San Juan Islands from Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham (Photo by the author)

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the Seattle-Everett segment of a potential high speed rail (HSR) service between Seattle and Vancouver B.C. We looked at the paucity of available right-of-way, the likelihood of repurposing the I-5 express lanes, and the topographical challenges involved in descending from 500′ in South Everett to a sea-level Everett Station. In Part 3 we’ll look at the approach into Vancouver, and in Part 4 we’ll look at inland routes and ideas for suburban terminals. But for today’s Part 2 let’s look at the middle third of the trip, from Everett to Bellingham.

For HSR trips between major cities, the highest speeds are usually reached in the intermediate rural areas, with slower approach speeds to the anchor cities being relatively common. So we would reasonably expect to fly through the farmlands of Snohomish and Skagit Counties. How would we do it?

However we’ve gotten our train to Everett Station, when looking north from Everett we are immediately confronted with a different set of challenges. First and foremost, the first several miles into Marysville would be through the wetland sloughs of the Snohomish River’s outlet into Puget Sound. The current trip from Everett to Marysville creaks across slow drawbridges before picking up speed in North Marysville. Environmental challenges aside, we’d be looking at one of three options: another drawbridge, a high bridge with a long approach, or bypassing Everett Station with an inland route.

Assuming we have reached Marysville in a timely manner, the current section from Marysville to just south of Bellingham is already the fastest portion of the route, averaging 55 mph after including the two stops in Stanwood and Mount Vernon. For much of this current corridor, Cascades travels near its legal maximum of 79 mph. So for this middle third of the trip we are stuck with a conflict: building new right-of-way is cheapest where the marginal gain is lowest.

Put another way, when thinking about this corridor we have to decide where our priorities lie. Do we make the fast parts fasterDo we make the slow parts less slowOr would we go all in and do both?

An illustration: imagine you own two cars, a Hummer that gets 10 miles per gallon (mpg) and a Corolla that gets 30mpg. A new hybrid called the Sakura comes on the market that achieves 200mpg. Which saves more fuel, switching the Corolla to a Sakura, or switching the Hummer to a Corolla?

We all intuitively want to go for the highest mileage vehicle, but in this case it would be the worse choice. Over a typical 10,000 miles of driving, the Hummer would use 1,000 gallons, the Corolla would use 333, and the Sakura would use 50. So upgrading the guzzler saves 2.5 times more – 667 gallons! – than improving the economy car even further (283 gallons). This is the simple function f(x)=1/x, where x provides diminishing returns the higher it goes.

Apply this lesson to a high speed rail corridor, and you get some interesting results. The current corridor is 157 miles and takes 4 hours, for an average speed of 39 miles per hour (mph). As high-level examples, let’s look at what would happen if we made the fast parts faster, the slow parts less slow, and built an entirely new corridor from scratch.

Make the Fast Parts Faster

Let’s imagine that the constraints leading into Seattle and Vancouver prove insurmountable, and we decide to retain the current right-of-way. British Columbia doesn’t bring any money to the table. Trains continue to hug the Puget Sound shoreline south of Everett, and they still creak across the Fraser River in New Westminster.

But between Everett and Bellingham, we decide to build a world-class, 240mph corridor, much like California High Speed Rail’s “Initial Operating Segment” between Madera and Bakersfield. We buy off every farmer along the way, and we run elevated tracks in the straightest possible alignment. We tunnel under Chuckanut Mountain to reach a station in Downtown Bellingham. What kind of corridor would we have?

The first 34 miles from Seattle to Everett would still take 52 minutes, and the last 62 miles into Vancouver would still take 1 hour and 48 minutes. But we would build 56 miles of 240mph high-speed track, giving us a magical 15-20 minute running time between Everett and Bellingham. Assuming $100m/mile for rural HSR and another $2B for a Chuckanut Mountain tunnel, we would spend $7B to shave an hour off the trip.

Cost: $7 Billion
Travel Time: 3 Hours

Current Right-of-Way Seattle to Everett and Bellingham-Vancouver
New 240mph Track Everett to Bellingham

Make the Slow Parts Less Slow

Now imagine we took the opposite approach, retaining our current 79mph track between Everett and Samish. Instead, we pour all our money into building a modest 120mph HSR right-of-way from Seattle to Everett and from Bellingham to Vancouver:

  • Seattle to Everett, 28 miles, 14 minutes, 120 mph
  • Everett to Bellingham, 61 miles, 81 minutes, 45 mph
  • Bellingham to Vancouver, 50 miles, 25 minutes, 120 mph

If we assume the last 25 miles into each city cost $500m/mile, and 28 miles of new rural track at $100m/mile, we get:

Cost: $28 Billion
Travel Time:
2 Hours

New Right-of-Way (ROW) Approaching Seattle and Vancouver. Improved current ROW between Everett and Bellingham.

Build a New Corridor from Scratch

Now let’s go all out. 50 miles of urban track at $500m/mile. 100 miles of rural track at $100m/mile. Two tunnels, in South Everett and at Chuckanut Mountain, at $2B each. New bridges across the Snohomish, Skagit, and Fraser Rivers, at $500m each. Track speeds are 240mph, with an average speed of 180mph after stops in Everett and Bellingham. We get:

Cost:  $41 Billion
Travel Time: 45-50 minutes

New Corridor Using I-5 Express Lanes, Northgate-Shoreline I-5 Bypass, Tunnel from South Everett to Everett, new elevated Right-of-Way from Marysville to Samish, a Chuckanut Mountain Tunnel, White Rock Bypass, Elevated Running in Residential Surrey, and Improved Current Alignment from New Westminster to Vancouver

Conclusions

The above illustrations are not alignment proposals, but typologies for prioritization of capital resources. There are an infinite number of other combinations, including spot fixes at the slowest spots throughout the entire corridor, suburban terminals (Lynnwood to Scott Road Skytrain?), etc etc.

The broader points to think about are philosophical and political, such as the diminishing returns at higher speed increments and the differential costs of urban and rural construction. Certain benefits are only unlocked at higher speeds and/or with new ROW, such as electrification, lighter rolling stock, and much higher frequency by completely avoiding freight conflicts. The utility to speed ratio is also not linear, as there is likely a threshold speed at which day trips become realistically feasible. At 4 hours each way, it’s an overnight. At less than 2 hours, it’s a business day trip. At less than an hour, it’s a realistic commute. Exponential cost curve, exponential utility.

There is no current demand for such a high-speed service, mostly because good service has never existed to induce it. Any development of HSR is inherently speculative rather than responsive to need. But a region of 3 million people is just 150 miles away, and for the most part we ignore each other on a daily basis. If there were HSR, what level of additional integration could we expect, given the closed border? Any success would likely depend on increasing the reciprocity of labor and capital, harmonizing immigration and drug policies, and hoping for a less dysfunctional federal government.

But the idea of Vancouver just a lunch hour away, with a seamless border, and economic synergy between 7 million people? It’s tantalizing to say the least.

Part 1: Seattle to Everett
Part 2: Everett to Bellingham
Part 3: Bellingham to Vancouver
Part 4: Terminal options

78 Replies to “Seattle-Vancouver High Speed Rail Part 2: Everett to Bellingham”

  1. Will you have an article looking at the Seattle-Portland side of things? It seems pretty important to get Portland’s buy-in to make this idea at least somewhat viable.

    1. At some point we will. However this series is in response to Governor Inslee’s request for study between Seattle and Vancouver, so that is why we are focusing on that right now.

  2. If you partnered with Freight, and allowed them to run at high speed on a grade separate track. You could cover part of the cost with their investment along with selling their sea side right of way for large mansions or water front hotels. With a matched public investment you could probable come up with a large portion in not all the the money to build the gold plated line.

    1. The American freight rail market is based on cheapness, not speed. Europe puts most of its resources into fast passenger rail, so freight rail is minor and most goods ship by truck. The US does the opposite: the tracks are privately owned, and freight is more lucrative than passengers. Its selling point is not the fastest service but a race to the bottom the cheapest slow service. If you want something quickly you fly it, but for most goods that fill stores and factories you don’t need it quick, you just need a steady stream of it that never ends. Who cares if it takes three days for a container to cross the country as long as one of them started three days ago?

      So you’d first have to look at whether there’s a significant market for expensive high-speed treight in the Seattle-Vancouver corridor. And remember that most freight does not travel north-south between them: it travels east-west to Asia. The only goods that would have to transferse this are are from California to Vancouver. (Not from eastern Canada to Seattle since the border and cities are further south in the east.)

      1. Actually, the piece Europe has that we don’t is the waterway network. The 14,000 foot grain trains, coal, and probably bulk oil would spend a bunch of distance on boats rather than on trains. This means the average freight trains consist of higher priority faster goods as the slow, heavy market is already taken care of in many corridors.

      2. What? The container ships go deep into the rivers? Or they have lots of freight boats? The train article I read never mentioned that, just trains vs trucks vs planes.

      3. Mike,

        Idaho has the furthest-inland (435 miles) seaport in the western US (Lewiston). It receives barges and container ships from the Snake and Columbia rivers. It’s tiny compared to Tacoma and Seattle but still impressive.

    2. Adding freight to highspeed rail would be like trying to operate farm equipment on the same ROW as Link. It doesn’t make any sense and you loose a lot of the benefits of dedicated high-speed ROW. In addition to operational concerns, the passenger rolling stock would need to be way overbuilt to meet FRA impact regulations for mainline freight service, which would likely make the whole thing economically unfeasible (assuming it wasn’t in the first place).

      1. It makes no sense to run freight rail on a high speed rail line as we think of it today. However, there are other parts of the intercity freight market that could be tapped that currently move by other modes – truck or maybe air.

        Prior to the development of the public roads network, railroads handled a large volume of ‘less than carload’ freight that has mostly turned into ‘less than truckload’ freight. If the speed and reliability of moving this freight by HSR could offset the inefficiency of the extra handling at both ends of the trip, there could be a market.

    3. Ian, while you might run freight sharing right of way, bridges, tunnels, and substations with high speed passenger trains, freight trains inflict so much wear on rails as to ruin them for passenger service. And not only high speed.

      One thing to consider for the more stations or more speed quandary: Two separate railways, each one passenger-only on its own track. One express, one local. With transfer stations at much longer distances.

      Mark

    4. It reminds me of an article I read a few years ago, called the silver BB. The name comes from the idea that the solution to global warming is not one thing — not a silver bullet — but a series of things. In this article (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4301) the author actually points out that going really fast (e. g. 240 MPH) is not very fuel efficient. Zach has the math correct — you get diminishing returns with that extra speed — but would use a lot more electricity. So he pushes for “semi-high speed rail.

      In that section, (look for “The Second Step – Semi-High Speed Rail”) he mentions freight:

      However, if express freight demand (with refrigerated vegetables and fruit being high volume customers) is combined with passenger demand, a viable national system can be created combining passenger service at 100 to 125 mph with express freight at 90 to 100 mph on existing but upgraded ROWs. The two concepts would work synergistically, operate on existing railroad ROWs and would economically justify a widespread network. Reliable 90 to 100 mph freight service should take modal share not only from trucks, but from air freight as well, vastly expending the scope of Non-Oil Transportation.

      Makes sense to me.

  3. At the end of this series (if you are not already planning on it), it would be really interesting to hear more details about how we might collect the lowest hanging fruit and improve speeds incrementally throughout the corridor in the most realistic way possible–including what it would take to address the crazy slow buying tickets/waiting in line/boarding process that only Amtrak forces riders to endure. I know the blog has touched on aspects of these questions in years past, but it would be nice to see an updated post.

    1. Those ticketing/boarding/seating issues could be solved almost overnight by changing policies. If/when Amtrak is dissolved and WA (or a consortium of the West Coast states) takes over operations, an enlightened set of ops guidelines could be set at almost zero cost.

      As Zach indicates in this article, the truly big bucks are going to come from any upgrading/changes in routing, especially SEA-EVR and BEL-VAC.

      1. If it’s a state requirement why is King Street the only place in the state they do this?

        Frankly it’s ridiculous. Either assign seats at purchase or let it be open seating.

      2. @Jim, then they can do what they do on Southwest Airlines, and either board early, find seats that happen to go untaken, or ask people to move. It’s worked on Southwest for years; as a kid, I always enjoyed flying with them because my sister and I could each find a window seat for ourselves rather than just take whatever was given us by a centralized seat assignment system.

      3. Not everyone wants to fly Southwest.
        in part because of open seating.

        Which brings up the next part of that horrible seat assignment issue:

        What advantages would being able to assign a seat online yourself bring?
        (I’m trying to avoid the “let’s just change the software” scenario.)

      4. Amtrak California has a few 2×2 facing seats/tables on each car that are reserved for groups. Amtrak California has open seating and all trains are unreserved (except during heavy travel periods and in Business class).

      5. Sounds like a reasonable compromise Oran.

        Amtrak California also is the result of the two propositions passed back in 1990. (~$3billion)
        Amtrak stations in California have platform heights that allow all doors to open at each stop.

        Not all station in Washington state can operate that way, requiring longer station stops, and increased liability (step stool placement issues, etc)

        I would promote the idea of an ‘Amtrak Washington’ style Initiative that would increase service, and upgrade facilities. (Midday cross state service (including Yakima) anyone?)

        Plus, the idea of a small ‘seating preference’ upgrade fee, for a table for 4 sounds workable (at least to my uninformed mind).

        (by the way, the San Joaquin service is still reserved seating)

      6. I also thoroughly approve of Oran’s compromise. The people who want reserved seating can have it; everyone else can arrive a few minutes early without having to stand through the seat assignment process before boarding.

    2. I agree, Guest. I would also add the border crossing as one big issue. That should actually be a benefit to taking the train. The bomb sniffing should occur in the station, while looking for contraband and checking passports should occur while the train is in motion.

      I wonder how much time we could save by skipping Stanwood and Mount Vernon? It also seems to me that the obvious connection point in the south is Lynnwood. I doubt very much if you are going to get much in the way of time savings by connecting to downtown, and the cost would be huge. It is always ideal to connect right into the heart of the city, but unlike a lot of cities, we don’t have an existing straight shot rail line to leverage.

  4. This also nicely illustrates why liters per hundred kilometers (or gallons per hundred miles) is the superior measurement.

  5. The focus should definitely be on making the slow parts less slow, and it doesn’t even take 125 mph track to make a big difference. Simply replacing 5 mph track with 50 mph track would make a big difference, in and of itself. I’ve ridden the train between Seattle and Bellingham before, and the slowest sections are actually flat and straight (the drawbridge north of Everett and a stretch of Chuckanut valley). The curves through Chuckanut Mountain are around 35 mph, which seems fast, by comparison.

    1. The excruciating crawl from the border to Vancouver is the worst part of the entire trip from Seattle to Vancouver. It easily doubles the length of the trip. BC has refused to invest in that track for decades, what makes us think they’ll have anything to do with HSR?

      1. That’s the problem with these tech executives with their head in the clouds. Washington has been talking about some form of high-speed rail for decades now and has been making incremental improvements to Cascades, while BC has done nothing. Inslee must surely know that the only way to get HSR going is to kick up the existing planning to high gear and increase it, and for BC and Oregon to do the same, not to believe that some magic new railway will suddenly take hold because tech companies suddenly had a vision of six-figure staff travelling all the time.

  6. It’s a little hard to imagine HS rail blasting right through developed neighborhoods in north Seattle and Snohomish county suburbs. Or along an interstate freeway corridor just yards from motor vehicle traffic. Any precedent out there for either configuration? The HS rail images usually show it crossing open farmland.

    1. First we need to decide what we want, then see how feasable it is. At this point we’re still deciding what we want. If we exclude options without studying them, we lose opportunities that might have been feasible.

    2. 125 mph really isn’t high speed. It’s standard speed on a number of Europe’s main lines. It’s also what you will find in some very dense areas along Amtrak’s northeast corridor.

      The noise really isn’t anywhere near as bad as, say, a freeway.

  7. Do your time estimates include or exclude the two stops in Stanwood and Mount Vernon?

    Simply being able to skip those stops on express runs and being able to mainain near 79mph while going through those cities would be a major time savings without needing to replace the vast majority of the track between Marysville and the Chuckanut mountains.

    1. Exclude. I was assuming stops only in Everett and Bellingham for the sake of simplicity.

      1. You used 45mph for that segment in the example that invests in the slow portion, yet you initially state that Cascades today achieves 55mph on average in that corridor. Obviously the 79mph isn’t achievable on average when sharing the tracks, but it still seems odd to me that you dropped it by 10mph off the average for today’s current passenger rail on that corridor.

        If you use 55mph instead of 45mph, you end up with around 66-67 minutes instead of 81. Did I miss something?

      2. If the speeds in the chart are average speeds then the infrastructure actually needs to be built to a higher top speed to account for time spent stopping at stations.

      3. Oh oops, that was accounted for. Related to that is the time and distance required to accelerate and brake for stops means you wouldn’t necessary need to build high-speed track near the stations themselves (unless you plan on skipping them). That’s about 3 miles of lower speed track on each end of a station.

      4. Mount Vernon is a stretch, Stanwood is definitely overkill. Even Bellingham is questionable (but worth it, in my opinion). The distance from Seattle to Vancouver is just right for high speed rail. Any closer and the speed improvements don’t matter (and folks will just drive). Any farther, and taking a plane makes more sense.

        There just aren’t that many people in Mount Vernon or Stanwood (or Burlington, Sedro-Woolley) Those people could transfer from Everett or Bellingham (via a bus or slower train). Bellingham makes sense mainly because it is a midpoint destination, and because it has enough people to justify a stop. Even then, it is a very small compared to the number of people in Seattle and Vancouver.

    2. This gets into the local shadow issue which we haven’t discussed. Would this replace Cascades or supplement it? RapidRide E replaced the 358 but Swift supplements the 101. If HSR doesn’t stop at Stanwood and Mt Vernon, would Cascades still be useful? Could Cascade runs fill in the schedule if HSR runs only a couple times a day, as Greyhound does with its express/local runs? Or looking more specifically at Mt Vernon, isn’t what it really needs is simple all-day connector buses to Everett and Bellingham? If you can take an hourly bus for half an hour from a small town to HSR, isn’t that enough?

      1. Maybe. We don’t know what the politics will be because the legislature and public haven’t considered it yet. There is the factor with every small town wanting a station. That led to the dubious Stanwood and Tukwila stations. (Tuukwila should have been Auburn or Kent for the southern suburbs.) At the same time it’s what keeps Amtrak alive, those congressional constituents in small towns not wanting to lose their last bit of public transit.

        If HSR has the potential for more than two runs per day, then it raises the question of why not replace all Cascades with HSR, especially if it’s expensive to keep running a separate local system. I don’t know the answer to that, and we won’t know it until there’s a schedule outline and cost estimates for the alternatives. And we can’t make those until we know which HSR alignment is favored, because that affects which Cascades markets it could replace. If it goes down 405 bypassing Seattle, then Cascades may be more important because it’s not serving many Cascades areas.

      2. I agree that running buses would make the most sense, but it depends a lot on the track. If you replace the existing track — or just run on it — then you create issues with a local. If the line is completely new, then you would just skip the stations, in which case you can continue to run the existing train line. This is very common in Europe (where you have the choice of a high speed line or something cheaper, but slower).

        To me, buses are fine. Not only do you get into the issue of simply serving very few people, but you also have a situation where the distance isn’t right for high speed rail. Mount Vernon to Bellingham is about 35 miles, so you save around 15 minutes if you are running at 120 MPH. That is nice, but not likely to be a game changer. Added frequency as you suggest (hourly buses, for example) would probably make a bigger difference.

        Big differences in speed only matter if you are going big distances. Vancouver to Seattle is definitely enough. It is roughly 140 miles. 120 MPH versus 60 MPH saves over an hour. Bellingham, on the other hand, is right on the edge. You can save about a half hour, but a lot of people would still drive. You still have to deal with getting downtown, and all the hassle. I would still include it — it seems far enough to warrant this sort of service — but Mount Vernon just isn’t worth it.

      3. I agree that Stanwood is probably too small to get a HSR station, but there’s definitely value in making stops at cities along the line, rather than only having express trains from Seattle to Vancouver with no stops in between. That’s one of the important selling points of HSR vs planes, is that you can drive economic development in cities along the route. California’s HSR plan makes this case really strongly, arguing that it will connect struggling cities like Bakersfield and Fresno (where unemployment is very high) to the economic engines of SF and LA. And here’s an old blog post which talks about how HSR in Spain has revitalized a lot of smaller cities along the AVE routes: http://cahsr.blogspot.com/2009/04/how-ave-is-changing-spain.html

        Sure, I’m not saying that Mt. Vernon is the same as Fresno! But I’d argue that the benefits of stopping there outweigh the costs.

  8. Forget Everett. I think the alignment should head towards Woodinville and the town of Snohomish, following route 9, before going north into Bellingham.

    1. If the line goes to Bellevue rather than Seattle, fo’sure.

      Either way, I don’t think “Everett station” needs to be the location of an Everett station – I think this was discussed at length in the last post: both Everett (and Bellingham) can be served with a more suburban station location, with a local HCT connection to the urban core.

      For example, if the HSR roughly follows SR9 rather than I5, a future Link line could extend from Everett station to connect to this suburban HSR station (which would more closely resemble an airport, rather than an urban train station)

      An urban station is preferable because of the place-making and TOD potential, but I’m OK with a suburban station if the difference in cost is >$5B.

      1. Highway 9 is about just under 10 minutes in no traffic via car from 20th St SE, Highway 2, to Everett Station. Seems like a pretty easy compromise given how easily that could be served by BRT or local buses with minimal delay in most cases.

    2. Seattle needs HCT from its central station. Everett doesn’t necessarily need HCT, just a frequent bus. We can expect fifty or a hundred people to join each train in Seattle, but in Everett we can expect ten or twenty people.

      1. I’m assuming that if we build new HCT ROW between Everett and Seattle, it will do double duty as commuter rail (perhaps not at HCT speeds)

      2. Those citizens and taxpayers in Everett and Bellingham might disagree…
        Much Politics will go into theses decisions as has happened with ST.

      3. The citizens and taxpayers in Everett and Bellingham aren’t that numerous. They take trains less than people in Seattle and Vancouver do, and there aren’t as many tourists (=additional train passengers) in those cities. But you’re right, the ultimate politics and their issues and weights has not nearly been articulated yet. At this point we’re mainly looking at the issues that affect transit riders (those who take transit regularly), and that’s also what we know most about. The politicians and community activists will voice what non-riders care about (those who take only HSR, or a bus to HSR, or peak-commute transit, or none of these).

      4. Remember, Mike, that, like LINK ridership when UW Station opened, when our high speed line gets built it’ll quickly be carrying more passengers.

        From window of LINK between Tukwila and Rainier Beach, I see may drivers looking back and wishing they could ride similar rail. So to me, we’ve already got ridership. It’s just in the wrong lanes.

        But also, within our lifetimes, very likely the whole coast from border to border could become a serious transit corridor as people continue to spread their residences up and down the line.

        Exactly as has been happening these last three years, making I-5 undriveable for longer periods each day. Rail’s main failure to attract passengers is result of its own failure to exist. Right now.

        Which is far and away the leading example of why freeways attract so many people that none of them can move.

        Mark

  9. This series keeps getting better and better. It’ll be one for the reference books for decades, and the state should pay attention because it overviews the issues as well as a state report could.

    The conclusions are also spot on:

    “the diminishing returns at higher speed increments”

    That’s what the state’s study a decade ago said. Each quantum level of 79 to 90 mph, 110 mph, 125 mph, and further would cost increasingly more with diminishing returns, because higher speeds require higher quality tracks and trains and inspections. At the time the state judged 110 mph the sweet spot, and said it would incrementally improve Cascades to 90 mph, then 110. That has been progressing more or less depending on the changing interest of the legislature.

    “At 4 hours each way, it’s an overnight. At less than 2 hours, it’s a business day trip. At less than an hour, it’s a realistic commute.”

    Yes, although people do use the current service for day trips. Part of the reason that’s unpopular is that the arrival time is so unreliable: you should clear customs by noon but sometimes with train delays and customs delays you’re not out until 1 or 1:30, and then you have only four hours before you have to get back at the station.

    “There is no current demand for such a high-speed service, mostly because good service has never existed to induce it.”

    YES! People say there’s not much ridership for all-day regional rail, but the freeways say the opposite. If you tell people the freeway entrances will open once an hour and they won’t open at all after 7pm or on Sundays, people will think you’re insane and point to the cars that are using it 24 hours. But in the case of transit people think that the lack of it means there’s little potential ridership. That’s not what happens in Europe or the northeast! It’s not what happens in the freeways or airports. We need to focus on saturating the market and finding its natural limit, not on excluding services because we assume without evidence that nobody will use them. The evidence is in the cities that have them. We don’t have examples here because we’ve never had that level of service, not in our generation or our parents or grandparents. Many people who visit other places somehow have a psychological block that what works in Amsterdam or New York can’t work here, even though it would have if we’d kept our infrastructure from the 1930s and improved it (and built the Bogue subway in 1912) like they did.

    1. Yes, I agree. As much as I think a Vancouver trip taking an hour would be fantastic — and perhaps the sort of thing we should have build as part of a financial stimulus during the recession — it is very expensive. From a cost-benefit standpoint, it is hard to justify.

      I think an incremental approach makes the most sense, and that may be what the governor has in mind. For example, the border issue has to be dealt with. This is not the right administration to deal with it (obviously) but ultimately, a border crossing shouldn’t involve a delay. Taking a train should be more reliable, not less. Other issues should be dealt with the same way — addressing the slowest issues first.

      I think the trickiest part in the long run is how much you want to spend improving the last (few) miles, as opposed to simply asking people to transfer to the subway. But until you get to the point where spending extra money on the urban sections (e. g. Seattle to Everett) then it doesn’t matter.

  10. What would the impact of 240 mph trains on farmland be? On I-5 in California farms come right up to the freeway with a frontage road, and in Sacramento where the freeway is elevated in flood zones the farms continue under it. There’s clearly noise impacts for the workers and wildlife, and pollution from cars. But electric trains would not pollute, and their motors are quieter, even if 240 mph friction would still be loud. So is it really necessary to take out whole farms, or simply build a 100-foot right of way through them with appropriate underpasses?

      1. Probably time to interview some cows. I think they’ll get used to the presence of trains a lot faster than a log of politicians will get used to their whole existence.

        One caution for construction crews, however. Cows are extremely curious, and I’ve seen one eat the packing paper out of an empty dynamite box.

        Mark

  11. The $40 billion, 50-minute, gold plated version sounds ridiculous, but it is only a capital investment of $5,700 per person if 7 million people are served. Washington & BC could easily bond this out with minor tax increases if there was strong political support. Less lavish capital improvements are even more affordable.

  12. I think the suburban terminals needs more discussion, as that’s the best way to build new ROW at a lower cost. I assume you’ll dive into that in part 4?

  13. Where will we find $28 Billion to get an inland rail route which if we want to keep Sounder North & Amtrak Cascades (which cancelled on me last night w/o a replacement coach so I had to use an Airporter to get home)? Because I’d support that.

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