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Stakeholders advocate federal funding for Cascadia rail line

Stakeholders advocate federal funding for Cascadia rail line

As Sound Transit struggles with project cost overruns and delayed timelines for its light rail system, a group of Washington elected officials and businesses are advocating the federal government back a proposed regional high-speed rail (HSR) line. The July letter to the Washington state congressional delegation touts the “bullet train” as a way to improve business ties with British Columbia and transportation amid population growth.

“The development of ultra-high speed ground transportation will unleash the full potential of Cascadia businesses and other innovators, strategically address the concerns that can otherwise arise from continued growth, and improve the quality of life for the region’s residents,” the letter states. “This project represents a future of robust mobility, equitable access to opportunity, good jobs, and a safe, sustainable environment.”

The signatories include:

  • Boeing President Stan Deal
  • Cascadia Rail Chair Paige Mallot
  • Costco CEO Craig Jelinek
  • Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin
  • Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern
  • Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Tom Alberg
  • Microsoft President Brad Smith
  • King County Executive Dow Constantine

“Cascadia has taken the critical first steps, but federal support is needed to advance this project,” the July letter states.

The state first looked at the concept in a 1992 study, but discussions around the idea picked up in 2017 when a group of business and public stakeholders proposed a public-private partnership for a train from Vancouver, B.C. to Seattle and Portland. The legislature and private businesses funded a study and business analysis that indicated the overall concept was sound, though those findings have been challenged by transportation analyst Thomas A. Rubin.

Rubin wrote in an email that the bullet train proponents “haven’t responded to any of our concerns at all.”

For bullet train advocates, the line could help the region absorb growth by allowing residents to live farther away from employment centers in “hub cities” with lower home prices but still be able to commute. It’s a phenomenon already occurring in the central Puget Sound region as people move further up and down the Interstate 5 corridor to places like Arlington and Marysville. Washington’s Amtrak Cascades trains currently provide trips to Portland and Vancouver, B.C, but their max speed is 79 miles per hour (mph), whereas a bullet train can go 250 mph – three times that speed.

However, states such as California have tried to create a bullet train line only to see the project completely derail amid massive cost overruns and ultimately abandoning the use of high-speed trains. Rubin noted that the same consulting firm involved in the California project conducted the feasibility study for the Cascadia line.

While the letter cites other similar projects around the country, Rubin wrote that “there are huge differences…particularly in regard to speed of travel and degree of government funding being requested.  California is, by far, the closest match to Cascadia and, by any measure, it is a total wet mess, very questionable how much will be built, with not even a wild guess any more as to when the main section might go into service.”

He added: “If the Cascadia proponents want to compare their project to California HSR, go ahead, that seems totally proper to me – the disaster we have in California HSR appears to be a very good predictor of what would happen to our Northern cousins.  Doesn’t anyone ever try to learn anything from the mistakes that other people make?”

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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