Metro Council will hear plan for “ultra” high speed rail

Screen grab from Fast Forward Cascadia website, a group boosting the effort.

The future is now — or so say the planners leading the Cascada Rail project to bring “ultra-high-speed ground transportation” (a.k.a. high speed rail, or HSR) to the corridor between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia. While this project may seem far-fetched, regional leaders are giving us some hope that we’ll be whisking ourselves between Portland and Seattle at 250 mph sooner rather than later. 

At last Friday morning’s Metro Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee (TPAC) meeting, planners from Metro and the Oregon and Washington State Departments of Transportation (ODOT and WSDOT) briefed the committee on the latest HSR updates. As it turns out, there has been quite a bit of progress on this project in the past couple years. The main agency leading this progress is WSDOT (the majority of tracks will be laid in Washington) but other agencies are supportive and on November 16, 2021, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan signed a Memorandum of Understanding in a show of support.

As far as the North American west goes, the Cascadia Megaregion is quite dense, containing three of the most populated cities in the United States and Canada within a little more than 300 miles. The entire region has grown significantly in recent years and this growth is projected to continue in the coming decades by as much as four million people by 2050. This is one reason advocates think it’s so important to take urgent action on this project.

Concept of the route. It could expand during project planning — perhaps to serve Eugene and central Oregon. (Source: WSDOT)

It’s difficult to fathom what a HSR system in the Pacific Northwest could do for our region. At 250 miles per hour, trips between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver could take less than an hour between each city. Theoretically, a Portlander could get to work at the Microsoft headquarters near Seattle in almost the same amount of time as it takes to drive to Intel in Hillsboro during rush hour today. Hell, you could even throw in a trip to Canada in the time it would take to get through the line at the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market. 

The project planners have more a more detailed account of the benefits of Cascadia HSR. The Metro TPAC memo states:

This enhanced interconnectivity would unite the Cascadia megaregion and allow to better manage population and economic growth potential and maximize public transportation benefits, resulting in better access to jobs, affordable housing, shared resources, increased collaboration, and economic prosperity. Corridor study has conceptually considered various scenarios with 21 to 30 daily round trips, with some express trips stopping at only a few locations, interspersed with others that stop at more locations at about $24 to $42 billion in up- front construction costs.

Outcomes include:

— Ultimate potential to carry 32,000 people an hour (only 12 to 20 percent of total current intercity trips would shift to UHSGT).
— Estimated annual ridership between 1.7 and 3.1 million, conservatively.
— Estimated annual revenue of between $160 and $250 million.
— Estimated $355 billion in economic growth and 200,000 new jobs related to construction and ongoing operation of the service.
— Reduction of 6 million metric tons (tonnes) of CO2 emissions over first 40 years and potential for zero emissions by using clean energy sources (hydro, wind, solar).

Letterhead of MoU between Oregon, Washington and BC.

Planners in Washington began the Cascadia HSR research process back in 2016. In late 2019, policymakers and business leaders convened in Seattle to discuss the future of the project, and the momentum continued from there. Perhaps the most actionable step came in November 2021, though, when the leaders of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing to “advance activities in support an ultra-high-speed ground transportation project.” Here’s an excerpt:

We commit to establishing a Policy Committee made up of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia designees and representatives from regional planning entities and the private sector to build relationships and coordinate efforts to advance the project. A lead from the respective government departments or ministries will be identified to spearhead the related activities in each of our jurisdictions and engagement in the Policy Committee.

We commit our states and province to advancing work on the Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation project and to pursuing emissions reduction with a focus on equity, inclusion and meaningful community engagement.

We commit to developing an organizational framework that facilitates inclusive input and decision-making…

While this MoU is not legally binding, it serves as documentation of a collective regional interest in this project and lists a few specific government commitments.

A timeline overview from WSDOT. (Source: WSDOT)

Skeptics may point out that American high speed rail has long been a transportation white whale, elusive even when it seems close to the surface. Just look at all the chaos surrounding the California HSR project. There are considerable roadblocks in the way of getting these types of projects done in a country so heavily oriented toward freeway projects.

Still, planners are optimistic. With WSDOT allocating $150 million to studying HSR in the Cascadia Corridor last March, the project is now in a development phase, and the team is currently researching more ways to secure federal (and possibly private) funding. (Note to Amtrak enthusiasts: this funding application will also include requests for assistance funding improvements to the Amtrak Cascades route, especially between Eugene and Portland.)

Portland Metro Council will discuss the corridor proposal and more details of the plan at a work session Tuesday (12/6). If they decide to sign on, that will be one more government agency in favor of the plan. It will take more than that to get it done, but it’s a start.

If you’re interested in this project, advocacy group Fast Forward Cascadia is asking people to voice their support to agency representatives and legislators. You can find more information about their campaign here.

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squareman
squareman
1 month ago

To dream!

Serenity
Serenity
1 month ago

I love this idea. It’s just hard to imagine it being allowed to happen here.

Douglas Kelso
Douglas Kelso
1 month ago

I doubt this will ever happen, but I daydream about putting high speed rail right down the middle of I-5 from Portland to Eugene, except for a few detour points like Salem. The freeway is mostly straight and already grade-separated, so if we just sacrificed a couple of freeway lanes and/or the median …..

I’d put Portland’s HSR station at Rose Quarter (converting Memorial Coliseum, as Jim Howell has suggested for years) and the Eugene HSR Station off I-105 near Autzen Stadium.

Steven M
Steven M
1 month ago
Reply to  Douglas Kelso

Every time I have to drive down I-5 (which I avoid whenever possible) I also daydream about this and get a singular, hopeful tear in my eye. Once you get south of about Wilsonville there’s also these big grassy medians you could use without even taking a lane… one less variable in the political calculus. You’d have to deal with all the over passes, and local governments would have to provide transit connectivity, but sorry I’m taking away from the shared daydream.

Jimbo
Jimbo
1 month ago

Wow, I wonder if stuff like HSR really is on the table as it seems like more and more political momentum is gaining behind public transit. High speed rail is one of my favorite transit modes.

However, if that momentum falls flat I know the story. We won’t spend any real money on it, because we are too broke from all the stupid freeway expansion projects. It is insane how much we are willing to dump into freeways that are just going to clog again in a couple years due to induced demand. We truly lack the vision to invest in transportation infrastructure that actually scales.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago
Reply to  Jimbo

A lot of people make a lot of money from freeway expansion projects, and they don’t want their gravy train (pun not intended) upset. Follow the money.

onewheelskyward
onewheelskyward
1 month ago

So wait, hang on. ” Ultimate potential to carry 32,000 people an hour” “Estimated annual ridership between 1.7 and 3.1 million, conservatively”

So, if you divide (a generous annual) 2.5 million riders by the 260 weekday working days in a year you get about 9600 trips per day. Per DAY. So how and/or why is 32,000 people in an hour even remotely reasonable or possible? It just feels like, you know, hyperbole. Talk to me about the dedicated track being built and avoiding all level crossings so we could actually save some time and energy making the trip.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago

I mean the capacity of a dedicated ROW passenger rail service that can run at 250mph is really high. Like they could schedule trains in a pattern that could carry 32k people per hour, but would likely not have the funding (or demand) to have both the trains themselves or the staff to run 30 trains an hour or whatever that corresponds to.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

except for the boarding part… no station anywhere near where you’d want one is going to handle 32000 people per hour. 3200 per hour seems a real stretch.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

except for the boarding part… no station anywhere near where you’d want one

Funny how just about every wealthy democracy* has high speed rail and manages to build stations in desirable areas in major cities.

*The USA is enormously and immorally wealthy but it is no democracy.

Examples of nations that are significantly poorer than the USA but still have HSR:

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Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Spain has 2.62x the population density of the United States. South Korea, 14.64x.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

I mean that’s not true – Penn Station handles well over 32,000 people per hour in the peak hours (https://www.real-rail.com/blog/penn-station-south-is-unnecessary). Obviously we have entirely different circumstances than NYC here – but stations can board well into the 10s of thousands of passengers in an hour with well run operations

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I’m not saying it isn’t possible, somewhere, perhaps where a centrally located, well-integrated station was built a century ago. Or that the residents of Hong Kong can’t accomplish amazing feats of density, or whatever.
But in 2022 (or 2042) Portland that sort of thing isn’t going to be easy. Once 32,000 disembark they have to be able to (quickly, remember?) get to their actual, destination, which isn’t the station, wherever it gets built. And the same for the folks boarding that same train.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

Lots of train stations that currently exist can handle 32k+ people per hour, which is the point here. We should design our train station to handle lots of people! But 32k/hour is definitely overkill, I am under the impression they are referring to the theoretical maximum track capacity rather than a projection.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

No train route in the world handles a train every 2 minutes.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

I mean the North River Tunnels into NYC under the Hudson handle 24 trains per direction per hour at peak, all heading into/out of Penn Station. Which is a train every 2:30 – so within that ballpark.

And there is a difference between the schedule and the literal capacity of the network. I am under the impression they are referring to the theoretical max capacity the line/station could handle – not the expected traffic.

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  Watts

There are routes on the London Underground, Sydney Metro, Copenhagen Metro, and Tokyo Metro that have 2 min frequencies.

Steven
Steven
1 month ago

I believe this is a typo. If you take 32,000 trips on a weekly (x52) basis you get a little less than the low end 1.7 million annual riders. Using your workday method that comes out to 6400 per day or 800 per hour during business hours, much less hyperbolic.

That said I would love to see a concept for a train system that can handle 32000 passengers per hour because that would be both a 16x improvement on the ideal capacity of a single freeway lane and a human logistical feat. As long as it’s not some twisted project named “hyper loop” or “distraction circle” or other nonsense of course.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Steven

BART carries <25,000 passengers per hour during commute peaks under the bay. BART is a commuter rail in a metro area of umpteen million people and has existed for fifty years. Come on, folks…get real.
https://www.bart.gov/sites/default/files/docs/June18FactSheet_v1.pdf

dw
dw
1 month ago

This might be a hot take, but I think the focus should be on improving existing intercity transit service. High speed rail is very flashy, but the timeframe on this project is measured in decades. By running more trains and buses NOW, car trips and flights could be shifted with more immediacy. I’d argue that giving more transit options in the short term means having an easier time getting something big like high speed rail through in the future.

I’m a little concerned about the outlook on building high-speed rail as well. Will it be highly subsidized so a $30 ticket gets you to Seattle like the current Amtrak Cascades route? Making it cheap would definitely make it more equitable and up ridership, but bigger subsidies also mean bad political actors can easily cut service in the name of austerity. On the other hand, it could be made prohibitively expensive to “pay for itself” to the point where most folks will just keep driving like they always do.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  dw

Agree here, Amtrak should be focusing on purchasing the tracks between Vancouver BC and Portland from BNSF (or at least some of the right of way, to have dedicated tracks there). The current schedule is awful even on the most popular part of the route (Portland to Seattle), and without the freight companies calling the shots we could genuinely run double the service.

Also – the fact that ODOT has not gotten any traction on moving the route between Portland and Eugene to the Oregon Electric (now Portland & Western) tracks is shameful. P&W runs a fraction of the traffic that UP does, and the OE stations are in better parts of the cities in the valley (Salem particularly).

$30 tickets could almost certainly be acheived without too much subsidy I think – as long as they run enough trains to make it make sense for day trips, and the speed is competitive with driving (2:30 from Portland to Seattle should be the short term goal).

dw
dw
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

That would be phenomenal. I’d also love if there was a train from Portland to Boise or maybe even Salt Lake. I make the drive from PDX to Boise often and loathe it. I’d gladly spend a couple more hours on the trip if it meant I could read and stretch my legs while traveling.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  dw

Every day we mourn the loss of the Pioneer Amtrak service

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_(train)

Ben
Ben
1 month ago
Reply to  dw

They should do both. Start building high speed rail now, build out traditional rail so it can be used sooner.

Thank about it in the context of a world where we’ll have to phase out the majority of flights within the next few decades, you know? Climate change makes this kind of thing worth it sooner than it might be otherwise

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
1 month ago

I expect the ribbon cutting on this to barely beat the ribbon cutting on the new bike tunnel from Beaverton to Downtown (a 0% grade crossing of the West Hills) drilled by Elon Musk’s Borer company.

America, where people dream big, talk big then expand the freeway anyway.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago

This is an absolutely dreadful idea. And here is why:
Theoretically, a Portlander could get to work at the Microsoft headquarters near Seattle in almost the same amount of time as it takes to drive to Intel in Hillsboro during rush hour today. Hell, you could even throw in a trip to Canada in the time it would take to get through the line at the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market.”

Having a reliable, well-integrated rail service in this corridor, or even just in the Willamette Valley, is all to the good, but the high speed stuff (c.f. Ivan Illich) can reliably be expected to bring so many significant ills with it that we should stop with the breathless boosterism.

And the carbon savings? Please! That is simply not how it works, notwithstanding the eager trumpeting of such figures. Remember when ODOT was claiming carbon savings from their digital reader boards? Ha!

Rockne
Rockne
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

“ … the high speed stuff (c.f. Ivan Illich) can reliably be expected to bring so many significant ills with it that we should stop with the breathless boosterism.”

Name them, please?

I’m not being glib – I’m genuinely curious what you perceive to be the ills of high-speed rail over the alternatives. (standard rail, freeways, commercial aviation)

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Rockne

Taylor’s passage which I quoted gives an indication.
Seeking to obliterate space and time with such infrastructure is tantalizing, just like the automobile or air travel is/was tantalizing. But it comes at great cost (economic, material, environmental, land use, equity).

The promise of speed, as Illich recognized, is fulfilled only for the few who can afford it. This comes about in the case of the automobile in particular ways (congestion, pollution, death, maiming, climate change, etc.), and in the case of high speed rail it would manifest differently: the rich are able to live much further (in space) from where they habitually work or recreate; they can swoop into cities from their far flung hideaways, with their money and their schedules; but the relationship the rest of us have to time and space would also shift: overcoming ever greater distances in record time would seep into how we make sense of our world, our lives, our schedules.

Rather than localizing & slowing down, which some believe is urgently needed, and might begin to alleviate our predicaments, high speed rail accelerates & spreads everyone even thinner. Dining in the Space Needle could be in reach for the well heeled Eugene resident who works at UofO. Exciting, thrilling, something to be proud of as we all compete to be the best on this world stage, but is that really what we need now? what will save CO2? We should be seeking to reduce our need for travel, our addiction to speed, not increase or encourage them.

We are not that great here in the US when it comes to building or maintaining or paying for infrastructure. Flashy projects are always fun to contemplate, dream about, but at the end of the day someone is going to have to cough up the money, for the concrete, the steel, the power plants to generate the electricity, the wires and towers to transmit the electricity, the bulldozers with which to raze buildings that are in the way so we can build the shiny stations and the tracks.

Rockne
Rockne
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

If only “the rich” can afford it, then I don’t understand how HSR would be any worse than the current levels of commercial aviation and personal vehicle use. HSR on dedicated corridors is safer than personal vehicle use, less impactful in terms of noise and land use than commercial aviation, and less polluting than both.

In an ideal world, major urban corridors in the US (the West Coast and basically a box encompassing from New England to St. Louis and Chicago to Washington DC) would utilize a European-style rail network, heavily subsidized by governments, running in exclusive, fast, electrified rights-of-way and affordable enough to discourage commercial air travel – especially with policies like France is rolling out to actively suppress short-haul flights. We both know that’s never going to happen on these shores (to be fair, neither is the project this article is centered on.) But it’s not going to stop people, especially those with money, from traveling. So my thought is that anything that cuts down on personal vehicle use and commercial jet flights is a win.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Rockne

So my thought is that anything that cuts down on personal vehicle use and commercial jet flights is a win.”

But how do we know this? Why would this rail fantasy take away from air travel or car use? Is there anywhere this has happened?
Even if it would, building *another* parallel high speed network (not going to use existing tracks here in the PNW, I’m pretty sure, so the idea that the land use implications would be less than with air travel is not plausible to me), represents a net addition to our transport footprint; as no one is dismantling airports.

”If only “the rich” can afford it, then I don’t understand how HSR would be any worse than the current levels of commercial aviation and personal vehicle use.”
The question is not whether it would be any worse, but how yet one more network, spreading our demand for high speed travel across yet more options, advances any social or environmental objective.

Rockne
Rockne
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

With regard to land use, airports are usually built on big, flat, stable chunks of land that, if there was a viable alternative to short-haul air travel, much of which could be much better used for housing, green industry, green space, really anything else. A narrow railroad right-of-way could leave surrounding property available for its current/future use.

France is currently legislating against short-haul commercial flights between locales where passenger rail service is available, per the BBC. If an ultra-high-speed rail network were to be built along the Cascadia corridor, I think the goal would be not to add an additional network but to supplant one (commercial aviation) which is a far worse carbon culprit. It would, of course, require a political will no one around here has ever shown, but perhaps less than selling the populace at large on an Illichian philosophical underpinning they’ve shown no interest in buying.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Rockne

SNCF has already begun the ad campaign. My husband was able to get his phone out quickly enough to snap this photo of the TGV we just got off as it left the station.

What got cut off to the right was the statistic comparing plane flights to TGV: it takes 80 train rides to equal the carbon produced by one flight.
comment image

Luke
Luke
1 month ago

I’m sorry, but proposals like this are putting the cart waaaay before the horse.

We can’t even get significant mode shift from cars onto public transport locally in Seattle or Portland (Vancouver does better). Why, if my daily life mostly needs a car because both of these cities are fairly sprawly with adequate-at-best transit service, am I going to spend money on a train ticket when I’m already spending money on a car?

Some people will do it, but most, especially those not really inclined to be concerned enough about the environmental impact of driving to change their behaviors around driving (which, sorry to say, includes most American liberals as well as conservatives), are rightly going to ignore it.

Yes, I’m aware that the Amtrak Cascades is one of the highest-ridership routes outside the northeast, but it’s still quite poor compared to intercity train trips among similarly-sized cities in a lot of other countries. High speed rail also works best as part of a network of railways connecting lots of larger cities. Any PNW high-speed rail line, by contrast, has Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland; there are no other million+ metro areas for hundreds of miles around. Not to mention, there is no production trainset anywhere that reliably hits 400kph–not Japan, China, Korea, France, Spain, Germany, Italy. The train this project wants does not exist. There is also a substantial cost in energy and track wear-and-tear for trying to sustain much over 300kph; this is one of the reasons the world’s fastest train service (Beijing to Guangzhou) averages 294kph. Such a needlessly lofty speed requirement is also one of the reasons the UK’s HS2 is far and away the world’s most expensive-per-km rail project. Why are they insistent on replicating that error here?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim for long-term mode shift from cars long-distance, but getting PNWers good MAX, Link, and bus service absolutely needs to come before worrying about building multi-billion-dollar high-speed intercity railways. If you can’t run a ca. 5-minute-headway bus service reliably, why on Earth are we counting on you running something like this effectively.

Steven M
Steven M
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke

Hi Luke,

I agree with the majority of your comment here- at this time most people probably aren’t ready switch modes without a better network today, and the technical limitations of anything over 250kph are absolutely brutal. Air/wind resistance is no joke. Without doing my own research on this I’m going to wager the 250 mph was meant to be a 250kph though. I commented above about a different number cross up, so it may have happened again. This doesn’t take away from the fact that numbers and specs promoted by politicians are usually inflated. To be charitable, let’s say that’s because they don’t understand what the engineers are telling them w/r/t limitations.

I disagree with your last paragraph though. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say that we shouldn’t have to choose funding for good local service and good intercity service, so I’ll go a step further. Like others have said- in the best case this project is several decades away from a ribbon cutting. As the article said- they are looking at federal funding for the project. Local or even state level governments probably can’t fund this project given current structures but in the next thirty years they could make enormous headway on the intraregional transit system using fewer total dollars than would be used on the inter-regional rail. In my perfect Portland/PNW these projects culminate at the same time 30 years 20 years 10 years from now to complete a truly complete system.

I know the feds are loath to spend big dollars on trains but then this is the lift right? To move that needle?

Stephan
Stephan
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke

I nominate this comment as comment of the week! Countries with a well-functioning train system have do have high-speed trains, but the backbone of the system are trains that run frequently, at a decent speed, and to many places. Having trains go from Portland to Seattle about every 20-30 minutes every hour, 6am to 8pm (with less frequent service during the other hours), at a decent speed (60-100 mph between spots) would be a game changer.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  Luke

Amtrak Cascades is also the worst-performing state-supported train (in terms of on-time performance) in the country, and yet it still sells out basically every train. The demand is there, improving intercity train service should be a higher priority.

And really how many people doing a tourist trip to Seattle/Portland actually do need a car? I visit friends in Seattle about once a month, and always take the train (or bus) there. Honestly, both cities do a good job of connecting the major tourist centers to the train stations, and I don’t think most trains consist of people looking to travel to Boring or Issaquah.

Plus, the sources of funding for regional public transit and intercity rail are usually very different. Amtrak/FRA/ODOT/WsDOT would be the primary funding sources for any intercity improvements, while the bulk of regional public transit money comes FTA/the cities/counties/state – and they don’t really compete with each other too heavily in literal grants, etc. Of course, there are general funding constraints everywhere, but it’s not like we can’t do both.

But I would agree that it’s sensible to have lower expectations. We should probably just try to upgrade the Cascades route to 119 mph + electrify before we do much else. Especially since there are a plethora of options to get much cheaper rolling stock for something like that

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The Siemens Venture trainsets we will be getting in 2025/2026 are capable of 125mph, but the current track can’t support that speed anywhere. 110mph can be done with quad gate level crossings, but anything above needs full grade separation. The route to Seattle only has a few short sections of straight track that could be done at 110mph, but it would shave off some time if they could bring the speeds up in these areas. We could save even more time by moving to high platform stations, and improving the boarding process. Station dwell times account for a big chunk of the current schedule, and having to load a few ADA passengers can add 5-10 minutes per stop.

https://www.seattletimes.com/news/new-railcars-in-the-works-for-washington-state-amtrak-trains/

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris I

This, of course, would require Amtrak to get their act together, and would require being far more forceful with the rail companies.
In Oregon at least I think there’s a case to be made for the State to buy out the P&WR and W&P regional lines from Genesee. Those lines are mostly old inter-city lines in the valley that got converted to freight. They could be used for both (and electrified) if they were under state control, and they’d give us a potential HSR alignment that wasn’t reliant on BNSF or UP.

soren
soren
1 month ago

California’s disastrous high speed rail project failed due to lawmakers refusal to use eminent domain resulting in astronomical property acquisition costs, disastrous routing, and kafkaesque engineering flaws (having to rebuild the adjacent interstate again, and again, and again). Now over a decade later cost overruns for a system that travels from Sacramento to some random exurb (e.g. avoids every large city in CA) is in danger of being cancelled due to massive cost overruns (from $33 billion to $105 billion with no end in sight).

https://calmatters.org/politics/2022/05/california-high-speed-rail-standoff/

What gives anyone confidence that the worship of property rights by Cascadian lawmakers (and Cascadian voters) would not similarly doom HSR here?

Steven M
Steven M
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Good Morning Soren,

I consider myself a pretty big fan of trains but I still held this view w/r/t to CHSR project. It seems pretty nuts! A while ago I found Alan Fisher’s Youtube channel and he does a really good job talking about trains imo. He made a a video about it six months ago but this one I think does an even better job. He can be a bit abrasive but still gets the point across.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwNthD-LRTQ

I don’t expect it to change your mind but it might give you some more to chew on.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  Steven M

I don’t care about the dollars either. In fact, I’m arguing that we bypass the barriers of crony capitalism by using eminent domain without ridiculously lucrative compensation of property owners for right of way.

Watts
Watts
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Aren’t we as a nation currently contemplating the negative impacts of past uses of eminent domain to build new transportation corridors?

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark in NoPo

A lot of this is not about “taking” but about right of way.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

I mean California High Speed Rail has lots of issues, especially on cost, but it is still being actively built, getting more funding, and probably will be finished within the next decade? Like yeah, they have supremely messed it up – but it’s not accurate to say it’s failed while still being built/funded

And it is not true to say it is being built from Sacramento to “some random exurb”. Phase I is from LA to San Francisco (via San Jose), and basically every routing decision is based on geographic constraints – although the choice to route to SF via San Jose (instead of to Oakland) is a bit dubious in my opinion (given how expensive it will be to do station operations at the planned Downtown SF terminal, and given that it probably would have been less expensive to go through Livermore and Dublin Canyon rather than the current idea over Pacheco Pass). And if you are referring to the routing via Palmdale over Tehachapi Pass rather than via Tejon Pass, that is largely a cost-saving measure due to constraints in getting a high speed line over Tejon.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Current incomplete funding and planning focuses on a useless central valley route, followed by an unfunded and unplanned extension to silicon valley. “Phase 1” is just vaporware at this point.

but it is still being actively built, getting more funding, and probably will be finished within the next decade?

It’s not getting funding now and is in danger of being cancelled.

“There is no confidence in the project,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Los Angeles Democrat. “We had an end date of 2020 and now we don’t have an end date.” 

The latest estimate, made earlier this year, set the cost at $105 billion. The new price tag is based on some estimates made in 2019, not accounting for the spurt of inflation in construction materials and labor, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office …The risk is that the real cost is still not known…

Against this backdrop, Rendon and a majority of Democrats in the Assembly want to essentially detonate Newsom’s plan for the rail.

https://calmatters.org/politics/2022/05/california-high-speed-rail-standoff/

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

“A useless central valley route” what are you talking about? The primary transportation artery of the San Joaquin valley (Bakersfield – Fresno – Merced – Modesto – Sacramento [eventually]) is where the route is going. It’s historically been the primary route of travel between Northern and Southern California, taken by both the Southern Pacific and US 99. And while I don’t love Fresno or Bakersfield for a variety of reasons, they both have about 1 million residents (metro areas), and are important economically to California.

And the Silicon Valley route is definitely planned – its final environmental review has been approved (https://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2022/08/hsr-lays-egg-in-caltrains-nest.html). And look, it’s a stupid route – but I do understand why they chose it to go via San Jose rather than Oakland. San Jose (like it or not) is the tenth largest city in the country and filled with influential businesses. I do think it fundamentally makes the service worse to go via San Jose, then San Francisco, and Sacramento via the Central Valley. The routing through the bay area should really be via Dublin Canyon and Oakland then to Sacramento via Martinez – with spurs to San Jose and SF. But that wasn’t my choice to make!

Again, the project certainly is having difficulties but it is not on the verge of cancellation. Construction has continued in the 7 months since that calmatters post.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The barriers to this project that have resulted in enormous delay and runaway costs need to be addressed in a meaningful way because they 1) threaten implementation of HSR in the USA everywhere and 2) may also imact any eventual HSR project in the PNW.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The NYT article How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Railssays otherwise:

When California voters first approved a bond issue for the project in 2008, the rail line was to be completed by 2020, and its cost seemed astronomical at the time — $33 billion — but it was still considered worthwhile as an alternative to the state’s endless web of freeways and the carbon emissions generated in one of the nation’s busiest air corridors..

Fourteen years later, construction is now underway on part of a 171-mile “starter” line connecting a few cities in the middle of California, which has been promised for 2030. But few expect it to make that goal.

Meanwhile, costs have continued to escalate. When the California High-Speed Rail Authority issued its new 2022 draft business plan in February, it estimated an ultimate cost as high as $105 billion. Less than three months later, the “final plan” raised the estimate to $113 billion.

The rail authority said it has accelerated the pace of construction on the starter system, but at the current spending rate of $1.8 million a day, according to projections widely used by engineers and project managers, the train could not be completed in this century.

soren
soren
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I missed that the 100 mile central valley segment was recently funded but I would not at all be suprised to see legislators balk at future segments as costs keep on accelerating.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  soren

Indeed. Almost every high speed rail project built in my lifetime has blown through its budget several times over. And it isn’t encouraging that its advocates rarely include maintenance costs in their estimates, and sometimes not even operational costs.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  blumdrew

basically every routing decision is based on geographic constraints

No, political exigencies have driven routing decisions. Why otherwise prioritize Bakersfield (population 407K) to Merced (89K) first? The NYT calls this “a bullet train for the farm belt.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago

If the Pac NW ever has HSR of the 200 mph ICE/TGV type, it won’t be because of the usual partners of the DOTs, BNSF and Feds, it will be in spite of them. PNW HSR will come about when Amazon, Microsoft, and Weyerhaeuser (among others) decide they want to develop HSR and brand new cities along the way – transit oriented developments TOD writ large – as a way to house their ever expanding workforce and operations. They’ll avoid having to deal with Omaha-based Berkshire-Hathaway and its BNSF subsidiary by building German-style InterCity Express (ICE) bored railways through the mountains and on elevated railways, then create new station areas next to cheap sleepy towns like Centralia, Kelso/Longview, Mt.Vernon, and White Rock, and redesign the communities with light rail, Dutch-style apartment blocks, bikeways, and commercial centers. The new communities will go a long way towards paying for the new HSR line, as will the huge subsidies and tax breaks from cities as they compete for new central stations in their usual frivolous ways.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
1 month ago

Can you clarify what “funding application” is meant in the statement “this funding application will also include requests for assistance funding improvements to the Amtrak Cascades route, especially between Eugene and Portland”? Is it the Corridor ID application for Cascadian UHSGT?

I ask because ODOT has failed to apply for three grant opportunities since the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed that could have funded improvements on the Cascades line between Eugene and Portland. From what I can tell, ODOT has never applied for a federal capital grant for this line. I’d be surprised if they were waiting for this Corridor ID grant to do so because the grant is intended for projects that either create new service or enhance existing service and ODOT has decided not to enhance the existing Cascades service between Eugene and Portland.

Will
Will
1 month ago

Step 1. If SNCF offers to build it, let them.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  Will

In the USA, SNCF is called Keolis. They have offices in the state of Northern Virginia (Arlington area near DC). Siemens is another possibility.

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Keolis manages operations in NA and some French cities, but doesn’t do planning and construction as far as I know.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
1 month ago
Reply to  Will

This is a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Dems has a “buy American” provision, preventing our country from benefiting from the expertise and scale of enterprises in other countries that have a faint clue what they’re doing. Such unnecessary requirements (and others like ’em) multiply the cost and project length for building and operating public transit systems.

Todd/Boulanger
1 month ago

Thanks for the update on this. The last time I looked at in (2019?)…I was depressed that there was no real plan for a Vancouver WA stop.

And I have to wonder if the British Columbia side is ready for making improvements on their side…as they dragged their feet on the higher speed rail upgrades 12+ years ago. (Correct me, did they ever get the track upgrades for the ‘Olympics’ done to the section from Vancouver BC to the border? Its been a while since I last rode that section….~2015. I think they have only done studies so far. See links below.)

https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/bc-government-funding-high-speed-rail-vancouver-seattle-2022

https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/waterfront-station-reimagined-concept-vancouver-transit-hub

https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/vancouver-seattle-portland-high-speed-rail-business-case-july-2019

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Still no improvements on the Vancouver side of the border. It’s still a painfully slow, meandering route.

Chris I
Chris I
1 month ago

WSDOT won’t even have enough equipment to increase service on Cascades until 2025 at the earliest. These additional round trips were supposed to be in place 5 years ago, but were delayed after the derailment on the Point Defiance Bypass.

Most trips on Cascades now use ancient Horizon cars (small windows, bumpy ride) now that most of the Talgo trains are gone. And they still don’t have the staffing to start the direct train from PDX to Vancouver BC again.

It’s hard to imagine local governments giving much attention to actual HSR when the existing Cascades service is a shell of its former self.

Jim Calhoon
Jim Calhoon
1 month ago

I just love the rose-colored glasses they use to sell us on such ideas. Let’s take the example of living in Portland and working at Microsoft. So, if the train trip only takes 1 hour. Currently the bus ride from the Seattle Amtrak station to the Microsoft campus is 27 min. and runs every 30 min (google maps). Then you need to add the commute time from your dwelling to the train in Portland. So total commute time would be 2 to 2.5 hours or 4 to 5 hours a day. Hard to fathom that being as fast as Portland to Hillsboro. The other line that I will take issue to is access to affordable housing. There are areas along this rout where housing is less expensive than the metro areas, but affordable could be a stretch. The big question is would there be a train station near this housing. I am not 100% opposed to HSR but I need to be sold with real numbers and facts about who this benefits. the actual rout including stops. How the land is acquired and who could be displaced by this. Because lets face it our history of who gets displaced for transportation projects is not great.

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Calhoon

Yeah, I like the idea of HSR through Cascadia, but the notion that people are going to use it to be super commuters is frankly weird, and we shouldn’t be planning around that use case.

9watts
9watts
1 month ago
Reply to  Will

What should we be planning? How do you think people will use it or should use it?

Will
Will
1 month ago
Reply to  9watts

I expect it’ll be used mostly recreationally or for business trips, conferences etc. Folks who would have either flown or driven between PDX-SEA-YYV will instead take HSR.

Yoni Rapaport
Yoni Rapaport
1 month ago

agreed with a lot of the comments here, let’s start by seeing a halfway decent regional rail system in Oregon, there’s a second rail route between Portland and Eugene not owned by one of the big 4 railroads (the old oregon electric interurban route) that could easily be bought up and electrified for a fraction of the price of hsr, create some nice walkable/bikeable areas around the stations and start getting people riding trains in their day to day routine. also high speed rail is not gonna be something people use for day to day commutes in any case.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
1 month ago
Reply to  Yoni Rapaport

ODOT just spent 10 years “studying” whether to keep the existing Cascades route or move it to the P&W tracks or a new I5 alignment. They decided to keep the current route and only improve it to a level where it is a degree less unreliable than today. And they seem to be dragging their feet to even do that, passing up all of the federal funding opportunities so far this year.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to reopen the question, but it seems such a distant possibility that people who are interested in intercity transit in Oregon would be better off advocating for improving the existing services. I mention this because there seem to be a lot of people making similar comments on this site, unaware that ODOT has effectively foreclosed the possibility of a different alignment for the cascades service.

BreadBoi
1 month ago
Reply to  Yoni Rapaport

The problem with the Oregon Electric alignment is that it doesn’t go into Portland anymore, Interstate 5 was built on it’s old alignment, and there’s no way we’ll ever get a couple of those lanes given over to rail. We’re stuck dealing with the Union Pacific mainline to get into Portland either way, and its the segment within Portland that presents by far the biggest infrastructure challenges anyways. Once we get south of Milwaukie, it’s not too difficult to just slap down a dedicated pair of passenger tracks next to the mainline, its the central city that’s a nightmare to detangle.

The Salem segment of the UP mainline also presents some difficulties, namely it has a narrow ROW that will require condemning property to widen. But the OE line isn’t much easier to modernize as it has a street running segment, and no existing stations.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
1 month ago
Reply to  BreadBoi

An electrified regional rail line using the Oregon Electric right-of-way could run from Salem up to Beaverton and use the MAX right-of-way to Portland. In the short term it would just require some modification of the downtown Beaverton spur (ok, probably a lot of modification but even a short tunnel under Beaverton is a breeze compared with basically any improvement on the UP main between Portland and Milwaukie). In the long term we can dream about bypass tracks and a 2nd tunnel under Washington Park extending through the center city.

Of course, for any of this to happen we would need to first teleport to a land where the state & federal decision makers care about public transit & aren’t in bed with big business.

(Also, I’d like to apologize to Yoni because I agree that a regional rail model would be considerably more transformative to transportation in the Willamette Valley than high speed rail, and I shouldn’t have lumped your comment in with the comments that appear so often here that advocate for the high speed rail in I-5 right-of-way that ODOT killed with zero political pushback just a few years ago. It’s just that your comment was on the bottom.)

Yoni
Yoni
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

Thanks it’s all good, yeah essentially that was my thought, running to downtown using the max right of way with the more ambitious end goal of an s-bahn style city center tunnel and reshaping some of the current max lines that spend most of their time trapped on the side of highways into a faster regional rail system