about high-speed rail and how the proposed project linking Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland can be advanced.

Speakers slated from north of the border include Simon Fraser University’s professor Anthony Perl, and City of Vancouver transportation director Lon LaClaire.

Microsoft has been a key proponent of the Cascadia high-speed rail project, and one of the key sources of funding for the various early analysis work performed since 2017, supplementing the funding provided by both the state governments of Washington and Oregon, and the provincial government of BC.

An initial 2017-study led by Washington State’s Department of Transportation received USD $300,000 in funding from the state government and another $50,000 from Microsoft.

In 2018, Microsoft provided USD $300,000 towards an in-depth feasibility study, which was largely funded by all three governments.

At the time, Microsoft president Brad Smith provided this insight on the connectivity and global competitiveness of Cascadia as a result of high-speed rail: “Our ability to compete in the world’s economy will be enhanced dramatically by having a region that is six million inhabitants strong versus two or three regions of three million each. By combining the sub-regions, it is the only way for this megaregion to reach scale. None of the sub-regions can get to six million by itself.”

Vancouver Seattle Portland high speed rail

Cascadia high-speed rail business case, July 2019. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

The resulting 400-page business case report, released this past July, found that a conventional high-speed rail line reaching speeds of up to 350 km/hr would immensely economically integrate the Cascadia megaregion, bringing out the true economic potential of the corridor.

Train travel on the segment between Vancouver and Seattle could be performed in just one hour, with over a dozen departing trains per day.

Depending on the route and service scenario, between 1.7 million and three million annual trips would be generated by 2040.

If constructed by 2035, the cost of building the project is estimated at between USD $24 billion and USD $42 billion — cheaper than the 2018 estimated cost of USD $108 billion to add a freeway lane in each direction of US Interstate 5 through Washington State. By 2055, annual fare revenues would reach sufficient levels to cover annual operating costs.

It could generate anywhere from 157,200 to 201,200 average jobs per year, $242 billion to $316 billion in labour income, $621 billion to $827 billion in business output, and $308 billion to $399 billion in value added over the decade of construction period and first 21 years of operations.

Vancouver Seattle Portland high speed rail

Cascadia high-speed rail business case, July 2019. (Washington State Department of Transportation)

A total of nine different route and service scenarios were evaluated in the business case, including six scenarios with stations in both downtown Vancouver and downtown Surrey, one scenario with only a Metro Vancouver station in downtown Vancouver, and two scenarios with only a station in downtown Surrey.

While a northern terminus in Surrey would have a lower construction cost than bringing the line further north to downtown Vancouver, it would generate a lower ridership.

Microsoft is also involved in the next stage of planning and study, as the company is providing a further USD $223,667, increasing its total contribution to date towards Cascadia high-speed rail analysis to USD $573,667. This is in addition to USD $224,000 from Washington’s state government, USD $225,000 from Oregon’s state government, and CAD $300,000 from BC’s provincial government for this phase of work.

Vancouver Seattle Portland high speed rail

Cascadia high-speed rail business case, July 2019. (Washington State Department of Transportation)