Washington state to create project team for Vancouver-Seattle high-speed rail

Jan 22 2019, 3:30 am

The state government of Washington State is the leading proponent of a high-speed rail line that links Seattle with Vancouver to the north and Portland to the south.

And now, it has taken another measure that shows it is quite serious about the trilateral, multi-billion dollar endeavour: The creation of a state-funded project office that will lead early coordination and planning.

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Last week, a bill was introduced to allocate USD$3.25 million towards a new “ultra high-speed ground transportation corridor authority” that will involve the governments of British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon.

“The corridor authority development shall strengthen regional collaboration and analyze and develop a bistate and binational structure that addresses, but is not limited to: Ultra high-speed corridor governance, general powers, operating structure, legal instruments, and contracting requirements,” reads the bill.

This new project office will conduct a “robust” public consultation and a preliminary environmental review, and develop recommendations towards establishing the next steps of the envisioned high-speed rail line. This future team will be required to build on the findings of the 2018 business case analysis and other preliminary studies.

As this is an “ultra high-speed” rail line, trains are intended to travel up to 402 km/h, potentially connecting Vancouver and Seattle in just one hour, with stops at other communities in between.

By the end of June 2020, the corridor authority will return to the executive and legislative branches of each participating government with an assessment of the current laws in all three jurisdictions and identify any laws, regulations or agreements that need to be modified or passed in order to develop an ultra high-speed rail corridor. A summary of the results from the public consultation process is also required at this time.

Washington state’s previous analysis completed in late-2017 found that an ultra high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland could cost between USD$24 billion and USD$42 billion, if construction begins in 2025 for completion by 2035. It would attract up to 2.1 million annual riders upon opening, growing to up to 3.3 million per year by 2055.

The recent study states that about 50% of the ridership will come from the Portland-Seattle portion of the route while Vancouver-Seattle will make up 25% of the total, with the remaining station pairs making up for the final 25% of ridership.

This is based on a high-speed rail line with ultra speeds, and trains running 12 times roundtrip daily, with stops at seven stations between Metro Vancouver and the Seattle region. Each train can seat up to 500 passengers.

Total benefits from construction and operation jobs, improved travel options for users, and the agglomeration economies effect are expected to 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.

In March 2018, BC Premier John Horgan announced a CAD$300,000 contribution towards the high-speed rail study, and a similar commitment was made by Oregon state soon afterwards. Both commitments add to the USD$1.2 million already committed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee towards the cost of a deeper analysis.

To date, Inslee has been responsible for much of the project’s early momentum.

Microsoft also provided funding to help support the cost of determining the economic benefits of the rail infrastructure project.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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