For more than five years, Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia have collaborated on studies of a possible Cascadia high-speed train to run between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. This winter, the Washington Legislature approved funds for even more studies. But state lawmakers have also set aside a much larger sum to attract federal support that could move the high-speed rail dream to a shovel-ready shovel.
Proponents of the project envision a train with a top speed of at least 250mph running on a dedicated track. This could get travelers from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seattle in an hour and from Seattle to Portland in another hour, in a climate-friendly way.
The current top speed for Amtrak trains in the Pacific Northwest is 79 mph. These passenger trains are regularly delayed by congestion on a main line shared with freight trains.
“Look at Spain. Look at France. Look at Germany. Look at Italy. Look at China, look at Japan,” Washington Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) said. in a rat-a-tat cadence. “I’m not the first in this game. Frankly, we’re probably in the tail. We’re sort of coming into this space last, following the lead of many of our global competitors.”
Democrats who control the Washington Legislature have invested $150 million in a recently approved program set of state transport infrastructure for what they call a “very high speed train”. Liias said the goal is to attract four times as much in matching dollars from the new federal infrastructure bill. If the federal Department of Transportation steps in, it could total up to $750 million to pull a Cascadia high-speed train off the drawing board.
In an interview, Liias said that such a sum of money would allow the states and their consultants to “do community outreach, environmental work, design and planning to get a significant proposition before the decision makers of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington and our federal funding partners.
He added that the partners still have to figure out how to pay for the high cost of acquiring the right-of-way and the actual construction. A feasibility study completed in 2017 pegged the cost of building a Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed train at between $24 billion and $42 billion, depending on the amount of tunnels involved.
Skeptics are already raising cries of “mess” as well as warnings to take into account what is happening in California. The ongoing high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to Bay Area is suffering from inflated costs, slow construction and endless chases.
“The $150 million is both a big sum of money and also surprising,” said transport policy analyst Mariya Frost of the Conservative Party. Washington Policy Center. “To me, that’s surprising because the state has much bigger and more meaningful priorities in maintaining existing roads and building the projects they promised in (2015).”
Even within the rail advocate community, opinions are divided on which route to take in Cascadia. Bill Moyer of Vashon Island, co-author of the book Solution Railsaid he feared lawmakers had been seduced by a bright, shiny object, namely the high-speed train.
“It’s obscene,” Moyer said in an interview. “It really takes all the oxygen in the room to deliver common sense solutions in a timely manner.”
Moyer argued that taxpayers and travelers could get their money’s worth and that environmental goals would be achieved faster by prioritizing improvements to existing Amtrak service.
“If you spent $10 billion on the North-South Corridor and a few billion more on the electrification of rail yards and rail lines, we would start to have a very functional system that would be very competitive for passengers and freight in a much shorter timeframe, in a way to actually make a difference for the climate,” Moyer said.
Power players like Microsoft, Amazon, Costco, and past and present governors vocally support the Cascadia high-speed train proposal and send thanks to the Legislative Assembly.
“Linking Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle, and Portland will foster additional collaboration and innovation, expand employment opportunities, and improve the region’s position on the global stage,” Microsoft’s Irene Plenefisch told lawmakers during a briefing. committee hearing last month. “This is a transformative project that will be a game-changer for generations to come.”
Senator Liias said an ideal outcome would be to secure federal funding for future high-speed rail and the upgrade of existing Amtrak Cascades service.
Washington state lawmakers put conditions on their bullet train deposit. The $150 million in state money can only be spent if they unlock a federal match. It will likely be another year before the Federal Railroad Administration distributes the billions in competitive grants for new passenger rail projects across the country.
Meanwhile, the Washington Legislature’s latest transportation budget provided a separate $4 million in state taxpayer dollars to continue planning and education for the super-high-speed rail contingent on Oregon and Columbia. British by making “significant financial contributions”.