Study Makes Case for High-Speed Rail in Pacific Northwest

The Amtrak Cascades route serves the Pacific Northwest, but as its speed tops out at 79 miles per hour, officials see a business case for high-speed rail. (Photo by Washington State DOT / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Study Recommends HSR for Portland-Seattle-Vancouver Corridor

The collapse of the California High-Speed Rail project hasn’t killed all prospects for high-speed trains connecting cities on the Pacific coast. A study conducted by two U.S. states and one Canadian province holds out the possibility that we could see trains zipping between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver at 200-plus miles per hour sometime in the future.

The International Railway Journal reports that a year-long feasibility study released July 15 projects that anywhere from 1.7 million to 3.1 million people would ride a high-speed rail line connecting the three principal cities of the Pacific Northwest in its first year of operation. That would produce operating revenues ranging from $160 million to $250 million in the first year. The study concluded that the line would bring in enough fare revenue to cover operating costs over the 40-year operating period the study examined.

A 350-km/h (217-mph) high-speed line would cut Seattle-Portland and Seattle-Vancouver travel times to an hour each. It could be built within the $24-42 billion construction budget identified in a feasibility study two years ago. The study assumed work would begin on the line in 2027 and that it would open for revenue service in 2034.

The study, which was conducted by the Washington State Department of Transportation in partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Province of British Columbia and Microsoft, recommended that the three governments set up a steering committee composed of representatives of each state and province. The committee would address issues of governance, operating structure and contracting and identify possible legal obstacles to the project’s advancement.

Operator Threatens to Shut Down Rio Tram Network

Metro Report International reports that VLT Carioca, the consortium that operates the Rio de Janeiro tram system, is threatening to shut down service if the city does not cover a revenue shortfall arising from lower-than-projected ridership.

The public-private partnership concession the city awarded the consortium in 2013 calls for the city to make up any revenue shortfall due to ridership falling short of projected levels. The projected ridership level was 260,000 passengers a day, but the network has been averaging only 80,000 daily riders since its first segment opened in 2016. VLT Carioca is seeking 140 million reals (US$37.22 million) from the city to make up the difference.

The last segment of the network is ready to open, but the dispute has delayed the launch of service. The VLT Carioca consortium expects ridership to rise to 150,000 daily passengers once it opens. CCR, one of the four main partners in the consortium, has also expressed an interest in buying out the other three main partners and two junior partners, but only if the city bus network is also reorganized as the original concession agreement called for.

New Philly Bus Map Answers Burning Question: “What’s the Frequency?”

Four years ago, Houston successfully reversed a trend of declining bus ridership by rethinking its bus system and redesigning it from the ground up. Part of that redesign introduced a map that categorized bus routes by how frequently they ran, thus giving riders an idea of how long they would have to wait for a bus to show up.

Since Houston’s highly publicized bus system makeover, several other cities have also rearranged their bus networks with varying degrees of success. Baltimore’s heavily hyped Link reorganization, for instance, has had next to no impact on system usage in Charm City.

The largest such reimagining is now underway in Philadelphia, where the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority operates the nation’s fifth-busiest bus network and also seeks to reverse a trend of declining ridership. This time, however, the reimagining starts with a map.

The map builds both on the work Jarrett Walker Associates, the firm that made over Houston Metro’s bus service, performed for SEPTA last year and on an unofficial map Thomson Kao, a regular Philadelphia bus rider, produced in 2016. In addition to using color to distinguish levels of service, more frequent bus routes and corridors are identified by thicker lines on the map.

A companion map focuses exclusively on the “15-minute network” — the bus and rail routes and corridors where riders can expect a vehicle to come along every 15 minutes or less. This map treats local bus, light rail and rapid transit service equally.

The new maps are being rolled out as part of an overall redesign of SEPTA’s graphic information for riders. They will also be used by the agency as it continues its bus network redesign project, which will now be led by an in-house team with input from outside experts and rider feedback.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: philadelphiaseattlebuseshigh-speed rail