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Washington considers building Vancouver-Seattle high-speed rail line

The $1M study would look into potential routes, ridership numbers, and above all, cost

The Amtrak Cascades line runs between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

The Associated Press

The Amtrak Cascades line runs between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

Hop on a train and you could be in Seattle in less than an hour – that’s the dream Washington State’s governor is trying to make a reality by commissioning a feasibility study for a high-speed rail line between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.

The one-year $1-million study would determine the potential routes, ridership numbers, and costs of the project, according to the 2017-19 Transportation Appropriations Bill. A one-way trip to Seattle from Vancouver on the current line, Amtrak Cascades, takes three hours.

Giving the region a bullet train is an idea that has been around for decades but all the chips have to fall into place for an international rail line like the one proposed to materialize, said Washington State Transportation Centre’s director, Mark Hallenbeck.

“It’s a very tough task,” he said, citing lack of political will, environmental concerns, and NIMBY-ism as just a few examples of what could stand in the way.

But the Pacific Northwest is the perfect place to build a bullet-train line, he argued.

“People in the cities already share an awful lot of interaction in terms of their business markets as well as their tourism markets,” he said.

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B.C.’s Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, told reporters Tuesday the provincial government supports the idea of a high-speed rail line between Vancouver and Seattle, but added it was too early to say whether B.C. would pay for part of the proposed project.

But financial support or not, building a rail line is rarely a smooth ride, said Hallenbeck. He cited one major obstacle for the Seattle-Vancouver route – finding the political will to build a high-speed rail line that goes into an already crowded city. 

“The kicker is how do you get in to Vancouver from the border.”

Tunnelling under or building a SkyTrain-style track above the city is not only difficult to calculate, it is also controversial, he said.

Washington is currently digging an underground highway under Seattle and that project costs $4 billion dollars per mile to build, according to Hallenbeck.

But if the regional governments can establish a consensus among the public on the route, private companies may be willing to shoulder the cost of building the rail line, which could take as long as 10 years, he said. 

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