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Can Vancouver be the first Canadian city with High Speed Rail?

Inside the driver’s cabin of the Alfa X Shinkansen - JP Rail

It is time for high speed trains - Vancouver - Seattle - Portland

There are many previous studies done on high speed rail in Canada with no action taken on any of them. Ontario-Quebec HSR - 22 studies, Edmonton-Calgary HSR- 4 studies. 

In 2017 Vancouver,joined the Canadian cities that have high speed rail studies.The 2017 Vancouver-Seattle-Portland Feasibility Study and this was followed up with the 2019 Analysis Report. - 2 studies -

Currently another more detailed study is underway with funding from government and the private sector.

Vancouver-Seattle-Portland Ultra High Speed Ground Study Rail Business Case Analysis completed in 2019 by the Washington State Department of Transport (UHSGT) had some interesting findings.

  • Train speed - Ultra High Speed Rail (meaning 350 kilometers per hour)
  • The ridership model survey results show that UHSGT almost completely captures the direct intra-regional air travel market
  • UHSGT will capture between 12% and 20% of total intercity trips 
  •  UHSGT is projected to generate between $156 million and $250 million in fare revenues annually by 2040 (2019 prices)
  • Ridership on UHSGT would be more than three times the current number of travelers on intercity rail in the Pacific Northwest corridor.
  • It estimated that as many as 160,000 permanent new jobs in the wider economy could be unlocked by UHSGT, generating as much as $355 billion in additional economic activity
  • Could reduce carbon emissions by 6 million metric tons over 40 years

A three-day Cascadia Rail Summit was recently held at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., inviting more than a dozen speakers to discuss the project.

Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar stated at the summit - “As we regroup here in Washington state and think about investing $50 billion in ultra-high-speed rail,” Millar said, “do you think we’ll ever get to a place where highway expansion keeps up with economic expansion and population? It will not happen. It cannot happen.”

Millar estimated a cost of about $108 billion to add one additional lane to Interstate 5 in each direction from the Oregon border to the Canadian border.

According to the study - While the challenges in delivering UHSGT are significant, evidence from this assessment suggests that the project can be delivered and operated successfully. The key to this success would be to draw on effective governance and procurement models used on other trans-border and international infrastructure projects. Developing an effective funding and operating strategy would also be critical in the successful delivery of UHSGT.

It will not be easy dealing with the complex issues that will come up dealing with the public, private sector, multiple governments/legislation involved (2 federal, 2 state, 1 provincial, various lower level governments) and obtaining financing for the project.

Strong local advocacy is critical to any successful campaign. The high speed rail advocacy group, Cascadia Rail, under the leadership of Chair Paige Malott, is doing excellent work promoting multi-state efforts to connect the Cascadia region through high speed rail.

Let us hope that Vancouver can be the first city with high speed rail in Canada!

Paul Langan
President High Speed Rail Canada