News & Reviews News Wire Washington state legislators make pitch for high speed rail funding

Washington state legislators make pitch for high speed rail funding

By Trains Staff | August 16, 2023

| Last updated on February 3, 2024

Letter asks Buttigieg to support grant request for Cascadia project planning

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Map of proposed high speed rail route in Pacific Northwest
The potential route of a high speed rail line connecting Vancouver, B.C., to Portland, Ore., and perhaps Eugene. Washington State Department of Transportation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democratic members of the Washington state congressional delegation have written Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to lobby for federal funding to support development of a high speed rail route in the Pacific Northwest.

The Cascadia High Speed Rail proposal calls for developing a route from Vancouver, British Columbia through Seattle to Portland, Ore. The Washington State Department of Transportation submitted an application to the Federal Railroad Administration for a $198 million Federal-State Partnership grant to help fund planning of the project; the Washington state legislature has already provided $50 million in funding and committed $100 million more in the future, the Seattle Times reports.

The letter to Buttigieg is signed by 10 members of Congress — U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Reps. Suzan K. DelBene, Rick Larsen, Marilyn Strickland, Adam Smith, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Pramila Javapal, Kim Schrier, and Derek Kilmer. It says the federal funding will support technical and advisory study planning requirements that precede environmental impact reports and advance the project to the design phase, and that the project “has the potential to transform the Pacific Northwest. It allows us to create a better-connected economic megaregion—stretching from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon—that will be poised for global competitiveness and future prosperity.” The full letter is available here.

The Seattle Times article says the federal funds would go toward a planning study expected to cost $348 million, which would help determine the exact route of an approximately 290-mile corridor for trains capable of 250 mph.

This is the latest effort to build a true high-speed route in the U.S., following the California project that is far behind schedule and well over budget and the Texas Central effort to build a Dallas-Houston system using Japanese Shinkansen equipment. The Texas project, which appeared all but dead, returned to the spotlight last week when Amtrak announced it was partnering with Texas Central to pursue some federal funding [see “Amtrak working with Texas Central …,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 9, 2023].

14 thoughts on “Washington state legislators make pitch for high speed rail funding

  1. I cannot say that I am impressed with government transportation planning in the Puget Sound area. For example, on the east side of Lake Washington, they have widened I 405 absolutely to the limits, and it is still a parking lot. Yet I hear not a peep about using the former BNSF right of way that parallels I-405 for light rail, even though the county now owns it! There is NO other parallel route in the area, and an obvious alternative is ignored in favor of laying more cement. Oh, we’ll rebuild existing freeways to marginally increase capacity, but considering rail is out of the question. I don’t believe the Cascadia HSR will ever get beyond the planning stages.

  2. To piggyback on Charles comments. This is a text book example of why the US DOESN”T lead the world in infrastructure anymore and probably never will again.
    Understand our democratic process is never going to build like they do in China but getting to the point that a 1/3 of a billion just to plan something is a disgrace. Not even any preliminary engineering which from trackside up is already dictated by the speed desire and load you want to put on it, no different from a Highway, no new technology or break through in science required that the Japanese hadn’t figured out with the first bullet train decades ago.

    Heck, want some respect please request the money to rebuild grade and curvature that took Amtrak from a 90 mph straight away to a restricted curvature over I-5 that was scene of a pretty nasty Amtrak derailment on a test run a few years ago or maybe add some well placed third track along the BNSF corridor that is alongside I-5 from Vancouver north towards Seattle. I’m pretty sure there is a few people who know enough to suggest some needed improvements on existing corridor that would offer significant run time performance, running speeds at a fraction of the cost .

  3. You are correct David, there is no rebuilding of I-5. The only things going on are the extension of SR 509 from S, 188 street to I-5 in Kent, the extension of SR 167 to tie into I-5 in Fife and eventually to Port of Tacoma Road. It took 21 years to complete the rebuilt 5 mile section from SR 16 to Fife with two new bridges over the Puyallup River. The Sound Transit Link light rail is being extended from Angle Lake to Federal Way. So same miserable drive on I-5 for the foreseeable future.

  4. We have no idea what the passenger demand for SEA PDX is even this summer. For whatever reason almost all trains are sold out except the last ones. Why Amtrak has not sent more cars to the area is a big question. Until the present trains can meet demand there can be no way to know what a HSR route will provide for in the way for demand.

    We do know that Sounder and sound transit in SEA is running close to capacity. That does not really indicate demand.

  5. WSDOT rebuilding I-5? That would be news to those of us that live in the Seattle area….Other than the widening through Tacoma (mostly to add an HOV lane) that was just completed, there are no rebuilding projects on I-5 going on.

  6. It is a very congested corridor, I-5 is usually a parking lot unless you go in the middle of the night. No real extra space to put anything unless you build above or underground.

  7. 12 station stops between the 2 currently mentioned end points doesn’t sound like a potentially successful 250 mph operation, at least with today’s technology.

    My road Atlas says its 313 miles from Portland to Vancouver, BC. on I-5 which is 23 miles more than the proposed route. So that must mean they believe they can built a straighter line than the highway.

    They showed it as being proposed to eventually go to Eugene which adds about another 110 miles with 3 shown stations in between.

  8. A planning study “expected” to cost $348 million. Boy these consultants got a good thing going. Tell ya what I’ll plan it for half that amount!

  9. A “Brightline” plan would bring high-quality intercity rail service faster than a 250-mph Very High-Speed Rail plan. New high-speed track could be built alongside or in the medium of Interstate 5 as with Brightline Florida and Brightline West for much of the distance between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver; connected to the existing BNSF mainline for access to the existing stations in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. These new segments could even be electrified with dual-mode Siemens Airo trainsets used.

    A “Phase Two” could build dedicated track into urban Portland, Tacoma-Seattle-Everette, and Vancouver at a later date for a fully electrified high-speed system.

    1. The median of I-5? That would be news to WSDOT, which is rebuilding I-5 but hasn’t included the eighty- to hundred-foot median which your proposal would require. To say nothing of getting the train in and out of the median at each station stop.

      As for “alongside” I-5, that would require destruction of various cities along the highway.

      Basically this proposal would require tunneling for much of the 250 miles.

  10. A third of a billion for conceptual study, not even a start toward engineering design. I’m not denying the need for this project, only the reality of getting it done.

    It might be worth that cash if the project had any chance of actually happening. I’ve only been in the Pacific Northwest once in my life, but that was long enough to scope out the area. It’s rough territory, not the wide-open plains of Texas. I saw enough flying in and out of SeaTac and the truly scary drive on I-5 from SeaTac to Olympia, there’s no place to build anything. As a rough parallel, imagine building a new rail line in the New York (Jersey, Connecticut) area, some things just can’t be done.

    Oh, one last thing, where do I find a train capable of 250 mph?

    1. The least expensive miles will cost at least $50M per mile.

      The most expensive miles will cost $4B and up per mile, sky’s the limit.

      Rearranging local transit to connect will be an additional cost, such as connecting HSR to Light Rail’s existing access into SeaTac, or Light Rail into the new HSR stations.

      I haven’t posted a word for or against this project. Only saying that unlike Washington State’s airhead limousine liberal champagne socialist congresspeople and senators, I know what it will cost.

      Oh, while I’m at it, this won’t work if it carries passengers numbered only in the thousands per day, like the more successful Amtrak routes. The gargantuan number of passengers required to support the system once built also have an impact, like massive parking structures and new freeway ramps.

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