High speed rail between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland inches closer to reality

British Columbia will be part of a new study looking at building high speed rail linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

Washington state legislators approve new money for business case analysis

CascadiaRail, an advocacy group for a high speed rail line between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, says the infrastructure would be good for businesses, tourism and quality of life in the region. (CascadiaRail)

Legislators in Washington state have committed new money to further the dream of a high speed rail link connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

For nearly a decade, politicians, business leaders and residents have made pitches, conducted studies and campaigned to have a line that would efficiently connect the cities up and down the Cascadia coasts of B.C., Washington State and Oregon.

Having high speed trains capable of running up to 400 kilometres an hour would reduce travel times for travellers, ease congestion and also benefit businesses in the region which operate on both sides of the border, according to advocates.

Speeding trains, speeding tech

The B.C. Business Council says up to 500 people travel between Vancouver and Seattle each day to work in the tech sector and describes the two cities as growing technology hubs.

Greg D'Avignon, the president and CEO of the BCBC says a high speed rail line would help support job creation.

"This is just one of the pieces of the puzzle that would be necessary for us to be a global city that's really competing in the knowledge economy," he said.

On Thursday, the Washington Legislature committed $1.2 million US to conduct a business case analysis of the idea.

Jonathan Hopkins is a board member of CascadiaRail, which founded in January, 2018 in Seattle to promote high speed train transportation between Vancouver B.C., Seattle and Portland. (Jonathan Hopkins)

"It's a vote of confidence," said Jonathan Hopkins, who lives in Seattle and is a member of CascadiaRail — an advocacy group that formed in January to be a booster for the project.

"This type of investment makes our cities closer in such a transformative way, I don't think it can be passed up."

Stakeholders from British Columbia will be included on the study, which is to be completed by June 2019.

It will look at the costs and benefits of ultra high-speed ground transportation between Vancouver and Portland, Ore with stations in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, Wash. and  Portland.

It will also look at extending the line further south into California, as well as extending the east-west rail alignment in Washington state.

Hopkins says B.C. along with Oregon, and even California, should contribute to the business case analysis, which he says could be more robust with triple the funding.

"Ideally at some point in the future ... jurisdictions can contribute a portion of their fair share since the benefits are regional. They don't just benefit Seattle or Washington state," he said.

Hopkins would also like B.C. residents to let local politicians know they support it.

Province advising

The new study follows another one presented in Dec. 2017 which examined the types of trains that could be used, routes, ridership forecasts and costs.

It found the line could cost as much as $42 billion, depending on the type of train used and that it could take decades to recover the cost.

The B.C. Transportation Ministry says it supports the work being done in Washington to investigate the project and is participating in an advisory role.

Officials say B.C. wants to explore clean, efficient transportation solutions to improve travel and tourism in the region and support economic opportunities, as well as strengthen trade with U.S. partners.

They did not say if the province was willing to contribute funds to help pay for the new study.

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