Washington could have fastest train line in the U.S. within 20 years

Washington, Oregon and British Columbia study a corridor which would let trains travel at 250 mph.

The Pacific Northwest could be connected to Vancouver B.C. within two decades if a plan currently being studied is approved.

The plan includes building a rail from Portland which would pass through Seattle before reaching Vancouver B.C. It would be capable of ushering trains along the corridor faster than 250 mph. It would be the first ultra-high speed rail corridor in the country and serve the Cascadia mega-region, one of 11 which is expected to develop in the U.S. by 2050, by which time there will be more than 11 million people living in it. If funding is secured, the region could have an ultra-high speed rail by 2035.

The plan stems from the 2016 Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference where representatives from B.C. and Washington met to discuss the developing Cascadia commercial hub and how to cooperate to foster transportation, research and education partnerships. Out of that came the Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation Study, released February of this year, which explored the potential for ultra-high speed rail in the Pacific Northwest. The report was funded by $750,000 from Washington state, and an additional $750,000 was contributed by Oregon, B.C. and Microsoft.

Despite being geographically close, the three major cities in Cascadia are economically disconnected. A new rail network could promote trade, tourism and employment in the region, the study said. It could deliver a passenger from Portland to Vancouver in two hours, said Washington state Department of Transportation spokesperson Barbara LaBoe.

“That would be very obviously cut down on what the current travel times are,” she said.

Today, a passenger riding the Amtrak rail from Portland to Vancouver arrives in about nine hours. Driving takes about six hours, and while taking a plane is often faster, it comes with a round-trip price tag of more than $400. The price for tickets on an ultra-high speed rail is being studied further for another report which will be released next summer, LaBoe said. Potential station locations are also being studied in the report.

Three techonologies are included in the report for consideration, ranging from existing technology to conceptual. The first is standard high-speed rail, which uses wheels-on-steel to move trains at high speeds. Magnetic levitation, or maglev technology, is also being considered. That is being used in the Chuo Shinkansen line under construction between Tokyo and Nagoya in Japan. It uses magnets to propel and levitate the train from the tracks, which reduces friction and allows the train to move at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour.

The final option for the rail could be a hyperloop — although that technology is still being developed. It includes creating a tube where air is sucked from it, creating a near vacuum where magnets can propel a vehicle to its destination at high speeds. The technology is currently being tested by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and SpaceX, according to The Verge.

The project would come with an astonishing price tag, with cost estimates in the rail study ranging anywhere from $25 to $50 billion. It is unknown where the funding would come from, but the study and LaBoe said it could be a public-private venture.

An east-west rail line also was studied in the February report, but it was not included in the current study, LaBoe said. The line would provide slower transportation from Auburn to Spokane, stopping in Ellensburg, Yakima and Pasco. It is one of the state’s longer term projects.

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