High-speed rail feasibility study between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland underway

Aug 14 2017, 8:45 pm

The vision of traveling from Vancouver to Seattle on a ultra high-speed train in just one hour is one tiny step closer towards becoming a reality after Washington State officially launched a study to examine the feasibility of such a rail link.

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Of course, this will not happen anytime soon, but the study will analyze what would need to be done to have cross-border passenger trains running at a speed of as high as 400 km/hr to as far south as Portland, Oregon.

According to KUOW public radio, the study began in late-July and will be conducted by a consultant at a cost of US$300,000 – down from the budgeted USD$1 million when the study was first announced earlier this year in Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed state budget. The budget bill proposed Washington State stations at locations such as Bellingham, Everett, SeaTac International Airport, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, Washington.

The idea has received the full backing of Washington State-based Microsoft, which supported the study with an additional $50,000 contribution. Engineering consultancy firm CH2M, which has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, has been contracted to perform the study.

Interest in such a rail link is spurred from the Cascadia Innovation Corridor agreement signed by the government leaders of BC and Washington State last fall. The agreement committed both jurisdictions to growing the Vancouver-Seattle corridor into a tech corridor and innovation hub and improving transportation connections, such as high-speed rail.

“Why not a high speed train from Vancouver to Seattle to Portland? If we lived in Europe it would already be there,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, at a recent Portland conference on regional policy. “We need to raise our sights and our ambition level as a region.”

Currently, Vancouver and Seattle are linked by the twice daily Amtrak Cascades service, but the train service is 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 $15 billion, would run from London to Toronto.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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