By Bullet Train From Portland To Seattle To Vancouver, BC? Feasibility Study Underway

With an assist from Microsoft, Washington state’s Department of Transportation has launched a feasibility study of bullet train service in Cascadia.

Late this spring, the Washington Legislature budgeted $300,000 for a study of what it would take to connect the region’s biggest cities by bullet train—a train that would whisk you along at 250 miles per hour or more.

The Legislature requested an analysis of a bullet train alignment between Vancouver, BC, and Portland with intermediate stops in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, Washington. Lawmakers also asked for evaluation of a possible east-west extension across the Cascade Range to Eastern Washington. 

Speaking to a conference of regional policy makers gathered Wednesday in Portland, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said his company will chip in an additional $50,000 to validate the idea. 

“Why not a high speed train from Vancouver to Seattle to Portland? If we lived in Europe it would already be there,” Smith said.

“We know there is a compelling case for this. We’re going to do an in-depth study,” said Charles Knutson, a transportation policy advisor to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, at the same conference.

The feasibility study will look at potential sticking points, including “financing mechanisms” and suitable rights of way. A bullet train would need a dedicated railway.

The current Amtrak Cascades service shares the rails with freight trains. Amtrak’s passenger trains in the Pacific Northwest are limited to a top speed of 79 miles per hour. The twice-daily service from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, usually runs slower than an automobile because of rail congestion and track limitations. 

The feasibility study is due for completion in mid-December.

Microsoft’s interest in high speed rail is an outgrowth of a larger initiative launched by its corporate leadership last year to establish a smoothly-connected, high tech corridor between Vancouver, BC, and Seattle—and now Portland too. Microsoft has a growing development center in Vancouver that Smith said employs nearly 700 workers. 

Smith also spoke Wednesday of wanting a seaplane operator to begin direct service between Seattle and Vancouver’s downtowns. 

“We need to raise our sights and our ambition level as a region,” Smith said. 

Engineering consultancy CH2M got the contract to perform the high speed rail study. The consultants have scheduled a kick-off meeting Thursday with an advisory group of more than 20 representatives of local government, the business community, non-profit organizations, universities and state/provincial agencies.

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