Hi.Speed.RailIt looks to me like another stop along the slow ride towards high-speed rail in the Cascadia region.
But call this a trial balloon, a feasibility inquiry, a buncha baloney, a perfect dream, filling a hunger for options:  whatever, it’s a study by Washington State DoT (and many others, including BC’s MoTI) on tech options, routes and costs for a bullet-like train linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. It was presented Thursday, Dec 14, 2017 to the Washington State Joint Transportation Committee.  It includes a call for further investment to build a business case.
Video HERE.  Report PDF HERE.

Knutson (*) said the idea of rapid rail has high-level support from government in both countries — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan have publicly endorsed the concept — as well as from business, labour and environmental leaders.

Click to enlarge

“This really is about investing in ourselves and in the broader Cascadia region,” he said, “and in these tough, troubled times we need more openness, more connectivity, more trade, not less, and this could really be a powerful symbol.”
In January, the state will receive the results of an economic analysis paid for by private sector money, the majority of which came from Microsoft.  “We think that’s going to be really important because in this type of system it can also provide a lot of economic development for our area,” said Ron Pate, director of rail, trade and ports for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The next step, Pate said, is to conduct a business case study that will look closer at ridership, governance, funding and financial mechanisms. It’s a document that will be used when speaking with future investors.
“Every time we’ve asked the question, ‘Is there a compelling case for this?’ it comes back and says, ‘Yes, keep going,’” Knutson said. “That’s what we hope to do.”
With thanks to Jennifer Saltman in PostMedia outlet the Vancouver Sun

(*) Charles Knutson, executive policy adviser to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee.


  1. In these tough, troubled times ??
    How many folks would use this daily ? Is this a priority in the region ?
    Perhaps the billions are better spend building subways and/or fast LRT systems within each city ?

    1. It’s easy to dismiss this idea when the costs are compared to the estimated ridership. Two things may counter that though. One, a high quality service will generate better ridership when outcompeting the car and flight on the shorter and medium-range runs. I’d take this train any day over driving to Seattle, especially if it achieves ICE train or TGV quality. And two, it is destined to connect to Sacramento one day and open up the entire west coast to low emission travel, boosting ridership over its length through the Network Effect.
      In Canada, we won’t be ready to even begin a discussion about drilling three of four 60+ km tunnels through several mountain ranges between BC and Alberta until the latter half of the century. Never say never, though. In the 1870s it was just as inconceivable to hack out a single-track steam-powered railway from the mountains.
      However, joining cities with HSR where geography doesn’t present the same challenges shouldn’t break the bank. At least six Prairie cities could be joined up as part of a national carbon reduction program, followed up by a connecting network of fast electric commuter rail service joining the bigger cities to several dozen secondary cities and towns. The rail corridors on the latter are already much in place. Ditto the Windsor-Montreal corridor.
      This could reduce the national carbon footprint from flight drastically, and afford some breathing room to consider the BC mountains and Canadian Shield later.

  2. The real question is how do we get this moving into the a reality within the next 5 years. Then also how about such a line to the Okanagan, Banff and Calgary.

    1. Geography between here, the Okanagan and Calgary would make that ridiculously expensive. And then there’s the lack of population density. Seattle-Vancouver makes more sense.

      1. It makes as much sense as building a claustrophobic tube. Many ideas are just that: ideas – void of reality.

        1. Thomas, do you mean a “claustrophobic tube” like the subways you constantly promote criss-crossing our region?

  3. The stats they use to compare definitely favours non hyperloop technology. They should include frequency, end to end time, environmental impact and cost. Those 4 factors would would help hyperloop for comparison.

  4. ‘Only an hour’, on top of another hour for everyone on the train to clear US customs – before, during, or at the end of the trip. Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto seems a better use of pie-in-the-sky maglev money. It’s flatter, there are likely more regular users, and no international weirdness to contend with. Just the normal Quebec weirdness.

      1. Skytrain to White Rock would be a pretty lousy use of our tax dollars, too. And unless we chip in, the US isn’t going to pay $25B+ just for a high speed rail to Blaine. No, this is just mental exercise. It’s now confirmed as a bad idea. It might be worth considering for $10B, but not for 3-5 times that.

        1. (1)Extending the Skytrain to White Rock is justified by the affordable housing that could be built near each station along the way & with no need for Massey bridge (2) The U S pay to play election financing system could possibly make the it happen

        2. Bob, do you know of any grade separated metro anywhere in the world that covers that kind of distance?

        3. Well said. Or ok for triple to quintuple the population base. Shelve discussion to 2100 then re-open. Btw: Site C dam power comes in handy for this train then.

        4. Both Paris (CDG to Les Hales) and London (Amersham to Trafalgar Square) are similar in distance to White Rock to Vancouver. Seoul is similar too.

        5. Mr. Fun, after checking to see that White Rock is almost 40% farther from Vancouver and Paris has a population that is 4 to 5 times larger, I think the point that the idea of a metro style system from Vancouver to White Rock is premature is valid. Should I check the other examples?

        6. 45 km vs 25 km, more like 80% farther. But more importantly, Paris doesn’t run the Metro to CDG in any case. It is regional rail.

        7. The RER network in Paris is managed by the RATP, the Paris Metro. Trains connect in the same stations at the centre of the city. There are 258 stations covering over 600 km of track. The southern terminus of the RER is 65km south of the river at Malsherbes. The northern terminus is 67 km away in Creil. etc.
          In London the ‘Tube’ goes west to Amersham, from Trafalgar Square, 48 km.
          White Rock to Vancouver City Hall is 46.8 km.
          The longest systems:
          Shanghai – 588 km.
          Beijing – 574 km.
          London – 402 km.
          New York City – 380 km.
          Moscow – 346 km.
          Seoul – 331 km.
          Vancouver – 79 km.
          There are 47 metro systems in the world with longer systems than Vancouver.

        8. The point wasn’t the cumulative length of their systems but the reach of a single line. Seems to me the scale of the noted metros are roughly on par with Vancouver based on population. What you’ve proven is that it’s extremely rare for a system to reach out that far and only in cities with huge populations.
          Investment in transit closer to the core is far better than pushing expensive technology into the hinterlands with long stretches of ridiculously low density. Conventional rail makes more sense for longer reach and it would be preposterous to have a Seattle to White Rock only service. It only makes sense to bring it in to Pacific Central.
          Why do you feel the need to post under so many different names? It doesn’t add credibility.

        9. The moderator can now remove my post above (and this one) which make no sense with the removal of the post I was referring to.

        10. “The RER network in Paris is managed by the RATP, the Paris Metro.”
          No. The RER is operated by RATP, who also operate the Metro. RATP is like Translink. Metro is like Skytrain. RER is like the West Coast Express. All scaled down to our population.
          So your claim was analogous to saying that Skytrain runs to Mission, because Translink operates both systems.

      2. SYDNEY Australia electric commuter trains 150 K north to Newcastle 150 k west to Lithgow: South 100 ???k to ( almost ) Wollongong !0 k East to Bondi junction. One operation

        1. All grade separated metro? If not, you’re arguing in favour of bringing the Seattle to Vancouver line all the way in to Vancouver and not terminating at the border only to build our own separate commuter rail line and forcing an unnecessary transfer. Makes no sense. Your idea was to extend SkyTrain to the border. This isn’t about whether commuter rail systems have that kind of reach.

        2. (1) SYDNEY It is all grade separated to metro & beyond It was built when population was much smaller . It was divided into metro & regional admin divisions a few years ago (2) Whether you transfer to skytrain & do customs at either the border OR at Pacific Central makes little difference.(3) My main point is that B C tax dollars should be used on skytrain to to both White Rock & Langley instead .The border station would just be the icing on the cake .

        3. If I take a regular Vancouver-Seattle or Vancouver-Portland train, I get dropped off downtown; ditto a plane, all three airports being less than a half-hour hour drive into the city.
          Commuting for an hour by SkyTrain to the outskirts of one city, riding for an hour to the other outskirt, then spending another hour on the Link LRT (Customs lineups not included) almost completely defeats the purpose of “high speed” rail, much less anything that can compete with airlines.

  5. High-Speed – this is a Jay Leno mentality. He has a couple of hundred cars; some with a thousand horsepower. He takes them out on the curves and on the highway – to see what they’ll do. Maybe do a burnout. He’s not in a rush to go anywhere. It’s just what he does. It’s a guy thing.
    At least he does it on his own dime.
    What’s the rush? Fast = expensive. Even the Germans preferred to sell Maglev to Shanghai rather than pay for it themselves. The Concorde? Sexy. Sayonara. The Fast Ferries? Fast waste of taxpayer money. Priorities. How about a fast end to child poverty.

    1. “Fast” makes sense with very large population densities like between some Asian or European cities.
      Perhaps Toronto – Montreal or Boston – New York – Washington or LA – San Francisco .. but not between Vancouver and Seattle across an international border. Let’s fund MetroVan transit systems first. For those few that travel between Vancouver and Seattle ( electric ) cars or planes will do for the next 50 years. An AV lane on Hwy 99 / I5 for EVs may make more sense actually.

    2. //How about a fast end to child poverty.//
      Yet ending poverty means increasing growing the economy and the region, which includes investing in “fast” and “expensive” infrastructure projects. Same reason we fund SkyTrain instead of just more buses.
      If you want to debate the actual cost-benefit ratio of this particular HSR, rather than just the principle of it, you’d have a point.

      1. Exactly. Grow the economy and each region FIRST by investing in the local rapid transit structures FIRST .. then once big enough .. say 8-10M+ people link them together more.
        In this “togetherness” context or growing the region twinning Hwy 1 to Alberta from Kamloops, or building a bridge to Victoria (and/or maybe Sunshine Coast) makes more sense than a high speed train to Seattle.
        It is about priorities.
        Btw: as I was sitting at the YVR airport yesterday listening to flight announcements to Victoria and Nanaimo: how’s that slow new daily ferry from downtown Vancouver to Victoria coming along ?

    3. Cheapening a public transit project is often a positive feedback loop that goes something like this.
      You don’t get ridership without quality service.
      You don’t get frequent service without ridership.
      You don’t get a good business case without frequent service.
      You don’t get good linear infrastructure without a decent business case.
      You get even worse quality service with crappy linear infrastructure.
      This is why Skytrain is a very good formula for rapid transit. You use the infrastructure intensively and don’t have to get with low quality service as ridership scales due to automation.
      This has been the problem for HSR and transit projects across North America. It’s hard to commit to the most viable options, when shitty half measures are available.

  6. It’s a bit of a stretch to be on topic, but the UK Masterchef show S10 E15 shows a service for members of the Institution of Civil Engineers with gorgeous shots of their building.
    Civil Engineers are extraordinary people. They mould the world. But I recall reading how engineers considered using atomics to blow up mountains to release water for the southern states. There are good causes and bad causes. Good projects, and projects that people, especially engineers, want to do just because it excites them, not for the greater good.

    1. What I find particularly funny about this episode is that the chefs served the engineers lentils – a recent obsession of mine. Here is a product that has often been called the humble lentil, or the lowly lentil, being served in this palatial setting to the intellectual elite. Even funnier, further in the same episode, a chef creates a dish using jerusalem artichokes, aka fartichokes. To bad they didn’t serve those to the engineers.
      There has been a bag of them sitting in the back of our fridge for the past month. They grew in the front yard. Even my kids are afraid to eat them. Talk about atomics.

  7. Not to further demoralize the rail community, there are sadly tragic consequences to ‘high speed’, on rails, and in cars. https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/19/us/amtrak-derailment-washington/index.html
    The Pricetags post just 2 days after this one confirms it.
    “Speeding is the New Drunk Driving Says National Transportation Safety Board“

    1. And yet, high speed rail operates with a great safety track record (pun?) all over the world. The Amtrak crash appears to be less about speed and more about speeding and lack of proper over-sight and protocols. It remains to be seen.
      Meanwhile there have been three road fatalities in the region in the last couple of days and speed doesn’t appear to be a significant factor. Perhaps exceeding road conditions – but that’s a different story. Sometimes 10 km/h is just too fast.

  8. Absolutely Ron, to all of your comments above. But this will remain a bitter memory for the general public, both for passengers and neighbours to the line, even if they are apples and oranges. I’m afraid the rail advocates will be quickly and vocally outnumbered. How long will it take for the idea of high speed rail to recover from such incidents? 20 years? 50 years? It may take 100 years, if we get there at all.

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