High speed rail conference convenes at Microsoft headquarters

Trains Industry Newsletter
Get a weekly roundup of the industry news you need.
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine. View our privacy policy.
A French TGV high speed trainset awaits passengers in Frankfurt, Germany. Microsoft and U.S. High Speed Rail are hosting a high speed rail conference at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., beginning today.
TRAINS: David Lassen

REDMOND, Wash. — Microsoft Corp.’s corporate campus in the Seattle suburb of Redmond is miles from rail lines hosting regular passenger-train service.

But that corporate campus will be, for three days beginning today [Nov. 6], the focal point of the high-speed passenger rail universe.

The Cascadia Rail Summit convenes with U.S. High Speed Rail and Microsoft as leading co-sponsors of the event and a lengthy agenda of presentations and speakers. Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, now head of the local business development group Challenge Seattle, is the luncheon keynote speaker. Current Gov. Jay Inslee is to address the gathering by video.

Other speakers include such industry executives as Alain Quinet, deputy chief executive of France’s SNCF; Armin Kick, vice president high speed rail, Siemens Mobility; and Antonio Perez, president of Talgo.

As the country’s lead advocate for development of fast passenger-rail service, U.S. High Speed Rail’s motivation for organizing the conference is obvious. The organization wants to see 220-mph trains connecting major cities, with a support network of 110 mph trains connecting smaller cities and towns.

Microsoft’s interest in the topic seems less obvious at first, but it has taken an active interest in transportation issues, including the Puget Sound region’s increasingly congested roads. It has been an active proponent of high speed rail connecting Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., (and possibly Portland, Ore.). In 2018 the company contributed $300,000 toward a preliminary feasibility study of high speed rail, and contributed another $223,000 this year.

In May 2018, Microsoft President Brad Smith listed high-speed rail as an agenda item in what he termed the Next Generation Washington agenda, policy items “we believe are critical for the future economic and social health of our state and everyone who lives here.” The software company has about 47,000 employees in the state. In a blog post, Smith noted a study indicating a high speed rail line could help create another 145,000 jobs in the region.

The Washington State Department of Transportation issued an “Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Business Case Analysis” in July warning of the potential risks of road congestion and the limits of current air and rail alternatives. It estimated the cost of building a high speed rail system at $24 billion to $42 billion in 2018 dollars, less than half of the estimated $108 billion cost of adding one lane in each direction to Interstate 5 in the state. [See “Study urges ‘ultra’ high speed rail in Pacific Northwest, offers list of action items,” Trains News Wire, July 16, 2019].

With trips of less than an hour between Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Vancouver, and 21 to 30 daily round trips, the system could generate ridership of 1.7 million to 3.1 million riders annually when it opens and estimated annual revenue of between $160 million, the study says. It would also generate $355 billion in economic growth and 200,000 new jobs related to construction and ongoing operation of the service

But there are some big questions yet to be answered, such as what technology to use (conventional steel-wheel on rail or something new like maglev or hyperloop) , where lines will run, and biggest of all, the cost. The summit has a panel on the topic of financing planned, looking at such options as private rail investment, transit-oriented development and secondary revenue streams including express freight, real estate and utility co-locations.

Leave a Comment
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of TrainsMag.com are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Please keep your feedback on-topic and respectful. Trains staffers reserve the right to edit or delete any comments.


The Genesee & Wyoming 

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy
Subscribe Up To 58% off the newsstand price!
Subscribe To Trains Mag Today