Governor Inslee and Premier Clark at the Cascadia Conference in September 2016 (Microsoft Photo)

WSDOT has posted some new information about the high speed rail study funded by the legislature this session to the tune of $300,000. The final report is due on December 15, just three months from now.  Five “conceptual corridors” will be studied between Vancouver and Portland. The team of consultants is led by CH2M and includes EnviroIssues, AECOM and Deutsche Bahn International Engineering Consulting.  WSDOT’s site dryly notes that “Hyperloop technology also will be reviewed, but it currently lacks complete data needed for a full comparison.”

As part of the effort the agency has also unearthed a 28-page 1992 feasibility study. Read it and weep at the notion of HSR between Vancouver, Portland, Seattle and Spokane up and running by 2020.  Spoiler alert: the challenges to HSR in the region are not primarily technical in nature.

If you want to know more about the tradeoffs between various alignments between Vancouver and Seattle, check out our 4-part series on the subject.

65 Replies to “High-Speed Rail Study Underway”

    1. According to twitter, WSDOT’s page is the issue. They’re having technical issues that should resolve soon.

  1. I managed to look at the webpage yesterday, but forgot to save an archived copy to the WaybackMachine.

    Anyway, the “concepts” were mostly about choosing which stations were to appear on the line. It’s odd that most of them included new outlying stations for Seattle, Everett, and Portland, possibly due to the track geometries involved in order to serve their existing Amtrak stations. The Everett station in Delta yard (northeast of downtown and pretty much inaccessible by transit) would be terrible and hard to develop around. I do like the idea of a Downtown Seattle HSR terminus, but there’s a missed opportunity in not using the HSR as an excuse to properly build up the King Street-Union-Chinatown complex (though it would require a lot of expensive engineering). Imagine being able to transfer underground between Sounder, HSR, and Link all in a single complex (just like how most HSR hubs operate around the world).

    1. That is what lazy engineering looks like and will tank this project.

      You know WSDOT is getting serious about this project when Seattle / Vancouver and Portland are served by a HSR station downtown.

      1. It must save a lot of money, otherwise I can’t imagine the point. If you’re talking about a theoretical multibillion (trillion?) dollar piece of international infrastructure why would you cut corners on something as critical as station location?

      2. @Igor — What gave you the idea that they would skip downtown Seattle, Vancouver or Portland? The majority of the studies will be looking at stations downtown, in each big city. Here are the stations for each big city:

        Seattle station (new station in downtown Seattle) — 4 proposals
        Tukwila (Amtrak and Sound Transit) Station — 1 proposal

        Pacific Central Station — 3 proposals
        Vancouver International Airport — 1 proposal
        King George Station – Surrey, BC — 1 proposal

        Rose Quarter Station (TriMet Max station) — 3 proposals
        Expo Center (MAX) Station — 1 proposal
        Portland International Airport — 1 proposal

      3. Because some lines are designed that way, with a station in the outskirts of a large city instead of downtown. This may be an attempt to study that. At any rate, don’t assume downtown stations are implicit because maybe they aren’t. The scenario says three stations, and the implication of the document is that it only stops there. Of course, these are just conceptual corridors, not a concrete proposal for an alignment, so there’s no need to panic yet.

      4. @Mike — You are being generous. Only one proposal skips downtown Seattle. My guess is he didn’t wait until the document was available, misinterpreted what Bruce said, and assumed that WSDOT wanted to skip downtown Seattle. It sure doesn’t look that way to me, with 80% of the proposals including downtown Seattle.

      5. “He” who? I’m going by the document, not by what Frank said or somebody else said. And it looks to me like that alternative skips downtown Seattle, that it purposely skips all three downtowns to be a comparison, and it’s testing the theory that stations in the outskirts are better (presumably because land acquisition and capital costs are cheaper, and maybe to be closer the center of the population which is majority suburban).

      6. He = Igor, the person I replied to.

        You aren’t the one that said “That is what lazy engineering looks like and will tank this project.” because I doubt you would say that about a project that happened to focus mainly on serving the downtown areas of each city, but also included one study of a suburban alternative.

      7. Oh, now I understand what you’re referring to. Right, these alternatives show a mainly city-focused attitude, with Seattle, Everett, and Vancouver stations either downtown or in an adjacent area that’s considered “close”. The suburban-station alternative and the YVR alternative are clearly just contrasts, to compare the majority approach to a couple other approaches. That’s not being lazy or clueless; that’s being thorough. Especially because this is an ALTERNATIVES STUDY, not an alignment proposal.

    2. >> The Everett station in Delta yard (northeast of downtown and pretty much inaccessible by transit) would be terrible and hard to develop around.

      Delta Yard looks like only a few feet from 11th — It seems very easy to serve with transit. Just run a bus on Marine View Drive and make a little detour on 11th. The 4 runs right on Marine View right now. Even if the bus didn’t make a turn, it is not very far to get to the train tracks from Marine View Drive.

      As far as density goes, it is one of the more densely populated parts of Everett ( You also have the college nearby, which is likely to become a major destination in the future, and the center of development for Everett (just as the UW spurred development in Seattle). I’m not saying it is an ideal location, but considering that Everett is a very minor city in the grand scheme of things, they could do a lot worse. If there are substantial savings to be made by choosing this location over the other, I think it is a good choice.

      1. Given the time scale of this project, if the Everett HSR station is decided to be at Delta yards, it should be pretty straightforward to simply extend Link north from Everett station.

        OTOH, if it’s not going to be in the downtown core, or at least not an area that an become I’d almost rather have it in a true suburban location where there is room for re-development & new transportation infrastructure (rail & road)

        Keep in mind that the Everett station is intended to server basically all of Snohomish, not simply a walkshed like a Link station. These station are closer to airports than light rail station when it comes to station access design & capacity.

        IMO, the current residential density immediately surrounding a prospective station is almost irrelevant to HSR station placement – I’d rather see empty lots than can be built up than dense, low rise residential that will be change adverse.

      2. if it’s not going to be in the downtown core, or at least not an area that an become I’d almost rather have it in a true suburban location where there is room for re-development & new transportation infrastructure (rail & road).

        I’d rather see empty lots than can be built up than dense, low rise residential that will be change adverse.

        As I said, this is the downtown core. Or at least it will be, assuming growth in the area. It is less than 2 miles from the center of town. It is between the university and the center of downtown. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a place in Seattle that is roughly between the university and the center of downtown and has seen substantial growth? Why, yes there is — it is called South Lake Union. SLU has grown faster and is now extremely urban, and the train had nothing to do with it. Compare that to Tukwila, and it is pretty striking. The area surrounding TIBS is extremely low density — less than 5,000 people per square mile — despite Link. No one is interested in converting the parking lots to apartment buildings, despite plenty of room for “re-development”.

        That is the type of station this would become if it was built in the suburbs. You might have an apartment here or there, but mostly you would have big parking lots. Besides — so what if you do have a handful of six story buildings surrounding the station? That hardly means that it is good from a transit perspective or a planet perspective. Just about everyone will drive, because you don’t have the surrounding density to generate proper transit or sufficient amenities within walking distance. It is a recipe for sprawl and heavy automobile use.

        No, put the Everett Station in Everett. If any place north of Lynnwood grows and becomes an urban center, it will be here (whether the train serves it or not).

      3. @AJ — Oh, and what about the other stations? The Tacoma Station is not downtown. Neither is the Bellingham Station. Yet they aren’t in the suburbs, either. Oh, the horror.

        I guess the only station outside of the three big cities you like is the one in Lacey. Finally we’ll be able to get rid of those stupid farms, and start paving them over. I’m sure it will look like Manhattan in no time.

      4. Lacey is probably a concession to the condition of the Olympia right of way, the same way a Sounder Lacey station would be less expensive than a downtown Olympia station. Apparently the legacy branch track has been neglected and deteriorated so much that houses are being built next to it as if no future train will ever be there again, and the ROW may not go all the way through anymore. Plus I guess Lacey is straighter in-line and close enough for a small city. (Is the distance like Seattle to Bellevue?)

      5. @Mike — I agree. My guess is Lacey is cheaper than Olympia, and close enough. What I’m saying is that it is ridiculous to think that it is somehow better than a station like the one they are proposing in Everett, because they have a “clean slate” there (unlike Everett, which has pesky things like apartments and universities to deal with).

      6. Ross – I’m just staying that if the station isn’t going to be a true urban station, I’d rather it been in a brownfield type location (think SLU before the boom, or Bel-Red). The best option is still a true urban station (i.e something closer to Westlake than King Street), if it can be done without being prohibitively expensive.

        I actually think Tacoma Dome is an excellent location – it’s not in the downtown so there’s enough (cheap) space to build the station, but close enough that it’s a reasonable transfer to the CBD.

        For Everett & Bellingham, I think the proposed locations are mediocre – neither urban nor suburban enough. A quick google maps look tells me your comparison between the area around Delta yard and SLU is laughable. And the Bellingham station is definitely in the suburbs – putting a station in Fairhaven is like serving Seattle with a station in Ballard. Just because you are in the city limits doesn’t mean you are actually in the “city”

        I know nothing about Lacey.

      7. A quick google maps look tells me your comparison between the area around Delta yard and SLU is laughable.

        Oh really? Do you happen to remember what South Lake Union looked like thirty years ago? I do, and it looked more or less like that part of Everett.

        Of course I’m not saying that anywhere in Everett will look like South Lake Union. But anywhere in Everett will be more urban than anywhere north of there, because it is, well, more urban to begin with. Again, I point out the fact that what you are suggesting just doesn’t happen. Build a train station in the middle of nowhere, and it doesn’t suddenly become Hong Kong. It becomes like TIBS — only with fewer apartments.

        The main reason that South Lake Union exploded is because it sits right in between the UW and downtown. Of course it exploded. You don’t have to be Richard Florida to know that major universities drive economic progress in the 21st century. Buy some land between one of the great universities in the world and a thriving downtown (and not that far from either) and you can expect to be wealthy in no time. As it turns out, Paul Allen was wealthy to begin with, but he sure isn’t stupid.

        Which, again, is not to suggest that Everett College is the same as the UW. Nothing in Everett is as big as Seattle. Everything is a smaller version of the same dynamic though. Downtown Everett is doing just fine, and the college happens to now offer four year degrees from WSU. Eventually that leads to growth, and a new, more urban environment. Way more than a train station.

        Oh, and I find it interesting that you think Ballard isn’t actually in the “city”. Fairhaven is not Ballard, but neither is downtown Bellingham. Fairhaven is simply another neighborhood in what is a very small (but growing) city. Yet it has density as high as any in Whatcom County, because — if you have ever been there — you know that is actually, in the “city”.

        I know nothing about Lacey.

        Yet that is your model of development. Enjoy!

      8. I still sharply disagree. SLU was primarily industrial land. The land between Everett college and the Delta switchyard is residential, mostly SF homes. That’s the specific difference I’m trying to highlight.

        SLU boomed because it was the only way for the CBD to grow. Downtown Seattle is blocked by water on the west, industrial zoning to the south, and residential neighborhoods to the east and northwest. The Delta yard is hemmed in by residential neighborhoods or the actual delta on all sides – it doesn’t have anywhere to grow.

        Ballard and Fairhaven are both excellent urban neighborhoods & undoubtedly merit excellent transit service. They are both rather small & difficult to get to within their region, which make them poor options for HSR.

      1. Sure it is, but so what? This is an inter-city network, not a subway line. If it happens to be a few blocks away from the center of town, so be it. As it is, King Street Station is not really at the heart of downtown, but I think would be an adequate station. I think anything within the fairly broad definition that Google gives for “Downtown Seattle” ( would be fine, and many locations (e. g. Westlake Center) would be better than King Street.

      2. The point ism, will it be near King Street Station on industrial land? Or knock down multiple office towers? Or be completely underground? It says “downtown” so I assume that doesn’t mean further south than Stadium station or they should have said SODO.

      3. I’m assuming the stopping distance and track turns and train length would be too large to use King Street Station directly, plus it still has other trains and not a lot of tracks. That’s how it’s been described in the past: “It would have to be down in SODO or the Industrial District or Tukwila.”

      4. will it be near King Street Station on industrial land? Or knock down multiple office towers? Or be completely underground?

        I assume that is what they are going to study.

        It says “downtown” so I assume that doesn’t mean further south than Stadium station or they should have said SODO.

        I agree. If they meant basically “someplace in Seattle”, than I think that is what they would have said (instead of “downtown”). That being said, if a new station in downtown turns out to be extremely expensive, than my guess is they will mention something south of downtown as being a cheaper option.

  2. It will help a lot when we know some railroad-building facts. What’s maximum grade a train can pull? What’s minimum curve radius? How long to reach top speed? Same for station stop.

    Careful about SODO Station. Sits on same dirt-filled lagoon as King Street Station. Think about Jackson as beach front. Deep enough tunneling could be the easiest way to build a lot of this line, though not all of it.

    In amount of time it’ll take before earliest design engineering starts, there’ll probably be some advancements that’ll solve a lot of our problems. Likewise, considering freeway conditions between Downtown Seattle and Redmond, next couple of decades LINK to Redmond could still be faster than Wallingford to King Street Station.

    But among us transit professionals, for the real world facts- the one with all the rocks, dirt, mud, and earthquake faults, its best we get savvy early.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Freights have a practical maximum gradient of 1.5% though a few mainline grades reach 2%. HSR generally tries to stay at or below 4%.

  3. Maybe BC could start funding even a modicum of improvement to the current situation. After crossing the border the train crawls at an excruciating pace. It’s the worst part of the entire trip and as far as I know, BC has given essentially zero effort into improving Cascades since the beginning. Canadian federal government is even worse given how securing a single shift of border agents was like pulling teeth.

    Until they prove they’re interested in improving Cascades I’m going to assume this is a display of showboating. Oregon and Washington should focus their efforts on Portland to Seattle.

    1. The question will be whether BC gets more enthusiastic about funding HSR than it ever was about Cascades. Governments do that sometimes, and telling them they should invest in Cascades doesn’t change anything.

  4. Any useful comparisons with the Interstate highway program- much of which, incidentally, is reaching the end of its designed working life? Politically (thankfully) wouldn’t take anything as a long-term given.

    Governing generation is aging out. Not only geriatrics, but much more important, in its ideas about anything important on the grand scale. Major example? As a class, Employers are thing of the past, exactly like with royalty. An Earl (not a Gary Larson bear named that) used to command troops. Now, we might as well have His Lordship the Fifth High Employer of Upper Saxony, for length of anybody’s desired payroll.

    Sixty years ago, I don’t think Canada yet shared any of our freeway system. And had hardly any economic contact with Asia at all. Look at the demographic of British Columbia now. and its relevance to the economy of the province and the nation. A couple of Seattle mayoral candidates need to be careful about ascribing real estate problems to people of Chinese extraction.

    Not only racist, but bad reading of the balance sheet. A Sikh friend of mine with a both a fine food-court cafe in Freighthouse Square and a restaurant in Olympia also tells me that Canada is becoming the new Punjab. Original is in Northern India. Which is a good thing, and not only for food, which now for the first time in history finally has actual flavor.

    This part of India, and its people, are known for skill with heavy machinery. In Africa, like for Canadian trucking on I-5, driver will often have a beard and a turban. Same with steam locomotives in Tanzania. Officers in a lot of Commonwealth armies. And new Canadian Minister of Defense.

    So for High Speed Rail and all similar, best thing probably to concentrate on what we want to build and start figuring about how. Also, keep working plans as flexible as possible, making every phase, however long its last, serve the ongoing project. And keep in mind that a new railroad era will provide exactly the kind of jobs our economy has been dying for the lack of for last forty years.


  5. It’s too bad that none of the alternatives involve a station at the ninth busiest airport in the US at SeaTac — yet the study will look at Vancouver International Airport (which has about the same number of passengers). While it would be more difficult to serve SeaTac Airport, it would probably be less problematic than serving Vancouver’s.

    At least most options are connecting to Link to both the north and south.

    1. Depending on the alignment, SeaTac could be well served with a HSR station in the vicinity of the future BAR station or the current Tukwilla Sounder station. For Tukwilla, you would transfer to SeaTac using a future Burien-Renton Link line (presumably a part of a West Seattle-Burien line), or there could simply be a shuttle bus.

      The Tukwilla station actually works great as a “suburban” HSR station to serve South King, in addition to the urban station in Seattle.

      1. It would be so cool if Cascades was able to codeshare with Alaska Airlines. Buy a ticket from Mount Vernon to JFK including a train to SeaTac as part of the entire package. Many European flag carriers do this.

    2. The segment between Seattle and Tacoma should probably be new track since the existing corridor is more out-of-direction and quite busy.

      With that in mind, the 509 corridor would be an easy HRS path between Downtown Seattle and Burien. I’m not sure if the I-5 corridor can handle both Link and HSR below 509. I’m also not sure how a SeaTac Airport Terminal connection would best work. Because the area is already established with a multi-day paid parking marketplace as well as thousands of nearby hotel rooms, it should be in at least one alternative in this study.

      Maybe the south-of-Seattle stops should be SeaTac and Olympia in one alternative? South King has more density than Pierce does and it’s population seems to be not far below Pierce’s. The 405 BRT ends about there. Link can easily connect with Tacoma. To treat Downtown Tacoma as so important in most alternatives while ignoring SeaTac Airport seems silly.

    3. I’m curious why the YVR alternative was added. Do they think air+train travel is a major market opportunity for the airport and is more important than other Vancouver transit markets? Is there simply convenient existing ROW? Is it shorter than some other alternative? Are they counting on Skytrain to get everybody from other parts of Vancouver?

      It’s interesting that the 1992 study left out Tacoma while alternative 2 of the new study leaves out Everett. Tacoma and Everett may have something to say about that. Was Tacoma really so insignificant and written-off then that they thought Seatte-Olympia were better stations than Seattle-Tacoma? Or was it state government bias that prioritized an Olympia station?

      So how do people feel about catching HSR in Tukwila? It sounds like a pretty dead concrete-and-asphalt unwalkable depressing kind of place. Although Tukwila says there will be a pedestrian bridge from the Sounder station to the Baker Street mixed-used area near the mall and the walk will be only 10 minutes. I don’t know how they get it down to 10 minutes but that’s what they say.

      Last week I linked to a video about how in China the whole country is walkable, medium and large cities have multiple frequent transit options right at the airports and train stations, and even small towns and rural areas have walkways to everywhere somebody might want to go and reasonably-scaled distances.

      1. As far as including Tacoma with proposal 2, I see several reasons:

        1) It is much bigger than Everett (or Bellingham or Lacey).

        2) It is also much more densely populated (although that isn’t saying much — Everett is surprisingly low density).

        3) Tacoma to Seattle high speed rail could be very popular. Right now Tacoma suffers from tough geography. The train follows a path that adds a lot of miles, thus making a Sounder Trip from Seattle to Tacoma take about an hour. Link won’t help, and as long as WSDOT can’t figure out how to change “HOV 2” to “HOV 3”, the buses will be stuck in traffic. A high speed train between the two cities could save a lot of time.

        In contrast, Link plus express buses could do a decent job of serving Everett. From downtown to downtown should take about 45 minutes. While a station in the north part of Everett would be most welcome, those at the south end wouldn’t use it, which would cut into ridership. In the case of Tacoma, all forms of transit use the Tacoma Dome, so if there were a faster way to get from there to Seattle, it would likely be popular.

        4) With Tacoma, the plan is to use the existing station. With Everett, the plan would be to add a new station. That has to cost a lot more money.

        5) I’m guessing the Everett Station (along with the other ones) could be added later. The same is true for Tacoma, but since you are basically using the same station, you might as well add it now. There is also infrastructural support for the existing stations (the buses and other trains already serve it) whereas with Everett, you would need to add that.

      2. Yes, the Vancouver Airport station alternative is more systemically illogical, but I could see it being included for political reasons. BC is probably thinking that it would improve the airport’s competitiveness.

        The reason that it is more illogical is that the line mainly is a US line. Very little travel within Canada would occur. With the hassles of a border crossing and customs, most US travelers will want to stay within the US and that’s most of the West Coast airline travel. Who would pay for the double-customs hassle to fly into Vancouver from Chicago or NYC to get to Seattle or even Marysville or Everett, likely at a higher fare? Probably no one.

        Still, it should rattle the interest of the WSDOT people because SeaTac Airport needs to be more prominent in these HSR studies.

    4. @Al — In general, airports don’t make good destinations. The northeast corridor (the most popular in the country) for the most part doesn’t serve the airports. An exception is Newark Airport. However, the express skips that station. So if you want to go from Boston to Philadelphia on the train, you will stop at Providence, New London, Bridgeport, Stamford, New York and Newark along the way, but you won’t stop at an airport. It just isn’t that popular a destination.

      The whole point of this is to connect together big cities, not provide another way to get from SeaTac to downtown Seattle (Link does that well). Folks could fly from New York to Portland, then take the train to Seattle, but I think they will just fly to Seattle.

      The only reason they are considering the Tukwila Station is because it is cheap. My guess it would be really cheap. Of course it would be better if it served SeaTac instead, but my guess is that wold add substantially to the cost.

      That being said, in my opinion, option 4 is dead on arrival. Even if it was at SeaTac, it just won’t work for trips to the north. It would add a half hour, and you would start your trip in the wrong direction. Psychologically, that is a tough thing to do. Even from a practical standpoint, it would probably cost you an extra five minutes. You would also be extremely close to the airport — a competitive mode. At a minimum you would need suburban stations at both ends (e. g. Northgate and Boeing Access Road Station).

      1. The advantage of an airport station is you can share the airport infrastructure – rental cars, long term parking, cell phone lots, etc.

        However, I don’t think SeaTac is well positioned geographically to be “on the way”. YVR and PDX might be different, but I have no idea.

      2. Ross, we aren’t the East Coast! We aren’t Europe either! Unlike those places, where rail is competitive for connecting to many major cities for appointments (as opposed to air travel), we have two — Vancouver and Portland. Further, we don’t have an EU-style arrangement with Canada, so doing business in Vancouver isn’t popular and it isn’t intertwined anywhere as strong as it is between Philadelphia and Washington DC, or NYC and Baltimore, or Paris and Lyon, or Madrid and Barcelona. if Seattle-Vancouver was a much higher demand trip, there would already be lots more intercity bus services connecting the two cities.

        Simply put, to make HSR viable in Western Washington (both financially and politically through a funding referendum), I think we’re going to have to have to propose an operation that will serve more travel markets than just from one big city center to another big city center.

        Further, I think that a more significant percentage of HSR riders would want to integrate with the air travel market at SeaTac than one would find with East Coast or European airports. If I lived in Bellingham, I would take a direct HSR to SeaTac every time I flew somewhere; if I had to change to Link in Downtown Seattle and carry my bags onto a crowded Link light rail train, I probably wouldn’t want to do it.

        Finally, I’ll note that the East Coast airport examples are not very good air-to-rail comparison anyway. JFK and LaGuardia are a major hassle to reach by any rail system, and Baltimore’s and Philadephia’s rail connections really aren’t that great in terms of going anywhere but to their downtowns. Baltimore’s is probably the best, and even then a shuttle bus has to take someone between the airport terminal and the rail station. If Acela or even their longer commuter trains stopped inside those airport terminals, their popularity would skyrocket more!

      3. We aren’t the East Coast! We aren’t Europe either! Unlike those places, where rail is competitive for connecting to many major cities for appointments (as opposed to air travel), we have two — Vancouver and Portland …

        Yes, which are the cities being served, and the whole reason this is being built.

        Finally, I’ll note that the East Coast airport examples are not very good air-to-rail comparison anyway. JFK and LaGuardia are a major hassle to reach by any rail system, and Baltimore’s and Philadephia’s rail connections really aren’t that great in terms of going anywhere but to their downtowns.

        Exactly — because air to rail travel isn’t that important! There is a reason why those cities haven’t spend the money making those trips better — they have higher priorities. Again, despite having a station right there, you can’t get from Boston to Newark airport unless you have a layover in New York. Look at all those minor cities that are served, but they skip Newark airport, because people just don’t do that. They don’t take a flight into Newark, and then ride the train to Boston. They just fly to Boston.

        If I lived in Bellingham, I would take a direct HSR to SeaTac every time I flew somewhere …

        Good heaven’s why? If I’m headed to Portland, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Phoenix or San Diego I’ll just fly directly there. If I’m flying somewhere else, I’ll start with a plane trip to one of those cites (or SeaTac) and then on to my final destination. Why would I take a train from a small city to a big city airport and go through a much more congested security process (along with what is likely to be a tricky transfer)? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to fly out of Bellingham?

        Besides, who cares? Bellingham (and Everett and Lacey) are all small potatoes. They are being considered because they are on the way, and for political reasons (as you mentioned).

        Simply put, to make HSR viable in Western Washington (both financially and politically through a funding referendum), I think we’re going to have to have to propose an operation that will serve more travel markets than just from one big city center to another big city center.

        Then it won’t be viable. This whole idea is based on the distance (and size) of the three cities. The distance is right, and size (while not ideal) may be just big enough. There simply aren’t going to be very many people who are interested in flying to one of the three cities, and then taking a train to the other city. They will just fly to the closest city. High speed rail is fast, but it is not as fast as an airplane, let alone make up for making a direct flight. In other words, very few people will take a flight to SeaTac, then take a take a train to Portland — they will just take a flight to Portland. As it turns out, all three cities have rail service to their airport, so even that advantage goes away.

        It just doesn’t make sense, and if you only serve the airport, you will lose way more riders than you will gain. The only reason they would do that is if serving the city is extremely expensive, and they can’t find a decent alternative. My guess is if that is the case, the whole thing is doomed.

      4. “Why would I take a train from a small city to a big city airport”

        Cost. Going to a small-city airport can cost more than twice as much as going between cities that are at least as large as Spokane.

      5. So do you think the California High Speed Rail shouldn’t be stopping at Millbrae/SFO and Burbank Airport (and eventually Ontario Airport)? Should Copenhagen Airport not have gotten a high speed rail stop? Should the Chinese not have high speed rail to the Shanghai airport in multiple directions? Should we condemn Cologne for having a high speed rail connection, or Berlin for planning a high speed connection for the new Brandenburg Airport?

        I can’t think of a better match for high speed rail outside of a major Downtown than a major airport! As others have noted, rental cars, long-term parking and hotels (with regional conference facilities) are within easy distance. Baggage issues can be coordinated. You may not see it, but Seattle is much more accessible for US flyers than Portland is and I’m often chatting with people that fly to Seattle to get to Bellingham.

        I can understand when geography and cost prevent the rail connection from being made, but if it all can line up it is silly to not connect them. Especially for a study like this — which has questionable economics in the first place. WSDOT should be trying to optimize demand or they will look like they are merely sandbagging the whole study.

        Finally, the Kent-Auburn-Puyallup-Tacoma corridor is about 10 miles out of direction when connecting Seattle and Tacoma. Why even go into Downtown Tacoma if the track is already as far south as Puyallup? If stops are assumed at both Downtown Seattle and Downtown Tacoma, an SR509-SeaTac-I5 path from Seattle to Tacoma is going to be faster even with an added station stop at SeaTac.

    5. “It’s too bad that none of the alternatives involve a station at the ninth busiest airport in the US at SeaTac”

      The question is who is the HSR’s target users? I think it’s for the residents of Cascadia to go back and forth, and for visitors to region to do the same. People visit Vancouver and want to take the train to visit Seattle too while they’re at it; they already do this with Cascades, and maybe it’s part of a larger visit down the west coast. These are people in the large cities and small cities, not necessarily at the airport. The airport needs a last-ten-miles connector, which is what Link provides.

      Some European cities have mainline train stations at the airport (London Gatwick, Zurich), but those trains are part of a vast national network that takes you to every corner of the country. I’ve gone to Gatwick and taken a train directly to Bristol, transfer in Reading. The US does not have that, and it’s a long way from Cascadia to the next large city.

      A Vancouver airport station is more plausable than Sea-Tac but just a little. Washingtonians do often fly out of Vancouver because the Canadian dollar is sometimes favorable, and Vancouver is a more international city so it has more bargain flights and cheap charter flights with empty seats. Canada is significantly more international than the US throughout society, especially Vancouver and Toronto compared to American cities their size. And Vancouver is the Los Angeles and San Francisco of Canada. So that’s a lot of people going everywhere in the world all the time, so opportunites for Americans to find good flights. One of my flights to London was like that (a Canada 3000 deal), and my flight to Duesseldorf (a charter had a series of weekly flights with empty seats). Of course maybe that was all B.T. (Before Trump).

      However, I don’t think YVR should be a priority. It should only be considered if the ROW is favorable and the Skytrain network is sufficient not to dampen ridership, not for airport travelers if that’s not the case.

      I suspect the airport option was just a giveaway to somebody and not a primary alternative. It doesn’t even it’s own number, just an add-on letter, like those minor South Bellevue Link alternatives.

      Also, this whole effort is being championed by businessmen-donors, who have their own priorities. Some of them coincide with our priorities and others maybe not. I doubt they’re thinking that a Vancouver airport station would be the best thing for their tech employees living in the cities. That airport station is designed to whisk people from the Vancouver airport to the US, but that ignores an entire half of what this line is supposed to be for in the first place: to connect the cities of Vancouver and Seattle. If it turns out that YVR is the most practical place to meet that need and it can also meet the air-traveler need, then why not. But I doubt they’ll choose the airport otherwise.

      1. @Mike Orr

        Look at the business donor list for the study, Alaska Airlines is listed. That’s the simple explanation for including airports in the study.

    6. Fundamental error in Al S.’ first statement that may or may not end up having anything to do with planning – YVR (Vancouver) serves nowhere near the number of passengers that Sea-Tac does; in fact, it’s less than half (22.3 million to 47.5 million). You could even add PDX (18.4 million) to Vancouver’s numbers and still not equal SEA’s passenger numbers. Putting the Seattle area’s only station at the airport is silly, but if it’s on the way, say on a 509 route, it would make some sense to serve it same as with YVR.

      1. Oh I would study multiple stations in Seattle for every alternative — either one in Downtown Seattle or Downtown Bellevue (depending on alignment) — in addition to SeaTac. If one applies a simple rule of thumb of a stop for roughly every million people, King County would have two internal stops. That would also mean one for Central Vancouver, one for South Metro Vancouver (Surrey), one for Whatcom/Skagit, one for Snohomish, one for Pierce, one for Thurston/Lewis/Grays Harbor, one for Clark/Cowlitz and ending in Downtown Portland.,

        I don’t see how any engineering would easily let trains fly through South Seattle at high speeds anyway, so the extra delay associated with starting and stopping for another station would not be time punishing. It certainly wouldn’t be as time-punishing as going through Puyallup would be.

  6. Already they are making a huge mistake:

    The “conceptual corridors,” range from seven to three stations. However, the exact location of those stations would be decided later. Each additional stop adds to overall travel time, so speed and access points must be balanced when designing routes.

    Pretty much any line, from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to the Shinkansen, has a mixture of local and through trains. You select the train that best suits your travel needs – and chances are, your ideal trip isn’t on just one train. Those “slow” local trains on the high speed line are usually much faster than the alternative transportation.

    Note how a typical Shinkansen intermediate station splays out into stopping and through tracks so that through high speed trains and regional high speed trains are able to do what they do:,139.6191865,537m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    1. I agree – a better corridor study would include analysis of serving stations at places like Marysville & Arlington. These stations would never be HSR stops, but could still share the HSR ROW & stations, at least for key sections.

  7. Al, for the speed of the trains we’re talking about at what, twelve miles south of Seattle, Sea-Tac Airport might be too short a section for next stop. Maybe same for Tacoma.

    But when you think about it, LINK from Seattle to Sea-Tac could be faster than getting from Sea-Tac station to south end of the terminal. Especially if we send new trackway straight south from SODO station, and switching into existing Tacoma-bound line at Boeing Access.

    Like I think any other city in the world would do.

    And Glenn, I think we agree that bullet trains would never in a million years share an inch of track with anything slower. Been told the French TGV and its track were designed together as a two components of the same machine.

    But there’s no problem with both lines sharing right of way, including elevated supports and different tunnel track on same corridor.

  8. I would have added an alternative that stops in Downtown Bellevue as well as SeaTac and Everett or Marysville, rather than in Downtown Seattle (the 405 option). I’m not saying that this is preferred, but it should be at least studied.

    Downtown Seattle has innumerable obstacles for both track installation and station locations. Any suitable Downtown Seattle station site won’t be near the tallest buildings anyway; most riders will end up on Link no matter where HSR might go.

    IDCS will be 21 minutes from Downtown Bellevue Link and 31 minutes from SeaTac Airport Link for example while Lynnwood will be 28 minutes from Westlake (meaning that Everett would be 45-50 minutes).Why not study three different places from HSR to board Link to get into Downtown Seattle as an alternative?

    1. My guess is that last study will actually look at that option, in a round about way. At first glance, Tukwila instead of Seattle is absurd (and I said as much above). It is just too far away to make any sense. Could you imagine a trip from say, Belltown to Vancouver? First take a bus to the other end of downtown. Then wait for Sounder to get you pretty close to the airport. Then take a train back up north. Sorry — not gonna happen. Either you drive or you fly.

      But my guess is the Tukwila proposal is simply a “skip Seattle” proposal. What happens if the train doesn’t have to serve Seattle? Let’s put a placeholder in there, somewhere where we know the train will pass. That happens to be, well, Tukwila. So now they can look at not only the cost of the station, but the cost of various lines. If it turns out that the 405 route (as you call it) is a lot cheaper, then we can start looking at filling in stations (such as Bellevue or Lynnwood). If it turns out that running a line through Seattle is just as cheap as going around, but that adding a station in downtown is expensive, then we can look at alternative stations, while keeping the west side line. For example, it may be that someplace in SoDo is much cheaper than serving downtown (or I-405) and thus becomes a reasonable option, even though it is less than ideal.

    2. Hopefully they’re studying it to evaluate the general merits of a suburban station and one at that level out. Hopefully it’s not because Tukwila has outsized clout to swing a station their way as happened with Cascades, when a more midway suburban station would have been Kent or Auburn.

  9. Considering that voter funding will be needed at some point, WSDOT needs to think more strategically at how to get a majority vote supporting any HSR. King County is less than 30 percent of the state’s population. Any alternative that does not have a stop within a reasonable distance (say 30 minutes by driving) is probably a non-starter politically. Skipping East King will cost votes not only from the Eastside but from those who would come in from Central Washington, for example.

    Would it be prudent to have a feeder DMU system studied as part of this work (for example, a line from Olympia or Lacey, connecting in Tacoma or SeaTac — and then going east to the other side of the Cascades)? Would it be prudent to study two-tiered system (with lag trains making more local stops after departing from multiple platforms at a central stations) to get more utilization out of the tracks between HSR train sets?

    1. You’re assuming this has a chance of even getting to a vote. :) I’d call that slim; this is more of an idle exercise.

    2. I guess what I feel is this is all too sudden,. People don’t change years-held beliefs that quickly. That 1992 study must have been the one that catalyzed Cascades’ long-term incremental improvements. The politicians probably said no to this but yes to bringing it up to 90 mph and eventually 110, but 125 was too much exponential cost to be worth it. So they’ve been improving the tracks in fits and starts for years, with the eventual goal of faster speeds and more trains per day. I just wish they would go a step further and buy the BNSF track, finish the third Seattle-Portland passenger track, and give some of the excess capacity to Sounder so it could run half-hourly. And work on a conventional-speed line to Spokane.

      But the legislature said, “No, no, we want to cut taxes and build freeways instead, and just put a basic annual amount into those incremental Cascades improvements.” And the same legislature won’t give ST or the local agencies any funding, won’t let them raise their own taxes except when they beg hard for a crumb here and there (except ST which gets a better deal), makes transit capital projects submit to a public vote when highway measures don’t, and on and on. For them to suddenly turn around and say, “Just kidding, let-s spend ten billion on high-speed rail right now, because Bill Gates wants us to and contributed a bit of money to a feasibility study…” that just sounds like too big a change all in one year to be plausable. Paul Allen got his streetcar but that was much smaller potatoes.

      If the legislature and other powers that be are really gung-ho on this, can we now start talking about all those things they’ve rejected or dragged their feet on the past twenty years? Several of them would compeiment it and make it more successful, And the report even has a whole section saying, “Key Factors for Success: 3. Robust Local Transit. Arriving quickly by a high-speed train from another city provides little benefit if the traveler is left stranded at the station. What makes rail travel so appealing and successful from Europe and Asia is the broad network of public transportation available at most rail stations that enables the traveler to complete his or her trip.” Note that phrase “complete … trip”. That means not just Link but feeder buses from Link and other last mile solutions. And inexpensive all-day inter-county rural connectors so our friends in Skagit, Island, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties can get to the train. The legislators like to emphasize supporting rural counties and spreading the wealth from Pugetopolis, well here’s a chance.

    3. Oh, and Bill Gates didn’t suddenly just start believing in high-speed rail this year. He’s probably favored it all along for two decades or longer like I have. It’s just that the legislature always said no and this year the businesspeople decided to do something about it.

  10. That’s actually a lot fewer stations than I imagined, even with 7. I would have expected a station somewhere in Skagit county and at least one more between Olympia and Portland. Not that every train would need to stop at all stations–there could be express/”local” runs similar to what Japan does with theirs. These smaller places would probably only need a couple trains a day, but I don’t like the idea of such a large area (mainly the Olympia-Portland stretch) having tracks go through there without a stop at all.

    1. A lot of commenters haven’t read the WSDOT post. Cascades will be the intermediate/local, many stops served option. High speed rail is express inter-major cities. Here’s the quote:

      Amtrak Cascades service
      Ultra-high-speed ground transportation would not replace the Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail system run by WSDOT and ODOT; it would be an additional travel option. Because of shared tracks with freight trains, it is not possible to offer ultra-high-speed service on most of the current Amtrak Cascades route. Amtrak Cascades trains travel at 79 mph and serve 18 cities in Canada, Washington and Oregon – more than an ultra-high-speed option would serve.

    2. ” A two-track high-speed guideway can reliably support 6-8 trains per hour in each direction. This would mean a train connecting Seattle and Vancouver every 10-15 minutes, with some operating as non-stop express and others stopping at Everett and Bellingham.”

      This is only a concept feasbility study, to get cost-benefit comparisons. They won’t be able to build something just with this; it’s not detailed enough. They would have to propose a specific alignment and look at all the engineering and environmental issues they’re glossing over now. That alignment may have pieces from multiple alternatives, and could also look at additional options for locations and stations. A feasibility study can only look at so many things at once, and when it’s based on what sponsors want, it reflects the sponsors’ priorities, not all of our priorities.

      1. Maybe “Sponsored” is not the right word, because independent things get sponsorships without tailor9ing their content to them. But this was not created like that. This was created by business owners getting politians in a room and saying “We think you should study this”, and the politicians and agencies saying, “Yes, let’s study it.” The “this” was the business owners who brought all the motivation and ideas, possibly incorporating whatever the agencies had gathering dust on a back shelf because nobody would consider it further.

  11. I speak as an occasional user of the Amtrak Cascades trains. When I read that WSDOT is considering “high speed rail” in the mix of what Washington State does for its citizens, I can only wonder whether the latest proposal is another spending of tax dollars with no outcome. If the State was interested in shortening travel times they first have to look at the many places where incremental and relatively low cost improvements can be made. If these result in an improvement in service quality then all to the good. Now we can talk about even better service, maybe even high speed rail as elsewhere in the world.
    What improvements could be made? First and foremost is to make all station stops as short as possible. This can be done by a platform design that allows entry to the train without assistance from Amtrak personnel: push the ‘open door’ button and get in or out. The use of those 19th century yellow stools should be and can be eliminated with a sufficiently elevated platform. The elimination saves personnel time that should be focused solely on people who need it, wheel chairs and the like.
    Travelers should never have to cross active train tracks as they do in Portland. That appears to require trains to stops for 20 (!) minutes or so and require a complex passenger loading process.
    Currently, Amtrak goes through a seat assignment process in Seattle and Portland so that loading there is onerous and time consuming. If passengers had access to the platform before the train arrived, they could enter any door and obviate the need for seat assignments altogether. More personnel time could be saved.
    This proposal resembles the way that trains are boarded elsewhere in a more modern world and I am not naïve about the issues in the United States. Legal liability is a heavy deterrent to implementing anything I am suggesting because somebody might get hurt if left to do anything on their own. In an environment where behavior can lead to injury, there has to be some legal protection from stupidity and maliciousness for all those operating the system. To me, it is incomprehensible that a ringing bell on a locomotive slowly entering a station is an effective means of preventing a dumb and unfortunate event. That thought also applies to the notion of horn blowing at grade crossings with trains travelling at speed polluting the environment with what might be described as unnecessary noise. But then it seems, rules are rules, some federal in scope, some developed in another time, and some dumber than others. Finally, is all this babying necessary because American train travelers are less smart than those in the rest of the world, or more prone to sue?

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