high speed rail

New study finds numerous benefits to ultra-high-speed travel

OLYMPIA – Ultra-high-speed ground transportation could transform the Pacific Northwest by decreasing travel time, improving overall mobility and boosting economic growth, according to new study of the concept.

The Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Business Case Analysis examined travel times of less than two-hour trips between Vancouver, British Columbia and Portland, Oregon, and one-hour trips between Seattle and each city. The study, which expands on a 2017-2018 preliminary examination, was delivered to the Washington State Legislature on July 12.

The ultra-high-speed system is projected to travel at speeds exceeding 200 mph, via high-speed rail, magnetic levitation, or hyperloop technology. The all-electric system would be stand-alone, rather than sharing or relying on existing infrastructure. It would include some elevated tracks and tunnels, with no at-grade crossings with roads.

The study outlines benefits, potential areas for stations, costs and funding and governance issues. It found that ultra-high-speed ground transportation could:

  • Create a new transportation spine in the region, transforming mobility for all residents.
  • Draw new companies to the region and create an estimated $355 billion in economic growth.
  • Be built within the 2017 estimate of $24 billion to $42 billion in up-front construction costs.
  • Provide between 1.7 million to 3.1 million one-way annual trips at start-up, in what analysts called a conservative estimate.
  • Generate between $160 million and $250 million in initial annual revenue.
  • Improve the environment with a projected reduction of 6 million metric tons (tonnes) of carbon emissions in the first 40 years as travelers opt for the ultra-high-speed option rather than private vehicles or planes.

Support for this international project is strong.

 “The prospect of uniting Washington, Oregon and British Columbia with an ultra-high-speed transportation system that propels us into the future is incredibly exciting,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Imagine fast, frequent and reliable travel with the potential for zero emissions and the opportunity to better compete in a global economy. It could transform the Pacific Northwest.”

“Improving connectivity in the Pacific Northwest region through ultra high-speed rail presents enormous potential for job and economic growth on both sides of the border,” said British Columbia Premier John Horgan. “This study confirms the numerous benefits for British Columbians and gives us a clearer vision of what can be achieved when we all work together.”

The exact route and type of ultra-high-speed transportation has not been determined and would require more analysis. All trips are expected to include a stop in greater Vancouver, British Columbia, the Seattle metro area and Portland, Oregon. Some trips also may include additional stops in other cities, including: Surrey, British Columbia, and Bellingham, Everett, Bellevue/Redmond, Tukwila, Tacoma, Olympia and Kelso/Longview in Washington.

“Bringing high-speed rail to the Pacific Northwest will deepen and accelerate the growth of our economies, all while contributing to our efforts to combat climate change,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. “I appreciate our partners’ leadership, commitment, and coordination in taking on a project of this scale.”

The business case study was overseen by the Washington State Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Province of British Columbia and Microsoft, which all shared in the costs. Both studies grew out of ongoing Cascadia Innovation Corridor planning efforts, a cross-border coalition bringing together business, academic and government leaders to build a global hub of innovation and commerce in the Pacific Northwest.

“High-speed rail will shrink travel times throughout the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, providing a strong transportation core for our region,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “These findings highlight the transformative impact of this service, and we’re encouraged to see cross-community support for the next phase of this international project.”

An advisory committee, representing public, private and nonprofit sectors from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, provided input during the year-long technical analysis. The study was completed by consultant WSP along with Steer Davies Gleave, EnviroIssues, Paladin Partners and Transportation Solutions.

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