You Deserve Faster.

A few years ago, some activists thought to start a group to urge aggressive expansion of the Seattle-area transit system. And guess what…it worked!

But let’s face it. Because our entire region is popular and globally competitive, more is needed to support the growing population across the Cascadia region (combined metro populations of 13.5 million in 2040, up from 10 million today). Every time a mom or a dad spends ninety minutes on a 35 mile commute between Tacoma & Seattle, or 5 hours just to get to Portland, we know something is wrong. WE. DESERVE. FASTER. Our quality of life, and of our children’s lives, depends on it.

That’s why a new group of advocates spanning Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and Portland are banding together to connect Cascadia through high speed intercity transport. While Washington State has been studying this, there’s nothing like a mobilized base of support across our region to help make it a reality.

This vision of Cascadia Rail is Vancouver to Seattle and Seattle to Portland connected in less than 90 minutes, and transport to Eastern Washington faster than driving. This is why we believe in it:

  • It’s good for workers and quality of life. Short commutes are more than a luxury; they’re critical for reduction in income inequality. For those with 1½ to 2 hour commutes, how about 15-30 minutes? That’s at least 2 hours more each day with your family.
  • It’s good for business. The world economy is driven by global cities. Home to 13 Fortune 500 companies, the Cascadia Innovation Corridor will grow even more 21st Century jobs by reducing the effective distance between our cities.
  • It’s good for tourism. Seattle’s 39 million, Vancouver, BC’s 9 million and Portland’s 9 million annual metro-area visitors spend $4 to $7 billion per metropolitan area and a load of local taxes. Fast, easy connections help more people see more places including wine country, Spokane and the many great smaller places in between. Fast connections mean more business.
  • It’s good for economic development. Disproportionate economic growth has happened in our largest cities. By making fast, convenient and reliable connections between many more places, all of our cities become increasingly attractive for commercial and residential urban growth.
  • It keeps our great places great. Cascadia is an amazing place. We should experience more of it while spoiling it less with long car trips and choked roads.

Our goal is clear: a safe, fast, high capacity connection between Cascadia cities. Our role will be to advocate with partners to make it possible. Would you like to help make the future a reality? Then join us, follow us, and ask our legislature to approve further study of this concept this legislative session

The Board of Cascadia Rail consists of Jonathan Hopkins, Ben Broesamle, Paige Malott, Anthony Gill, and Jon Cracolici.

134 Replies to “Introducing Cascadia Rail”

  1. A VAC to EUG version of this was studied and came in with a price tag then of USD 11 Billion. What is your total cost?

    1. Erik, what’s a rough estimate of the cost of the parts of the Interstate highway system along the corridors show here? So considering the importance of the railroad being proposed, and the sub-third rate- and world- of our passenger rail…we’ve got a precedent:

      World War I left our military doubting that our railroad system could handle the two-front war they knew was likely. So the Army sent a convoy of trucks from New York to San Francisco to assess the roads along that route.

      What they found convinced one of the officers, Dwight Eisenhower, that we needed a first-rate national highway system AS A NATIONAL DEFENSE MEASURE! In addition to the condition of our railroads. Somebody who knows the prices here can confirm or quarrel.

      But my calculation: whatever an enemy would consider worth targeting, and the damage they could do, it’s worth at least $11 billion to prevent. A more likely earthquake, same or worse. Waiting to hear a squeak out of either legislature, State or Federal. The pro-railroad party needs a ride in knowledgeable company- but their job brings them close enough to suicide as it is.

      However, by the same token, Cascadia needs to start with a several-day walking tour of the condition of the railroads whose tracks- though hopefully not the existing ones- your trains will have to run, in the company of some engineers (both kinds) who can tell you what you’re looking at. After a hundred years, our railroad infrastructure is giving arsenals of ammunition to the pro-highway side.

      Old financial fact of railroading. Noted 19th Century railroad “Baron” once said that a passenger train on his tracks was as useful to him as a dairy milking machine on a male hog. My guess on why BN needed us off its main freight route. Like everything the world calls a “Bullet”, or reliably fast, Cascadia is going to need its own really expensive tracks.

      Worth whatever they cost. Word “Innovation” belongs on flip charts. What you need to know has taken at least two hundred years of experience to assemble, with a very high body count. So your advertising budget for the next several years…send your members to trade school.

      And remind the political party whose reps ought to be your Board of Directors how many of the techs and donors you need are currently Republicans.

      Mark Dublin

    2. “Noted 19th Century railroad “Baron” once said that a passenger train on his tracks was as useful to him as a dairy milking machine on a male hog. My guess on why BN needed us off its main freight route”

      It’s not BNSF’s freight route. It’s a national asset that was given to BNSF on condition that it support both freight and passenger rail needs.

      1. No, BNSF and the workers of the fallen flag railroads built that railroad. Considering it a national asset that can be stolen from those who made it and keep it running now is disturbing folly. We could after all have the worst freight rail system in the world, but contrary to that we have one of the most efficient and least expensive in the world thanks to companies like BNSF. I’ve seen world systems, they have passenger rail that is superior to ours but they pay an arm and a leg more to get basic commodities shipped.

        The fact is, any true HSR in America will need new and dedicated track ROW. There’s no way with existing network to have it. It shouldn’t be terribly insane to build it between, or near the existing I-5 corridor however – keeping it nice and straight for good service. There are entities that’d find it too if the Government would stop gettingnin the way. Alas, I digress for now but am a huge advocate for getting some HSR built in Cascadia.

      2. The passenger rail obligation has been understood by the railroads forever. Before 1971 they had to run passenger trains themselves regardless of whether they were profitible. In the 1971 reform. In the 1971 reform this was replaced with the obligation to run Amtrak trains and charge it only for the incremental cost of doing so, in return for non-tradeable stock in Amtrak. That definitely refers to the existing long-distance lines; I’m not sure how it works with expansions and regional service.

        The US rail network does have a superior niche in freight transport as you say, and that has become especially important in this era of worldwide containerized shipping. The US and European niches are different, but whether one is superior to the other is a more complicated question. European rail is mostly government-owned and focused on high-speed and frequent passenger service, with a minor amount of freight in between. Most European freight goes by truck. The emphasis is on higher-speed passenger service with therefore higher ticket prices. The US emphasis is on slow low-budget freight service. That works well for containerized shipping because it doesn’t matter which container of identical widgets gets to Atlanta today as long as one of them does. In that sense it bolsters the US economy and keeps diesel-belching freight trucks to a minimum. But it has the tradeoff of neglecting passenger service, especially anything faster or more frequent than Greyhound and Sounder. That is a major tradeoff, and saying American rail is better because it circulates freight efficiently reveals a blind spot — the same blind spot we transit advocates have been agitating on for years. There’s plenty of blame to go around for this predicament: not just the railroads but also federal and state policies for the past sixty years.

        Of course HSR will require new track: the existing track has too many curves, level crossings, and worn-out parts to support it. But there are several ways to go, from building HSR tracks to incrementally improving the existing tracks to medium speed and building new conventional tracks parallel to the existing ones for capacity. That’s not possible in the narrow shoreline hillside around Everett but it is in flatter places, especially between Seattle and Portland where the most passenger demand is.

      3. Also, Europe has more ports close to population centers. There isn’t really any equivalent to a 2000 mile distance between port and city until you get to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and the middle of that corridor is sparsely populated.

      4. @Adron – the land the railroads were built on was given, or sold to the companies for a pittance. In effect they received huge public subsidy.

      5. Mike, there was never a “mandate to provide passenger service” levied on the private rail system. What you are remembering is “train off” applications. Once a specific line had scheduled service — and, yes, most did — to remove that service the carrier had to show good cause why it should not continue it.

        A distinction without a difference? Perhaps, but there was no part of the Interstate Commerce Act on which the “train off” actions were based which mandated the start of passenger service, merely its continuance where “the public good” was served.


        There were only seven “land grant roads”, the main lines of the Northern Pacific, the Central Pacific, the Union Pacific (between Council Bluffs and Ogden only), the Southern Pacific between Sacramento and Sierra Blanca, the Texas & Pacific between Marshall and Sierra Blanca, the Illinois Central between Chicago and Paducah and the northern border of Illinois and Centralia, and the Atlantic and Pacific (became the Santa Fe) between Belen, NM and Mojave CA. The Oregon and California was supposed to be land-grant, but it failed to build enough trackage in a certain time so it forfeited its lands.

        The other roads were built largely with British capital and paid for their rights of way. Whatever they paid for it it was a very good deal for the United States since it populated the country.

        It was not a good deal for the Native Americans at all, though.

      6. “– the land the railroads were built on was given, or sold to the companies for a pittance. In effect they received huge public subsidy.”

        This is a wonderful idea that will not only get us increased highway capacity, allowing efficient movement of goods, which is the reasoning as to why we all must pay excess gas tax to fund mega-projects, such as I-405.

        Most all of the expansion, save for some property takes in the Kennydale neighborhood, happens in WSDOT right-of-way.

        The railroads were given land, but built the infrastructure with their own money.

        Give the excess r-o-w capacity to the trucking companies, and let them build their own infrastructure.
        They could then sell the excess capacity to the general public using tolls.
        Heck, give them the air rights, and they could build high density housing above.

        You sir, are a genius!

  2. Major problems:

    1. Last mile in the smaller cities. Doesn’t benefit the majority of residents in places like Tacoma where local transit is sparse to non-existent.
    2. Doesn’t help residents between cities.
    3. Besides Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Tacoma, doesn’t link actual destinations. Ellensburg? Many of the cross-state traffic that we experience (at Christmas for example) is a younger generation returning home to the farm or the remote small town; or is vacation travel to some of our more remote wilderness for skiing, hiking, camping, fishing, and snowshoeing. Rail won’t help us get to the remote areas, and if it did get us there, those areas would no longer be remote.

    We need to build our local transit first. People need to live closer to work. Employers need to evaluate office/campus locations relative to the affordability for their workforce, and do expansions accordingly. As for “corporate travel,” they get plenty of breaks the way it is. I, for one, am tired of funding their roads and ports with my tax dollars. You are asking me to now fund their executive travel between offices?

    1. Train controller or slide rule, Engineer? No reason we can’t have local trains- an express line’s most urgent need. But all your objections above…they don’t seem to bother United or Southwest.


    2. Mr. Engineer,

      1. I think Pierce Transit would debate you about having non-existent transit.
      2. When you have focused destinations and high interest in ridership, then the future does not look like the present. Namely, the HSR station becomes an incentive for better local transit investment (the alternative is building massive parking structures like Texas is doing). Why? Because even more people would want to use it so they could have a quick commute or trip. For Tacoma and Everett, the commute value is huge.

    3. High-speed rail and “between cities” or small town stations are incompatible. The vision shows at least two levels of service on the north-south track. One is HSR at the bold stations. A second is almost-Cascades service at all stations shown. A third might be Cascades-equilvlent service (i.e., add Vancouver WA, delete Surrey BC). A fourth might be short lines between Seattle, Everett, and Olympia. A new track would have capacity for trains every ten minutes depending on level-crossing maximums, and all four levels of service would not even reach that except maybe in the short-line segment (which should not have any level crossings if feasible).

    4. 1. Absolutely agree, but for what it’s worth rail does tend to spur development. If cities zone areas around stations well it will kickstart development of housing that is walkable to the station, as well as local shuttle and parking services (see

      2. Cities in-between could very well benefit from less congested freeways.

      3. I agree with you that Ellensburg may not warrant a station, but at the same time maybe Ellensburg could be a remote commuter town if it only took 30 minutes to cruise into Seattle (and also a more common day-trip location for vacationers from Seattle). Obviously it’s possible that Ellensburg residents don’t want either of those things but that’s why it’s just a proposal for now :).

      1. Ellensburg would be a great station for the students at Central Washington University. Ditto for Western Washington students in Bellingham. It will make access to the big city attractions, family, and airport much easier.

      2. Rail stations may influence development when the rail operates at the local/regional scale, but not inter-city. People don’t take inter-city trips anywhere near often enough to justify paying extra to have an inter-city rail station across the street.

      3. Asdf2, that’s why intercity and regional trips are complimentary.

        People live near stations for regional/commute trips. People (Read locals and millions of tourists) use *great transit* to get to stations in transit cities for intercity trips. Both contribute to ridership.

        As for economic development, 48% of Chinese cities saw measurable and lasting economic development as a result of having HSR in the cities. Why did some have it and others not? Mainly due to development laws in the locality. This is a lesson to any cities along Cascadia HSR’s path. We have cities with abundant economic growth. Others could use the stimulus that proximity can provide.

      4. In many European cities the main train station is the city center, and lots of people use it for both suburban, statewide, and intercity trips, and shop at the attached supermarket. etc.

        I haven’t been to Ellensburg (just through it on Greyhound which stops at a truck stop apparently in the outskirts) so I don’t know how close the train station is to the city center or how much potential there is to walk between the station, center, university, and everyday businesses. But there’s a potential potential there, and if a town like Ellensburg builds multifamily housing and a walkable business district in conjunction with improved train service, it could become highly popular because, it happens elsewhere. Vancouver and greater DC just allowed the highrises and lowrise districts to grow up around transit nodes, and sure enough they did.

      5. >> I agree with you that Ellensburg may not warrant a station, but at the same time maybe Ellensburg could be a remote commuter town if it only took 30 minutes to cruise into Seattle (and also a more common day-trip location for vacationers from Seattle).

        It is 106 miles from Ellensburg to Seattle. For a half hour commute, a train would have to average 212 miles an hour. That is Category I high speed rail, and faster than anything in North America. There are only a handful of places where trains reach a maximum speed (let alone average speed) that fast. To do so from Seattle to Ellensburg would require a massive drilling project through the Cascades and the foothills. Sorry, it just isn’t going to happen.

        That is one of the big problems with the line. Of course the students would love it, but even moderately faster travel would be very expensive. The trip from Seattle to Ellensburg will be slow, and even average speeds of 60 MPH would require a very large investment.

        That is the problem. Getting a train to go from Seattle to Ellensburg in an hour and a half is a major improvement, but even that is extremely expensive. Ellensburg is a very tiny place, and ridership would average only a handful a day (weekend travelers, mostly), even with that substantially faster trip. But of course, this isn’t about Ellensburg.

        After Ellensburg, hopefully the train can go very fast without spending a huge amount of money. But it is still about 170 miles to Spokane, and that is if you skip the Tri-Cities and Yakima. Add those and you are close to 260 miles.

        The problem is, none of those places are very big. They are all tiny compared to Portland, Seattle or Vancouver, BC.

        Making matters worse, it is still a long ways to the biggest area, Spokane. If the train *averages* 300 Kilometers an hour (extremely fast — faster than the top speed of North American trains) it will take an hour and 24 minutes to get from Ellensburg to Spokane. Even if the stops along the way were very quick, that is about a three hour trip from Seattle to Spokane. A flight takes about an hour. Even with the hassle of getting to SeaTac, going through security and all that, it is faster to fly.

        If you skip the Tri-Cities and Yakima, things get a bit better. You can shave about a half hour off the trip. But still, at two and a half hours from Seattle to Spokane, it is still better faster to fly.

        The problem is that getting across (or through) the mountains is slow or extremely expensive (or both). It just isn’t feasible given the relative sizes of the cities that would be served.

      6. Looking pragmatically at this vision for high speed rail to connect the entire state of Washington means it doesn’t seem “feasible.” But taking a more far-reaching and less Seattle-centric view (and yes, I know, this is the Seattletransitblog), it probably is something we should be at least considering.

        For one thing, technology is advancing rapidly. Tunnel building is getting easier and faster and less expensive. I don’t have to mention the tunnel under the Swiss alps, or the tunnel under the English Channel to this crowd, I know, and even Bertha (whatever you may think about the choice to spend our money on that tunnel) pretty much roared along once they got that pipe out of the way. Mag lev is a serious proposal between DC and Baltimore, and will no doubt become a viable alternative not that long from now.

        Also, climate change (not to mention other forces) is driving people out of some parts of the country and the world. The eastern part of the state is perfect both as a destination for people moving from warmer climes and as a low-cost, still relatively undeveloped alternative to the expensive wet side.

        People are going to move to this state, and if they could live in Ellensburg or Yakima or the Tri-Cities and easily get to Seattle in less than two hours they might be more likely to choose those places. When we build ST out to Issaquah we’re thinking about the future. Why not get ahead of the game and start planning further out? To link people to the West Side is a kind of growth management strategy writ large. Build out the Eastern towns and cities,and give the people who move there rapid transit to the BIG city, just like we’re sending Link to Redmond, and building apartments by the hundreds there.

        Maybe not so many people live on the East Side YET, but they will, and if they’re coming to Washington anyway, why not spread out the population instead of trying to jam everyone somewhere along the I-5 corridor?

        Also, it’s easy for people in Seattle to dismiss all of us over here on the other side, but keep in mind that the Spokane metro now tops 500,000, the Tri-Cities, 300,000, and Yakima is getting close to 200, 000. And there are PLENTY of reasons for people to make the trip the other way: wine country, the John Wayne trail, the Columbia, the SUN. The line imagined on the map above connects almost every major university in the state (leaving out only WSU Pullman).

        And maybe most important, if you’re not someone who’d like to see the two halves of the state somehow separate: don’t we want to bring the whole state together? isn’t Washington one of the most diverse economies, and one of the most diverse geographies in the country? Wouldn’t we be a powerhouse if we were united? Shouldn’t we be working toward healing the division, not contributing to it? HSR is one of the most obvious ways to strengthen the bonds.

        High speed rail is only going to get better and faster and cheaper in the years to come. That’s pretty much a given. While at the moment, the expense of building a tunnel through the mountains may be prohibitive, it won’t always be. And the population of Washington will continue to boom. This is already a pretty incredible corner of the country (the world?). Shouldn’t we at least be considering strategies to deal with a population influx, to manage that growth effectively, and in the process to build a state like no other?

    5. Not everyone wants to live in a stack of shoebox apartments near their employer(s), been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

      We have two rail freight companies with separate sets of tracks between Seattle and Tacoma. One which cuts through the middle of four towns. Move the fright to the UP line, and dedicate the existing BNSF tracks to high speed high frequency transit and Amtrak. Couple that with the Pt Defiance bypass and improvements between DuPont and Olympia, now you have a high speed convenient connection between the capital and Seattle. Fix the fact that Link takes an hour to get from downtown to the airport when it could be 15 minutes or so. Implement a hub and spoke system of connector buses with Sounder stations and P&R’s further out.

      Now you have my vote.

    6. I’m assuming that the east-west line would be conventional speed (79-110 mph), and that’s shy the article says merely “faster than driving” rather than HSR. Driving is 70 mph. Its purpose is to connect all the largest cities across Washington, which the legacy corridor does because the towns were built along it. Therefore Ellensburg definitely should have a station if the railroad goes to it. There are some complications such as Stampeed Pass speed limitations bad which corridor(s) to use east of Ellensburg, but those are details that can be resolved.

      1. Before we seriously propose spending huge sums of money on high speed inter-city rail, we must first ask the question of what’s wrong with buses. Seattle->Portland, Seattle->Vancouver, and Seattle->Spokane, buses perform pretty well, and already operated by private-sector companies turning a profit, with some markets at better frequency, faster speeds, and lower fares than Amtrak.

        The problem with buses, of course, is that they get stuck in traffic in and around city centers, but for some city pairs, buses could solve this problem by connecting to Link stations rather than slogging it out all the way into downtown. For example, buses headed to Vancouver could terminate at Northgate Station in 2021, or Lynnwood Station in 2023. On the Vancouver side, buses could connect to the SkyTrain at Surrey or Bridgeport (maybe the buses could even alternate between the two terminus points to allow people to choose the best option). At first glance, this idea seems like it just adds extra connections, but if you think deeper, most of the passengers are likely to end up on Link or SkyTrain at one end or the other anyway, and being able to make the connection further about avoids traffic delays, and also avoids costly backtracking for those not headed all the way downtown.

        Unfortunately, Link is not fast enough (and Sounder, not frequent enough) for this to make sense for the Seattle->Portland market. But, for Seattle->Spokane, a truncation at South Bellevue P&R, post EastLink opening might make sense.

        Of course, decisions on whether to make such moves don’t have to be all or nothing. They could start on a pilot basis, only with trips scheduled to arrive or depart in the middle of rush hour (when highway traffic is at its worst, and the frequency of the regional rail line, at its best).

      2. The point is to attract the majority of travelers who drive and take planes rather than buses. Yes, hourly buses would generate more passengers, but they’d still have limited capacity for a more major shift.

        Private companies like Greyhound will not terminate at a peripheral metro station. It not only adds 45+ minutes to the trip but it also adds several dollars to the fare. Greyhound stopped in New Westminster for years and maybe still does, but when I took it in the early 2000s only one or two people got on or off there each time. Sometimes the driver and other passengers were visibly irritated that the bus had to make a large detour just for one person who was going to get on the Skytrain anyway. It seems to me that it would be significantly shorter to go via Delta rather than New West, but one of the drivers said Greyhound really wanted to serve New West because, I think he said because of the Skytrain station (that hardly anyone uses), or else because it’s closer to suburban residents (the ones who don’t ride it).

    7. “don’t we want to bring the whole state together? isn’t Washington one of the most diverse economies, and one of the most diverse geographies in the country?”

      Yes, it should be relatively easy to travel throughout the state on transit like it is in many other countries with similar urban/rural connections. That allows people to live, work, and recreate optimally as they see fit, and encourages them to use transit for it. We’ve artificially hindered our transit connections throughout the state and forced people to drive or not travel. Many inter-county routes were nonexistent between the 1950s and 2000s, and now run only once or twice a day, or peak-only between Pugetopolis and adjacent areas, sometimes arrive at ungodly hours (the Empire Builder in Spokane), or have long transfers (north-south to east-west in Central Washington), and sometimes have stations at the edge of town with nothing within walking distance (several Greyhound stops at truck stops or gas-station mini-marts).

      We mustn’t worry unduly about sprawl. Long-distance bedroom communities will or won’t exist regardless of this train network, because the freeways exist and are open 24 hours and people are accustomed to using them. Trains concentrate development around stations and encourage density (because many people want to live conveniently close to stations). Freeways are what cause peanut-butter sprawl, because when you’re driving it doesn’t matter much which exit you take which arterials lead to your house.

    1. Since these are many of the same suspects as Seattle Subway, I expect their vision is larger and more diverse than just the Governors’ Plan, which was a deal among a few business insiders and does not reflect public input, of which this is one.

    2. “Cascadia HSR” is a for profit group based in Portland.

      “Cascadia Rail” is a non profit with members all over that map.

      1. Certainly. Express trains can be run on the same track as local trains with passing tracks at stations.

  3. Portland to Seattle is currently 187 miles. Covering that distance in 90 minutes implies an average speed of 125 mph. If you add in time stopped at intermediate stations (currently Tukwilla, Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, Longview, and Vancouver, for 6 total), time spent at less than top speed slowing to a stop and accelerating from a stop, the top speed would have to be much higher than 125 mph to achieve the 90 minute Seattle to Portland travel time. That would presumably require some new track alignments for straighter track, which sounds expensive.

    I’m not saying that 90 minutes is not a worthy goal, just that it sounds ambitious.

    1. Same as 80 miles and hour down to 30 between Lakewood and the Nisqually River? Just sayin’.


    2. There should only be one stop between Seattle and Portland, and that is Tacoma. The system should not be designed to promote surburban sprawl.

    3. It’s for multidirectional travel for all reasons between the cities and towns of Washington, not just for bedroom communities to get to city jobs and amenities. It does that but it does much more.

    1. That’s what the Mt Vernon station is. You can’t expect a Mt Vernon station on express runs but it would be on local runs. And local runs might be hourly or even half-hourly.

      1. The Cascade Rail vision does not have any specific frequency of local service that I can see, but this level has been suggested by people in previous articles. If you have a 24-hour track with plenty of capacity, you might as well use it.

    2. The first step is getting your Skagit state legislators to support the study to see how Skagit could benefit from a HSR connection. For visitors, that means easier access to the tulip festival, agri-tourism, and the San Juan Islands.

      1. Well, Oran and Joe, there are those hydrofoils. Which could be perfect solution for all your goals. Not very far past La Conner, and up the Skagit to Mt. Vernon. Been told river boats used to go a lot farther up.

        La Conner great little tourist town. When to tulips are out, whole valley is an agricultural festival. Going right to, and through, Mt. Vernon. Which is an excellent place to meet trains. If it’s not an HSR stop, short-headway locals could to Bellingham or wherever.

        Run it by the Chamber!


      2. Boats are less fuel-efficient, slower, and have lower capacity. They should be seen as extras and for island access, not a primary alternative between mainland destinations. The Tacoma-Seattle ferry and Renton-Seattle ferry proposals have the same problem.

      3. Oran,

        All three of those destinations require a car. You can’t serve “agri-tourism” with buses. You might have shuttle buses between the train and ferry terminal, but what happens when you get to Lopez or Orcas? They will never be dense enough to support bus service.

  4. I like the concept of this as long as you’re flexible on speed. A grassroots vision must start from its highest goal, both to inspire people and because the inevitable compromises will only go in one direction.

    I’m ambivalent about the literal plan: we need 90+ mph north-south and 79+ mph east-west, but 200+ mph is not strictly necessary and we shouldn’t risk falling flat over “everything or bust”. Somebody recently got into high office saying he was the greatest dealmaker and it turned out he was a lousy dealmaker. We in Washington state should be excellent dealmakers and show the feds how it’s done. On the other hand, high-speed rail would certainly help the state’s circulation, and other countries would say we should have done it thirty years ago like they did. Instead the US and Washington state put all its eggs into freeways and airports, and later it neglected even maintenance. We have a backlog of public ground transportation we need to catch up on.

    Focusing on commutes is somewhat strange. Do we expect people to commute five days a week from Portland to Seattle? I see statewide transit as more for yearly, monthly, up to weekly trips. If 45-minute Seattle to Portland and Vancouver is really mostly about 10-minute Seattle to Tacoma, Everett, Marysville, and Lacey, then we should be explicit about that.

    Also, there’s still the idea of the state buying the BNSF corridor and making it priority passenger, adding a missing relief track where needed, and diverting most freight to the UP track. That shoukd6 be in the vision somewhere, at least as an alternative.

    Erik Griswold: We don’t need to fear a high price tag at this conceptual stage. The first thing we need to do is detwrmine what we need for optimal mobility and the economy, then figure out how to pay for it. Starting the other way around and piecemeal is how we got into this pickle. Various tax, federal, and private opportunities may become available if we the state have a solid goal and plan, but we won’t even know about them if we don’t. Also, many if the familiar roadblocks we’re used to are because of state laws. The state can change its own laws. And if you’re concerned about the current political environment, there will be future political environments over this long-term vision. A solid vision could even influence the makeup of that environment. A public demand for more European-style transportation options could move the Overton window. Just like it did do for Link and Sounder.

    1. Re: Focusing on commutes is somewhat strange.

      Mike, the existing HSR study ( shows (at a high level) that there’s a meaningful ROI on the investment for intercity travel between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, BC.

      What we are saying is that building an HSR corridor with stops in Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle and Everett ALSO aids in solving a commute problem. Last year’s state study was not able to measure ridership within the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett metro area due to limits in the model they were using (due to a low budget). However, our position on principle is that while some people won’t be able to afford to live super close to their job, that should not relegate them to a 90-120 minute commute (reliable Seattle-Everett travel time is currently 94 minutes). So leveraging the HSR project to also provide essentially Sounder Express (Seattle-Tacoma-Everett + possibly Olympia) is a worthy goal.

      1. I’d look at it the other way around – build new rail for all-day Sounder Express that can also be used for intercity HSR

        If we want something with high ridership, focus first on serving the Puget Sound conurbation (Olympia to Arlington), and only serve Cascadia secondarily.

      2. So what’s your considered price point for a commuter trip on HSR from, say, Everett to Seattle? I imagine it would be quite a bit higher than current transit fares and likely higher than current Amtrak fares, meaning that those people who can’t afford to live super close to their job will also not be able to pay a fare that’s substantially higher than what it currently is. I’m sure that some people will benefit from commuting this way, but I’m also pretty sure that those people will not be in the income level we’d be hoping to help. Currently the lowest Amtrak fare from Everett – Seattle is $13 and from Olympia $18; if there were commute demand at those fares I’m sure we’d be hearing those areas clamoring for more trains. On Sounder – which is apparently not fast enough to capture these riders – it’s $5 from Everett and $5.75 from Lakewood. A $15 fare on HSR would be +/- $600 per month for commuters, which would make such service a boon to higher income individuals but maybe not so much for those who are trying to find a relatively inexpensive place to live.

        There’s definitely a benefit to more time at home – I think we can all agree on that – and I support the concept of regional HSR. I just don’t think the people that will get all that extra time at home are the ones that are moving to the exurbs so that they can afford housing.

      3. Alon’s cost article estimated the Seattle-Portland fare at $30. Cascades’ fare is around $26 to $40 depending on how full the train is. So it’s about the same. Alon did note that operating cost per mile was wildly exaggerated compared to existing HSRs. Most of the cost is capital costs, and it’s not clear how much of that passengers should be charged for. Drivers don’t pay the full cost of the freeways, nor airline passengers for airports, so we shouldn’t have a double standard for trains.

      4. Going further: much of the operating costs are fixed per train. So, you see things like TGV Duplex with seating for 508.

        Take the Cascades fixed costs of about $5,000 per Seattle -Portland trip and divide by 508 and you get $9.84.

        If Cascades tickets were in that price range, I don’t think there would be too much trouble with a lack of demand, but you’d have BoltBus screaming bloody murder.

      5. Thanks, Glenn. This is why the US is so far behind. We assume high-speed rail must be really expensive in the long run because… It gives better service. But it’s really a question of applying 21st-century technology.

      6. Energy costs may be a bit higher than existing Cascades, but with faster service the labor costs per trip go down.

        So, it may be cheaper than today’s Cascades in terms of the cost per trip.

        Worldwide, generally high speed rail pays for itself. The bankruptcy of the Channel Tunnel group was an exception, but that was an extremely expensive project with very long term return on investment.

      7. >> reliable Seattle-Everett travel time is currently 94 minutes

        Say what? Sounder makes the trip in an hour. Yet very few people ride Sounder, because buses are almost always faster. Either that, or there simply isn’t that much demand for trips that involve the middle of Everett to the middle of Seattle.

        I talked about Baltimore up above, but can anyone come up with an example involving two cities roughly the same size as Seattle and Everett (or Seattle and Tacoma) where they have built high speed rail and commuters leverage it at a reasonably high rate? I can’t. Baltimore is much bigger than Tacoma (which is much bigger than Everett) and D. C. is bigger than Seattle. Yet it falls short.

        It is simply a matter of size and distance. If you work in Seattle, before it makes sense to move to Everett, you move to Shoreline or Lynnwood. If Seattle becomes the size of Manhattan, and Lynnwood the size of Brooklyn, then you move out to Everett. But that isn’t going to happen.

        There aren’t that many people who will flock to Everett just because they have a faster train to Seattle. You still have to get to the station, and the train will still take a while. If it actually does provide a really fast ride from city to city, then guess what? Places within walking distance to the station will become expensive. If you are actually providing something that is really, really good (from a commuting standpoint) then of course prices will go up. A fifteen minute ride into downtown Seattle — sure, I would pay extra for that. But a half hour (which is twice as fast as today) just won’t attract that many people, because when you add the extra time on either end, it is still a long commute. Besides, at that point Lynnwood is again a better option. It would take as long to get to the far end of downtown, but from Lynnwood you have several high quality stops along the way (including a bunch in downtown). It just doesn’t add up, which is why the vast majority of folks in Everett will just work in Everett.

      8. Not comparable to Seattle-Tacoma but just another example: Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco, 48 miles between each other. 62,000 weekday riders and growing rapidly in recent years. It takes an hour on the fastest train. The corridor is being electrified and upgraded to be shared with high speed rail.

        What’s interesting is that San Jose isn’t the #2 station in ridership after SF, it’s Palo Alto which is twice the population of Lynnwood and has a major university.

      9. >> What’s interesting is that San Jose isn’t the #2 station in ridership after SF, it’s Palo Alto …

        Exactly. That is exactly my point. Caltrain is driven by Silicon Valley ridership, not San Jose to San Fransisco ridership. San Jose has less than 5,000 riders total. Not 5,000 riders from San Jose to San Fransisco, but 5,000 riders total (obviously many, if not most of those riders are headed to closer locations). San Jose, by the way, is a city of almost a million people. Tacoma isn’t.

      10. “>> reliable Seattle-Everett travel time is currently 94 minutes

        Say what? Sounder makes the trip in an hour”

        94 minutes is driving time at rush hour. Sounder is 60 minutes; Link will be 60 minutes; and the 512’s minimum-maximum range is approximately Link’s. The 510,511,513 peak direction I don’t know. Driving when there’s no traffic is 30 minutes. The 512 when there’s no traffic is slightly better than ST3 Link, but by less than ten minutes.

        Link has downtown – UW – Lynnwood – Everett in the bag. It’s downtown – Federal Way – Tacoma where Link falls short. That’s mostly because of the longer distance to Federal Way, plus the 12-minute Rainier Valley overhead. Everett Station’s distance from downtown is equivalent to S 240th Street; i.e., Kent-Des Moines Station and northern Kent.

      11. Oops, I confused Everett and Lynnwood’s distances. Lynnwood is the distance of KDM. Everett is the distance of south Federal Way or maybe a little further. Still it shows that Federal Way and Tacoma are not the southern equivalent of Lynnwood and Everett as is commonly believed, and that’s why it takes Link so long to get to them.

    2. You’re the one who focused on commutes; it’s the main benefit listed in the secondparagraph and first bullet point. I see it as more of an all-day service like Caltrain and its expected upgrade, which serve not just work trips but business meetings and events and “spending a day in town” or in another town.You hint at this but don’t explicitly say it, which leaves the impression that it’s mainly for those stuck in I-5 commute traffic.

    3. I think someone mentioned that the Mt. Vernon business community might want something to encourage people to come festively up to see tulips. So I wasn’t thinking scheduled boat service. Much more like excursions.

      But for the future, as these shallow-draft boats (which might start to look more like very low-flying planes) gain fuel economy, starting to envision something like the travel and atmosphere of the steamboat days.

      Scheduled service for both sight-seers and travelers, making passenger stops at several landings on their way to Anacortes. Transfer point to ferries to Canada. Anybody time sensitive, Hotel addresses instead pf schedules.

      Rail connection in Mt. Vernon, of course, a stop for a high speed express, or a local train to an express station. No more rush about this than the speed of these boats- which I think twenty years’ design will make fuel a lot more affordable.

      Maybe the whole length of the route will start to become a riverboat neighborhood of its own. With Riverboat Friendly Development at every port. Could be Constitutional issues about whether the Second Amendment was ever meant to include derringers.

      As a nod to the standard riverside culture of the days of the Constitution and afterward, ruling will probably be that the Founders felt that every lady have the right to carry one, but only holstered in a lace stocking-garter. Of a woman who knew not only how to use it, but which out of line Founder to use it on.

      Meaning, that for any anti-railroad State Legislator, he’d be alligator food soon as his boat cleared LaConner. Don’t know, though. Shoreline management. Poisoning wildlife. So she’d just have to curtsy politely as the gun cleared leather. I mean lace.



    4. Ah, I see. My family might take an excursion boat to La Connor for the tulip festival. There would have to be a shuttle from the dock, but that’s a minor addition. Driving up it’s a traffic jam to get through My Vernon, and a long walk to parking at Rosrngaard. If you take Amtrak or Greyhound up you have to bring a bike, take a taxi (if any are empty during the festival), or rent a car (if you can do that in My Vernon).

      There are bike lanes on McLean Road between My Vernon and Roosengaard, so that’s a good sign.

      Come to think of it, a shuttle from the train/bus station wouldn’t be a bad idea, hint hint tulip organizers.

  5. Let’s put this in perspective. The WSDOT study estimated capital costs at $24-42 billion. All that for 5,800 to 7,100 riders a day in 2035.

    So Alon Levy believes there’s a math error, repeated denials from the study authors notwithstanding. Even if you buy that, these are horrendous numbers. CA HSR, no slam dunk for cost-effectiveness, has ten times more riders per capital dollar.

    1. Dan, the state study you cite does not include ridership within the metro area. We are fans of finding the factual numbers. Aspects of the study were promising, including handling well over 10% of intercity demand. But because the low-cost 2017 state study does not have all the data, it makes sense to research further. That’s why we are pushing for additional study.

      Again, drastically cutting the travel time of tens of thousands of metro area residents could be a huge boon to productivity and quality of life. For that reason alone, this seems smart to explore and not make presumptions about numbers that are currently in question.

      1. The core finding of the study is that there isn’t nearly enough intercity travel to make this worthwhile, even with a decent market share.

        If we’re really going to go out and advocate for ANOTHER rail line to Everett, the Legislature will very reasonably laugh at this and ask what happened to the rail line they already authorized and that we’re busy paying for.

        The Venn overlap of people who would live in Everett and who can afford a HSR ticket daily to downtown Seattle for their commute has to be near zero.

        If you think Link sucks so much that HSR would pull off ridership close to what Sound Transit thinks Everett Link can achieve, and at premium HSR fares, that’s a conversation we should have had in 2016.

      2. Within the metro area?

        I support HSR, but I don’t see many folks riding Seattle to Tacoma on HSR unless its extraordinary cheap.

        In the Tokyo metro, for example, no one takes the shinkansen from Tokyo to Yokohama. Even though the travel savings is 1 hour by normal rail vs 20 by HSR… because you still have to get to the station, get tickets and get take transit from the HSR station… and the cost is several times that of a normal ticket.

        You have to get outside the hour by transit bubble before HSR starts paying off real dividends…

      3. If HSR between Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma becomes a reality, then Link will be positioned as a more local service for in-between places. And Link to Everett is 60 minutes, not bad. It’s only to Tacoma that it becomes excessively slow.

        While Charles B is right about Tokyo, the point is that they have both, and both are well-used. They don’t get into this zero-sum game of which transit market should we neglect. If the point is to get the majority onto transit, then we need transit for the majority.

        Also, this isn’t for the 2018 population, it’s for the 2028, 2038, and 2048 population. If anyone compares Seattle, Bellevue, or Snohomish County to what they were ten or twenty years ago, they’d say it’s quite a population and travel increase, and people then wouldn’t believe what it’s like now. Likewise with a ten-year construction window in Capitol Hill and Ballard: people then had difficulty imagining what it would be like now. We mustn’t make the same mistake about the next few decades. We have periodic manufacturing/tech booms, and increasing climate refugees and political refugees, as well as people who always come because of the moderate climate, water, mountains, and snow.

      4. Charles B,
        Tacoma is outside the hour by transit bubble. My reverse commute to tacoma is 75 minutes. Going from tacoma to seattle during rush hour is nuts. Its legitimately a part time job. And it’s not just the time you’re traveling, it’s when you wake up, and reliability of arrival time. If your commute takes 2+ maybe 1/10th of the time, you have to leave for work more that 2hrs before clock in or you will get fired inside of 3 months. He’ll, even if it takes a half hour to the station, if I KNOW I’ll be there on time I get at minimum an extra hour of sleep. Which means a lot when you are currently starting a commute at 530.

      5. “My reverse commute to tacoma is 75 minutes.”

        That’s driving? Or taking Sounder or ST Express and transferring to a Tacoma bus?

      6. Mike,
        That is taking ST Express buses. No local Tacoma bus involved. I live in Downtown Seattle and work in downtown Tacoma. I can make it there in like 45 driving if I leave early (pre 7am).

      7. “If we’re really going to go out and advocate for ANOTHER rail line to Everett, the Legislature will very reasonably laugh at this”

        Not if they’re interested in solutions rather than in putting as many limitations and roadblocks as possible to regional and local transit.

    2. I find the WSDOT study’s ridership numbers hard to believe when the Cascades Long Range Plan a decade ago estimated similar numbers for a much slower service by 2023.

      Alon pointed out the weakness of the ridership model that the study itself acknowledges. The study’s author even said “the model actually sandbags downtown stations, by including a special fudge factor boosting ridership at airport stations.” Where in the HSR world is this assumption true?

      1. The study considers both downtown and airport stations in alternative scenarios, and it doesn’t make much difference. The numbers are terrible either way.

        I’m sure the WSDOT numbers aren’t precise; it was a quick study with a coarse model. But they’d have to be off by an order of magnitude at least for this to be a reasonable proposal. Nitpicking the details, however well-founded the criticisms, isn’t going to fix the value proposition.

  6. Nice article, but I don’t buy the commuter argument. Baltimore has excellent train service to DC. Housing in DC is very expensive, while housing in Baltimore is a bargain. Baltimore is much bigger than Tacoma, and a lot more densely populated ( versus Yet fewer than 5,000 people commute from Baltimore to DC. It is possible those numbers would go up if the trains got faster, but they are already fairly fast. On the other hand, there are huge numbers of people who commute from the inner and outer suburbs to DC (

    The problem is what Engineer mentioned up above. You have to connect to the trains on both ends. Even if the train is very fast, it doesn’t mean the trip is. Fifteen minutes on both ends and you are looking at a commute of close to an hour each way. That is probably optimistic. We don’t have the same high quality transit network that DC has and Tacoma lags Baltimore. That means a typical commute would be more than an hour. Not that many people are willing to do that.

    That doesn’t mean that Tacoma or Everett aren’t good stops. They are. But high speed trains aren’t going to make much difference when it comes to commuting. Not that many people will commute from Tacoma (or Everett) to Seattle via train, no matter what we do.

    1. RossB, try getting to Baltimore Penn Station or Camden Yards without a car. Or if you take a car, try to find parking. Then try to get from Union Station to your destination in Fairfax County.

      For all the additional time you spend connecting from MTA to MARC to Amtrak to VRE or Metro for your suburb-to-suburb commute, you could just take a car.

      1. How is that any different than Tacoma? That is my point. Look at that chart again. It is interactive, so if you hover over an area, you can see who is going where. When you start hovering over Baltimore or the Baltimore suburbs, you can see that hardly anyone is heading to D. C. or its suburbs. The only significant commute is between the Baltimore Southern suburbs and the D. C. inner suburbs. It is quite possible some of those folks are headed to the northern D. C. suburbs. Even then, it is nothing compared to the commuting from just one part of D. C. to another. Very few people are going from Baltimore to Fairfax County by any means. But more importantly, very few are going from Baltimore proper to D. C. proper *despite the very good train service*.

        Is it because it is too hard to get to Baltimore Penn Station? Maybe, I’ve never been there, but I do know how to read a map. Alright, how about this: Five minute walk. Or how about this: Seven minutes. What about here ( with its high rise apartments (pssst — those are white people in that picture, Mike, and they look OK). How long does it take those folks to get to the station? 8 minutes! This is a big freakin’ city — with all due respect to Tacoma, it has nothing like this. Look at those census maps again. Go ahead, click on them (it is an interactive map). Baltimore has a lot more people.

        But you want me to take a bus. OK, from the south — 20 minute bus ride ( This again is an area more densely populated than anywhere in Tacoma. Or how about to the west ( east ( or north ( Those are all in the 15 to 20 minute range.

        Is is a pain to drive there? What about the distant, lower density suburbs? I don’t care. Those will never drive ridership. It just doesn’t work that way. No one is going to live in a suburb of Baltimore and commute into D. C. they will simply live in a suburb of D. C. What is surprising is that more people don’t live in Baltimore proper, and commute into D. C proper.. The obvious reason is that it is simply too far.

        Again, the same is true of Tacoma. But how about getting to the Tacoma Amtrak station. The station sits in a very low density part of Tacoma. So basically hardly anyone could walk to the station. So already it is much, much worse than Baltimore.

        The nearest census block that is barely over 10,000 (a very low bar) is this area, where it is a about 15 to 20 minute bus ride ( From the most densely populated part of Tacoma, the bus is actually pretty good (about 10 minutes): But from other parts of Tacoma, not so much ( or That is pretty much it for density in Tacoma. So basically, Tacoma does a very good job of providing infrequent but fast service from one of its higher density areas to the station. That one area is still a lot lower density than areas in Baltimore that are within walking distance to the station, but more importantly, that is just one area. There just aren’t very many people who can quickly get to the station. Way fewer than can get to the Baltimore Penn Station in the same amount of time.

        Tacoma will never have huge numbers of people taking a train into Seattle, no matter how fast it is.

      2. “pssst — those are white people in that picture, Mike, and they look OK”

        It’s not what the actual demographics and crime level are; it’s what people think it is. People make decisions based on their perceptions. The people I’m talking about that won’t live in Rainier Valley or drive through it are basing it on their perceptions, obsolete facts, and/or stereotypes. What matters is their actions: because they’re not in Rainier Valley, they’re not adding to demand. Because they are in Ballard and Bellevue and shop at University Village, they’re adding to demand there. Rainier Valley would be as dense and gentrified and high-cost as Ballard or Fremont if these lingering perceptions disappeared 100%. Why wouldn’t it, when it has had light rail since 2008, longer than any other part of Seattle, and the frequent/24-hour #7, and a flat walkable valley floor and a growing diversity of businesses, and that line to the airport. In fact, much of the growth in the valley is newcomers who don’t know about its past, or at least don’t learn about it until they’ve committed to the area. All they see is new housing at a lower cost than other neighborhoods. Because Seattle has so many newcomers now and so much residential churn (it’s not publicized that a lot of people move away too or stay for only for a few years), that may be what ends up turning Rainier Valley around completely.

      3. For what it’s worth, the average weekday ridership on MARC Penn Line trains (DC Union Station through Baltimore to Perryville) is a bit over 24,000. This is slightly more than their light rail line. The Camden line (Baltimore to DC Union Station on a slower line) is only about 4,600.

        The table doesn’t give us any idea about origin pairs, but I would expect that getting Sounder up to decent speeds on a higher speed main line might yield similar results. After all, Sounder doesn’t just serve Seattle to Tacoma, as with MARC between Baltimore and DC.

      4. >> Rainier Valley would be as dense and gentrified and high-cost as Ballard or Fremont if these lingering perceptions disappeared.

        It is gentrified! Are you saying Columbia City or Capitol Hill isn’t gentrified? These are areas that were almost all black just a generation ago, yet this is some of the most expensive property in the state.

        Even Rainier Beach is gentrifying. Holy cow, do you know how many people can afford a house that costs half a million? Very few. Yet those houses (with shared walls, no yard, and only one parking space) sold out in no time. Is it as popular as Columbia City? Of course not, but that is because Columbia City is closer to the city. Ballard is more popular because it is close to the water and has old brick buildings (which are rare around here).

        >> Why wouldn’t [Rainier Beach be more popular] when it has had light rail since 2008, longer than any other part of Seattle, and the frequent/24-hour #7, and a flat walkable valley floor and a growing diversity of businesses, and that line to the airport.

        Because transit is only one factor for neighborhood popularity, and Rainier Beach is still a fair distance to downtown. Why live in Rainier Beach if you can live in the C. D. (which is a lot closer)? But look at Ballard ( and look at Rainier Beach ( The only place in Rainier Valley that looks even remotely like that part of Ballard is Columbia City — a very popular place. The fear of crime did not keep Capitol Hill, Columbia City or any other part of historically black Seattle from gentrifying, nor is it keeping Rainier Beach from gentrifying. For every idiot who thinks that the place is too crime ridden, there are a dozen who think it is just fine (and wish those houses went for 300 grand instead of 500). Whether it is the C. D., Oakland or Chocolate City itself, people are willing to take a chance, if the place is nice enough. In the case of Oakland, the C. D. and D. C. proper, it is because it is close to jobs and has existing old architecture that is charming.

        The only reason Rainier Beach is less popular than other parts of town is the same reason Lake City is less popular than Ballard. There is simply less there, and it is farther away from the center of town. It is the latter (the distance from Baltimore to D. C.) that keeps the area close to the train station from gentrifying from D. C. commuters. Those folks — the ones willing to live in an area that is still mostly black — just live in D. C. That explains why D. C. (again — Chocolate City) has gentrified so much, while Baltimore hasn’t. If Baltimore had twice as many jobs, it would go through the same sort of gentrification. But people really don’t want to spend that much time on a train going from city to city. Either they commute in from the suburbs, or they just live in the same city they work in.

      5. @Glenn — Check out the chart in the middle of the article I referenced: It is quite interesting, in that the chart that covers commute flow is interactive. You can highlight an area (either Residence or Workflow) and see the numbers. So, from Baltimore City to D. C. is only 2%. From Baltimore’s Southern Suburbs it is 7%. But 3/4 of the people who commute to D. C. are from D. C. There is a lot of employment in the inner and outer suburbs of D. C. (along with a lot of travel amongst those groups) but just not a lot of people taking the train from Baltimore to D. C., even though it is solid option.

      6. “It is gentrified! Are you saying Columbia City or Capitol Hill isn’t gentrified?”

        Rainier Valley has a bunch of parcels which are zoned and ready for multifamily development but have not been yet. You see it in Othello and especially in Rainer Beach. Their counterparts in Ballard and Greenwood have been redeveloped. Rainier Beach’s distance from downtown is the same as north Greenwood and Licton Springs. The average commute is 25-30 minutes, and 30 minutes is the cutoff where tolerance for longer commutes starts to diminish. Link’s Rainier Beach to Westlake travel time is 28 minutes. Rainier Beach to Intl Dist is 16 minutes. Those are both within the “good” commmute threshold. Rainier Beach to Westlake will become several minutes faster when buses leave the tunnel, and thus Rainier Beach to UW will beoome faster too. It’s currently easier to get from Rainier Beach to downtown on transit than to get from Ballard or Greenwood to downtown unless you can catch the 15 or maybe the 5X or 355 when they’re running. Rainier Valley is getting some development but not as much as West Seattle which is just as far and harder to get to.

    2. Baltimore also has a reputation of being dangerous and black. Everett and Tacoma don’t.

      And of course you need better local transit for the last three miles. This is just one piece. Feeders in Snohomish County in particular will get much better in 2023 when CT can redirect its peak-express dollars.

      1. I think Baltimore is very interesting! I don’t feel any more unsafe there than I do in much of our region.

        The worst thing about Baltimore for inter-city transit is that the BWI Amtrak/MARC station is almost two shuttle bus miles from the air terminals — and the property between them is in public ownership. It’s notable in that the BWI Amtrak/MARC station has more than 30000 riders a day that use it and it’s on the Acela line — and BWI itself has about the same number of passengers as Dulles (where billions are going into a WMATA line) and about 70 percent of the number of passengers at SeaTac (which also sees lots more internally transferring passengers).

        Of course, flyers can use the light rail from BWI to travel several miles to get into Downtown Baltimore Penn Station to hop on Acela — but it’s worse than what we already have here in Seattle. At least here, SeaTac flyers have to go to the IDC station directly to get a direct passenger rail connection to Amtrak; in Baltimore, the Penn Station light rail trains don’t go to BWI Airport, so flyers have to get off and wait at an intermediate platform for another train to make the connection.

        It’s also tragic in that there aren’t many places to go from a terminal to Acela easily. Newark Airport is probably the best, with a relatively short AirTrain system oriented for airline employees and travel. Boston’s Silver Line is another more distant but close and frequent connection. The Philadelphia direct connection is relatively efficient (just two intermediate stops) but it only runs every 30 minutes. The rest of the major Northeast airports are many miles away from Acela and often require boarding on two trains to get between the airport and Acela.

      2. >> Baltimore also has a reputation of being dangerous and black.

        Right, that would explain why people don’t live in Oakland and commute to San Fransisco. Please. Come on Mike, the ’70s are over. White people aren’t afraid of the brown people any more. They just aren’t. They move to wherever they can afford to move to, as long as their commute isn’t too bad. The reason Baltimore isn’t as popular as Oakland for city to city commuting is because it is farther away. Geography matters.

      3. Why is Rainier Valley development still lower than West Seattle? Only half of the potential market considers living or shopping there. I’ve never been to Baltimore but you said the number of Baltimore-DC commuters is low despite the low housing prices. At that point you have to look into other reasons why its commute rate is so low, and you come quickly to Baltimore’s reputation. It’s not just a matter of what its actual safety is but what people perceive it to be. Many suburbanites still don’t want to even drive through Rainier Valley, and I suspect the sentiment about Baltimore is even more so.

        Oakland was the same way until five or ten years ago, or at least parts of Oakland. What changed is $3000-$4000 rents in San Francisco that forced San Francisco workers to look at unhip or sketchy Oakland. It was either that or commute way far out to Hayward or Hercules or beyond.

      4. Oh, and Mike, check this out: No well-to-do person would ever want to live there, right? What with it’s century old brick building and old world craftsmanship, along with multi-ethnic restaurants at every corner. Millennials just hate that stuff.

        Sorry, but that is just absurd. Baltimore hasn’t gentrified the way that D. C. has only because Baltimore itself isn’t thriving the way that D. C. — AKA Chocolate City* — is thriving, and Baltimore sits too far from D. C.


      5. A commuter-belt city that isn’t thriving and doesn’t have lots of commuters to the central city is the same thing. They’re both caused for the same reason. If Baltimore is not within DC’s commuter belt, why does MARC commuter rail go there?

      6. >> Why is Rainier Valley development still lower than West Seattle?

        Um, zoning? Seriously, it isn’t like Rainier Valley is hurting. Last time I checked, Columbia City was doing just fine. So was the C. D. So was Beacon Hill. Those are all historically black neighborhoods, and they are all extremely popular.

        The only reason Rainier Beach isn’t growing faster is because the city messed up the zoning, and even then, places like this — — are already sold out. Holy cow, over 500 grand for a place that is pretty small and has only one parking space. My guess is the folks that spent such an exorbitant sum for a tiny little place weren’t afraid of the neighbors.

        But the main reason Rainier Beach is less popular than Columbia City, the Central Area or Capitol Hill (all historically black areas) is distance. Specifically, distance to downtown. The further out you go, the longer it takes to get to downtown.

      7. >> A commuter-belt city that isn’t thriving and doesn’t have lots of commuters to the central city is the same thing. They’re both caused for the same reason.

        Right — it is too far! It isn’t a commuter belt city. That is my point. It is simply a city — with all of its charms — that sits too far away from D. C. to make commuting there a reasonable trip for most people.

        >> If Baltimore is not within DC’s commuter belt, why does MARC commuter rail go there?

        Seriously? You want to question why the Maryland Transit Association might be wasting their money? Seriously? Perhaps because they had pie in the sky hopes that it might resurrect a once mighty city. Perhaps because someone got a little something on the side. I don’t care (although I do think it would make a nice HBO mini-series). The fact remains that very few people actually commute from Baltimore to D. C. because it is simply too far. Not that there aren’t lots of people making similar commutes in New York City, but New York is much, much bigger. Even then, the number of people making similar commutes in New York are tiny compared to the number of people making much smaller commutes. Distance matters.

        The vast majority of people in Baltimore are commuting to Baltimore, despite the fact that employment there hasn’t grown nearly as fast as it has in Chocolate City (AKA Washington D. C.). Distance matters.

      8. Any city is a collection of neighborhoods. As someone who has spent time in both Oakland and Baltimore, I can assure you that there are sketchy areas and there are very posh areas and everything in between. Some posh areas have been around for decades in both cities.

        With big city housing costs rising across the country, we have a national trend where the sketchy areas that happen to be close to job centers are rebounding. They may not be as unaffordable has historically better areas, but their property values are often growing at a higher rate.

        As for Oakland’s proximity to San Francisco jobs, it’s faster to get to work from Downtown Oakland than it is many parts of San Francisco that aren’t in the northeast quadrant. Muni buses and outer surface light rail are notoriously slow; BART goes 70 mph under San Francisco Bay. It’s only 17 minutes from Fruitvale to Embarcadero (about the time it takes to go from Othello Station to International District Station) and it’s only 7 minutes from West Oakland to Embarcadero, with trains about every 4 minutes at peak hours.

      9. “Last time I checked, Columbia City was doing just fine. So was the C. D. So was Beacon Hill. Those are all historically black neighborhoods, and they are all extremely popular.”

        There would be twice as much demand there and twice as much development/price pressure if it weren’t for the legacy of redlining. The CD may have almost fully recovered because it’s right next to downtown and the media has publicized that it returned to majority white some five or ten years ago.

      10. Baltimore has had commuter rail to DC since the 19th century. It’s 40 miles from DC and it is 35-60 minutes by rail from Baltimore Penn to Washington Union.

      11. Since whole setting of “Deliverance” is probably shopping malls and parking lots to the horizon, I wonder if it’s still dangerous and white? Now that dueling ceased to be a gentleman’s affair when custom changed from swords and precision firearms to banjos.


      12. Nah, Mark, I’ve thrown a rock across that river (Chattooga. Still pretty country (border of SC and GA); did not hear banjos but left the car running just in case…. ;)

      13. We used Air-Tran at Philadelphia, coming from Washington Crossing up near Trenton. It was smooth, but the taxi companies make SEPTA levy a $10/passenger surcharge for the airport station. Still, it was a lot cheaper than taking a cab from Bucks County.

  7. Also–high housing costs feed long individual commutes. There must be assertive government control of the housing market–forced rent rollbacks, finite limits on property values, punitive taxes on short term, speculative “flipping” of property. A sane future will require that public policy force the cost of driving up–but force the cost of housing down. Our system of extreme property rights is becoming a problem and not a solution.

    1. America has no system of extreme property rights, despite what Americans like to tell themselves It has an unusually flexible process for expropriation and a system of land-use regulation more restrictive than most of the world

    2. De facto NIMBY vetos and the outsized influence of suburbs counteracts the ability to use American’s extensive eminent domain powers or to put transit first above existing single-family homeowners.

    3. “Extreme property rights”…that’s a good one.

      If we had “extreme property rights” in Seattle, I’d be allowed to build a backyard cottage even though my property is a bit smaller than average. In reality, lots below a certain size are ineligible for these even if the back yard has plenty of room for one.
      If we had “extreme property rights” in Seattle, I’d be allowed to put a storefront on my arterial street frontage. In reality, I have to leave the front 20 feet of my property clear of all buildings, and public-facing businesses are a major no-no.
      If we had “extreme property rights” in Seattle, I’d be allowed to add a mother-in-law unit to my basement and rent it out separately from the main unit even if I moved to another house across town. In reality, a mother-in-law unit without on-site owner supervision must be decommissioned and absorbed back into the main house.

      What we have right now is very far indeed from “extreme property rights.”

    4. Why did rents start going into overdrive in 2012? Because Amazon started hiring a lot of people every year and it ran through the remaining slack of vacancies and below-market long-paid-off mom n pop units. When landlords see people with six-figure salaries competing for their units, they raise rents dramatically, If there had been enough units to fill all these people without bring down the vacancy rate to 2 or 3 percent, then there would be fewer people competing for their units (especially fewer high-salaray people) and they wouldn’t be able to raise rents. Why weren’t there enough units? Why, after construction restarted in 2011 and started opening in 2012, were we creating only 9 housing units for every 12 new jobs? Because zoning quarantines multifamily housing multifamily housing to a quarter of the residential land, so there are only a few parcels available and the scarcity drives up the price. Because micro-apartments were banned, ADUs and small apartment buildings have so many restrictions they’re hardly feasible, small-lot houses like the old neighborhoods in Fremont, Mt Baker, N 80th Street, and White Center are outlawed, and row houses are severely restricted. All that displaced people from the city and drove up rents. All that needs to be reversed. Prices are sticky on the way down because nobody wants to take a loss. That’s why it very irresponsible of the city to let it get out of hand in the first place. As soon as rents start rising faster than inflation, that’s when you need to increase the housing supply, so that rents go up 50% in five years. The only thing we can do now is make it level off and hope it goes down somewhat… and build a lot more subsidized housing for those who can’t afford the current market rate.

  8. I’m surprised that there isn’t more pushback from the stakeholders of the Governors’ Plan over its flawed study missing a significant portion of the ridership. That would significantly improve their cause. I hope Cascadia Rail is on the phone to them and to legislators telling them what they’re missing out on. The business leaders could easily fund an inexpensive supplemental study or ask the legislators to do so. Maybe even Cascadia Rail could raise money to commission it.

  9. How about what I’m pretty much advocating for LINK and buses: Fully reserved right of way for short headway buses.

    With footings built into the road structure for pillars when the time comes. Making possible a heavy hauling right of way of minimal width. Providing service for the whole construction period.

    And leaving multi-stop passenger service both before and after pillars go up, and trains come in. Also, getting both passenger and prospective business used to the route.


  10. Here’s a tradeoff question:

    Is it better to have a higher-speed train to Portland or Vancouver that leaves every 2 to 3 hours, or a reliable slower train that may be half of the speed but can run every 30 minutes to hourly?

    When I read all these HSR visions, I never see how this tradeoff is substantively addressed. I’m curious what those commenting on the STB that travel inter-city often on the Cascades think.

    1. Who says higher-speed trains have to leave every 2-3 hours?

      HSR is by definition electrified, which has a higher cost of building the tracks but then a much lower operating cost and cost of buying new trains.

      For that reason rail is typically electrified well before service gets anywhere near every 30 minutes.

    2. That tradeoff is only realistic if you build another conventional track to increase passenger+freight capacity. Otherwise you’d have to substantially reduce freight trains, which would affect the state’s and nation’s economy and energy use. That cost is presumably much lower than building new HSR tracks, but it must be included in the comparison or people will assume it’s unnecessary.

      I think 90-to-110 mph half-hourly service to Tacoma and Everett, and hourly to Portland and something less to Bellingham and Vancouver would be adequate. The real need for 200+ mph is if you’re going from Seattle to California, and this vision doesn’t address the Eugene-Sacramento gap. Most people think filling that gap is not realistic in the few-decade timeframe we’re considering.

    3. Monthly Cascades traveler here, Seattle-Albany, and from time to time Seattle-Vancouver, BC. As for me, I’d like to see the older Talgos renovated. They’re wearing out. Get the Wisconsin Talgos running so we can schedule a couple more trains. Buy UP a few more passing sidings so the Cascades trains don’t have to wait for oncoming traffic so often. For that matter I’m sure there are more places along the BNSF main that could use a third track. Get the border formalities sorted out so they can be done en route. Better sandwiches in the bistro, and while you’re at it can we get a good Pilsner beer in the cooler? Do all that and I’m good.

      This Cascadia Shinkansen idea is ludicrous. For all of our glossy hi-tech mirror-gazing hype, Oregon and Washington are still two small states whose ability to finance a $24 to $48 billion dollar construction cost pencils out only when the bong is being passed around.

    1. All HSR has stricter turning and incline requirements than conventional rail. This is one of the reasons it can’t use the existing rail right of way.

  11. I would highly recommend adding Vancouver, WA to the local station list on this proposal. This would be a god-send to people who currently commute on I-5 into Portland. The current traffic conditions on this stretch is worse than the 7th level of hell.

      1. That’s the wrong direction and thus adds time and inconvenience.

        This is why a variety of service levels is good. Shinkansen tends to have through trains, express trains and local trains on the same line, but multiple track stations allow for passing and transfers between the levels of high speed service.

        Note that this means writing the timetable while you decide what levels of service should stop where. Some non-obvious stations will be the best transfer points from locals to the express trains. Kelso is probably where the transfer happens to go from Seattle to Vancouver, WA but maybe the schedule dictates Castle Rock or Napavinewind up being where locals and expresses transfer passengers.

  12. The Cascadia Rail concept is a fantastic one. It is not just about some small estimated ridership today, but about connectivity into the future. We built out significant internet capacity at a time when most things were still text, and now we have a growing industry of information using that capacity. The same thing will happen with high capacity clean transportation.

    The proposal needs three things:

    1) Serious discussion about the route over the Cascades. While I-90 is a visible and simple route, it may be more practical to put rail along the Columbia River/I-84. That would end up bypassing Ellensburg and Yakima. But would there cost savings that could make the whole project viable?

    2) Alternative financing mechanisms. Please consider the case of the Town of Mount Royal in Montreal. It was a plot of land owned by Canada Rail that sits at the northern mouth of the tunnel through Mount Royal in Montreal. Development of the town paid for that tunnel connecting it to the city, which then allowed the rail line to then expand west. (,_Quebec) Where should development focus with a return that could itself finance the lines?

    3) Further connections. What happens south of Eugene and east of Spokane? The system must be built to connect to California’s High Speed Rail. Put in the proposal what is necessary to leave that option open, and what route would that connection take. Similarly, does the line stop in Spokane or is it developed in a way that could go further? What would happen if we put a fork in the Tri-Cities, allowing a line to connect to Boise and Salt Lake City through (relatively) flat and open countryside?

    1. Yes. I hope their work and experience is not ignored.

      P.S. Does the Cascadia Rail group recognize that there are these things called airplanes and one (two if you include Viking of Victoria BC) of the chief producers of them is located in the area?

      1. Major airports are marked on the map, including Paine Field.

        Boeing will be fine. The TGV didn’t cripple Airbus, nor did the Shinkansen to Japanese carmakers. They’ll find markets that trains cannot compete in. I mean Microsoft wants it even though people have been saying for decades that telecommunications would reduce the need to travel for business.

    2. Do you realize that airplanes are more energy-inefficient than trains? That they don’t go to city centers? That they have huge space and noise and building-heignt impacts for their takeoff and landing spaces? That they can’t be coupled together? Airplanes make sense for overseas trips. They don’t make sense for short regional flights, and our region should not depend on them for that.

      1. This Canadian (from Toronto, Ontario, Canada) is in complete agreement with you, and loves the map you’ve made.

    3. Boeing can also build trains if it wants to. It did build some reportedly low-quality trains in the 60s or 70s. It could build high-quality trains now, either by hiriing some train experts and giving them space to work, or by partnering with a non-American train manufacturer to give them a US production site.

  13. Adron, wish I could’ve gotten with you sooner.


    But I think that like current land-use patterns, difference in condition between passenger and freight since the end of the Second World War stemmed from the very size and relative emptiness of our country. For sheer linear distance and low population density, am I right our only rival railroad is the Trans-Siberian?

    First time average American could afford a car, a suburban house, and a plane ticket. Planes rapidly got the long-distance business, and cars the local and suburban. Now that the country is so full of cars that nothing can move- pattern has to change. In ways most suited to trains. We both agree- on their own completely reserved tracks.


    Marl Dublin

  14. Just a thought:

    I’m all for better high-speed rail links in the northwest. No argument there.

    But I don’t “deserve” it. None of us do. I think it would help to avoid the entitlement language and just talk in terms of the real benefits it can bring us.

    1. In most other industrialized countries comprehensive local, metropolitan, statewide, and nationwide transit is the minimum baseline for adequate transportation. This fills in the gap at the statewide level. We’re limiting our own economic potential by not having it. In that sense we deserve it, We the public in a democracy can decide what our state government should do. Maybe the word “deserve” is not exactly precise but it’s reasonably close, and I can’t think of another wording that can substitute.

      1. “Deserve” carries the idea that we’re waiting for somebody else to give us something.Better statements are: “We can do this.” (Source of “Can Do!”) Or: “Let’s just do it!” Like that.

        Same problem is being “Number One!” Or “First!” Every iota of breath or brain spent on this matter takes time and effort away from the work to look at somebody else. Do it enough and someone will decide you deserve to trip for not watching where you’re going.


    2. I can appreciate your semantics argument, and how choosing words carefully will prevent negative ‘meme generation’ by those with opposing viewpoints.

      We could do better by exposing the pro SOV highway building crowd’s argument as the epitome of “We Desrve It (But don’t even hint at us users paying the full cost of our mega-project)”

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