Yesterday, we covered the first part of the Cascadia Rail Summit. The next sessions were more technical and covered lessons learned from high speed rail systems around the world and also an overview of rail equipment. Below are only the highlights.

Andy Kunz, President & CEO, USHSR

Andy Kunz spoke about what circumstances make high speed rail a viable transportation choice.

A complete transportation system consists of a range of modes all 
working together, each operating in their most efficient segment. 
With each mode optimised, the overall system works at its best, 
providing the highest mobility for the most people, with the fewest 
delays, at the lowest cost. 
When modes don't exist, other modes overload, performance drops. 

Rail is often seen as competing favorably with other modes in the 100-500 mile range, but it is great to see his chart showing potential beyond that. He had a great slide exemplifying the time advantage of rail vs air travel (due to the different overheads involved).

Door-to-door travel times betvveen downtown San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles by mode. 
Walk to 

He also made a great point about scale – the United States compares in size to either China or the European Union, both of which sport extensive high speed rail systems. The argument that the country is too big is not applicable.

Jerry Ray, Consultant at SNCF (US division)

Jerry Ray had great slide showing how HSR market share varies by travel time and where it competes well with air travel.

Also some interesting technical details:

  • 125 mph track is half the cost of 200 mph track
    • Of note is that the existing Cascades Long Range Plan includes a list of upgrades worth $3.5b in 2006 dollars with a planned top speed of 110 mph. That plan does not cover the full length of the corridor, however.
    • Current Amtrak Cascades equipment (Siemens Charger locomotives + Talgo passenger cars) is rated at 125 mph.
  • Average stop on a high speed train at 200 mph takes 15 minutes with most of it being deceleration and re-acceleration.

Dr. Andrea Giurcin, Consultant at NTV HSR (Italy)

Dr. Giurcin spoke at length about a new private rail operator NTV in Italy which used no public funding and has been very successful in taking over about half of the air and road transportation market.

Italian Revolution 
The train has become the dominant way to travel between 
Rome and Milan 
• High speed rail • Air • Road 
Source: Andrea Giuricin paper 
80 % modal share 
Via Bloomberg News

It’s also interesting that the line has been quite profitable:

Part of the way they captured so much market is by offering 3 different levels of service:

And it is able to carve a place for itself in the overall transportation market dominated by airlines.

Scott Sherin, Vice President, Alstom

While Alstom is an equipment maker they work in close collaboration with SNCF. An interesting slide was on when to upgrade existing lines vs build whole new lines:

Based on this it looks like Cascades is a good fit for an upgrade of existing infrastructure rather than building a whole new line as well.

Also a very interesting slide on time to study and ultimately build new lines:

Juan Matias Archilla Pintidura, International Manager, Renfe

Again, one of the most interesting aspects is the air-vs-rail market share split.

There were some additional speakers that won’t be covered in this article. The full list is on the USHSR website.

The last sessions were panels on funding and next steps.

Karen Hedlund, National Rail Strategy Advisor, WSP

  • Highly unlikely that rail line VAC-SEA-PDX to be financed only from revenues from ridership
  • Funding non-options (what won’t work)
  • Funding options
    • Tax increment financing – finance off increase of value of real estate using real estate taxes. It currently can’t be done in the state of Washington.
    • TOD special assessment districts – not dependent on future growth – a district within a walkable distance of the station or along the alignment and add an additional tax – e.g. sales tax.
    • Cap and trade / carbon tax – used for a major portion of the California HSR project (25%-50% of cap and trade funds). In WA state cap and trade has failed twice.
    • Congestion pricing
    • Joint use of ROW  – e.g. lay fiber on the right of way as a source of revenue.

Irene Plenefisch, Government Affairs Director, Microsoft

  • Irene Plenefisch was the key person from Microsoft organizing the conference. USHSR association CEO Andy Kunz awarded Microsoft the “Hero of High Speed Rail” award for their contribution to the cause.
  • During the panel Irene spoke about how working together on shared goals (e.g. dealing with wildfires) will increase our prosperity as a region more than if we worked independently.
  • She also mentioned the coming study which will look at governance and funding:
    • Governance plan is crucial given 3 states, 2 federal governments.
    • Financing plan is must address how we will handle existing projects on the backlog for funding: .e.g. bridge to Oregon. The study must show how this project won’t compete with really important other projects that need to be completed and can happen on a parallel timeframe as well or the public will not be supportive.
  • Raised the question of what benefits will the public get during the long study and construction period of the project.

Representative Andrew Barkis, WA House Transportation Rail Caucus Chair

  • Rep. Barkis suggested to increase frequency of trains on the existing Cascades service as an improvement during the study and construction period. That can be delivered with orders of magnitute less capital investment than the actual HSR line.

Additionally, if there will be any overlap in the new HSR corridor and the current Cascades corridor, new sections that can be connected to the existing network should be built first as they would enable an improvement in service before the entire system is done (just like the Pt Defiance bypass is a fairly small part of the line to Portland but is expected to relieve a major bottleneck on the line once operational).

In conclusion, high speed rail appears to really be the next big transportation initiative for our region. The transformation it promises to unleash is unmatched by anything else. It really is a sort of ST3 for WA state.

I leave you with the remarks of…

Paige Malott, Chair, Cascadia Rail

  • We have to get out of our way to get this done in a timeframe that makes it useful given our current constraints:
    • climate change where we have roughly 10 years to do something radical to change the course we are on (and we see cities like Vancouver, as presented earlier at the conference, really responding to that)
    • reaching the limits of existing highway and airport capacity – by 2034 SeaTac airport would be at capacity

61 Replies to “Cascadia Rail Summit recap: part 2”

  1. Rail is often seen as competing favorably with other modes in the 100-500 mile range

    That’s because it’s where it does compete.

    He had a great slide exemplifying the time advantage of rail vs air travel (due to the different overheads involved).

    If you actually read his slide, you see how contrived it is. He’s assuming you want to go to downtown LA. That puts nearly an hour and a half extra into the overall air trip time!

    There’s a tendency for lots of other willful blindness from long-distance HSR advocates in these comparisons. If we operated train stations at the scale of current airports, there would be way more walking, waiting and security theater. Have you ever flown out of a small airport (e.g. PSC, near where my mother lives)? It’s great, you walk in half an hour before the flight, whiz through security in five mins, walk two more mins to your gate, walk out on the tarmac ten mins later. Outside of the northeast, even the “big” US train stations are run like small-city airports.

    He also made a great point about scale – the United States compares in size to either China or the European Union, both of which sport extensive high speed rail systems. The argument that the country is too big is not applicable.

    I wish advocates wouldn’t make this kind of hand-wavey equivalence. On a macro scale, Europe is dramatically denser than the US. Population density falls off a cliff between the Mississippi and the west coast. Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque are essentially islands:

    None of this is to say that rail service and capital improvements on the Eugene-Vancouver corridor are a bad idea. This corridor is dense-ish at a regional scale, it’s less than 500 miles, and the driving alternatives are already shitty enough to make a 125 mph train ride a vast improvement. But please make arguments that actually hold up in the face of skeptical scrutiny, so these ideas can be defended outside the railfan bubble.

    1. Another fallacy I often see among rail proponents is the assumption that everyone is going downtown to downtown. For example, if 10% of trips leaving Seattle originate in downtown Seattle and 10% of trips to Portland are to downtown Portland, then the percentage of all Seattle->Portland trips that are downtown->downtown is 10% * 10%, which is a measly 1%.

      This means that for the other 99% traveling between the Seattle and Portland region, the quality of the local transportation systems matters a great deal, and quite likely has a bigger impact in determining the total travel time than the speed of the train. For example, if driving to Portland at 70 mph takes 3 hours, a 50% increase in speed – 105 mph – eliminates 1 hour of travel time. You can achieve that same impact by building local and regional rail – or simply running express buses in dedicated lanes – saving half an hour of busing on each end, getting to the station.

      1. My guess is that trips from downtown Seattle to downtown Portland make up the vast majority of trips between the two cities. The folks who travel every day, or even just several times a month are bound to be business travelers.

        Some of these claims can be exaggerated (the bit about the U. S. being like Europe is ridiculous) but comparing say, HSR from Rome to Milan to HSR from Los Angeles to San Fransisco is quite reasonable. The distances are practically identical. Rome and L. A. are both huge; San Fransisco and Milan are both pretty big (overall). The Italian cities are more densely populated, but it isn’t clear how much difference that makes.

      2. Research is needed on how city pairs compare with metro area pairs. Still, intercity travelers will likely have one trip end from home (like about 50-75 percent) and most metro residents in both areas live outside the city limits.

        In addition, the major airports aren’t near downtowns so the plane-train users will have almost as much time involved in reaching the rail station that they would actually riding the high-speed train.

        Each Metro area needs more than one station or the utility of high speed rail beyond decent 80-100 mph train service can’t be fully realized.

      3. Your line of reasoning is pretty crazy here. 1% of travel between Seattle and Portland is downtown to downtown? Amazing.

        Train stations are typically downtown, which means they are generally in the middle of the metro area. Airports are never downtown (except for San Diego, I suppose). This means that airports are further away for the majority of the population. They might be closer for a few people, but they will be much further away for others.
        Another factor is that transit systems are typically downtown focused. How many frequent service lines in Seattle stop within 2 blocks of King St. Station? How many stop within 2 blocks of Seatac? The geometry of airports make them difficult to access. Yes, both cities have HCT right to the airport now, but they are both at the very end of the line.

        We live 15min on MAX from Union Station, and 15min on MAX to PDX. If the train vs. plane travel time were the same, I would pick the train every time. Getting PDX-SEA down to 2 hours by rail will bring it on par with flying, when you factor in security/boarding, and extra travel time to the airport.

      4. What percent of the Puget Sound population lives downtown? The simple answer is “not much”. Yes, there’s business travel, but when you take a business trip to another city, you typically start the trip from home; you don’t stop at your local office first. And there are plenty of businesses that are located outside downtown. For example, Microsoft.

        To put in a concrete example, let’s suppose you live in Green Lake. Getting to King St. Station on the 62 takes nearly an hour. The opening of Roosevelt Station will have about the same travel time impact as upgrading the trains to 100 mph. But, Roosevelt Station will serve vastly more trips than an intercity train because people commute everyday and make intercity trips once a year. And, then there’s cost. The entire ST3 package costs less money than what HSR between Seattle to Portland would cost.

        Now, let’s suppose you live in Ballard. Similar, but with Ballard Link.

      5. What percent of the Puget Sound population lives downtown? The simple answer is “not much”.

        and what percent of the Puget Sound population lives close to the airport? The simple answer is “way, way less”. Seriously dude, do you really think it is close? Take at gander at the last census report for the region: You will notice, right off the bat, that there actually are lots and lots of people who live downtown. Belltown is the highest density neighborhood in the state. You will also notice that there really aren’t many people who live close to the airport (as in, practically nobody). Now keep in mind that housing downtown is booming, as is Seattle housing in general. Yet housing around the airport is largely flat.

        Now expand a little bit. See how many people can quickly get to the airport, versus those that can quickly get to SeaTac. Again, it isn’t even close. Tens of thousands — if not hundreds of thousands can quickly get downtown. The largest group of people who can quickly get to the airport (those in Rainier Valley) can just as quickly get downtown.

        Now keep in mind that transit to downtown, is way, way better than it is to SeaTac. Yes, I know, a train goes there. But most of the buses in the region go downtown. From Renton (Renton!) it is often faster to go downtown on a bus than it is to go to SeaTac. The vast majority of people in the region can get downtown significantly faster than they can get to SeaTac. At the same time, the vast majority of people who are headed to Portland are headed to someplace close to downtown, not someplace close to the airport. As Mike wrote (down below) it isn’t just about downtown. It is about everything that surrounds it.

      6. This is why high speed rail, or any rail for that matter, needs to be looked at as a system and not as two point city pairs.

        TGV, for example, has a couple of stations around Paris (including an airport station) as well as the downtown station. The Shinkansen has a well integrated system of local and express trains. In Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor there are two stations in south Boston 1 mile apart because one has really good subway connections and the other is more convenient to other stuff.

        Indeed, pretty much everywhere it seems to be understood that high speed rail needs to be a part of reducing total travel times, not just single point to point travel times.

        Everywhere, that is, except in the western USA, where people seem to insist it operate like an airline system.

      7. Of course, downtown is a more convenient terminal location for most people than the airport. I never argued otherwise.

        The problem is, yes, high speed rail from Seattle to Portland has some nonzero value, but when you look at the $100 billion or so it would cost, it is way down the priority list of what would be the most effective use for that amount of money. Within the realm of public transportation, building more Link lines and operating more bus service, for example, has a much larger effect on people’s daily lives. That’s because 3.5 hours to Portland is tolerable for a trip you make once a year, or once every 5 years. Whereas, a 45-minute slog between downtown and Ballard, each way, to get to work and back, every single day, is much less tolerable.

        When I think of high speed rail, I cannot help but think of California as a cautionary tale for what happens when you dream big about high speed rail, without getting your local and regional transportation in order first. With costs getting higher and higher, Governor Newsom finally decided to throw in the towel, resulting in a multi-billion-dollar line from Bakersfield to Fresno, in a state with the highest level of taxation in the country. Meanwhile, the big cities that their HSR is supposed to connect are still as car-dependent as ever. Los Angeles is slowly building out more Metro lines, but the area is so large and so sprawly, it’s not making much of a dent. San Francisco, the Muni buses are still slow, the CalTrain is still hourly, and still slower than even rush hour freeway traffic. California is what happens when you get fixated on reducing travel time between the cities without properly investing in getting around within them.

      8. RossB – don’t you think that a lot of the business travel to Portland is for Nike and Intel, neither of which are downtown?

        Or course, in these cases arriving downtown is still better than arriving at the airport (assuming there is good rental car availability downtown).

    2. If we operated train stations at the scale of current airports, there would be way more walking, waiting and security theater.

      Hmmm, not really. I’ve been to Penn Station, which is probably the busiest train station on the busiest line in the U. S. (the only one that can be called “high speed” with a straight face). It is crowded, sure (all of New York is crowded). But it doesn’t take long at all to get from the street to the train. Getting to the terminal at an airport like SeaTac is much harder, while O’Hare is a level above that. Boarding an airplane, meanwhile, is a pain. You spend a huge amount of time boarding and deboarding. Forget about last minute trips — that is way too expensive. So that means that you better arrive well before the plane leaves, otherwise you have a big hassle on your hands. It is just the nature of the two systems. Trains are very wide, with doors spread out. They don’t mind a few empty seats — it costs them very little to add extra trains. Planes force you to squeeze through one, maybe two doors, with people taking forever to get their luggage in and out of the overhead bin.

      That being said, we are one big attack away from having the same ridiculous security system at train terminals that exist at airports. But boarding a train at even the biggest train station really is like boarding a tiny plane at a tiny airport: quick and easy.

      1. Trains will also require far less security than airplanes need because of a fundamental thing that a train can do that an airplane can’t – stop.

        If a terrorist attacks a train mid-trip, the it doesn’t fall several miles to the ground since it’s already on the ground. If a passenger is discovered to be a threat mid-trip, you simply stop the train and turn them over to local police.

        Air travel has this high security because these simple aren’t options.

      2. At its peak, Portland’s Union Station had around 200 trains a day. To get there today you’d need to restore the outer tracks and demolish the interfering condo complex someone decided to put there, but the waiting room (and sadly the platform height) are largely unchanged from that era.

        There are significant advantages to having more than one door and not having the floor of the rain 15 feet off ground level.

      3. And Penn suffers from the fact that it’s a rat’s nest downstairs, and Amtrak has an insane boarding process that requires people to wait at gates.

        I’ve caught trains in nearly every big city in Europe, including some that see 200+ million passengers per year. With the exception of the Eurostar (additional security for the Chunnel), I would usually show up 15 mins before train departure, grab some food, and hop onboard. In many cases, the intercity express train pulls in, loads, and is on its way in just 2 or 3 minutes. We need to get away from Amtrak’s archaic boarding process.

      4. @Chris — That is what I was getting at. It isn’t about maximum speed. It is about all the various things that go into traveling. How fast you can get from your place to the train itself is huge, and is far more important than whether the train hits a top speed of 200 MPH. If we just build trains that go 110 MPH, but get every other little detail right, we will be far better off, and save tons of money.

    3. “He’s assuming you want to go to downtown LA. That puts nearly an hour and a half extra into the overall air trip time!”

      A lot of people do want to go downtown. People living in central Seattle, north Seattle, or the Eastside are better served by a downtown terminus than the airport. Tourists travel downtown-to-downtown. Business people going to meetings do too. And yuppies who live downtown would find it extra-convenient; there’s a significant overlap between them and the tech sponsors of the concept. Cities that have their main train station downtown find it a big advantage compared to just having an airport. Part of Cascades’ ridership is because it terminates downtown.

    4. “If you actually read his slide, you see how contrived it is. ”

      That’s what jumped out at me as well. So I took a closer look at the different components and my initial suspicions were confirmed. Check-in time is overstated. Baggage claim? Please.

      But the biggest problem is the assumption that the traveler’s destination is DT LA. That’s a huge assumption given LA’s sprawling nature. Several of my associates from our SF office frequently make trips to the LA area for work and those trips never involve heading to downtown. It will be interesting sharing this with them and getting their feedback.

      1. To be fair, it’s “check-in and security.” The time allotted for this seems reasonable at a major airport; even with pre-check I find a 15-20 minute wait typical nowadays (not always, but often enough) which is what the graph indicates. Without pre-check you’re probably always looking at 15+ min.

        On the flight graph certainly you might choose cab/Uber/shuttle even from LAX if you’re going to otherwise spend the 90+ minutes that the graph shows for getting and then driving a rental, so you can probably cut out at least 30 minutes from that graph. Baggage claim? Yeah, for business travelers probably not – and leisure travelers are probably not headed to DTLA. LA Union Station is pretty far from MouseWorld Anaheim.

        As you note, the SF-LA dynamic is even more interesting as the Bay Area has three airports and LA area five, so you might choose to fly San Jose to Burbank or Oakland to Long Beach if that’s closer to your departure point and destination than SFO or LAX. Vancouver – Seattle – Portland doesn’t really have that (even with the little airport at Paine Field), so a trip from Beaverton to Redmond or Burnaby is still closer to the train stations than to the airports. If I’m going to, say, Irvine or Anaheim from the Bay Area I’d likely fly even with HSR.

    5. Those two criticisms immediately came to my mind as well. The rail vs. train travel time comparison assumed the very worst case scenario for flying, and a best-case scenario for rail. It assumed an air traveler would arrive at the airport, take 20 or so minutes to check in and go through security, THEN wait an hour for the plane. I used to fly a lot for work and would always aim to arrive an hour before the plane departed (meaning security was included in that hour), and often I would arrive at the airport 45 minutes or sometimes less before the plane departed. Also, almost no business travelers check baggage, so remove that time, and then they allow a half hour or more to get a rental car….which is a process that usually took me maybe 10 minutes or less. FYI, frequent fliers don’t check in for for flights at the airport anymore, and they generally don’t have to wait in line for a rental car either.

      Also, as you said, the issue with the US isn’t its size, it is its density. Europe is significantly more dense than the US, and China is massively more dense. It is comical that the author compares these in a serious manner.

    6. “What percent of the Puget Sound population lives downtown? The simple answer is “not much”.”

      There will be stations in Tacoma and Everett. Possibly there should be a station in Auburn, although WSDOT would probably choose Tukwila as it did last time. Lynnwood is too close to Everett for a second station there, and everything south of Lynnwood will have a two-line-frequent 20-minute Link trip to downtown. So it really boils down to whether there should be a station in Auburn or not. That’s a detail that can be worked out later.

  2. “If you actually read his slide, you see how contrived it is. He’s assuming you want to go to downtown LA. That puts nearly an hour and a half extra into the overall air trip time!”

    It all depends on who the majority of your clientele is. Cascadia is doing studies for both dt HSR stations and airport proximity stations. Seeing how all LA public transit systems make their way to LAUS I would assume it is more ideal for more people than LAX.

    1. Way more people have downtown as as final destination than the airport. In fact, I suspect the amount of people whose final destination is near the airport is darn well close to zero.

    2. It’s not just “downtown”. It’s everything that’s closer to downtown than to the airport. The population concentration is centered around downtown. It’s where transit to everywhere is, including the most frequent buses and express buses.

  3. 125 mph track is half the cost of 200 mph track

    Well then, that’s the obvious choice. Seattle is about 175 miles from Portland, and about 140 miles from Vancouver. Here is a chart showing speed and times, based on those numbers:

    Seattle to Portland:
    200 MPH — 52 minutes
    125 MPH — 84 minutes
    110 MPH — 95 minutes

    Seattle to Vancouver:
    200 MPH — 42 minutes
    125 MPH — 67 minutes
    110 MPH –76 minutes

    Even at 110 MPH, the train is way up at the 90% range on the
    chart. This means very few people would fly between the cities. From a driving perspective, it is a lot more complicated, but similar. It takes about 3 hours to drive down to Portland, if you are lucky. For some, it is a little bit closer. But even when you count the time spent getting to the station, the train is faster for the vast majority of people in the region. Of course there will be people who prefer to drive (because they want a car down there) but as long as getting to the train station is fairly easy, the train will dominate ridership.

    From Portland to Vancouver, the train starts to lose out to air travel. But my guess is there aren’t that many people making that trip. Portland is significantly smaller than Seattle, and has fewer cultural and economic ties with Vancouver. Even at 110 MPH, the train is still competitive (with about half the trips). Driving that distance, meanwhile, is a real pain.

    At 110 MPH, and certainly at 125, other issues become a lot more important. How easy is it to get to the stations? How often does the train run? How expensive is it to take the train? What about the border crossing? All those are issues that can be addressed and will be more important than the top speed of the train, as long as the train can go at least 110 MPH.

    1. I’m glad they’re looking at medium speed too and really looking at whether 200 mph has sufficient benefit/cost over 125 mph. I assume it does not. I’m also glad they’re looking at the Seattle-Spokane corridor.

      What Seattle-Portland-Vancouver and the rest of Washington needs is not so much 1-hour express trips between Seattle-Portland and Seattle-Vancouver but transit you can take at all:

      * something frequent enough to fit into your schedule.
      * that doesn’t require an overnight stay when you can drive there and back in a day.
      * local transit that doesn’t fall off a cliff once you reach Smokey Point or Lakewood.
      * transit that is reliable.

      Let’s work on those things.

    2. I’d prefer more frequency and reliability over speed once 80-100 mph is attained. What is made up in moving speed could be lost on frequency or reliability issues.

  4. I see that a major issue is whether the existing tracks, vehicles, stations and systems can be converted or if everything must be new investments. It helps to define whether the concept can be done incrementally or all at once. Similarly, it’s not clear how the system would be introduced on any track owned by a private railroad company.

    I don’t see this explained in these technical details. Was it discussed at all?

    1. I don’t see how a new HSR system can use existing rail infrastructure. HSR systems need “straight and level” tracks and electrical infrastructure which entails high clearance. Caltrains assumed control over the peninsula from freight so that it can get to 110 with much more efficient electrics than diesels. The Central Valley is running parallel to freight lines with nothing shared.

    2. There are also a lot of freight trains. and the goods they carry are a significant part of the state’s economy. If you put high-speed trains on the BNSF track, especially if they’re more or less hourly as the planning scenarios assume, you’d have to kick off most of the freight trains. There have been suggestions that the state should buy the BNSF north-south track and shift all the freight to the parallel UP track. Well, get on with it. Cascades and Sounder would benefit from it too. Most of the reason we’re not running Sounder more frequently is the high cost of track-time leases from BNSF.

      1. “There have been suggestions that the state should buy the BNSF north-south track and shift all the freight to the parallel UP track. Well, get on with it. ”

        I ask this in all sincerity. Do you really think this will ever happen?

      2. Not with the current generation of legislators and governor. But if we had a legislature that really prioritized non-car/non-plane transportation and environmental sustainability they could at least negotiate with BNSF and study what the cost would be and how it could be financed. We’re already paying costs in not having it: high track-time leases, limited mobility, highway widening and traffic management, etc. For the money we’re considering spending for high-speed rail we could have a publicly-owned, passenger-priority, existing track, with hourly Cascades and half-hourly Sounder like Caltrain or the German S-Bahns, and then Kent and Auburn and Puyallup and Olympia and Marysville could have something that’s “almost as frequent” as Link.

      3. That still doesn’t get us to 125mph. There are way too many level crossings on the corridor.

        I think this system could share ROW with the BNSF line in rural, open areas. 2 new passenger-only tracks could be build adjacent to the existing line, and all level crossings replaced with overpasses/underpasses, or closed. In the areas where the existing line are too curvy, new routes will need to be build.

  5. This high speed rail needs to be done as soon as possible. Surely some kind of public go fund me campaign would help kick start it. Kind of like the campaign which saved the radio station KNKX. How much would one mile cost to build? People and companies could sponsor a mile. This may sound ridiculous but please, start thinking out of the box and use your imaginations to get this rail built as soon as possible.

    1. We really need a political class at the state and or federal level willing to fund HSR and we have neither. Heck, we can’t even get funding from the state for link, rather we have to get the ok for King County to tax itself x number of billion to get the funding. The feds, particularly the Trump administration believe that public transportation is a local issue that should be funded by the cities themselves.

      How do our local elites get legislators from cosmopolitan meccas like Yakima and Gold Bar to support funding HSR?

      1. Well, I don’t live in either Yakima or Gold Bar, but I am pretty confident that talking about places in Washington that are not Seattle with urban contempt is not going to get the people who represent those places about spending money on things Seattle says it wants.

        I’m also not a State legislator, but it would seem to me that line to Spokane has more importance than we might think. It would be a lot easier to justify any large-scale state investment in rail transit if people east of the mountains are served directly by more frequent passenger rail than we currently have.

      2. There has to be significant spending east of the mountains too. Preferably with a rail project linking into the I-5 HSR but more realistically just a crap ton of road building/repair and at least one show piece project. Even then it will be a serious problem.

        Remember Vancouver, WA deliberately sunk a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia river just to spite it because it would have had light rail run on it.

      3. That’s the thing, I don’t believe those legislators from Eastern Washington would support HSR even if their constituents stood to benefit because they philosophically oppose mass/rail transit (a point also reinforced by light rail opposition in Vancouver WA). The logic of benefits doesn’t matter to the politicians in the rural areas, by and large.

      4. JS,

        Residents in the City of Vancouver supported light rail. The measure was county-wide, and was almost 100% rejected in the exurban portions of the county. Vancouver wants light rail. Clark County does not.

      5. How many people think the legislature will really approve high-speed rail once the studies are done? I find it unlikely. This is partly an attempt to say they’re looking into it and to accept Microsoft’s offer to pay for part of the study. But when it comes time for a concrete proposal, we’ll see the same things we see with Sound Transit and car tabs and local bus agencies: the large cities are for it, the exurban and rural areas are against it. When you talk about its transportation benefit many legislators will say, “Um, it’s not a highway. I can’t drive my car on it. I can’t leave anytime and have a one-seat drive to my destination.”

        The good thing about this exercise is we’re getting some studies out of it. And maybe it will be a good cop, bad cop foil to move the Overton window on medium-speed rail. “See, it’s not as expensive as high-speed rail.” Maybe that will convince legislators to accelerate Cascades’ existing long-range plan of 110 mph.

        (The Cascades study found that each level of speed becomes exponentially more expensive, and that 110 mph is the sweet spot for Cascades’ distance. It argued that 125 mph was not much more benefit and not worth the cost upgrade. Legislators may disagree with that now, and bump it up one level to 125.)

  6. Seattle to Portland express trains and continued investment in track capacity provide the most value. Seattle to Vancouver is a different problem. A very long tunnel going north from Seattle would most likely be needed.

    1. The slowest section is actually north of the border. It takes an hour from the border to downtown Vancouver, and it should only be 30mins. The BC government needs to be onboard with a complete re-build of the line north of the border.

      1. On my last trip to Vancouver, half an hour was spent manually throwing switches to get into and out of the single international track at the station.

        Considering there isn’t much interest in getting Rail infrastructure into the 29th century, it’s hard to imagine any motivation for it getting into the 21st.

  7. I’d like to think that the “Cask vs. Length” graph is showing the amount of alcohol consumed on each type of trip. Seriously, though, is this meant to be “cost”? I’d blame the translation, but even in Italian “cost” doesn’t look like “cask”.

    1. CASK is Cost per Available Seat Kilometer. It’s an industry standard for measuring an airline’s unit cost.

  8. It is very likely that our low density cities will result in much lower usage. Madrid and Barcelona have a bit more the population than Vancouver, Seattle and Portland combined and only 4 million trips per year. More people live in Milan metro than in Washington State

    If we are doing this for climate change reasons, would it be better (and perhaps cheaper) to build a SBhan/UBhan network in those 3 urban areas? Most of the HSR lines will never be profitable (I’m fine with my taxes paying for that instead of SR99 tunnels); but will they be used? Will HSR make an impact in CO2 emissions? I don’t think freight is going to use HSR, so we need to fix our daily commutes.

    Right now this looks like a pet project of a bunch of big companies, some of them with huge exurban campuses that force everyone to drive.

    1. Four points about reducing carbon emissions:

      (1) Producing concrete and cement are very carbon intensive, and they continue to emit once solidified. Carbon-infused concrete is supposedly carbon-negative, and I have no reason not to believe it is much better emissions-wise, but would probably cost more.

      (2) We won’t directly reduce automobile or air travel just by giving travelers an additional option. We’ll simply increase travel. I sure hope that whatever gets built is electric with a renewable power source (solar and wind). Otherwise we’re just adding to the region’s carbon footprint. Requiring a reduction in automobile travel means taking lanes. Requiring a reduction in air travel means banning air travel between various destination pairings, or imposing draconian taxes on those trips. Instead, we are continuing to enlarge airports, build more airports, and build more highways, with full support of the Democrats in Olympia.

      (3) This project will not be built fast enough to be done before the world’s carbon budget is used up, and we’re irrecovably on track to raise average global temperatures 1.5 degrees Celcius, which scientists have warned us not to do. Our carbon budget will be gone in eight years, or less because global emissions just keep accelerating. Indeed, Washington State’s emissions are still going up. And we keep building more highways.

      (4) If the goal of the project were to be lowering carbon emissions, we would be building huge structures that pull carbon dioxide out of the air, reforesting the state (which is about a lot more than planting trees), banning gasoline vehicles on as many roads as possible, banning the extraction of oil/coal/methane from the ground under our state, incentivizing food to be sold to the end-consumer close to where it is grown, finding more ways to empower women to control their own lives (equal pay comes to mind) with the side effect that population growth slows down, getting out of the business of encouraging conventioneers to fly across the globe, promoting less-carbon-intensive diets, etc. That is not what this project is about. This project is just about building a really fast (and maybe tolerably frequent?) train line for the business class.

  9. “Average stop on a high speed train at 200 mph takes 15 minutes with most of it being deceleration and re-acceleration.”

    This seems key. How many stops would a Portland-Vancouver HSR train make? Seattle would be a given. What about Bellingham, Everett, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver WA? Each stop does increase the flexibility of the system to riders, but at the cost of efficiency. Would someone travelling from Vancouver WA to Seattle want to backtrack to Portland, either to take the train or fly?

    Personally, I think we should make the current Amtrak system more usable before we invest lots of money in HSR. 2-8 trips / day just isn’t enough.

    1. My guess is you have both a local and express. The express is simply Vancouver, Seattle, Portland. The local includes Vancouver, Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver WA, Portland and Eugene. Other cities/towns may have service, but they might also just have connecting bus service. No matter what service you provide, ridership would be mostly Seattle to Vancouver and Seattle to Portland, so it makes sense to optimize that.

  10. Slight aside: When is the Point Defiance Bypass going into operation? What a sorry state of affairs there. Condolences.

  11. Yesterday, I-5 between Olympia and Tacoma was blocked solid for hours by a debilitated truck near Fort Lewis, which rapidly compounded exponentially when an SUV fleeing the police crashed into the truck and several emergency vehicles.

    Not the only multi-truck wreck these last couple of months. Each one an occurrence that really scares me, because it indicates that someplace in the trade where it’s really deadly, somebody in authority has decreed that safety is now a long way from first.

    Know I’ve also mentioned how my last Sounder ride was U-turned when somebody decided to commit suicide by standing in front of a train instead of a gun.

    Also time to face, for the first time since 9/11/2001, that 3000 simultaneous casualties and a war whose end’s not yet in sight resulted because our country’s airlines decided that speedy boardings and take-offs outranked the need to be sure nobody boarded with a box-free cutter.

    A measure that had already long since cut Israeli hijackings to zero. Somebody who’s traveled between, say Finland and Estonia, tell me why we should not be going for a fleet of hydrofoil boats about the length and speed of a railcar between Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle right now.

    Or alternatively, how we stop the next truck crash, or passenger-train assisted suicide.

    Mark Dublin

  12. Two observations

    Freight railroads may be on a terminal decline. Increasingly long (even extra long) unit trains may earn most of the profits. Unit trains carry oil OR coal OR shipping boxes OR grain, but only one thing. We all can hope they turn this around and serve intermediate communities. RRs really need to serve all those intermediate communities, and make a profit. Our two track system between Seattle and Portland could stand to be upgraded to a 3 or 4 track system – room for HSR, medium spreed rail, and much faster freight serving the area from Vancouver BC to Eugene OR.

    Second, the freeway system is an outstanding piece of infrastructure – no grade crossings for hundreds of miles, good interconnections between the various routes. What is going to happen when really good bus systems take advantage, and offer 4 , 3, and 2 abreast seating? Then add autonomous driving. This in itself could kill passenger trains. And those buses could be entrained.

    1. ps – there are some contradictions in my two observations. They seem to me intrinsic to some of the problems we face in transportation.

      1. Whoa up, Robin. The BNSF alignment will never do for HSR, except possibly the long straightaway between Old Nisqually and Tenino. That could certainly be used. But pretty much everywhere else the curvature is far too sharp for HSR.

        I’m all for doubling the UP between Black River and East Tacoma, adding a third track between Nisqually Junction and North Vancouver and lengthening all the cross-overs, especially those between the middle track and the new “passenger” track. There will also need to be a third track on the replacement bridge that is necessary to line up the channel in the Columbia with a replacement I-5 bridge. All good.

        But we do not need four tracks anywhere.

        And the freight isn’t going to be “high speed”. It’s only 175 miles! And actually, it’s only 135 because most non-unit BNSF trains are made up and broken up in Tacoma.

        So far as entraining buses, so what? Unless you give them exclusive lanes they’ll be stuck in the same damn traffic that makes any trip between Olympia and Marysville by car such a PITA.

        Middle-speed rail (mostly) on its own track, with frequent high-speed cross-overs to the middle track should allow light tilting trains to run at near track speed most of the time.

    2. Unless self-driving cars and buses get a boost to double their speeds and a magical pass over of accidents I don’t ever see them eliminating the need for HSR.

  13. “They’re not all going Downtown” isn’t a hundred percent reason to hold back or skimp on rail. Coming in from, say, Vancouver BC on my way to Northgate, or even Green Lake, might still be fastest to ride a 200 mph express train to King Street Station, and cut back north on Link.

    But own pet peeve right now, and he’s got a nasty bite, is amount of damage lately being done to travel in general when trucks either crash or catch fire (unprofessional, one might say) or when SUV’s fleeing the police take out both a damaged truck and a half dozen emergency vehicles.

    “Infrastructure” is almost a less favorite word than “environment”, because it gives the listener the luxury of imagining that the pieces of cracked and collapsing concrete land on another planet. Somebody ought to be smacking the daylights out of both major parties for permitting the “Planet Money” shows to brag about the recent tax-cuts that are literally leaving our country to fall apart.

    Would also like some feedback on my belief that places like Sweden and Germany benefit from how hard it is for the average person to get a driver’s license. But would mainly welcome some analysis on my belief that even though best possible rail goes to relatively narrow share of stations, a really fast train + local rail, bus, cab or Uber can at least bring me and whoever I’m visiting to same interim neighborhood for a rendezvous.

    Mark Dublin

    1. It’s ironic that videos on Germany say “Germans love their cars and autobahns” the same way videos on the US say “Americans love their cars and freeways”, yet the result is completely different. There are a lot of factors.

      1. Germany invented national healthcare in the 1880s and is more comfortable with collective solutions in general. (Trains are a collective solution; cars are an individual solution.)
      2. After WWII it had to rebuild entire cities and house millions of homeless people quickly. It chose TOD, transit. and walkability, similar to its prewar model.
      3. After the 1970s oil crisis, several European countries chose to become independent of foreign oil and invested heavily in transit and deprioritized cars. The US invented SUVs and deprioritized transit.
      4. In the 1980s Germany started building extensive light rails in cities both large and small. Bielefeld (pop. 320K) got it in the 1990s. Ratingen (88K) got a Duesseldorf extension in 2016. Duesseldorf (pop. 619K) and suburbs have ten existing and four planned light rail lines, and around six S-Bahn lines.
      5. Drivers’ licences require minimum age 18 and extensive driving school.
      6. In 2002 in Duesseldorf and Ratingen I saw no single-family houses even in outer parts of the city. The impression was like Moscow and St Petersburg. There may have been houses somewhere, but not in places Chicago or London have them.

      So cars seem like more of an optional fun thing than a basic necessity. Lots of people have expensive BMWs (they may be cheaper there), the autobahns have traffic jams, and some people use them for mundane crosstown errands. But there’s always transit available so you don’t have to. And probably only people who really want a driver’s license get one.

      Germany also has strong unions, another collective factor.

      1. Is that from a TV show? My classmate in college was from Bielefeld, and it happened while he was here. He was excited and amused to learn that little Bielefeld was getting a subway.

  14. “by 2034 SeaTac airport would be at capacity”

    OK how much by % of use is SeaTac serving flights to:

    1) Portland?
    2) Vancouver, BC?
    3) Spokane?

    Because unless it’s significant, there’s no big need for high speed rail. If significant, then maybe.

    Again, I want a stop in Skagit County before supporting this.

  15. I went to Japan decades ago (early 1980s) and rode the bullet train…125 mph at the time. Three hours from Tokyo to Nagoya by train, one hour by plane…but, add in the time for security and it’s a wash…and far less hassle to take the train. Since that trip, and a return a few years later, I’ve advocated a series of regional HSR networks in the U.S. It’s cautiously heartening that this may be edging closer to reality, finally.

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