Study urges 'ultra' high speed rail in Pacific Northwest; offers list of action items

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SEATTLE — A newly released business-case study argues that ultra-high-speed ground transportation in the Vancouver, British Columbia-Seattle-Portland, Ore., corridor would deliver economic and social benefits, and could cover its operating costs as soon as 2040.

But getting to such a system by 2040 depends on resolving some huge questions, such as what technology — conventional rail, maglev or hyperloop — would be used, where it would run and where it would stop, and, most of all, how much construction would cost and where the money would come from.

The business case, released this week by the Washington State Department of Transportation, is an extension and elaboration of an earlier preliminary feasibility study on ultra-high-speed ground transportation connecting the three large metropolitan areas. Funding for the study came not just from the two states and one Canadian province, but from Microsoft.

“The need for continued additional transportation infrastructure investment in the Cascadia megaregion is clear — crowded roads, congested airports, and limited intercity rail service constrain the mobility of residents, businesses, and tourists,” the report says. “Vancouver; Seattle; and Portland, Ore., have the fourth, sixth, and tenth-most congested roads in North America, respectively. Airport delays are making air travel increasingly unreliable, and the travel time and frequency of intercity rail service are not competitive for most trips.”

Ultra-high-speed ground transportation — defined as running speeds as high as 250 miles per hour — would not only save travelers time (Seattle to Portland or to Vancouver, B.C. in as little as an hour) and help unsnarl congestion with other transportation modes, it would also deliver “social benefits such as reductions in greenhouse emissions” and “wider economic benefits linked to an increase in jobs, higher productivity, and other economic impacts resulting from the significant improvement in connectivity.”

The study’s authors say an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system could generate annual ridership of more than 3 million trips and farebox revenues of $156 million to $250 million a year by 2040.

“This level of revenue could make [ultra-high speed rail] in the Cascadia megaregion corridor one of the highest performing intercity rail services in North America,” the report says. “Early comparisons of costs and revenues suggest that projected farebox revenue could be expected to cover operating costs by 2055. In the nearer term, a 10% increase in ridership or a 10% decrease in operating costs would allow [ultra-high speed rail] to cover its operating costs by 2040.”

The report offers no firm timeline for when this might occur, other than to say construction could begin six to eight years from now. As for cost, it refers to estimates in the previous feasibility study of estimated capital costs ranging from $24 billion to $42 billion. It also leaves the source of those costs vague, suggesting that organizers consider federal, state, provincial, and local sources, as well as the private sector.

The report has a lengthy to-do list of recommended next steps, most having to do with further studies and figuring out who will actually coordinate the construction and operation of the system.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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