Analysis for international ultra-high-speed transport connection in Pacific Northwest released

July 17, 2019
Study determines the proposed connection between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon would promote economic growth; reduce emissions and generate up to $250 million in annual revenue.

A study into a proposed project to construct an ultra-high-speed transportation connection between Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia found it would decrease travel time, improve mobility and boost economic growth. 

The report says the Cascadia megaregion experiences crowded roads, congested airports and limited intercity rail service that constrain the mobility of residents, businesses and tourists. The study says the issues of increasing congestion, lack of capacity and unreliable existing transportation networks pushed the need to set out a vision to unlock a globally competitive, equitable and sustainable Cascadia megaregion.

"The prospect of uniting Washington, Oregon and British Columbia with an ultra-high-speed transportation system that propels us into the future is incredibly exciting," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. "Imagine fast, frequent and reliable travel with the potential for zero emissions and the opportunity to better compete in a global economy. It could transform the Pacific Northwest."

WSP USA was contracted by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in 2018 to prepare a business case analysis of the project. WSDOT is part of a partnership between the Oregon Department of Transportation, the British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology and Microsoft Corp. interested in determining the feasibility of an ultra-high-speed transport connection in the region. A preliminary analysis conducted in 2017 confirmed the need for a more in-depth analysis of the system’s feasibility and the Washington State Legislature appropriated funds to the study, with additional monies coming from the study’s other partners.

The ultra-high-speed system is projected to travel at speeds exceeding 200 mph, via high-speed rail, magnetic levitation or hyperloop technology. The all-electric system would be stand-alone, rather than sharing or relying on existing infrastructure. It would include some elevated tracks and tunnels, with no at-grade crossings with roads. The Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Business Case Analysis examined travel times of less than two-hour trips between Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, Ore., and one-hour trips between Seattle, Wash. and each city.

The study outlines benefits, potential areas for stations, costs and funding and governance issues. The study found that the project could create a new transportation spine in the region, transforming mobility for all residents with a “conservative estimate” of annual one-way trips at start up between 1.7 million and 3.1 million. An ultra-high-speed transportation option could draw new companies to the region and create an estimated US$355 billion in economic growth. Up front construction costs could range between US$24 billion to US$42 billion in up-front construction costs and generate between US$160 million and US$250 million in initial annual revenue. Additionally, there could be positive environmental impacts surrounding the project with the potential to reduce carbon emissions in the first 40 years by 6 million metric tons (tonnes).

"Improving connectivity in the Pacific Northwest region through ultra-high-speed rail presents enormous potential for job and economic growth on both sides of the border," said British Columbia Premier John Horgan. "This study confirms the numerous benefits for British Columbians and gives us a clearer vision of what can be achieved when we all work together."

Bruce Ralston, the provincial Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology added, “This study is part of the necessary good work that’s being done to give us a clearer picture of the feasibility of ultra-high-speed rail service between British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Improving the connectivity in the Pacific Northwest region presents enormous potential for job creation, economic growth and environmental benefits on both sides of the border.”

The exact route and type of ultra-high-speed transportation has not been determined and would require more analysis. All trips are expected to include a stop in greater Vancouver, B.C., the Seattle metro area and Portland, Ore., with some trips potentially including additional stops in other cities.

"Bringing high-speed rail to the Pacific Northwest will deepen and accelerate the growth of our economies, all while contributing to our efforts to combat climate change," said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. "I appreciate our partners' leadership, commitment, and coordination in taking on a project of this scale."

Microsoft President Brad Smith added, "High-speed rail will shrink travel times throughout the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, providing a strong transportation core for our region. These findings highlight the transformative impact of this service, and we're encouraged to see cross-community support for the next phase of this international project."

An advisory committee, representing public, private and nonprofit sectors from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, provided input during the year-long technical analysis. In addition to WSP, Steer Davies Gleave, EnviroIssues, Paladin Partners and Transportation Solutions helped put together the business analysis.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.