Potential New High Speed Rail System to Connect Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland

The US High Speed Rail Association is hosting a summit to discuss the possibility of building the system

(Kristen Frier)

A summit discussing the possibility of creating a high speed rail system that connects three of the major Northwest Pacific cities was held from Nov. 6-8 in Seattle, Washington.

This summit focused on the various studies that have indicated the benefits and possible profits of building the rail system.

It also touched on some “important planning, financing, and governance work that is needed to bring [this idea into action],” as mentioned on the USHSR events page.

This system is planned to connect Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, and the trains are expected to travel as fast as 350 kilometres per hour along the rails.

“We should have done this years ago. Japan built theirs in 1964,” says President and CEO of USHSR Andy Kunz.

“These are very successful systems everywhere they’ve been built, [they] have delivered layers of benefits.”

He says the rail system could create jobs for university students, and make it easier for them to visit family and friends across the border.

According to a report by Daily Hive Vancouver, the potential rail system is expected to generate 1.7 million to 3 million annual trips by 2040.

The service is also expected to make between $156 million USD and $250 million USD through fare revenues by 2040, offsetting its operation costs.

City of Vancouver Transportation Director Lon LaClaire attended the summit as a featured speaker.

He says he’s interested to learn about the recently completed rail project in Florida, or the ones underway in Texas and California, and thinks that “the distance [between Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle] falls right in that perfect sweet spot for high speed rail.”

LaClaire also says that moving thousands, or even tens of thousands of people is much more convenient by train than bus or car.

“The ability to move 2000, 10,000, 15,000 people an hour is very easy with a rail system because all you have to do is buy a few more trains and run them more frequently,” he says. “And at the high end you just can’t match that kind of capacity on a road network.”

LaClaire says the metropolitan region of Vancouver is showing amazing progress in terms of attracting people to transit, which is unusual for such a young city.

“As we continue to expand the transit system and development focuses around transit stations, we’ll be expanding transit for many, many years into the future,” he says.

“[Rail service] just allows you to find your way across the Cascadian mega region without a car very comfortably.”

British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington have all put funding into the development of this rail system, with B.C. recently increasing its amount from $300,000 to $600,000.

This funding will reportedly go towards supporting the “next phase of a multi-jurisdictional analysis to explore ridership levels, project delivery methods, cost, and financing.”

Washington State also increased its contribution to $3.25 million USD. The contribution amount for the government of Oregon was not mentioned in the report.

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