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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Washington High Speed Rail Projects

WSDOT Proposed High Speed Rail Projects

Map of the proposed high speed rail line

One of the stimulus projects from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the development of regional high speed rail corridors. The Pacific Northwest corridor proposes a high speed corridor extending from Vancover, BC, through Seattle and Tacoma, down to Portland, Oregon, finally ending in Eugene, Oregon. The corridor would support 150mph passenger trains which would allow decreased travel times, such as Seattle to Vancouver, BC, in 2 hours and 50 minutes.

The Pacific Northwest has had high speed rail, or at least higher speed than normal, in the form of the Amtrak Cascades tilting Talgo trainsets. While these tilting trains are capable of up to 130mph speeds, they are limited to 79 mph by FRA rules. In order to go faster signaling systems and track would need to be upgraded. However, even with these restrictions the trains still are able to run faster than standard passenger trains.

Projects would include construction of bypass tracks, upgrade of existing track and signaling systems, rerouting of some sections of the line (such as the Point Defiance Bypass) and adding more Talgo trainsets. It does not at the moment provide to electrify the line as is the case with the Northeast Corridor and most high speed lines in Europe and Japan.

Thoughts: Back to Top

Amtrack Cascades at Mulkiteo

Having ridden high speed rail between Paris, France and Saarbruecken, Germany I can say that high speed rail is a very economical way to travel, for certain distances. Definitely air travel can be faster, but includes delays at both ends (for security checks and retrieving baggage) and a train can be much faster over a shorter distance. The distance of this route is perfect for a high speed rail system. Just long enough to make flight inefficient, but not long enough to take too long.

Lots of people travel between Portland and Seattle. South of Olympia the freeway is 2 lanes in each direction (although projects are underway to expand the route to 3 lanes in each direction). However through the urban areas of Pierce, King and Snohomish County, traffic is always heavily congested. Driving South, especially on a Friday, can take many hours. On the Northern leg, many people travel from Seattle up to Canada. Again, this can be a multi hour drive.

One big problem I see with this system is high speed lines in Europe are grade-seperated and designed for high speed travel. I don't see us rebuilding the system here or taking away the fact that passenger lines are shared with freight trains. There are too many grade crossings in this route to separate them all, and too much freight coming from the ports of Tacoma and Seattle that has to be shared on the same tracks. However, advancements in rail technology like the tilting Talgo trains would allow for higher speed travel than today's 79 miles per hour.

Future Back to Top

  • Implementation of planned projects
  • 2+ hour travel from Seattle to Portland/Vancouver BC

Links Back to Top

Map: © FRA Website
Image: © Wikipedia