The Cascadia Rail Summit was held from Nov 6-8. Hosted at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond and organized by the US High Speed Rail Association, the conference brought together some key decision makers from government, consulting, and rail operators and train manufacturers from around the world. Even for a rail skeptic, it is hard to dismiss the momentum that high speed rail is gaining in the Pacific Northwest.

Opening remarks by Gov. Jay Inslee

While it wasn’t in person, but a recording made specifically for the conference, the first speaker was none other than Gov. Jay Inslee, vouching his support for the initiative and kicking off the discussion.

To put this into perspective, ST3 did not enjoy such high-caliber early support. Years before it was up for vote, Sound Transit did not consider a ballot measure in 2016, or of that size. Its passage is a testament to the power of advocacy. Consider then, how much can be achieved with this initiative given that the highest ranks of politics in the state are already on board.

Roger Millar, WSDOT Secretary

Next came WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar who delivered an engaging and data-filled speech.

He made many points in support of HSR as a viable alternative to our transportation problems:

  • The pace of highway expansion has not and will not be able to keep up with the pace of population growth:
    • Between 2004 and 2011 WSDOT spent 75% of its capital budget on expansions, but that only resulted in a 1% increase of lane miles.
    • At the same time the economy is growing at over 2% per year.
  • While the $30-40b price tag of high speed rail may seem immense, consider that:
    • WSDOT will spend about $90b over the next 20 years on capital improvements
    • If we were to add one lane per direction to I-5 for its entirety within the state – from the BC to OR border, that would cost $108b.
    • Construction will take as long to build high speed rail, but most importantly by the time it is open the lanes would likely be full due to induced demand. Travel time would still be over 3 hours to either Vancouver or Portland.
    • Truck traffic alone is expected to increase by 30% over the next 20 years, which would consume much future capacity on I-5.
    • In comparison, for half the cost of that extra lane, travel time will be cut to an hour in either direction using high speed rail.
  • As a regional system, rail can help people find more affordable housing outside of Seattle as it effectively shrinks the region.
  • Last he emphasized that as a region we can compete globally with regions the size of Singapore and Shanghai. We should not see Vancouver and Portland as competitors, but rather as parts of a whole.

Senator Marko Liias, Washington State

Millar was followed by WA State Senator Marko Liias. He doubled down on the regional scope of this initiative:

  • This is not a Seattle initiative. Rather it is about building out Bellingham, Mt Vernon, Everett, Olympia, Kelso, etc.
  • Rail is a unique instrument to spread the economic opportunity we see in Seattle across the state.
  • The private sector should also be engaged for financing, building and maintaining  the project. He provided examples of this – building a bridge in Michigan across to the Canadian border with a bi-national coalition, in the UK & FR they built the Chunnel Tunnel with a bi-national coalition.

King County Executive Dow Constantine

A quick lookup shows that King County constituted 41% of the entire WA state GDP in 2018. As such, it plays an irreplaceable role in creating a Cascadia megaregion. This is why having its leadership aligned is crucial. King County Executive Dow Constantine is more than aligned:

  • Dow introduced the vision for HSR at the first Cascadia Innovation Conference in 2016.
  • He is chair of the Sound Transit board and spearheaded the 2016 ST3 ballot measured. He sees ST3 as a precursor to HSR:
    • Critics will run by the same playbook: how will we pay for, who will ride it, how to assemble the political will.
    • The key to the success of ST3 was the ability to create a broad coalition of business, labor, social justice and environmental groups.
  • Receiving the support of the biggest employers was key for ST3:
    • Most significantly Microsoft stepped up, not just as a financial contributor, but as a leader in the business community to spread the word that we need this for our economic success – while it bears a significant cost, without it the region will fall behind.
    • Then they were joined by Amazon, Expedia, Costco and ultimately dozens of others.
    • As a result regional business leaders are equally invested in the success of the agency.
  • Another revelation after the ST3 campaign was that the more modest, less expensive the measure was – the less popular it was.
    • Naturally one would think that a cheaper measure would be more likely to be approved.
    • But they actually had to increase the scope and size of the measure to make it popular enough to pass. ST3 would connect every part of the Seattle metropolitan area including every major employment center with high capacity transit and would be meaningful for all residents.
    • Ultimately it is about infusing the public conversation with a sense of purpose and mission – that this is about laying the foundation for a better, cleaner, more equitable future.
  • In the Q&A after his speech he briefly mentioned that there will be a great deal of property appreciation as a result of this project and that can help pay for it. It is important to start early in this land value capture process.

Steve Mullin, President, Washington Roundtable


The Washington Roundtable is a non-profit comprised of senior executives from the largest corporations in the state (and thus in the US or even the world), including Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Vulcan, and many more. The Roundtable is a participant in the advisory committee to the HSR study.

  • The Roundtable partnered with BCG on a study of the impacts on the transportation system of current and future economic growth. Between 2020-2040 if we only keep the current pace of transportation investments the state will lose around $370 billion due to direct impacts from poor road conditions, congestion, lost opportunities at seaports and airports. That comprises 78% of current state GDP and the estimate was made prior to passage of I-976!
  • So HSR is a really a key tool to address the negative economic challenges that are expected.

Former Governor Christine Gregoire

Governor Gregoire is the leader of Challenge Seattle, an alliance of the CEOs of 18 of the region’s largest employers.

  • Gregoire has 4 main focus areas – education, middle-income housing affordability, transportation and is also the Cascadia Innovation Corridor co-chair. Her support for HSR as a leader of an important business coalition is also a major asset for the initiative.
  • She emphasized how WA has more in common with BC than practically any state in the US and that she has made a number of cross-border efforts work:
    • Enhanced driver’s license to make crossing the border easier
    • Oil Spill Task Force covering CA, OR, WA, BC and AK
    • These required the collaboration of 2 federal governments and multiple state governments and were still achieved. We should not see the border as an obstacle, but a challenge that can be mitigated.

John Marchione, Mayor of Redmond

  • Redmond is unique in having 65k residents and 90k jobs, daytime population 120k and major corporations represented like Microsoft, SpaceX, Tesla.
  • John also serves as a chairman of Sound Transit. He re-emphasized the need for tax reform due to the regressive nature of the current sales tax-based system.
  • Voters need to be educated about what they are paying for, as currently voters who are not paying for ballot measures believe they are. He does not see policy by referendum as good law. The legislature should be making these policies upfront.

With this roster of politicians pitching in their support and with a strong economic argument (both in terms of opportunity cost if we don’t do it, and comparative cost if we do it), even a skeptic can start believing that high speed rail in Washington state has a fighting chance.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the more technical sessions.

UPDATE 3:39PM: Added reference to the event’s organizers in the first paragraph.

72 Replies to “Cascadia Rail Summit recap: part 1”

  1. It seems incongruous to move forward with high-speed rail when we’re cutting local and regional buses and light rail. If we can’t even get a state-authorized and initiative-proof funding mechanism for that, how are we going to fund high-speed rail? And what will the result be when people take high-speed rail to Seattle arriving at 7pm or on Sunday and find a suburban half-hourly level of bus service in Seattle and a rural hourly level in the suburbs to take them the rest of the way? “New York Alki it is not.” Local transit should be the first priority, not the last.

    Millar is right to compare HSR to a new freeway or airport because that’s how it functions and the kinds of trips it will replace. Comparing it to $0 is bogus when if we didn’t build it, we would widen I-5 or build another runway. All those people in California who fly up and down the state every hour or drive on the freeway — they have no other choice because they don’t have the option of high-speed or even medium-speed trains as in Europe. And the regional trains aren’t timed so if you try to go from LA to SF you find gaps in the middle where you have to wait an hour to transfer, and when I tried to go from Santa Barbara to LA I found I could only go in the PM peak and there was no way to come back in the evening. If we’re going to have freeways and regional flights, they should be secondary alongside a primary train corridor — not the other way round.

    Liias likes HSR because it benefits Whatcom, Skagit, Lewis, and Clark counties, not just King County. Interesting when King County will use it more and every dollar of funding is more efficient in King County because it’s spread over several times more passengers than Whatcom County. But if this is the only way to get the state to bring our transit up more toward the world average, it’s something.

    1. I agree. I-5 has orders of magnitude more trips within the Puget Sound region than for people going all the way between Seattle and Portland. All of the Asian and European cities with high speed rail have world class local and regional transportation to back it up. We should not forget this.

    2. Mike, it’s possible to support and move forward with multiple transportation projects at the same time. This is a mega-region-wide project involving other states and Canada – it will take tons of time to plan and fund it. Very different than local projects. Better to get HSR moving along now so it can hopefully open in 20 years. That should be enough time for local jurisdictions to plan, fund, and improve transit service to connect with HSR.

      1. Where do you envision HSR stopping? Do you agree with Sen. Liias’ list?

        Does it really have to be a bullet train?

      2. Does it really have to be a bullet train?

        Right on, Brent! It’s only 174 miles via the Point-Defiance Bypass between Seattle and Portland. At 110 miles per hour that is 1:35 minutes of running time plus acceleration, deceleration and dwell at five intermediate stops. It can be done in 1:50 reliably with trains only somewhat advanced beyond the existing Talgos.

        I’d be VERY skeptical of the ultra-low land acquisition costs projected. No, the hills and dales between Tacoma and Kelso aren’t The Central Valley at $10,000 per acre. That wouldn’t be too expensive. But there is very little room for a new right-of-way through the stretch between Kelso and Woodland, and there are some very sharp curves on the existing rail alignment in that section. That intimates that HSR would have to be elevated for the entire fifteen miles.

        Plus, of course, there’s the difficulty getting to and through JBLM from Everett. Again, that whole segment would probably have to be elevated.

        Big Bucks. Very Big Bucks.

      3. Funnily enough one of their first lines will connect three airports, Bangkok’s two airports and another one 80 miles away near the beach resort of Pattaya. They rejected Chinese loans and are financing it with domestic debt. At the same time they are building over 300 miles of commuter rail, subway and light rail for the Bangkok metro area.

      4. Not to make excuses for American infrastructure failures, but Bangkok is much bigger, and much more densely populated. I don’t know the details of the route, but it may be that they are building it on relatively flat land (on the plateau). The somewhat autocratic nature of the government as well as the low income of the residents may keep the price down as well.

        I think such comparisons are a bit misleading. What bothers me is when places like France or Spain routinely have cheaper and better infrastructure for far less money. These are wealthy countries, with plenty of conflict and political issues, yet they manage to build things, while we dink around.

      5. RossB: Some of it is their cultural attitudes towards infrastructure, they tend to see the importance of how there’s a need for building projects like this for the benefit of all folks.
        Along with the fact that they had a headstart on the infrastructure building compared to us, where most of the modernization of their rail systems came in the 70s, 80s, and 90s iirc. Their railroad tracks are nationalized including freight lines, and generally, have a priority for passenger service compared to freight. Whereas it’s the other way around here.
        TBH, I think the USA needs to take a page or two from the EU in terms of how they handle rail infrastructure. Mainly in taking back railroad from freight rail operators, repairing, and modernizing it. Along with planning regional train systems that could potentially be connected at a national level to some degree. But it would take a cultural shift to really see the value in train infrastructure that isn’t just for the NE corridor or freight rail being taken by the coattails by congress and state legislatures.
        I think HSR could become a reality in the US, but it’s the initial hurdle that is the most difficult to get over because someone has to bite the bullet in terms of the upfront capital costs to build the initial infrastructure. And it will either be the Government or Private entities like Virgin Trains for example.

      6. The U.S.’s out of control infrastructure costs compared to other high-income countries does not help make the case for funding major infrastructure projects any easier.

        As for Thailand, it is far more democratic than China; there would be protests. It is considered a upper middle income country so not super rich but not impoverised either with an economy slightly smaller than Washington state’s. Labor is cheaper but trains and technology still need to be imported. 75% of the route is elevated viaduct, the rest being surface and some tunneling.

        I bring up Bangkok’s urban rail plan to point out that it in other countries they don’t choose between urban and intercity rail. They do both. Again, the U.S.’s expensive infrastucture doesn’t help.

      7. Thailand’s HSR is definitely not being built on a plateau, although the land is extremely flat. Bangkok is barely above sea level.

    3. If Big Tech wants it, Big Tech will get it. The States and BC Province (which is opening a big Amazon office in Vancouver) will pay for it. I think Big Tech established in the last city council election what it cares about (1.5 million for council races vs. $500,000 statewide against I-976

    4. Millar is going all in on the comparison to adding a lane to I5, which is easy to understand but is a red herring. The real comparison is investing in improved Cascadia rail service. Improved frequency and span of service is far more valuable than top speed

      1. Any new rail system should also include electrified commuter rail, with intermediate stops. The system should be 4 track between Tacoma and Seattle. Commuter rail on this corridor should stretch from Olympia to Bellingham, and again from Longview to Portland in the south.

      2. The best thing to come out of this effort would be high quality commuter rail north of Seattle (we already have it between Seattle and Tacoma) … Which begs the question, why not just focus on a commuter rail corridor north of Seattle to Marysville, and then run long distance rail as a secondary use?

      3. “why not just focus on a commuter rail corridor north of Seattle to Marysville, and then run long distance rail as a secondary use?”

        Because that’s the opposite of what the state and Microsoft support, and we don’t have the tax authority to do it without them. Who would fund this? The same Snohomish County that can barely afford Link to Everett and is arguing with itself whether it even wants that?

        Sounder South compares with Link North, as they are each the most effective transit mechanism in their corridor that has yet been approved.

        Still, Link can’t go to Marysville, because that would reach the distance where Link becomes slower than Sounder or ST Express like in Federal Way and Tacoma. So if Marysville and Skagit are to be brought into commuter rail, it would have to be in a BNSF-track upgrade (not very feasible due to the steep coastline) or a new right of way.

      4. The best thing to come out of this effort would be high quality commuter rail north of Seattle (we already have it between Seattle and Tacoma) …

        Yes, but Tacoma specifically suffers from unfortunate geography. To avoid the hills, a train heading towards Seattle starts by going southeast. The freeway is essentially a shortcut. Increasing speed on the train could make a big difference for those trying to get from Tacoma to Seattle.

        The same is true to the north (as you wrote). I think it would be difficult, though, to have a high speed line that hugs the shore, as it does now. That would mean skipping Edmonds, which is currently the highest ridership station for Sounder North. Still, with Sounder North having such low ridership, something that went farther east — with a stop at Everett — could prove to be very popular. If it then went on to Marysville, that would likely be popular as well, even if the stretch from Everett to Marysville was relatively slow (simply because that stretch on the freeway is extremely slow, and it isn’t that far between the two cities).

        It is possible that they would build new lines for both areas. If so, I think South Sounder would still be retained, as ridership from Tacoma to Seattle makes up a small part of the trips. Sounder north could easily be replaced by bus service. There aren’t too many trips between stations other than Seattle. Ridership to Mukilteo is fairly low, and would benefit from more frequent express bus service. Edmonds is somewhat borderline (with about 400 riders a day each direction) but an express bus to a Link Station would be far more cost effective and frequent.

      5. AJ, we ARE BUILDING a “commuter rail corridor north of Seattle”, at least, as far as Everett which is pretty much a hop, skip and jump from Marysville. ST4? “The Spine” is the closest thing to an electrified commuter railroad that runs low-floor LR vehicles instead of EMU’s ever built.

      6. The hills north of Tacoma are a problem, but more at the north end (Sea-Tac) than around Milton. The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban crossed the south end of the Federal Way ridge between Milton and Pacific and those Toonerville Trollies were much less powerful than HSR trains. And Link proposes to climb it, so the Megawatt HSR trains should make it easily.

        But, and it’s a big one, there’s no easy way down off the plateau around Sea-Tac other than just running north along Pacific Highway. I don’t think Tukwila’s going to go for that. However, a greenfield HSR line really should serve the airport so maybe a long diagonal tunnel ending about where I-5 and SR 599 part company?

        Anyway, it’s all hypothetical. If California, a state with nearly ten times the economy of Washington can’t build an HSR under unified government, BC, Washington and Oregon surely can’t under tri-partite, and very likely jealous, government.

      7. However, a greenfield HSR line really should serve the airport…

        What is the reasoning behind serving the airport with high speed rail? HSR is for connecting cities. If you are flying into a city (like Portland) why would you then take a high speed train to Seattle? Wouldn’t you just fly directly into Seattle instead?

      8. California is not a good example for comparison sakes. But that said, it currently still has 3 Higher or High speed rail lines under construction.

    5. Cascades is also competing with freeway widening. Medium-speed rail at 110 mph is also a viable goal. Every speed has its advantages and disadvantages. Driving to Portland takes 3 hours. Cascades currently takes 3:30, and when the bypass reopens it will get closer to 3:15. Medium-speed rail could bring it down to 2 hours, which means less than an hour to Olympia. That’s fast enough. Every level of speed comes with an exponentially higher level of cost. On the other hand, a 1:30 trip to Portland or 3:30 Portland-Vancouver trip offers possibilities we wouldn’t otherwise have. And if we ever get on with enhanced rail to California, it will be a down payment on it. I’m not concerned so much whether future Cascades is high-speed or medium-speed; I’m more concerned that one of them happens and is hourly. But I’m the most concerned about local transit (including metropolitan expresses).

      1. Medium speed rail is probably the best value, and could easily be the best for the environment. Medium speed competes well with driving and flying. Above that and you probably add a lot of concrete, while inducing long distance trips, especially long distance commuting. That in turn would likely add sprawl, wherever they decide to add the stops.

        Once you have medium speed rail, the key then is good local transit. For example, let’s say that they build rail from downtown Portland to downtown Seattle. Also assume that I want to watch a Blazers game on a Saturday. Right now, I would reluctantly drive (or ask my friend to). But with two hours between the two cities, I would be tempted to take the train. The issue then becomes getting to the station. I live close to Northgate (and so does my friend) so we are in luck. It is a pretty quick trip to downtown, and a pretty quick trip from the Amtrak station to Moda Center, where the Blazers play. I would save myself a fair amount of time, as well as the hassle of dealing with parking and the inevitable traffic that occurs down there.

        But if local transit to downtown was bad, I think I would be back to driving, especially if I lived south of downtown. I would imagine there are places in Renton where this just wouldn’t work very well. High speed rail (shaving off a half or a full hour on the trip between cities) would help, but not as much as providing better transit service in the city. Better transit within the city, of course, is justified for way more trips beyond those involving city to city travel.

      2. On this we surely agree. It’s not cheap to lay a third track over Napavine Hill and the other side of the watershed between Vader and Avery Road, but it’s an order of magnitude — maybe two — less expensive to third track the BNSF from Nisqually Junction to Vancouver (WA) than to build HSR through there.

        The north end, though is pretty hopeless. There’s no way north from downtown Seattle except the I-5 express lanes or the waterfront. The waterfront has the undeniable advantage of actually going all the way to Everett, but it will never ever be quick.

        Stealing the express lanes gets you to Northgate but then what?

        Nah, let Link do what it will do very well — bring suburban commuters and day-trippers to Seattle from the North End suburbs. Maybe it makes sense to send it to Marysville if there is ever an ST4, but that would just about require a “short-cut” between Casino and 128th.

    6. And the regional trains aren’t timed so if you try to go from LA to SF you find gaps in the middle where you have to wait an hour to transfer, and when I tried to go from Santa Barbara to LA I found I could only go in the PM peak and there was no way to come back in the evening.

      What are you talking about Mike? Amtrak California has timed, guaranteed Thruway bus connections between the Surfliner and Capitol Corridor and LA-Bakersfield, even an overnight bus. Also, Santa Barbara-LA has two way Amtrak service all day. I can leave SB at 6:47 in the morning on a train and leave LA at 9:50 pm to return on a bus.

      1. Santa Barbara: I was specifically looking for something in the 5pm-midnight time frame. I was at a work retreat all day in SB and wanted to meet a friend in the evening. I looked into going to downtown LA or meeting him halfway in Ventura. This was around 2012. The regional train schedule had all-day trains in LA but they seemed to come to SB only peak hours. So I could go down to downtown LA but I couldn’t come back until the next morning, and if I did that I’d miss part of the meetings. I couldn’t find a bus alternative, or anything like ST Express to Ventura. Maybe there was something I couldn’t find as a visitor.

        Cross-state on regional trains: I was trying to put together a trip with stopovers in Sacramento, SF, Salinas, Monterey, and LA. I’m not sure if I included Salinas. This was in the mid 2010s. The train schedules had gaps in the middle; I didn’t see any timed Thruway options. It looked like it was going to be more time-consuming than I wanted so I didn’t make the trip.

  2. I worry about the elitism that this inter-city high speed rail conference has as its foundation. When speakers aren’t driving an hour in congested traffic every morning, competing and paying for expensive parking spaces, and struggling to pay for any transportation, they see the world differently. Commuting investments seem less important than inter-city investments for their personal inter-city travel.

    If I976 demonstrates anything, it’s that a majority of state voters will choose direct personal costs over lofty ideals that have more benefit for the richest and most powerful. Until higher speed rail advocates develop a program that has a broader benefit, it’s going to be a hard sell.

    1. Agrees. $40B spent on moving people within metro Seattle is far more valuable than moving people between Seattle and Portland

    2. Isn’t there some elitism to focus on traffic problema inside the big Metro areas though? Part of the reason I-976 passed is because Eastern Washington and South Sound both voted yes, in part, to reaction of not seeing the tangible benefit of the fees. As we expand High-Speed rail, we open the opportunity to tell people near Olympia, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Chehalis, and Kelso “look we are paying attention to your needs to reduce the pain of getting into the big city”…which, in part is due to our traffic problems in the big metro areas… it’s these big city trip needs (for thing like shopping, sports, medical visits and airport travel etc.) that are the bane of many more -rural Washingtonians face. Part of that solution can be gettting them off the road as they travel just as much as getting city dwellers off the road too. Now, while we are at it, it would be nice to address the other side of the state’s needs too…

      1. What fees? Eastern Washington and “South Sound” — at any rate, the areas outside the ST service district — pay nothing for transit unless their county or city has a TBD for it.

        It appears that the ST service district in Piece County is too big. I understand Spanaway is in it, and that’s pretty ridiculous. Trim it back to the corridor along the Sounder corridor and call it good.

      2. Two points.

        1. Snohomish County also strongly approved I-976.
        2. The follow-up comment, “at any rate, the areas outside the ST service district — pay nothing for transit unless their county or city has a TBD for it.” is demonstrably false as sales taxes fund various PTBA’s and other transit agencies all over the state.

      3. Tlsgwm, you are right. I don’t know about every transit sales tax in the State, and there are certainly many of them.

        But I was thinking specifically about SE Pierce and the rebellion there, and I believe that they “seceded” or, actually, got thrown out of the Pierce Transit service district seven or eight years ago, because it was the only way to pass a renewal the sales tax.

        Therefore, those folks are paying nothing in transit taxes, except when they go to Puyallup or Tacoma to shop. It seems that the transit haters in the business world are missing out. They should simply build a mall just outside the larger of the two service districts along a big arterial and scoop up the sales from all the folks who don’t want to pay the extra taxes. Annnnnd, “own the Libs” as a side-benefit.

        So I think that my sin isn’t quite as great as you imply, though it was certainly an error.

    3. A number of speakers mentioned how long it took the to get to the conference. I remember Dow Constantine saying it took him 1.5 hours from West Seattle.

      Also, one of the points of state-wide rail (be it high speed or not) is to spread some of the economic opportunity of Seattle to other parts of the state. It also enables more affordable housing by expanding the land where housing can be located (yes, that can also be seen as sprawl, but it is transit-oriented).

  3. Seems like a great opportunity for a carbon tax. Only those counties that get a HSR station have to pay the tax, because they are the ones that will benefit. Fits nicely with our politics – raise taxes on the progressives who support high taxes and claim to care about climate, and spare the rest of Washington.

    Start with a lower tax to invest in current cascade rail and get through an EIS, and then come back to the voters with a bigger tax when we have more specifics.

    1. I’m generally skeptical of the climate argument for high speed rail. You’ll emit a ton of carbon on the construction, and it will take a long time of use to gain that back. And the billions spent would probably remove many more carbon emissions by improving local and regional transportation options.

      Even for long distance trips, electric buses down the open highway, connecting to regional rail to get through the congested urban centers seems like a more economical way to reduce carbon emissions.

      1. The carbon tax argument for HSR makes for good soundbites, but the math is nuts.

        The last “business case” had six million tons of avoided carbon over 40 years. At $40 billion capital cost, that’s $6,600 per ton of avoided carbon, which is off the scale of reasonable climate investments.

        I don’t recall if that estimate factored in the embedded carbon, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did. It’s still wild. The social cost of carbon, depending on what source you look at, is $50-$100.

        Spending $6,600 to solve a less than $100 problem makes not a whit of sense.

    2. Hmm, I’d still prefer a universal carbon tax, which is either refundable or subsidizes transit and alternative energy and impacts on the poor in general. If it’s all-or-nothing tied to an HSR project, then you get into the problem of whether parts of counties are benefiting more than other parts, how it impacts people who live near the border of counties, whether it succeeds or fails based on people’s attitudes to either a carbon tax or HSR, and whether the money is enough or too much for HSR. If it’s not enough to fund HSR, other funding would be required. If it’s too much, we may not be able to use the extra for other things if it can only be used for HSR or in that corridor. There’s also Seattle-Spokane rail to consider. Would any extra from an I-5 carbon tax be able to fund east-west regional rail?

  4. If the leaders really do dream of having the middle class move into the exurbs and suburbs and take HSR to their job (which will exacerbate sprawl but not gonna get into that right now), they need to also have electric commuter rail between Olympia and Bellingham. Should also be 3 or 4 tracks minimum between Tacoma and Everett.

    1. And they need to do something about housing prices. The price acceleration has already spread to the entire state except two of the most-rural counties. It’s accelerating faster in Pierce than in King, and Thurston will be next, as everybody tries to find lower-cost housing of a minimum size. In twenty or forty years whenever it opens, lower middle-class people may not be able to live anywhere along it. The only way out of this is a massive state commitment to affordable housing and overriding city/county zoning restrictions in the cities we expect people to live in (Seattle, Lynnwood, Everett, Marysville, Mt Vernon, Bellingham, and ditto for the south end)

    2. “state commitment to affordable housing” means public housing, public/nonprofit partnerships, land trusts, a state infrastructure bank, or innovations along those lines.

      1. Public developed and sold on the open market seems to work well in Singapore. Our HALA 6000 homes over 10 years isn’t going to cut it.

  5. HSR and Kelso don’t belong together. What is the point of building a Shinkansen-style train line if they can never approach top speed because of so many intermediate stops?

    When I ride Amtrak to Portland, I don’ think “Gee, I wish this were one hour faster.” I think “Gee, I wish I didn’t have to be here an hour ahead of time, and take the last train that gets me to Portland three hours before I need to be there, after getting up at 4 am in the morning to catch the only train that gets me to my event on time.”

    Improve the tracks. Reduce boarding time. Remove bottlenecks that make the train wait an hour at random points. INCREASE FREQUENCY, PLEASE. Together, these will be a bigger service improvement than building bullet-trains that have to skip Kelso to fulfill their speed promises. Being able to charge $100 instead of $300 for the trip, priceless.

    To be clear, I like having several intermediate (but data-derived) stops along the way, as that is how ridership is built, and not all my trips south are to Tacoma, Olympia, or Portland. Affordability for the masses matters, too. I don’t mind it taking as long as it takes for the train to go this distance, as long as I don’t have to add several hours waiting for it and on it, and pay almost as much as flying.

    1. I was going to mention Kelso but I didn’t remember if it was in the current HSR planning scenarios. Those include some smaller cities. I won’t quibble with sticking to the current scenarios until a concrete proposal emerges. If Kelso is not in the current scenarios, Liias should not be creating expectations that it is; he should be arguing why it should be added.

    2. There seems to be a misunderstanding about how trains systems like the shinkansen in Japan are run. They have the fast limited stop services, but they offer trains that make more stops as well. Some even branch off onto regular lines to serve outer areas. Japan-guide dot com covers them all.

    3. @Brent White
      Well put. I was going to add a much longer comment to this thread but you basically made all of the same points I had been intending to include.

      I’ve made like a dozen or so trips to Portland for work and pleasure in the last couple of years and I’ve only taken the train twice. Both times it was a total PITA (for the reasons you’ve cited) and since then I’ve opted to drive (or fly). Now with my Paine Field options on the table (10-15 min drive from my home), and 1-hour flights as low as $135 RT on Horizon, taking the train to Portland has become an even less favorable option.

    4. That’s the great thing about faster transit, though. If you can get the train the Portland in 2 hours, instead of nearly 4 hours today (accounting for delays), you can DOUBLE your service with the exact same fleet and number of employees. You can DOUBLE the number of passengers with nearly the same operating costs.

      Slow trains are very expensive. Very fast trains area also very expensive. We need to find the sweet spot (about 110mph with no intermediate stops).

      I envision a schedule that includes both local and express trains. You can take a 6am train that gets you to Portland by 8am without stops. A 7am train leaves and makes all intermediate stops, arriving in Portland at 9:30am. Then you have an 8am express train that gets you in at 10am. Repeat. Repeat.

      You get SEA-PDX down to 2 hours, and the only people flying between the two cities will be connecting passengers.

      1. Not really. Amtrak has to pay BNSF a fee for every train that BNSF hosts. That’s one of the money-saving things about the Bypass; it’s publicly owned so the trackage fees are way less.

  6. 1) This entire conference of elites was… out of touch with the realities on the ground. The entrance fee was exorbitant and to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Then the idea that high speed rail can do anything for anybody anywhere in Skagit County by Senator Marko Lilias and yet State Senator Marko Lillias has been one of the voices against connecting Mukilteo to Seaway Transit Center via the Future of Flight shows how he’s just out of touch with the realities on the ground, and I’m sparing this commentariat the self-applying labels beyond that.

    2) Why are we even having this conversation when we cannot pay for proper transit service at a local county level outside of King County? This is insane. Pierce County Exec Bruce Dammeier may be wrong about 976 in some respects, but he’s right about the lived experience of being at the end of the transit line and lack of good local transit service to support regional transit service. If you like Pierce County politicians being upset; you’ll love Representative Jamie Herrera Buetler haranguing USDOT and possibly the US Coast Guard about this like she helped those two agenices apply pressure to block Trimet MAX fancy streetcar with all its issues from coming into our state. I don’t think having more outlying politicians in the game is a good idea because if I was in the game; I’d be a voice for building up bus services and electrifying ridehailing first.

    3) I agree with Mike Orr that we have a serious housing crisis forcing more extreme commuting and that should be the primary concern. NOT high speed rail, NOT “Lid I-5”.

    4) Instead of, “He is chair of the Sound Transit board and spearheaded the 2016 ST3 ballot measured” – say, “He was Chair of the Sound Transit Board during the 2016 ST3 ballot measure, catching the go-ahead touchdown pass to send this to the voters”?

  7. Seems to be quite a lot of “we can’t build two things at one” (local and regional) and “bang for your buck” (bare minimum improvements) in the comments. Which is tactic that has and will continue to be used to undermine any and all mass transit systems.

    We can and should be building more than one project at once. If all we do is the bare minimum than all we are doing is guaranteeing that we stay at sub-par service forever.

    Constantine is correct in pointing out that going big actually attracts more support not less. If they come back with just a weak proposals for minor improvements to Amtrak then I’ll vote no.

  8. let’s see… Bill and Jeff are worth about 200 billion together. If they split the $50 billion cost 50/50 they would each still have 75 billion left over to use for groceries. They could even set up an endowment to cover operating costs forever if they wanted to.

    Granted, it’s not a train on Mars, or solving world hunger, but getting HSR through the local politics might be even more of a challenge, and more rewarding because of that.

    Then they should run it as a for profit business and go after as much of the airplane traffic that they can steal from Seatac and Paine Field.

    Frankly, seeing as how Sound Transit fails to plan out its system network, and how lines and stations end up going to suboptimal locations, (essentially giving us less value for our buck), I think I would trust Bill and Jeff, more than any public process or public agency, to build it, and operate it right.

  9. Isn’t there some elitism to focus on traffic problema inside the big Metro areas though? Part of the reason I-976 passed is because Eastern Washington and South Sound both voted yes, in part, to reaction of not seeing the tangible benefit of the fees. As we expand High-Speed rail, we open the opportunity to tell people near Olympia, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Chehalis, and Kelso “look we are paying attention to your needs to reduce the pain of getting into the big city”…which, in part is due to our traffic problems in the big metro areas… it’s these big city trip needs (for thing like shopping, sports, medical visits and airport travel etc.) that are the bane of many more -rural Washingtonians face. Part of that solution can be gettting them off the road as they travel just as much as getting city dwellers off the road too. Now, while we are at it, it would be nice to address the other side of the state’s needs too…

    1. I think statewide HSR would feel much more like elitism than regional transit within the big cities. In order to keep the speeds up, the number of stops has to be kept down, which means it’s mostly just connecting large urban areas together – not serving the small towns and rural areas in between. Statewide rail is also funded by statewide taxes paid by everybody, whether they can use them or not. And, if subsidies are to be kept at a level similar to existing Cascades service, then the fares will have to skyrocket, to the point where only elites will be able to afford the train fare, while everyone else drives their car back in forth because it’s cheaper (once, of course, the car, itself, is treated as a sunk cost).

      Urban rail, by contrast, is paid for only by taxpayers in the region it serves; residents from small towns like Kelso aren’t asked to contribute one penny to it (other than sales tax on purchases they may make while visiting the Seattle region). And, if they want to visit Seattle, they’re still welcome to use our system for the regular adult fare, whether they contribute tax dollars to it or not. For example, someone from Kelso can drive to Tacoma and ride Sounder, or drive to Angle Lake and ride Link. Someone from the Kitsap peninsula can drive to a ferry, ride the ferry across to downtown, and hop on Link to the airport. Someone from Spokane or Walla Walla can even fly to SeaTac and use Link to get into the city after getting off the plane.

      The point is – even if we had HSR running hourly between Seattle and Portland, the typical person living in some tiny town in between won’t be able to use it. By, regional rail, within the greater Seattle area, if they have a reason to visit the city, they absolutely can use it.

      1. No currently operating high speed rail line in the world fails to make a profit. If it needs a subsidy it wasn’t done correctly.

        While the speed increase means higher energy costs, it reduces labor costs significantly due to the reduced travel time. Costs per train may be high, but something like the TGV Duplex has 400 seats vs Cascades 200 or so.

        Making sure there is plenty of capacity and shoving the price down to spread the fixed costs among a large number of passengers rather than limiting capacity to a few trains per day is really the direction to go.

      2. I mean, you can make this argument at any level. It’s elitist to have Link stop at 130th instead of 125th. It’s elitist to have Link stop at South Bellevue instead of Factoria. It’s elitist to make people catch a bus to connect to Link.

      3. Glenn,

        By “wasn’t done right” do you include the option “wasn’t done at all?” Because the only way to ensure that any new line that is built will be profitable is NOT to build a bunch that people will suggest but that would NOT be profitable.

        In all honesty, this is one of those lines. It’s overkill.

      4. “Statewide rail is also funded by statewide taxes paid by everybody, whether they can use them or not.”

        An east-west Cascades line would bring in Ellensburg, Yakima, Pasco, and Spokane. That’s all the remaining largest cities in Washington except Wenatchee.

      5. That train had better really be HSR, because detouring through Yakima and the Tri-Cities is waaaaaaaay out of the way. Using driving distances it’s 371 miles that way vs 280 direct via the old Milwaukee Road route (more or less); both road routes are relatively close to the rail routes so the distance calcs are reasonably close. That’s nearly a third again longer and would in no way compete with flights between Seattle and Spokane.

        While politically it makes perfect sense to tie the larger cities east of the mountains together to the Puget Sound area, I’d probably do timed connections at Ellensburg to a Cascades-style train via Yakima and Tri-Cities. That could continue on to Spokane, or meet a Portland – Tri-Cities – Spokane train. Most people from Yakima would backtrack to Ellensburg and HSR rather than go via Tri-Cities to Spokane (honestly, most people would still probably drive). The Tri-Cities – Spokane segment (and probably the Yakima – Tri-Cities segment) could fairly easily be run at 110mph for the bulk of the route as the topography and lack of intermediate population centers/grade crossings would allow that.

      6. Some of the suggestions have two routes in eastern Washington, so that’s probably the ones you mentioned.

  10. We have seen time and time again (mostly with hurricanes and floods, fortunately not Cascadia mega thrust earthquakes) that highways and cars are not very efficient in the event of mass evacuations. From a national security standpoint, doesn’t it make sense to have something more efficient and resilient than highways for regional transport? Not only is our level of car dependence unhealthy and destructive to the environment, it is a security risk. I guess that I’m saying is, think in terms of how/why the interstate highway system got built. The States and municipalities could never have built it. These kinds of projects really do need Federal money. In countries with HSR networks, you don’t see the cities and provinces scrounging around for money, it’s more of a national thing. Start by electing better national leaders in 2020. Bring back Obama Rail (or Sanders Rail or Warren Rail or Biden Rail or whatever you want to call it).

  11. I know this might be less strictly transit related, but has there been any discussion of high-speed freight on a new publicly owned 4+ track electricifed line ? In order to offset cargo use of i-5, as well to generate revenue for Long-distance and Commuter Rail services.

    1. It’s just too darn inefficient to transfer containers back and forth for anything less than seven or eight hundred miles. That’s generally understood to be the break-even point for over-the-road trucking with single-destination shipments.

    2. Some HSR facilities are running some freight. Italy started experimenting with it this last year and some tunnels (Gotthard, Channel) have shared usage.

    3. The freight railroads wouldn’t be interested because their market niche is inexpensive, slow movement on the coattails of century-old tracks that were paid off long ago; i.e., being the WalMart of rail. Whether there’s a market to be the FedEx of rail I don’t know, you’d have to see whether enough customers would pay the shipping prices. Slow commodity rail is several containers of identical things at once. Express rail would more likely be scattered small orders to a wider variety of companies, and it’s unclear if there’s enough to support a freight-rail market or what advantage it would have over air-shipping. I don’t know if Amtrak carries packages but Greyound does, and some people like its reliability because there’s a a bus coming every day and it’s inexpensive. Cascades could do the same thing, and it wouldn’t need high-speed rail for it: there’s not much difference in getting a package in four hours vs one hour. I don’t think people will be ordering one-hour groceries from a hundred miles away on high-speed rail.

  12. Just a thought. WSDOT already owns a fabulous right of way – I-5.

    It runs through or near the center of the cities along its route. What if we took one lane in the center from each side along with the median? Would that be enough space?

    1. There are left exits. There are low bridges. There are sharp curves. There are relatively steep grades. A highway is not designed to be a railroad, nor does it need to be.

      It might work in Illinois or Nebraska. It won’t work here.

    2. It’s not a bad suggestion! I see a low aerial structure for many HSR segments in other countries. It keeps obstructions off the track! The structure piers could be placed to the side or in the median and wouldn’t need the entire track width. At the occasional overpass, the structure could simply go higher or go into a short tunnel.

      1. US requires greater clearance (21ft) than other countries. To maintain a consistent grade tracks will need to trench before and after tunnels. If want speed then will need “straightness”, something I-5 corridor doesn’t always offer.

  13. The line “regions the size of Singapore and Shanghai” bothers me, since Singapore is a city of 5-6 million whereas Shanghai has 23 million in the city and maybe 110 million in the Yangtze Delta megaregion.

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