Explainer: High-speed rail connecting Vancouver to Seattle and Portland in the works

The project is expected to be complete before the end of the decade

A high speed rail connecting Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland would slash carbon emissions and allow for a boost in tourism in both Canada and the U.S. (Unsplash/Stijn)

A high speed rail connecting Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland would slash carbon emissions and allow for a boost in tourism in both Canada and the U.S. (Unsplash/Stijn)

British Columbia, alongside Washington state in the U.S., are contributing plenty of money into getting a high-speed rail system in the future. 

Earlier this month, the Biden administration designated US $6.1 billion to help build a high-speed rail system in the States. Some of the funding will go towards building a high-speed rail line running between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. 

The Government of British Columbia contributed CAD $300,000 for the project’s feasibility study, covering tasks such as figuring out how to integrate the proposed rail line with regional transportation and developing plans for environmental review processes. Washington state already contributed US $4 million towards the study.  

The initiative for this high-speed rail was started by Cascadia Rail, an organization of advocates across B.C., Washington, and Oregon, in 2016. With efforts from both Washington state and B.C. wanting to have the Cascadia region connected by a high-speed rail system, the project only fully manifested in 2018. The Cascadia region includes British Columbia, Washington and Oregon state. 

The project will provide many benefits if it comes to pass, Cascadia Rail states on their website. Some of the benefits include a reduction in travel time within the Pacific Northwest region, mentioning a 90-minute commute can end up being reduced to 15 minutes, connecting more of the region together for those commuting to explore. The project will also create 200,000 jobs to be built, with 840,000 more jobs being created in other industries from the project’s existence. 

By being connected to the high-speed rail, the project is expected to help with the tourism sector for metropolitan areas in the Pacific Northwest region as well as smaller areas. With around 55 million annual visitors between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, there will be more for visitors to explore from using the high-speed rail. 

As to what the project looks like, Cascadia Rail states station locations to hop aboard the high-speed rail will be found in areas where the most people will use them such as downtown areas, airports, and employment centers. The station locations will also connect with the cities’ existing bus and rail networks and can be used at an affordable price. 

Opening up a high-speed rail line absorbs 50 per cent of the air travel market and reduces the amount of cars on the road by 40 per cent, Cascadia Rail’s website states. Transportation is the largest source of pollution in the Pacific Northwest, with 60 per cent of emissions coming from flying and driving around. The project would reduce these emissions by six million metric tons in the project’s first 40 years, and Cascadia Rail lists the project as a way to help meet climate goals by 2030. 

In previous phases of the project’s study, 1.7 million and 3.1 million annual one-way trips were predicted to occur from usage of the project by 2040.

The project is estimated to require a maximum of US $42 billion throughout the process, but is estimated to bring in US $355 billion in return which will go back into the economy and cover some of the costs by 2055.