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Vancouver - Seattle- Portland Ultra High-Speed Rail Project and Amtrak Cascades Vancouver - Portland Update

Shinkansen 300 Series

First High-Speed Rail Study was in 1992 for the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland Corridor

Since 1992, There has been studies and discussion about high-speed rail, or recently ultra-high speed transportation between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

Let us look back at the history of this idea and an update of where we are at now.

In October 1992, the Washington High Speed Ground Transportation Study was submitted to the State of Washington. It was done by Ganett Fleming Incorporated.

The recommendations from that study stated, the State of Washington, Oregon and the province of British Columbia, should continue its commitment to upgrade Amtrak service and take further action on improving rail infrastructure now to build support for a high-speed rail program by adopting the following three goals.

Implementation of true high-speed rail service, 250 kilometers per hour or greater between Everett and Portland by the year 2020.

A maximum travel time between downtown Portland and downtown Seattle of two hours by the year 2010. 

None of these original study recommendations were completed.

Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed rail

2017 Ultra High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study

In December 2017, the State of Washington funded a $300,000 Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Feasibility Study by the CHM2M Company. Microsoft contributed $50,000 to it.

The concept was to create a mega-region, called Cascadia, linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland connected by ultra high-speed transportation. It would have 7 stations with 2 million estimated ridership. The line would also connect to east/west and north/south lines.

Each corridor concept will require an alignment that can support an average operating speed of 400 kilometres an hour. To maintain this speed, a separate trackway with a dedicated right‐of‐way will be necessary for steel‐wheel‐to‐steel‐rail or maglev systems. Other important factors considered include the populations of cities near a proposed station and opportunities for multimodal connections.

The study stated the implementation of this high-speed rail corridor faces many challenges ahead related to technology choices, planning, permitting, funding and financing, navigating an international intergovernmental agreement to manage and oversee a complex projects,and system construction and operation.

The cost was estimated between $24 billion to $42 billion depending on the technology chosen.

2019 Business Analysis for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland Ultra High-Speed Rail Released

In 2019, the Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation Study Business Case Analysis 400 page report was released by the State of Washington. The study recommended 35 comprehensive steps to move the project forward.

The 2019 Business Case demonstrated the Ultra High Speed Ground transportation concept would be an effective transportation project, and once implemented would likely to have a transformative impact on the Cascadia megaregion.

If implemented it would move over 3 million passengers a year, and produce $165 million in revenues after the first few years of ramp-up. Revenues from the farebox are expected to cover operating expenses in the long term.

Ultra High-Speed Rail calls for very high-tech power and guidance systems and could start a new industrial base around the production of high-speed rail equipment.

Studies have shown that Cascadia Ultra High-Speed has the potential to attract increased investment from employers in the region and create as many as 38,000 construction jobs, three thousand operating and maintenance jobs, and 160,000 permanent new jobs across the wider economy.

Portland to Seattle or Seattle to Vancouver would be approximately one-hour, with low/no emissions and speeds of up to 250 miles per hour or 400 kilometres per hour.

In June 2023 the Cascadia Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Project Legislative 

Update was released. The project team has developed an initial funding strategy and submitted two federal grant submissions amongst other initiatives. A significant number of next steps are outlined in the document.

Amtrak Cascades Train
Riding the Cascade in January 2023.

Amtrak Cascades Train is a Scenic Trip

As they move forward with the Ultra high-speed studies, the public still has a train to take them between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. It is the Amtrak Cascades train. It is one of the most scenic rail journeys in the USA. There are currently two trains each way from Vancouver to Seattle. The trip takes 4 hours. There is one Cascades train each way from Portland to Vancouver. It takes 8 hours. There are also bus/train options. Starting December 11th, there will be two additional trains between Portland and Seattle.

Federal grants have been submitted by the State of Washington to improve the existing Cascade line to improve travel times and frequencies along the route. Let us hope for more Vancouver frequencies to Seattle.

Take a ride on the Amtrak Cascades train and you will not be disappointed.

Amtrak Cascades engine
Waiting at the station