The idea of a high-speed train connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland was floated by a private organization last year. Now, Washington Governor Jay Inslee has set aside $1 million in his new state budget to study whether such an idea has legs (or, more accurately, rails).
According to Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, the region has the right geography for a high-speed line, CBC News reports. “They’re the right distance where it’s small enough that the train … would compete very well with an airplane,” he told the news site. “If you get too much longer, then the airplane’s extra speed is better than the train.”
There’s also a lot of movement and commerce among the three cities, he said.
The study would come at a time when transit agencies and departments of transportation around the U.S. are watching President Donald Trump for signs of what they can expect in terms of federal funding in the next four years.
As California’s high-speed rail project has shown, such infrastructure isn’t cheap. The Northwest line would have a price tag in the multiple billions, Hallenbeck estimated, partly because of the cost of land and right-of-way. According to the Business Journal, a report by libertarian think tank Reason Foundation released this year puts the cost to taxpayers for a proposed Texas bullet train at $21.5 billion and declares a 205 mph Dallas to Houston connection unfeasible. Developer Texas Central Partners, which held a design competition for the line’s stations last year, said the Reason Foundation’s report was “deeply flawed.”
According to the Seattle Times, former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell was an advocate of high-speed rail to connect Portland with Canada’s British Columbia. The concept came up again at a conference of civic and business leaders from around the Northwest last year, hosted by the Business Council of British Columbia, the Washington Roundtable and Microsoft.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.