A mockup of a high-speed train in California. (File photo)

A mockup of a high-speed train in California. (File photo)

Advocates push for high-speed rail connecting Vancouver to Seattle, Portland

Bullet train could cost an estimated $50 billion

Last week’s vote in Washington state to roll back car registration fees has scrambled transportation budgets. But Pacific Northwest rail advocates are undeterred in pursuing their vision of a bullet train connection between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

Microsoft hosted a high-power meeting of state policymakers, train manufacturers and rail supporters at the software giant’s headquarters Thursday in conjunction with the U.S. High Speed Rail Association. At the Cascadia Rail Summit, enthusiasm to build a bullet train capable of going from Seattle to Portland — or to Vancouver — in one hour rubbed against an anti-tax message from the passage of Washington Initiative 976.

After bemoaning that the state’s highways, bridges, ferries and rail cars “are on a glide path to failure,” Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar laid out the case for building an ultra-high-speed railway on dedicated track.

“As we regroup here in Washington state and think about investing $50 billion in ultra-high-speed rail,” Millar said, “do you think we’ll ever get to a place where highway expansion keeps up with economic expansion and population? It will not happen. It cannot happen.”

Millar estimated a cost of about $108 billion to add one additional lane to Interstate 5 in each direction from the Oregon border to the Canadian border.

ALSO READ: High-speed rail link would run from Vancouver to Seattle in under 1 hour, study says

“One hundred and eight billion dollars and we’ve got another lane of pavement in each direction and it still takes you all day to get from Portland to Vancouver,” he told the audience. “Half of that invested in ultra-high speed rail and it’s two hours. That’s game-changing stuff.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee added his endorsement of high-speed rail in a video-taped message played at the conference. Democratic state Sen. Marko Liias, who was in attendance, said he doesn’t see the anti-tax mood of the electorate as a setback.

“We’re going to rely on new tools like public-private partnerships, interjurisdictional co-operation with the B.C. government — maybe with the Canadian federal government,” Liias said in an interview. “We’ll clearly need federal partners here in the U.S.”

“I don’t see Tuesday’s election as a reflection on the viability of this project,” added Irene Plenefisch, director of government affairs for Microsoft, in a separate interview.

Oregon, Washington, B.C. and Microsoft are currently co-operating on a study of governance and funding options. That study follows up on a business case analysis delivered this summer, which judged the project as viable and conservatively estimated ridership of at least 1.7 million passengers per year.

Neither the states nor the province are committed to actually building a high-speed train at this point. The vision painted by the feasibility studies entails trains travelling at speeds up to 250 mph on a newly acquired right-of-way that features extensive tunneling and elevated trackway.

We do know car tabs will not work to pay for it, quipped a strategic consultant during a panel discussion. Lots of other financing ideas were tossed out Thursday including revenue sharing from a possible carbon tax, congestion pricing, business partnerships or special property tax assessments on development around future stations.

“This is going to be a huge lift,” Democratic state Rep. Jake Fey, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, told the conference audience.

The ranking Republican on Fey’s committee, state Rep. Andrew Barkis, suggested to invest in upgrades to the existing regional Amtrak service to achieve higher speeds and frequency.

“In the short- and medium-term, prioritize Amtrak Cascades at a fraction of the cost and get similar results,” Barkis said in an interview.

The current Amtrak Cascades service maxes out at 79 miles per hour and runs on tracks owned and heavily used by freight railroads.

Tom Banse, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vaccines are expected to become more widely available as the rollout speeds up in B.C. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Sleeves up Golden – vaccine rollout details released

More details about the provincial rollout were released yesterday

A man wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past an NHS advertisement about COVID-19 in London, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
92 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths: Interior Health

The region is reporting 92 cases after the weekend

Gas prices jumped in Golden to 131.9c this week, a trend that’s supposed to continue into the summer. (Claire Palmer/Golden Star)
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Clovechok concerned as gas prices continue to rise

Fuel prices are supposed to skyrocket this summer as British Columbians await BCUC analysis

(PQB News file photo)
CSRD makes changes to yard waste tipping fee

The change will help standardize tipping fees for yard waste

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Theodore, Alvin and Simon were found abandoned by a community mailbox, the Vernon BC SPCA said March 1. Now, they're looking for their forever home. (Facebook)
3 guinea pigs found abandoned near Vernon mailbox

Alvin and the pigs are up for adoption through Vernon’s BC SPCA

Left: Oakland County Jail. Right: Canuck Todd Bertuzzi on November 2, 2005. (CP/Chuck Stoody)
Former Vancouver Canuck Todd Bertuzzi arrested for suspected DUI: report

The Canadian winger had a complicated history in the NHL

Gary Leck, Facebook
Snow smashes through bedroom wall at Big White

Heavy snow fell from a roof on Monday afternoon crashing through a home

Jason Haskett and Rachel Williams celebrated one year off the streets in July 2020 thanks to finding a home at My Place in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Supportive housing gives former homeless Okanagan couple hope

‘This building has helped us become stable and without it we’d probably still be out in the streets’

The south coast of B.C. as capture by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. (European Space Agency)
VIDEO: Images of B.C.’s south coast from space released by European Space Agency

The satellite images focus on a variety of the region’s landmarks

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

Most Read