BC and Washington State announce joint study for Vancouver-Seattle high speed rail

Mar 16 2018, 6:20 pm

Another step is being taken towards a possible high-speed rail line between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

Early this afternoon during a joint press conference in Vancouver, Premier John Horgan and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced a new partnership to conduct a business case study on the new intercity, transborder passenger rail line.

The study was already announced by the state government last week, but today’s development is a new $300,000 contribution from the provincial government, which adds to the $1.2 million already committed by Inslee towards the cost of this deeper analysis.

“It’s exciting anytime you can create a long-term vision. It’s going to help your communities grow,” said Inslee. “And there are a few things we can do to display our mutual optimism and mutual can-do spirit than to invest in this high-speed rail corridor from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver.”

“We are really pleased that you have a premier that has joined us in a mutual investment for the second step of this analysis. This second step on a business case analysis is designed to bring stakeholders in so that we could listen to the industries that could be benefited, and there are many on this regard.”

Inslee also noted that he confirmed Oregon’s state government’s participation in the study earlier today. He anticipates the study will be conducted over the coming year, and upon its completion more action will be taken.

Over the past year, much of the momentum on the idea of the Pacific Northwest being connected by high-speed rail was driven by Washington State, particularly by Inslee who also mentioned the project in his address to the BC legislature last November.

“Washington State has already conducted significant research between Seattle and Portland,” said Horgan. “In our first meeting last fall, the governor and I talked about how we can add to the work that has already been done and ensure we do our due diligence on our side of the ball to make this optimism a reality.”

The state-initiated preliminary analysis conducted last year looked at the possible routes, station locations, and costs. It considered high-speed rail and magnetic levitation technologies, and found that such a project – depending on technology and route – could cost between US$24 billion and US$42 billion and see 2.1 million annual riders upon opening in 2033.

“We have started the first step in this analysis,” said Inslee. “Washington conducted a feasibility study and it came back with nothing but optimism. It showed that we could have almost a 20-1 cost benefit ratio and there is no showstoppers in the feasibility study.”

“We are optimistic about our growth prospects, we are optimistic about the technology which is now coming online to let this line blossom.”

There could be 12 daily roundtrips, with stops at seven stations between just Metro Vancouver and the Seattle region and each train containing a seating capacity of up to 500 passengers. If magnetic levitation technology is used, trains would have the ability to run at speeds of 400 km/hr to connect Vancouver and Seattle in just one hour.

Most of the route options would locate the line’s northern terminus at Pacific Central Station on the edge of downtown Vancouver while other options placed the terminus at Vancouver International Airport or King George Station in Surrey City Centre.

Between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, the line would also have stations serving smaller and suburban communities such as Bellingham, Everett, and Tacoma.

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.

Between 13% and 17% of all trips along the full corridor from Vancouver to Portland could transition onto the new train system it opens. About 50% of the ridership will come from the Portland-Seattle span of the line while the Vancouver-Seattle will make up 25%. The remaining station pairs are expected to account for the final 25% of the ridership.

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, $621 billion to $827 billion in business output, and $308 billion to $399 billion in value added over the decade of construction and 21-year operating periods.

Currently, travel between Vancouver and Seattle takes 55 mins by air, 4 hrs and 30 mins by Amtrak, 2 hrs and 41 mins by car, and 4 hrs and 8 mins by bus. Travel times between Seattle and Portland are roughly the same for air and about three hours for the other modes.

Earlier this month, Ontario’s provincial government announced $15 million for an advanced study for its next phase of detailed planning to build a $20-billion high-speed rail line from Windsor to Toronto.


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