Washington inches closer toward dream of high speed rail system

Feb 10, 2022, 9:18 AM | Updated: 9:39 am
High speed rail...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Washington Democrats unveiled a $16 billion transportation package this week, which included $150 million for a high speed rail project that has been years in the making.

Gov. Inslee: High-speed rail ‘could help us rebuild our economy’ post-COVID

In December of 2020, a study commissioned by a collection of Pacific Northwest entities recommended that Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia join together to create a single, formalized “coordinating entity” to advance the dream of high speed rail forward. That committee was officially formed a year later. It’s estimated that the project would cost anywhere between $25 billion and $40 billion to fully build out the system.

Exact details on how the $150 million set aside for the project in Washington’s transportation package remain scarce, although lawmakers highlighted a larger priority to have it act as a show of commitment to federal partners.

“The federal government has put ample new resources on the table,” state Sen. Marko Liias explained. “We’ve worked very hard to secure Washington’s place in line to secure some of that funding [for high speed rail].”

“This is designed to pull down those federal resources the Biden administration has put aside to make sure Washington has a vision for high speed rail,” he added.

Given the scope and costs such a project would incur, federal money would be a crucial puzzle piece toward realizing the dream of high speed rail in the Northwest. Washington appears to already have support from its representatives in Congress, who are pushing to distribute money toward the proposal from the $12 billion set aside in recently-passed infrastructure legislation for passenger rail projects across the country.

Is a high speed rail line through Washington actually realistic?

“There is an opportunity to apply for federal funds to truly launch this project and move beyond a concept into community engagement and development,” Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland said in an op-ed published in the Tacoma News Tribune. “If we’re not ready, those dollars will go elsewhere, and we’ll miss out on as much as 80 percent federal funding for the project.”

It is estimated that a high-speed rail line could produce a train with a maximum testing speed of at least 250 miles an hour, which could theoretically shorten the travel time between Seattle and Portland to one hour.

No such trains currently operate in the United States. The fastest existing train in use, Amtrak’s Acela Express, hits maximum speeds of 154 miles per hour, but averages about half that speed on its route between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

You can read more about the proposed Cascadia high speed rail project on the Washington State Department of Transportation’s website here.

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Washington inches closer toward dream of high speed rail system