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There are two possible futures for Cascade rail service. Are they mutually exclusive?

It’s been a whiplash-inducing year for intercity passenger rail in the US.  The “Green New Deal” suggests the possibility of sweeping high speed investments at the same time as California’s project is retrenching.  Colorado, a growing Western state where the population is similarly concentrated along a single north-south interstate, is starting to think about intercity passenger rail service.   And here in Washington, Governor Inslee continues to move forward a high-speed rail business plan and the legislature continues to dribble out funds to study it, while at the same time WSDOT picks up the pieces from the DuPont crash.

Long-time Cascades watchers, though, know there’s another, older plan for upgrading interstate rail service. Released in 2007, the Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades was created to guide Cascades development through 2023.  According to WSDOT’s Janet Malkin, this plan is very much alive and we should expect an update by the end of the year.

The Long Range Plan (LRP), which we’ve covered previously, envisions a Seattle-Portland running time of 2.5 hours, down from nearly 3.5 today, and 14 daily departures. Seattle-Vancouver would similarly be about 2.5 hours and have 4 trains/day.  It proposes dozens of projects, including double and triple tracking, high-speed bypasses, and new high-speed track.  Trains would still be diesel, and have a top speed of 110mph.

Future travel times from the 2007 Long Range Plan

The 2007 publication of the LRP was fortuitous.  Just two years later, the world would be mired in recession and the Obama administration, in search of signature high-speed rail stimulus projects, would eventually steer $800M in federal funds to Washington State rail.  Thanks to the LRP, the state had a bunch of off-the-shelf projects to submit.  After governors in Florida and Wisconsin rejected the money, Washington ended up with a windfall. 20 projects were funded, including the purchase of new locomotives and a rehab of King Street Station.

With the Point Defiance Bypass now complete, the stimulus projects are officially over (though work continues on mudslide mitigation and a new Ballard ship canal crossing).   It’s time to think about what’s next: Should the state choose going forward: incrementally update the existing rail corridor, or build an entirely new one, as the Governor’s HSR plan envisions?  Do we even need to choose?

Thomas White, a consultant who spent “half a decade” on a team developing the LRP for WSDOT, told me recently over email that he thought executing the entire 2007 plan would cost about $8.5B in today’s dollars. (Coincidentally, that’s almost exactly what the recently proposed carbon tax would bring in.)   By contrast, some estimates of PDX-SEA-VAN HSR run into the $20-30B range. White thinks it will be closer to $50B when all is said and done. Given California’s experience, that certainly seems possible.  

(Read our 4-part series on Cascadia high speed rail here)

Jon Cracolici, the Vice President of Cascadia Rail, which has chapters in all major Northwest cities, told me by phone that he sees the two plans as complementary.    “We feel that a transformative investment in a high speed rail system and improving current transit infrastructure are complimentary goals. Hurting transit in one place doesn’t help transit in another place,” he told me.  I-5 is approaching 50 years old and needs major maintenance.  To wit, WSDOT’s Roger Millar recently told the legislature that adding a lane to I-5 through Washington could cost upwards of $110B “and still take all day to travel.”  At that cost, HSR starts to look like a better deal.

White, the LRP author, still thinks the incremental approach is the way to go. “The environmental impact statement for Vancouver BC – Portland, permitting, and engineering will be at least a decade…before the first construction work can be performed. We need to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. It doesn’t work out,” he says.

White estimates that federal stimulus funds built “less than 10%” of the long range plan.  Budgets were trimmed to hit the $800M number (remember, our state was coming out of recession and didn’t have local funds to match the feds), resulting in some track that still isn’t up to 110mph standards.  That leaves a substantial amount of work to complete the original LRP.   While $8.5B seems like a lot, WSDOT could fully complete the plan within a decade if it dedicated 10% of its annual budget to Cascades capital improvements.

On the other hand, political forces (Inslee’s presidential bid, local business interests), seem to be gravitating towards something much more ambitious.  

Here’s an important fact about high speed rail: large jumps in top speed add an order of magnitude to costs.  A 2x jump in speed – say from 110mph to 220mph – can mean a much larger jump in dollars. Turning radii need to be substantially wider, grade crossings need to be eliminated completely, and full electrification is required.  A question for politicians and WSDOT to ponder is whether that jump in costs will return much greater benefits. 

It might! It’s hard to know what things will look like in 2050. If greater Cascadia is a teeming megaregion of 25 million climate refugees, no one will look back and say “boy I wish we hadn’t spent that money on this amazing train.” The ability to get to Tacoma in 15 minutes or Portland in an hour will be transformative in ways we can’t even imagine, and the projected 5,000 daily riders will seem laughably low. As Cracolici told me, “If traveling by high speed rail takes you right to your job, meeting, or dinner, with great connections to the other transit systems, we feel that ridership will be very high.”  A more detailed business case is due later this month from WSDOT that could shed some more light on ridership, he added.

On the other hand, while it might not be the stuff to stir men’s souls, in Daniel Bunham’s famous phrase, 110mph service is a serious improvement from today’s service, and well within our state budget capacity.  “Frequency is freedom,” and 14 daily departures with 2.5 hour travel times to Portland or Vancouver would provide lots of near-term benefits and set the stage for more investments down the road. 

WSDOT, for its part, is keeping both options open, which could be both beneficial and possibly distracting.  The legislature, meanwhile, has been reluctant to hand out more than a trickle of funds — and that’s just for HSR studies.

Hopefully all this attention — from local corporations, grassroots activists, and governors with aspirations of higher office — means that shovels could be in the ground again soon.

74 Replies to “Which Way for Washington’s Intercity Rail Program?”

  1. If it’s faster than driving and easier than flying, people will use it. There also needs to be enough trains to keep people from feeling trapped – maybe even 24 hour service. I’ve used Cascades for many years but I find myself taking BoltBus more often lately mostly because the schedule is better.

  2. The political will to make pure HSR a reality in Washington does not exist. Inslee has no momentum, and lip service from tech firms does not cut ice–or are they proposing to pay fora great deal of it? (No, of course not.)

    Here, in California, the odds are far better and yet the project remains bitterly opposed in many powerful quarters, and well underfunded.

    Cascades got as far as it did by being incremental, in part because individual improvements could prove themselves, in part because there was little land cost from using an existing corridor, and in part because by being a series of smaller projects it never achieved the mixture of glitz, glory, and shrill opposition that comes with megaprojects. In short, incrementalism, politically, was very smart.

    The odds are far too great that any pure HSR in Washington will become another Seattle Monorail Project, or another WPPS. The risk is too high, just as it has proved to be too high in California. If–and it’s a big if–California manages to weather its present problems and actually turn a wheel on HSR sometime this next decade, then there might be a different momentum around HSR in the US. But the great irony is that California is presently heading towards the very incrementalist model that the Cascades benefitted from so we’ll, as the political strategy of the Newsome era project is to knit together ACE and the Central Valley project.

    Finish the 2007 plan. It’s a brilliant and fantastic piece of strategy. Don’t fall for the big promises of shiny objects, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    1. I agree. Even if you think there is the political will to build high speed rail, we are likely to encounter big technical challenges. For the money involved and the likely ridership (even if the region grows) it is hard to see it worth it. The 2007 seems like the best approach.

    2. I think HSR will actually work much better in Washington than California. LA and SF are 350 miles apart, and don’t have a lot of useful midpoint destinations. Seattle and Portland are only 150 miles apart, and basically the whole whole route is useful, hitting commuter cities like Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver WA.

      California HSR was always going to be slower than air travel. HSR from Seattle to Portland or Seattle to Vancouver BC will easily beat every other form of transportation in terms of total travel time. Seattle to Portland is really in the HSR sweet spot.

      California is a more populated and developed state in some ways, but also very spread out, with much less development in the center. Cascadia is better organized for HSR because there is a relatively compactor corridor of cities from Portland to Vancouver BC, with big cities in the center of the route.

      Furthermore, all 3 major cities on the route have pretty decent mass transit to connect to HSR. This is compared to California, where really only SF has decent mass transit.

      Finally, though our state has some problems, it’s generally easier to raise funds for major projects in Washington than it is in California. The price points that were quoted for HSR were large, but less than other major projects such as ST3, and are certainly doable at the state level.

      1. If California were to break its system into a North California system and a Southern California system. Southern California alone would have 10 city pairs where Northern would have 4. Any ridership from the SF-LA route would be considered an added bonus.

        Southern California system:
        https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1JKLKSnKlnqDZ_sE–kD2Ljz0d20rAs0s&ll=35.41261134674186%2C-119.81465209773887&z=7

        Fresno-Bakersfield and Riverside would be considered city pairs.

        Northern California system:
        https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1K0-QgXrDk2zkLcSrgjyaxWZroys5rXN9&ll=37.64327966272004%2C-121.78654074576855&z=10

      2. Err–> Fresno-Bakersfield and Riverside would be endpoints.

        If you look at the Valley Link long range plans you can see where the system is headed. There is more of a emphases on shorter city routes.

        And I have to disagree with you on funding. California has passed some pretty hefty props lately: AB32, SB-1, Measure M and etc. They’re flush with cash.

      3. San Jose, California. Population, ~945,000, 3rd most populous city in California, after LA and San Diego. MSA population: 1.9 million. Distance from SF: ~48 miles.

        Fresno, California. Population: ~494,000, 5th most populous city in California. MSA population: ~972,000. Distance from SF: ~185 miles. Distance from San Jose: ~150 miles. Distance from Bakersfield: ~110 miles. Distance from LA, ~219 miles.

        Bakersfield, California. Population: ~347,000, 9th most populous city in California. MSA population: ~839,000. Distance from Los Angeles: ~115 miles. Distance from Fresno: ~110 miles.

        Every one of these cities is larger in population than any city on the Cascades corridor other than Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver, B.C. Not even Tacoma or Eugene come close.

        As for the assertion that Washington has an easier time raising money than California, that’s just plain wrong. California has 39 million people, versus Washington’s almost 8 million. In potential tax revenue alone, Washington can’t come anywhere close to raising the funds California can.

        Additionally, Washington has some spectacular mega-project failures in its past, from the 1982 debt default and cancellation of the massive Washington Public Power Supply System (S2.25 billion, largest public bond default in U.S. history even now), and the infamous Seattle Monorail Project of 2005, and even to some degree the failed Columbia River Crossing project.

        Washington can build things. It can raise money for things. It will never, ever, ever be able to raise the amount of money California can, or build anything to the same scope as California. And I say that as a passionate advocate of and friend to the Cascades, and as someone who believes what WS-DOT did is one of the greatest infrastructure achievements of the country in the last 20 years, even with the black-eye of Point Defiance.

      4. les and Alexander, as far as California raising money, yes, I understand it is a larger state. However, my understanding is that it’s a lot harder to raise money. Levy’s often require a super majority, whereas in Washington they can pass by simple majority. Also, California has very high taxes to start with, whereas Washington has pretty average taxes, and the capacity to raise them to cover new projects.

        As far as all these big cities go… yes, I understand California has bigger cities, but they are spread much further apart, with big empty spaces in the center, and HSR doesn’t even hit all the major cities.

        The distances involved in a Portland to Vancouver BC system are more comparable to the Northeast Corridor or Tokaido Shinkansen. Similar to those routes, every major city can be served with a single line.

        California HSR was partially about economic development in the central valley. Cascadia HSR isn’t about this at all. Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver already have well developed economies, and businesses want better connections to their offices in neighboring cities. It’s a very different situation.

      5. Brenden, the list I gave you is literally the list of communities that will have HSR sevice.in California. Let me repeat, there is more population on any segment of the California HSR than any comparable segment of the Cascades. This is incontrovertible fact.

        As for the Cascades being much like the NEC, that is nowhere near true. Even one metro area on the NEC is bigger than the entire Cascades corridor. They aren’t apples and oranges, they are apples and dragonfruit.

        I appreciate the desire to have HSR in the PNW. I share it. Wishful thinking and exaggeration will not bring it into being.

      6. @Alex
        Too many people get fixated on the Prop 1 city pair of LA-SF and fail to consider that California has many other significant city pairs. SF-SJ ridership alone will be huge compared to anything the northwest will have. Then you have many others such as SD-LA, SAC-SJ, OAK-SAC and etc, all comp out well compared to the northwest’s few systems of PORT-SEA and SEA-VAN. I’m a northwesterner but I am not blind to the fact that California’s population is approaching that of an average European country and it’s economy currently has the world’s 5th largest GDP.

        @Brendan
        What California has already funded in 10 years is more than what Washington will fund in the next 50 years. For HSR, California has the 10 billion prop1 funds, the 800 million/yr cap and trade funds until 2030 and the 2 billion for Caltrains HSR. As soon as prop1 funds run out there is no doubt more will be approved, California is running a 27 billion revenue surplus for the year.

      7. “Let me repeat, there is more population on any segment of the California HSR than any comparable segment of the Cascades.”

        Alexander, that is simply incorrect. The entire interior 350 mile section between LA and San Jose is less populated than the Cascadia route. The entire Cascadia route would fit inside this section.

        Again, I understand that “California the state” as a whole is very populous. However California HSR route mostly is not. Yes, I understand Merced, Fresno, and Bakerfield exist. However, the distance between Merced and Bakerfield is greater than the distance between Seattle and Portland, which are much larger cities.

        Cascadia has less overall population, but the population it does have is extremely concentrated on the I-5 corridor between Portland and Vancouver BC. There is no 350 mile gap between big cities. There is no city pair which is an unreasonable distance to travel by bullet train at all in fact.

        I am not the first person to point out these problems with the central valley, so I’m not sure why you are acting like you don’t understand. This is a big part of what killed California HSR.

      8. So, I think someone should point out that 350 miles isn’t too far for HSR… at all. Madrid and Barcelona are just under 400 miles apart, with virtually nothing in between of any size. London and Paris via Lilles is 320 miles. Tokyo and Osaka are 310 miles apart.

        If anything, 150 miles might be a bit short for HSR, since driving is still very much a competitive option, particularly if transit isn’t a useful option on either end of the trip.

        SF and LA are also huge markets! The smaller of the two–San Francisco–is larger than Seattle and Portland combined; metro LA has more people than all of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia combined.

        I’m also not sure what to make of the argument that Seattle has better transit than LA, particularly the LA that will exist 10-15 years from now when their current slate of projects is complete.

        At any rate, California’s big problems have always been its mountain crossings (particularly the southern one); NIMBY-friendly, anti-rail environmental laws; and very poor oversight coupled with a lack of sufficient follow-through (problems that are hardly unique to California). There’s nothing especially unusual about the city pairs, though.

      9. Also, just to add one thing that I forgot: 150 miles with a series of good intermediate destinations is an argument for an incremental approach, as opposed to greenfield HSR a la California. All those 300+ mile HSR lines that I mention have very few intermediate stations because almost everyone is going to Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris, Tokyo or Osaka.

        Frankly, most people who ride CAHSR will be going to LA or SF, which is why an incremental approach can sometimes be hard to justify in that corridor since there are few really good intermediate service patterns that justify expensive mountain crossings.

        If Tacoma, Olympia, Salem, et al. are a largish percentage of your ridership, then you aren’t going to be going 220 mph for much of your trip. That’s one of the reasons that relatively polycentric Germany has largely avoided greenfield HSR routes until recently (and they’re proving just as bad at building them as California has been!)

      10. Steven H,

        Most people aren’t riding the Tokaido Shinkansen Tokyo to Osaka. It has tons of intermediary stops at cities like Nagoya.

        The madrid to barcelona route you mentioned it probably a better example. It sounds like it mainly competes with air traffic between madrid and barcelona, and doesn’t have a ton of intermediary stops.

        Generally, if you have a lot of intermediary destinations, you can run both express and non-express trains. So I don’t think that’s a problem for Cascadia HSR. I assumed there’d be a commuter rail similar to sounder running on the HSR track from Tacoma to Seattle for instance.

        I think the problem is the incremental approach cuts too many corners to be useful OR safe. We spent years building the point defiance bypass… and the first thing that happens is a train crashes because the track was poorly designed. Even if that hadn’t happened, the improvement in travel time was pretty minimal.

        Also, frankly, we’d be better off setting up a state rail agency than working through Amtrak, which has a terrible safety record, and siphons off funds from profitable routes to fund transcontinental routes that no one rides.

  3. It’d be interesting to see what’s in the WSDOT report. I took their ridership exploration survey a while back and apparently trips between Tacoma and Seattle can’t count. I could only add my one trip to Bellingham I made last year. It took me two hours to drive from Tacoma to Seattle during rush hour on Wednesday. If there’s a bullet train that can get me there in 20 minutes, I’d be happy to pay $$$ for that (it costs $30/day at my work’s parking garage)! If they don’t count intra-Puget Sound trips, the numbers will be way low.

    I agree that we should invest in both Cascades and HSR. They would be complementary, especially since Cascades will have a ton more stops than HSR.

    1. Dear RSO –
      It took over an hour to get from Lynnwood to Seattle yesterday, and another 2 hours to get to Olympia after that. There will be only ONE station stop in the Seattle area with HSR. The problem will be how can riders get to that single station timely so they can then speed on to Vancouver or Portland – the only other stops planned for phase 1.
      HSR will not be a true “inter-city” rail in WA state. ST Sounder in the Metro area and the Amtrak Cascades for the rest of the I-5 corridor, and hopefully cross-state (with the JTC research study now underway thanks to All AboardWashington), is the rail transportation network we need to complete for HSR to ever be effective.
      Without Sounder and the Cascades HSR will not be convenient for anyone living too far from these 3 stations (Vancouver, B.C; Seattle and Portland). HSR rail can not reach the higher speeds we want if it makes any more stops along the corridor. And unless your destination is near one of these 3 cities, you will need another mode of transportation.

      1. That’s where Cascades and other mid-speed rail could still have a place. Need to go to Vancouver and live in Centralia? Maybe Cascades takes you to a Tacoma where you take the HSR the rest of the way.

      2. Connectivity is essential. The shiny and fast “bullet trains” (named for the shape of Shinkansen type 0 trains https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/Shinkansen_Series0_R67_JNRcolor.jpg, not because of their speed) over which so many folks are so awestruck are not terribly useful without a network of connections (See page 23 here http://www.tinyurl.com/Rail4GND). For example, look at current timetables for the Puget Sound region and figure out how to go from Kent to Centralia by train, or Tacoma to Edmonds, or any other combination that involves connections. Bus connections are a little better-sometimes.

        There are two elements of that: public transportation frequency is so low that connecting trips are difficult to arrange, even were planning to be coordinated, and each mode is an agency or a subagency operated as a separate entity. Planning is conducted in that manner. However, planning is also almost irrelevant. This site https://ptrack.konafarry.com/ is a real time transit tracker. Look at the punctuality of “express” buses. Where I catch buses to downtown, they often appear to be running early, but it is easy to see that the early bus is actually the previous bus or the one before that running late. I had already figured that out, but this website provides proof. Rail schedules are based on filling (with no “wiggle room”) the capacity that limited infrastructure projects provide, often providing little or no choice when service can be scheduled.

        Twenty-eight years ago, when I started working on the service that is now called Sounder, Metro timetables carried a disclaimer that times were not worth the paper they were written on, but are an estimate of when you might get there. Now we have Sound Transit express bus service, light rail, and Sounder commuter trains. The timetable for each carries virtually the same disclaimer. It’s like the frozen food packaging that has a picture of a feast with chicken, vegetables, and gravy on a dinner plate and tiny tiny print near the picture that says “serving suggestion.” Open the box and you find a plastic tray with a potato. That’s our transit and regional transportation.

        This Swiss timetable demonstrates what connectivity looks like https://urbanist.typepad.com/files/swiss-national-timed-diagram.pdf
        In Switzerland, trains, trams, and buses are all coordinated in this manner. It is complex, but well worth studying.

        Another approach is to explore here https://www.bahn.de/en/view/index.shtml and click on the punctuality tab then on the bottom left click on “Arrival and Departure board.” Explore by putting in a station, such as Hannover Hbf (main station). It’s all there – ICE, long distance, regional, commuter, trams (streetcars), and buses. It will even tell you on what track to find your train, days in advance. Thee is no “boarding process” and no finding out where your train will be only when the “boarding process” starts. More impressive, this site provides similar information for Europe, not just Germany. One can plan a trip from Lisbon to Vladivostok using this site.

        We don’t have anything like that. At the moment, we don’t have the infrastructure nor the facilities to do anything like that. Merely building HSR will not fix this at all. Merely finishing the Cascades service as it was planned will not. Extending Link and express buses and/or BRT will not.

        We need for legislators and congressfolks to know the what and why of rail transportation. That is going to take effective advocacy groups. To be effective, advocacy groups need to be better informed, better known to the public, and better known as a powerful representative of the public to the legislature and congress rather than a niche minority to put up with politely. Transit advocacy seems to be more effective in that regard than regional and long distance rail transportation, but both could use substantial improvement.

        The increased knowledge of effective transportation can lead to increased legislative and congressional awareness of the importance. That can mean more funding for rail infrastructure and service. However, keep in mind that a failed highway project is a do-over (SR 16 across Nalley Valley comes to mind), but a failed rail project is a boondoggle. Actually, even incomplete rail projects are often reported as boondoggles whether they will be successful on completion or not. That is part of the very effective decades-long propaganda campaign against rail transportation.

        It is absurd that there are proponents of HSR, which will need to blaze a new trail across environmentally sensitive areas of all sorts, who are getting the ear of government. Meanwhile, conventional rail projects must stay close to the 100+ year old existing alignments or be deemed “too expensive.” Even incremental existing rail projects need to get off of the existing right of way in some places. The line between DuPont and the Nisqually River is a prime example, but there are many. Such deviations seem to be considered “too expensive” when some sort of service can be implemented on the existing property.

        There is a second element of knowledge that we don’t have. We don’t have the knowledge needed to design and run effective rail transit. In Germany, for example, every engineering student, regardless of subdiscipline, is required to take basic railroad engineering courses. Students may also specialize in railroad engineering and operation, obtaining a Bachelor, Masters, or even PhD specifically in railroad engineering and operation. Germany has 11 university rail transportation programs. Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, France, and England have similar programs. Russia and China have universities dedicated to rail transportation. In the US, there is a railroad Bachelors in railroad civil engineering program at Michigan Tech and a graduate level (added on to a non-rail engineering degree) in railroad engineering at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. There are a few other institutions that have occasional individual courses.

        In Germany, the operating trades (conductor, engineer, train dispatcher) take a three year trade school program. Similar trades in the US have generally about seven months of a much lower level program (although locomotive engineer training is generally supplemental to conductor experience).

        To have effective rail transit, we must have educated government officials, educated and effective advocacy groups, sufficient university programs in rail transportation, and effective trade school programs for railroad professions.

  4. “We feel that a transformative investment in a high speed rail system and improving current transit infrastructure are complimentary goals.”

    From the time California passed prop 1 in 2008 to the time they execute an expected run from Merced to Modesto in 2028, 20 years will have transpired. This for 170 miles of track built on flat terrain. No way should Washington hold of on the 110 mph 2023 plan, it will be another 25 years minimum before the fast electric stuff will exist. HSR is a generational journey not a one night assembly of a child’s Christmas gift.

  5. I just want to point out that WSDOT isn’t portraying this as an either/or choice. They have been talking about HSR and higher-speed Amtrak Cascades service as complimentary.

    I also want to point out that WSDOT can’t choose to spend 10% of their budget on rail improvements. The Legislature controls the purse strings and tells WSDOT where to spend the money they receive.

    1. This is correct – and I think a further implication of legislative control of the purse strings means it’s less about whether sdot sees them as potentially complimentary and more about legislative will to spend money on both. If I’m being honest, I think we’re gonna have to work our asses off to get one, let alone both, of these projects funded. We’re likely going to have to prioritize, and we should recognize that prioritizing may be tantamount to choosing.

      1. I don’t think “working asses off” will be required for Cascades. HSR, a different story. And I don’t think we should associate the two, just like we shouldn’t associate Cascades with Sounder. Their objectives are completely different. Moving people between the likes of Bellingham, Mt Vernon and etc should be its own concept and more in line with competition with the auto. HSR, on the other hand, would be for the likes of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver and mostly thought of as a competitor to air travel; these are two entirely different concepts. Just like in California, I don’t think they will ever do away with ACE, SJs, Valley Link or other less advanced systems; they’ll all most likely remain continuously upgraded great feeder systems.

    2. Of course. But the governor (who oversees WSDOT) can propose a budget, and thus far he’s mostly interested n funding for HSR studies. Not a bad thing! But you can’t put it 100% on the leg.

    3. You have to look at why the current LRP didn’t meet its goals. The legislature is ho-hum about supporting intercity rail and doesn’t try much to make it more competitive relative to driving on I-5. The bypass setback exacerbated it but the primary factor is the legislature focusing on new highways rather than on making Cascades first-rate and improving the Seattle-Spokane corridor. France and The Netherlands prioritize intercity trains a lot more than Washington State does.

  6. With Link going to Tacoma, what’s the reasonableness of focusing on speeding the Cascades service from Tacoma to Vancouver or Portland? Even the 2023 vision from 2007 seems a challenge to accomplish. With a 2030 Link opening date, it seems like a strategic date to go more ambitious than the 2007 with the Tacoma-Vancouver segment in mind. (I’m not suggesting dropping the other Cascades improvements but focusing merely on this segment as the first priority.)

    1. Link from Seattle to Tacoma seems irrelevant. When Link gets to Tacoma, Sounder will be faster, even if they do nothing to improve it. Any improvement on that section would help Sounder riders. My guess is there will be a lot more Tacoma to Seattle riders than Tacoma to Portland riders, even if you include those that take Link to Tacoma in the latter group. Therefore, if we do anything, it should be to focus on the section between Tacoma and Seattle.

      1. Link will go to Seatac every 10 minutes from either Seattle or Tacoma, like an airport shuttle. For flyers headed to/ coming from Olympia or points further south, it is an important future connection — if Portland-Seattle trains can reach a better frequency and faster speed.

        Sounder is irrelevant; any Cascades train should be going all the way into Downtown Seattle as noted in my comment. Sure, Sounder could benefit from speed improvements but the station spacing makes anything short of electrification relatively minor.

        That said, electrification may need to be discussed as a long-term goal. I would think the carbon footprint would be much lower in the long run.

        Finally, it’s worth noting that the 2007 plan had no assumptions of ST2 and ST3. Passenger rail transferring is now going to be different — and revisiting the 12-year-old plan seems in order.

      2. Here are some trip patterns:

        1) Seattle to Portland
        2) Tacoma to Portland
        3) Olympia to Portland
        4) Some suburb between Seattle and Tacoma (such as SeaTac) to Portland
        5) Some suburb between Seattle and Tacoma (such as SeaTac) to some place between Tacoma and Portland.
        6) Some suburb between Tacoma and Olympia to Portland
        7) Tacoma to Seattle

        Ridership is clearly dominated by 7. In second place is 1. Everything else is way behind. It isn’t close. You can just look at every other city that has similar infrastructure. Or you can just use common sense. For every rider that booked a flight in SeaTac but is heading to Portland, there are dozens of people just trying to get from Tacoma or Portland to Seattle.

      3. A Seattle-Portland market is still served by rail speed enhancements between Tacoma and Portland, and that’s about 3/4 of the trip distance anyway. With lower adjacent land costs and fewer grade crossings, that would appear to be where more cost-effective speed gains can be made.

        I think you may miss that the purpose for this higher-speed train should be for inter-city travel rather than commute travel. The train frequencies and spacing during the day are just not well-designed for commuters. While there is a Seattle-Tacoma non-commute market, the high frequency of Link will still likely be more attractive. Why would many riders choose a train that saves 15 minutes of travel time but only runs every few hours?

        Portland Market: I could also see that the 1.5 million people from South King and Pierce would be a similar market to the 1.5 million people from North King and East King. I could see some enhanced travel markets to Downtown Seattle offices and events, but I could also see that the Seatac connection is desirable. Keep in mind that Seatac gets more than twice as many air passengers than Portland does and has direct flights to many more places. Seattle folk don’t usually fly out of PDX, but Portland Metro area folk will drive to SEA to catch a plane.

      4. Why do folks think Link from Tacoma to Seattle will be slower than Sounder is now? On the TDLE page they quote 25 minutes from Tacoma Dome to SeaTac. It’s another 31 from SeaTac to ID Station. Sounder currently runs 62 minutes from Tacoma Dome to King Street Station. Even if the train dwelled at SeaTac for 4 minutes, Link and Sounder would take the same time.
        For anyone headed north of KSS you’d save time with no transfer, and it will come twice as frequently in the peak. I know which train I’ll be taking.

      5. @Al –You are bouncing around mentioning irrelevant and/or obvious points.

        How about a real world example. The only corridor in the U. S. that has anything resembling high speed rail is in the Northeast. Improvements have been made so that the trains can go fairly fast between stations. These improvements to the Amtrak corridor have also enabled faster speeds for commuter trains. For example, the MARC train from Baltimore to D. C. reaches speeds of 125 MPH, making it the fastest commuter train in the country. This is a very similar type of commuter train to Sounder.

        Of course improving Tacoma to Portland travel will help Seattle to Portland travelers, but so will improving Tacoma to Seattle. Why should we favor the former, when the latter will clearly have a lot more riders? Either we should focus on the whole corridor (without favoring a particular section) or we should favor the section with more side benefits (Tacoma to Seattle). It makes no sense to do the opposite.

        @Mark — Good point. Everything I had read suggested travel times from Tacoma to Seattle via Link of well over an hour (close to an hour and 15 minutes). I don’t know if something changed, or if someone made a mistake in the estimates. You are right though, if Link is even close, anyone headed to downtown would take Link. Of course if we really did improve travel speeds between the cities (and built an express that skipped intermediate stops) then the Sounder train could get there in around 40 minutes, making it significantly faster.

      6. Mark Y.

        I see the numbers your quoting, and they do add up, but all of the earlier materials that I can find project significantly longer times from Tacoma-Seattle, typically in the 65-70 minute range. Not sure what explains the discrepancy, perhaps someone here can enlighten us.

      7. “all of the earlier materials that I can find project significantly longer times from Tacoma-Seattle, typically in the 65-70 minute range”

        Those are to Westlake, not Intl Dist.

  7. It would be helpful to see a realistic assessment and comparison of the projects’ timelines. The Long Range Plan looks to be well behind where it was projected to be in 2007- when the Point Defiance Bypass reopens, it will have taken more than a decade to shave just 10 minutes off the Portland-Seattle trip, so it seems unlikely that travel times could be cut by another 50 minutes by 2023, as originally envisioned in the LRP- just four years from now.

    1. A big part of the schedule is float time so while a lot of these projects cut travel time by a few minutes, they greatly improve reliability. This can improve the scheduled travel time just as much (or even more) than increased speed. The long-range plan for 2023 laid a roadmap for what could be possible if fully funded, which hasn’t happened.

      Personally I’d be super happy with the LRP’s completed vision. I’d prefer more than 4 trips to YVR but it’s a great start. Some of the most grueling segments on the entire line are short sections of extremely slow trackage that will make a huge difference if upgraded. Canada needs to step up and do their part because once you cross the border speeds immediately slow way down.

  8. A good test would be high speed bus to Spokane, (with high speed line privileges) and as important, a first class ticket – 2- 1 abreast versus the current 2-2. Also, and I hope this is not politically incorrect, there needs to be camera surveillance on buses and banning of unsocial riders. We used bus service from SW Washington to SW Oregon until last two trips – sociopath set off a tear gas cylinder and another was a big knife open- carrier. In neither case did the bus driver do anything. He probably was aware there was nothing he could do.

  9. What is California doing with their two systems, ie the new HSR system and the existing legacy systems? Are they merging, dropping or adding components?

    Currently they have a plan to run a perpendicular line to intersect the HSR line in the Hanford region so has to pick up several Central Valley communities, communities that had no rail in the past.

    They are also adding a 1/2 dozen or so permanent ACE stations to draw more riders from the Altamont and San Joaquin Valley area.

    There is also a few billion dollars set aside to add an entire new Valley Link line to supplement the ACE line, more or less, a BART extension to Stockton.

    Even still yet, there are plans to extend a line south of Gilroy as to draw even more communities to the system.

    The San Joaquins is the only big question for me. Will it become a casualty? Since it runs parallel to the Merced to Modesto component of HSR will they let it die out? South of Merced they would lose a few small stations which might piss a few farmers off but not a great loss. North of Merced they would lose two stations as well. But I guess it all depends on what they do with the Madera and Merced stations in the long run and how they manage express service. And maybe they can add 5 or 6 new community stations to justify it as a feeder system.

    1. Central Valley rail service needs better systems planning. The challenge of ACE is that it doesn’t intersect BART and it goes to San Jose instead and only can operate a few trains a day since most of it is single-tracked. The San Joaquin trains don’t connect to BART either, and run further north to Martinez before circling back south to Oakland.

      I’m hopeful that the Valley Rail project to BART can evolve. Still, the Bay Area ties to the San Joaquin Valley keeps having new proposals every 5-10 years; incremental solutions are always proposed rather than a comprehensive one. Some big picture resolution is badly needed, as the commute market is pretty significant there now.

      1. One thing I would do is push the new Valley Link line beyond Dublin and slowly but surely tear up BART track, repurposing each BART station as a VL station.

      2. ACE released a plan for additional capacity over Altamont, a new set of tunnels in the pass, plus new service to Merced, Sacramento, and San Francisco. They’re already envisioning that more frequent future.

        San Joaquins do connect to BART, at Richmond.

        As for service planning, last I saw, California is the only state with multiple rail agencies and a single unified service plan, see the 2018 California Rail Plan, which calls for coordinated schedules, timed transfers, and a tiered level of service for the entire state. The plan would make for good reading for anyone thinking about how coordinated rail service might work on other states.

        Whether any of these projects actually happens is a separate issue–see also the Transbay debacle.

      3. “Whether any of these projects actually happens is a separate issue–see also the Transbay debacle.”

        Phase I of ACE extension is funded.
        Valley Link is funded.

        The Cap & Trade money generator and a huge tax surplus bodes well.

      4. True, but as Transbay shows, money alone is not enough to get a project done.

      5. “the BART Board made a decision in May of 2018 to no longer plan for expansion of the BART system to Livermore.”

        Valley Link is running to Dublin instead.

        What page does it say otherwise?

      6. page 151:

        “Phase 1 – Dublin/Pleasanton BART to North Lathrop, Greenville
        Road ACE $1.8 billion”

        This is referring to BART as an endpoint and not an extension.

  10. There is a lot that folks in the US don’t understand about rail transportation. That is not unreasonable since there has been a century of anti rail-pro highway propaganda, the US government has been competing against the rail industry for just under a century, and the oil/highway folks spend a lot of money in DC and the states to be sure that cars and highways remain supreme.

    The highway orientation is so substantial that the instantly considered solution to the climate crisis is Electric Vehicles. Electric Vehicles do nothing for highway safety or congestion. Beyond that, the problem of how to fuel them is ignored. Converting the annual motor fuel consumption in Washington to Kilowatt Hours, one finds that for the equivalent electricity, Washington needs two new Grand Coulee Dams, 5,725 wind turbines, 150 square miles of solar panels, or 4 nuclear power plants. Since rail transportation (steel wheels on steel rails and dime-size contact area per wheel) uses one-third of the energy of highway transportation (resilient wheels on semi-resiliant surface and dollar-bill-size contact area per wheel), quick implementation of rail transportation should be an automatic consideration.

    Unfortunately, the only consideration being generally given to rail transportation is to High Speed Rail, or Ultra High Speed Rail, or True High Speed Rail (HSR). These names all refer to some form of rail transportation that has a maximum speed of about 185 mph or more. HSR has become a Mantra and has even found its way into Green New Deal proposals. The lack of understanding of rail transportation in general and particularly of HSR has caused and/or will cause serious mistakes in transportation policy, federal and in the states.

    Virtually every country in the world that has HSR first developed its conventional rail system to the extent possible. HSR was the response to the inability to cram more trains into the network. Implementation was a combination of higher speed and new routes. France built entirely new lines because of the lack of suitability of new construction along existing lines. However, the French high speed (TGV) trains use the conventional rail system to reach big city terminals, avoiding the need for new high speed routes into dense urban development areas. The typical vision of HSR in the US is leave the station immediately accelerating to some speed over 180 mph and maintaining that speed until the distance needed for the next station stop. Such philosophy ensures the need for new rail lines into dense urban development.

    Germany, on the other hand, has improved existing lines for maximum speeds of 150 mph (a speed that HSR advocates don’t consider high speed, hence terms like True High Speed). On lines with a maximum speed of 150 mph, ICE (Inter City Express – high speed) trains share the line with commuter, regional, conventional long distance, and freight trains. Germany only started constructing entirely new high speed lines after such methods were no longer effective on the routes getting new construction.

    The only major HSR systems that began on completely new lines were Japan and Spain, a matter of nonstandard track gauge of the national network, and China, which already had fully utilized network where it extended and unserved areas.

    The schedule of German ICE train 74 demonstrates an example of how an effective high speed rail system works. It does not meet the criteria for HSR that is generally put forth by HSR advocates in the US:
    Distance: 654 miles, total trip 8 hours 6 minutes, maximum speed 150 mph, average speed 75 mph, 13 intermediate stations…
    but here is the important part: 6 bus connections and 214 train connections, maximum waiting time for a connecting train 48 minutes, minimum connecting time 3 minutes. The connecting trains serve stations between the ICE stops as well as lines diverging from the ICE route. This arrangement is typical and necessary to effective HSR service. In Western Washington, the described plan for the Cascades would serve that function.

    HSR can also have no immediate climate change mitigation value, particularly within the 11 years in which the UN report states that emissions must be cut by about half. The environmental documentation, engineering, permitting, and right of way acquisition for a new Vancouver BC – Portland would take at least five years, probably more, and cost around (really rough estimate) ten million dollars before construction could begin. An incremental program such as the Cascades allows each infrastructure investment to provide benefit soon after completion. A new HSR line would not provide any benefit for many years after construction begins.

    Another consideration for developing the Cascades service before HSR is the amount of emissions offset by HSR. HSR, because of the limited number of stops and distance between stops, offsets aircraft emissions but does not offset highway emissions to any great extent. Even if HSR is extended between Seattle and Spokane as well as Vancouver BC – Portland and there were no flights on these routes, HSR would offset 14,000 annual metric tons of emissions. Highway vehicle emissions, which could be offset by effective rail transportation, amounts to 31 million annual metric tons in Washington.

    Given the long lead time for HSR development., an immediate start is not unreasonable as long as it does not prevent immediate development of conventional and higher speed rail service.

    1. Thomas,

      Thanks for a great summary.
      I too feel that we’re chasing the glossy next big thing (same with EVs and AVs) instead of doing the practical solution

      Of course, practical solutions don’t yield great campaign slogans. Hence, we just say it to get votes.

    2. Washington’s situation isn’t as dire as you make it out to be.
      The state has other options for power. Places like Montana, which Washington gets coal based power from, Wyoming and BC all have plenty of growth potential. Montana: “We have over 3,000 megawatts of renewable-energy projects under development today ” and
      “Wyoming has one of the highest wind power potentials of any state in the United States.” Also, Solar panels and wind turbins continue to advance. Wind turbins are approaching 12 mw and Sunpowers latest solar panels are over 4w. And a company from Alameda is in the process of manufacturing a ferry that runs off hydrogen. I could go on and on here. Lets just say, as demand grows, technology will continue to advance as well.

      https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2018/07/14/montana-wind-power-big-projects-on-tap-in-central-montana/

      1. The point is not that the situation is dire. The point is that wherever it comes from, this is the amount of electricity needed beyond current usage. That there is clean power generation in other states is irrelevant. Each state requires current power (at least a substantial percentage of it at highest usage) plus more for EV. Saying that we can merely get Montana’s clean power is like the American attitude of our oil is under their dirt. The point of Montana’s renewable power is not to supply Washington, but to be able to retire Montana’s non-renewable power.

        Nationwide, the highway fuel equivalent is 83 Grand Coulee Dams or 292,000 wind turbines, or 7,700 square miles of solar panels. That is just to replace highway fuel. Above that, nationwide the current power generation must be replaced: 359 coal, 1,080 petroleum, 1,820 natural gas, 44 other gas, and 61 nuclear. That’s 3,364 existing non-renewable electric power generating facilities.

        Sure, technology advances and maybe the equivalence numbers will drop a bit, but the fact is that EVs need is big if we don’t reduce highway-centric transportation, and including the new generating capacity that is supposed to be replacing existing non-renewable capacity is like making an 8 foot board 10 feet long by cutting two feet off of one end and gluing it on the other (like Daylight Savings Time).

        We cannot get away without changing the car culture AND building a lot of expensive stuff the will take a lot of time consuming process to permit and build. It’s not dire, we just must all be aware that the task is huge, not inconsequential and to achieve the change in a timely fashion, the lead time must be respected and we must start work on these things now. It is not dire, until five years passes and we are still stalled in the same quagmire in which we are today.

      2. I understand what your saying, but you’ve thrown out some significant numbers and I want to be a devil’s advocate if you will, so bare with. And by no means am I saying public transit shouldn’t be maximized. I can’t think of many states that are being as aggressive as Washington is. I know over 1/2 of Seattle utilizes it.

        One thing I’ve always heard was that the majority of EV charging was
        to be in the evening when power demand was significantly lower. Won’t this make a significant dent in your calculations, ie, existing power generation that isn’t being utilized can now be used?

        Grand Coulee puts out 6809 mw, the annual needs of 4 million customers. I know GC did some major upgrades this past decade which brought in added capacity. Will future replacement turbins be more efficient and bring in yet more capacity? Your saying 13000 mw more capacity will be needed. I have to think there is enough room for Columbia dam upgrades to reach a significant part of that.
        Keep in mind that there are over 60 dams along the Colombia, a lot of room for gains.

        Montana’s coal capacity is 3500 mw. This year’s added wind capacity alone will replace that. And Montana’s potential is but a fraction of Wyoming’s. And cross sharing of power among states is common so I’m not sure why I can’t consider it. States use Permian natural gas across the country, changing replacement energy across state lines is common.

      3. Here is the stuff I remember reading back in the day:
        “In December 2006, a study at the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that off-peak electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country’s 220 million cars, if they would be converted to plug-in hybrids. In June 2007, another study from the US government concluded that 73 percent of the existing US light-duty vehicle fleet (cars, SUV’s, pickup trucks, vans) could be powered with available off-peak electric capacity if transformed to plug-in hybrids. In March 2008, a study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that if 25 percent of the US fleet would be replaced by plug-in hybrids, only zero to eight new large power plants would have to be built if all these cars plugged in after 10 pm.”

        https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/03/fast-charging-electric-cars-off-peak-grid.html

      4. I’ve always found it funny that people talk about electric cars charged at home as if the power draw is negligible, when charging 6 million cars in the state would require another power station. The public knows that refrigerators, air conditioners, headers, and stoves are large power draws but tends to assume everything else is negligible, even though it adds up. When we transitioned from incandescent to LED/CFL light bulbs it was expected to save more energy than it did because people simultaneously increased the number of electronic gadgets and large-screen TVs they had, and most of those are vampire energy users, powering their clock and power-on button even when turned off.

      5. I just quick charging my phone and went back to a landline. I couldn’t handle the bills anymore.

      6. Thomas, Mike, see my other comment. You’re essentially just wrong about the energy draw from electric cars.

        This is because gasoline cars are supremely inefficient, under 20% of the energy in the gasoline being used — the rest is wasted as heat. Most of the energy used in gasoline is wasted.

        Electric vehicles (whether cars or trains) use upwards of 90% of the energy in the electricity to move the vehicles — usually upwards of 95%.

        Yeah, electric cars use some significant amount of electricity. The amount mine uses? The same as the amount I saved from switching to LED lights. Admittely I drive less than average.

        But if you do the math, the national switch to LEDs cut total power usage by about 10%, and a total national switch to electric cars/trucks/buses/etc. would raise total power usage by about 30% from the pre-LED baseline.

        This is a net of about 20% increase — this is NOT a large project, it’s an easy project. My local power company just pulled 10% more power out of their hats by more efficient transformer and transmission design (including some batteries at substations), believe it or not.

        The grid can handle a replacement of gasoline cars with electric cars easily, no problem.

      7. I included the efficiency factor. Sure there is some variability in efficiency among vehicles and electric power generation will get better. My point is that it isn’t as easy as scattering charging stations across the landscape. The electricity needed to replace fossil fuel heating, water heating, and cooking are still to be met. The usage of population growth is still to be met. There will probably be additional air conditioning load as the unseasonably hot days increase and temperatures rise. Regardless of the details, since I was making an approximation to show the magnitude of need, we need to build a lot of substantial stuff, which takes a lot of lead time. The exact amount of substantial stuff needed will vary somewhat, but it will still be a lot. The time to start on all the lead time for what we need to mitigate the damage is now…or yesterday.

        Of course, the number of people who are just getting by and can’t just buy an EV, even a used one. In addition to building, there needs to be a way to provide the EVs to an increasing number of folks who can’t buy one and may not be able to in the next ten years.

    3. Gotta make an important correction.

      Gasoline vehicles waste 80% of the energy in the gasoline. Electric vehicles waste about 5%.

      As a result, to replace ALL the gasoline vehicles, you need only 21% of the energy.

      So to replace all cars with electric cars, your energy numbers are completely, wildly wrong — they’re off by a factor of FIVE.

      30 square miles of solar panels or less-than-half of a Grand Coulee Dam will cover it.

      Electrified rail transportation is even more efficient, of course.

      1. BTW, gasoline cars are flat out insane — they’re the single biggest source of WASTE in our entire industrial energy system. Nobody at all should ever drive one.

        I think most people don’t realize how fantastically wasteful and inefficient gas cars are — Thomas certainly didn’t!

        If you convert the energy value of gasoline to kwh, then 80% of that number is just pure total waste, producing CO2 to destroy the climate for no good reason at all, and only 20% of that number of kwh needs to be produced in order to move electric vehicles. Everyone should know this.

  11. I can definitely see the argument for high speed rail in terms of economic development that results from increased travel and tourism between neighboring cities (but I’m not convinced that’s enough to be worth the $100 billion+ price tag). But, the climate change argument, I have difficulty justifying, do the following reasons:
    1) Building a high speed rail line takes 10-20 years. To avoid the worst of climate change, we need to act sooner than that.
    2) While cars, in general, generate a large amount of carbon emissions, drives between Seattle and Portland comprise only a tiny percentage of the Puget Sound region’s car trips. Focusing on reducing car use within the city would have a much bigger impact in actual carbon footprint.
    3) Even for Seattle->Portland trips, its unclear how much of a modeshare high speed rail would actually get. Consider the following:
    – Those who fly between Seattle and Portland just to change planes will probably continue to fly, since it’s much more convenient.
    – The time advantage of high speed rail over driving largely evaporates when the origin and destinations are not both downtown. For example, imagine somebody at a random house in Bellevue or Magnolia. Just riding buses to King St. Station is already a good 45 minutes. Add in a half-hour of padding, and by the the train pulls away from the station, an hour 15 minutes has gone by – enough time, if driving, to get all the way to Olympia.
    – Even with the not-so-high-speed rail we have today, train travel is expensive. A couple months ago, for example, I looked into doing a day trip to Bellingham with some people by train. The round trip cost was $50/person. Renting a car was also $50/person, except 4 people got to ride for the price of 1. For a family that already owns a car, it is almost certainly going to be cheaper to drive, probably a lot cheaper, unless the fares go way down. Especially after tacking on the cost of Ubers, rental cars, and/or transit fares to get to/from the stations on each end. But, considering that even current fares are with around a 40% operating subsidy, it’s hard to imagine fares dropping while you have a high-speed train on brand new track. Even in Europe and Japan, long-distance train fares are expensive enough that you don’t ride them too often.

    1. To be clear, high speed rail does have value, as there are a lot of people that don’t like driving for 3 hours straight, and sitting in traffic getting into and out of each city. But, the incremental demand induced by the faster trains will mostly be new trips that, without high speed rail, wouldn’t happen at all, rather than a noticeable shift from cars and planes. At best, you may even end up with double the train ridership, but still have a negligible impact in the number of cars on I-5.

    2. The concepts they’re considering have station spacing like Cascades and something like hourly service with fares in the $20-30 range, so the cost would be comparable to current Amtrak/Greyhound/Bolt. That’s too expensive for 5-day-a-week commuting unless you have a $150K salary (and most of those will live in Seattle/Bellevue rather than Everett/Bellingham), but it’s doable for a monthly trip or business meeting, and the dramatic speed increase would attract people, even if it doesn’t attract those who are fifteen miles from the stations at both ends.

  12. The legacy of our Interstate system is no grade crossings, north to south and east to west, as well as connection to the numerous secondary freeways. It is difficult to exaggerate that value. Duplicating this for rails may not be economically possible.

    1. “Duplicating this for rails may not be economically possible.”

      A completely seamless junction, like you see with freeway junctions, if effectively impossible, but the limitation has more to do with service than physical infrastructure. The issue is that avoid making everybody get off at some junction station and wait for another train, every conceivable path at every junction point would require a separate train route. This phenomenon is not actually specific to trains at all, but applies to any form of shared transportation, including buses, and is one reason that makes the operation of successful bus routes along freeways so difficult.

      To illustrate the point, let’s imagine a hypothetical world in which we built train tracks over all of WSDOT’s freeways, including all of the interchanges. Even if tracks exist off the I-5 route connecting to secondary freeways, such as SR-525 as SR-526, achieving a car-like experience at those junctions would require separate train routes for continuing straight down I-5 all the way, turning left at SR-525, turning left at SR-526, turning right at I-405, turning right at SR-520, turning right at US-2, etc.

      It is simply impossible to run that many routes at a reasonable frequency without busting the budget, so from a transit perspective, the only design that scales is to replace freeway-style interchanges with stations, have the trains (or buses) continue straight at the junction points, and if you want to turn, you have to get off and wait for another train (or bus). For high-frequency intra-city lines, this isn’t a big deal. People do it all the time on the Washington D.C. Metro, the New York Subway, the London Underground, and numerous other similar systems. And, in a post-ST3 world, they’ll do it here to – that’s how you’ll get from Ballard to Capital Hill or West Seattle, for example.

      But, when you’re dealing with a statewide high-speed rail system, you have to deal with the fundamental problem that at any given time, the number of people traveling *between* cities hundreds of miles apart is only a fraction of the number of people traveling *within* their particular city. So, when the distances scale up to statewide regional rail, the demand to fill up trains at a service frequency that supports easy transfers simply does not exist. So, someone going from Ellensburg to Olympia might have to wait an hour or more at King St. station to switch trains.

    2. The easiest path technically would be to use the freeway rights of way, which already gotten rid of level crossings and avoid steep inclines. There will never be cross trains every mile: just one north-south route and one east-west route transferring at King Street Station or a SODO HSR terminal, which is located there precisely because it’s the biggest city around (especially if including the Eastside, like Minneapolis-St Paul). The number of people going from Ellensburg to Olympia will be dwarfed by the number of people going from Ellensburg and Spokane to Seattle or transferring to Link to Bellevue/Redmond or environs. It would not be difficult to coordinate two lines if there’s only one transfer point to consider.

      1. Freeway ROW generally doesn’t work out for rail use other than transit.

        Freeway curvature is generally substantially more severe than rail curvature needed for effective rail service. For example, the approximate (there are situation-specific adjusting factors ) curve radius needed for 80, 110, 150, 200, 250 mph are:
        80 – 2,139 feet
        110 – 4,044 feet
        150 – 7,520 feet
        200 – 13,369 feet
        250 – 20889 feet

        Most freeway ROW does not provide curvature to support those speeds.

    3. It’s perfectly straightfoward to build fully grade-separated railway lines, and it’s significantly cheaper than building freeways. If we can afford freeways, we can afford it for rail. Actually, if we can afford half a freeway, we can afford the equivalent for rail — it takes less than half the width.

    1. Yes, indeed – I found his comments very enlightening as well as being in line with my own experiences with transport elsewhere. The German ICE train example with connecting trains and buses (both to smaller communities on the same route as well as branching service) was particularly cogent as one could envision similar transfer opportunities in several locations here.

      I hope he continues to post here – some of our best posts have come from people with direct knowledge like Glenn and Brian Bundridge (I miss his posts).

  13. Right. If the debate is between $8bb on 110mph diesel vs $30bb+ on 220mph EMU, the correct answer is “spend $8bb on higher-speed Cascades and $22bb on high quality local connections.”

    This means tripling the size of Eugene’s BRT, adding a Corvallis-Albany DMU, increased bus frequency in Salem, Longview, and Centralia, a MAX tunnel under the Willamette to remove the Steel Bridge bottleneck and enable a single-seat ride from Union Station to the Westside, and adding a second Tacoma LRT spine that connects Gig Harbor and the Highway 7 corridor into Federal Way and points north.

  14. Let’s get our head out of the past. Cascade trains 🚂 at 110 mph are worthless and a waste of money 💰. 220 mph bullet trains Shinkansen would bring us up to already old technology the Japanese and French have . The 🇯🇵 Japanese are now implementing new Shinkansens at 300 mph. Those would bring us up to Current train standards and take years to build.
    The real answer is Hyperloop transportation Hyperloop pods are faster than jets – at 700 mph – have no noise – no pollution and they are The Solution . They are American companies and will revolutionize commerce and travel. There are several countries already planning to build Hyperloop transportation systems . Several states are seriously looking at them now .
    So let’s get serious and get on board to make it happen before we get left behind Again!

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