Take a fast train north? Lawmakers consider possibility of one-hour travel between Seattle and Vancouver

In Crosscut, John Stang writes about increased interest in developing rapid rail between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. 

The dream is to send super-fast trains — the type capable of going 250 miles per hour — between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to see if that dream, which has drawn some heavyweight business-sector interest, is feasible. And he wants the Washington Legislature to spend $1 million to find out.

The idea of an ultra-high-speed commuter railroad between Seattle and Vancouver has been around for roughly 20 years, but has been dormant for a long time. The dream was revived last September at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver that discussed the idea.

We wrote about the conference here and here, noting the interest in facilitating better transportation connections between the two cities. 

Stang writes of the governor’s proposed study of the feasibility of rapid rail,

“There’s a compelling case to move this forward, but it requires in-depth study,” said Charles Knutson, a senior policy adviser to the governor.

He also told a Senate Transportation Committee hearing last week, “What is unique about today is that you’re getting well-heeled technology executives willing to see this go forward.”

Michael Groesch, a lobbyist for Microsoft, said the company supports a study. “If we don’t ask the questions,” he told lawmakers, “we won’t get answers.”

The idea has drawn crucial initial interest from groups experienced at successfully tackling big projects with big payoffs.

WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated that an ultra-high-speed rail line would cost $125 million to $1 billion per mile depending on the terrain and other factors. “For conceptual planning purposes here, it is fair to project a cost of $20-$30 billion to build and equip the system,” the WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff report said. The expenditures would be spread over 15 years.

Knutson and Groesch said a private-public partnership should be explored. Groesch said there has been some preliminary interest in this venture among some major state corporations, although none have definitely signed on yet. The business-oriented Association of Washington Business and Washington Roundtable have expressed support of the idea, Inslee adviser Knutson said.

He and Groesch pointed to an embryonic Texas private-public project as a possible guide. The private Texas Central Partners LLC is spearheading a predicted $12 billion  to $18 billion bullet train line — patterned after the roughly 50-year-old Japanese system — between Houston and Dallas.

Talk about fast track.