A mockup of a high-speed train in California. (File photo)

Advocates push for high-speed rail connecting Vancouver to Seattle, Portland

Bullet train could cost an estimated $50 billion

Last week’s vote in Washington state to roll back car registration fees has scrambled transportation budgets. But Pacific Northwest rail advocates are undeterred in pursuing their vision of a bullet train connection between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

Microsoft hosted a high-power meeting of state policymakers, train manufacturers and rail supporters at the software giant’s headquarters Thursday in conjunction with the U.S. High Speed Rail Association. At the Cascadia Rail Summit, enthusiasm to build a bullet train capable of going from Seattle to Portland — or to Vancouver — in one hour rubbed against an anti-tax message from the passage of Washington Initiative 976.

After bemoaning that the state’s highways, bridges, ferries and rail cars “are on a glide path to failure,” Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar laid out the case for building an ultra-high-speed railway on dedicated track.

“As we regroup here in Washington state and think about investing $50 billion in ultra-high-speed rail,” Millar said, “do you think we’ll ever get to a place where highway expansion keeps up with economic expansion and population? It will not happen. It cannot happen.”

Millar estimated a cost of about $108 billion to add one additional lane to Interstate 5 in each direction from the Oregon border to the Canadian border.

ALSO READ: High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour, study says

“One hundred and eight billion dollars and we’ve got another lane of pavement in each direction and it still takes you all day to get from Portland to Vancouver,” he told the audience. “Half of that invested in ultra-high speed rail and it’s two hours. That’s game-changing stuff.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee added his endorsement of high-speed rail in a video-taped message played at the conference. Democratic state Sen. Marko Liias, who was in attendance, said he doesn’t see the anti-tax mood of the electorate as a setback.

“We’re going to rely on new tools like public-private partnerships, interjurisdictional co-operation with the B.C. government — maybe with the Canadian federal government,” Liias said in an interview. “We’ll clearly need federal partners here in the U.S.”

“I don’t see Tuesday’s election as a reflection on the viability of this project,” added Irene Plenefisch, director of government affairs for Microsoft, in a separate interview.

Oregon, Washington, B.C. and Microsoft are currently co-operating on a study of governance and funding options. That study follows up on a business case analysis delivered this summer, which judged the project as viable and conservatively estimated ridership of at least 1.7 million passengers per year.

Neither the states nor the province are committed to actually building a high-speed train at this point. The vision painted by the feasibility studies entails trains travelling at speeds up to 250 mph on a newly acquired right-of-way that features extensive tunneling and elevated trackway.

We do know car tabs will not work to pay for it, quipped a strategic consultant during a panel discussion. Lots of other financing ideas were tossed out Thursday including revenue sharing from a possible carbon tax, congestion pricing, business partnerships or special property tax assessments on development around future stations.

“This is going to be a huge lift,” Democratic state Rep. Jake Fey, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, told the conference audience.

The ranking Republican on Fey’s committee, state Rep. Andrew Barkis, suggested to invest in upgrades to the existing regional Amtrak service to achieve higher speeds and frequency.

“In the short- and medium-term, prioritize Amtrak Cascades at a fraction of the cost and get similar results,” Barkis said in an interview.

The current Amtrak Cascades service maxes out at 79 miles per hour and runs on tracks owned and heavily used by freight railroads.

Tom Banse, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wet’suwet’en herreditary chiefs meet with provincial, federal ministers

Neither party speaking on the groundwork laid for tomorrow’s talks

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

CGL must revise impact assessment on Unist’ot’en Healing Center

Environmental Assessment Office not satisfied with report’s shortcomings

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Ryan nets hat trick in return as Senators beat Canucks 5-2

Ottawa winger received assistance for admitted alcohol problem

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks with feds, province

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan resolute in support of northern B.C. pipeline

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

BREAKING: Kelowna RCMP to further investigate 12 sexual assault cases, create sexual assault unit

Recommendations come five months after it was revealed 40% of sexual assaults were deemed ‘unfounded’

Most Read