WSDOT is studying ultra-high-speed ground transportation
The Washington State Governor’s Office and state Legislature asked WSDOT to study ultra-high-speed ground transportation from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon. Regional business and government leaders believe enhanced interconnectivity would allow Cascadia to better manage the megaregion’s population and economic growth potential and maximize public transportation benefits. Such a system is envisioned to be about much more than transportation. It also could result in better access to jobs, affordable housing, shared resources, increased collaboration and economic prosperity.
Megaregions are networks of metropolitan regions with shared economies, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. There are 11 emerging megaregions in the U.S. The rapidly growing economy and population characterizes the Cascadia megaregion, which encompasses Vancouver, BC; Seattle, Washington; and Portland, Oregon.
Where high-speed ground transportation works best
In general, the evaluation criteria for where high-speed ground transportation can be considered feasible are:
- The area being considered should be a megaregion with stops in cities or metro areas with larger populations (Vancouver - Seattle - Portland).
- The travel distance should be between 100-500 miles (Vancouver to Portland is around 350 miles).
- The system should be interconnected with regional and local transit.
- The metropolitan should have economic productivity.
- The system should be used to relieve congested areas (both auto and air).
Ultra-high-speed ground transportation (UHSGT) won’t stop everywhere in this corridor. The analysis is evaluating route and station options. UHSGT will benefit the entire Cascadia megaregion, not just people at station stops. It could alleviate traffic and transit congestion while encouraging greater regional collaboration in research, economic development and business innovation.
Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation study - Current regional connectivity
The Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (PNWRC) is one of 11 federally-designated high-speed rail corridors in the U.S. The 462-mile (742-kilometer) PNWRC serves the most densely populated areas of the Cascadia megaregion, linking Vancouver, BC to Seattle, Portland and Eugene.
Ultra-high-speed ground transportation is not intended to replace the Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail system funded by WSDOT and ODOT. It would be an additional travel option and would serve to promote ridership through connections to other travel modes. Amtrak Cascades trains might connect smaller cities to the ultra-high-speed system and they might even share the same new tracks. Because Amtrak Cascades trains currently share tracks with freight trains, it is likely not possible to offer ultra-high-speed service on most of the current Amtrak Cascades routes. Amtrak Cascades trains travel at 79 mph and serve 18 cities in Canada, Washington and Oregon - more than an ultra-high-speed option would serve.
Opportunities for better connectivity
The distances between Portland and Seattle and between Seattle and Vancouver are less than 200 miles (322 km) each, which are short distances for plane trips and longer than necessary for car trips because of congestion. An ultra-high-speed transportation system could offer speeds up to 250 mph (402 km/h), allowing for travel times of less that an hour between each of the cities.
The exiting travel choices in Cascadia include air, rail, automobile and bus service. Below is a distance and time breakdown for all four existing modes between the cities.
2019 travel choices Seattle to Vancouver
||119 miles (192 km)
||157 miles (253 km)
||141 miles (227 km)
||141 miles (227 km)
2019 travel choices Portland to Seattle
||130 miles (209 km)
||177 miles (285 km)
||173 miles (278 km)
||173 miles (278 km)
Note: Travel time assumes 30-minute access/egress time to travel to/from airports and rail/UHSGT stations. Air trips also have 60-minute check in and security time. A 30-minute delay was assumed for international UHSGT, air and auto crossings.
This $895,000 study was funded by approximate equal contributions from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Microsoft Corp.
The study was funded with $750,000 from the Washington State Legislature and an additional $650,000 from the Province of British Columbia, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Microsoft Corp.
The 2017 feasibility study funded with $300,000 from the Washington State Legislature. Microsoft and labor unions also contributed funds to conduct a more in-depth economic impact study.
2020 Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation study report
The outcomes of the 2020 UHSGT Framework for the Future report recommends actions in three areas crucial to future decision-making:
This offers guidance to create a coordinating entity to advance the project beyond the initial concept phase and outlines a more formal governing model for the future.
Strategic Engagement Plan
This emphasizes the importance of:
- A robust, deep, and equitable engagement approach with the public.
- Tribes and Indigenous communities.
- Elected officials.
- State, provincial and federal agencies.
- Business and labor leaders.
- Advocacy organizations.
This sets forth potential strategies to secure a variety of funding sources and includes scenarios for possible federal, state or provincial, and private investments that could create a complete funding and financing plan.
2020 Framework for the Future - Executive summary
2020 Framework for the Future - Full report
Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation study - 2019 business case analysis
The outcome of the 2019 Business Case Analysis builds on previous UHSGT studies conducted by WSDOT. It provides a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the wide range of benefits that would flow to the region due to UHSGT.
The 2019 Business Case Analysis builds on previous UHSGT studies conducted by WSDOT. It provides a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the wide range of benefits that could result in the region due to UHSGT. Details on the strategic, economic, environmental and financial case for UHSGT in the Cascadia megaregion are included.
2019 UHSGT Business Case Analysis – Executive Summary (PDF 388KB)
2019 UHSGT Business Case Analysis – Full Report (PDF 22MB)
Key findings of this study include:
- Less than one-hour trips between each city — Portland, Seattle, Vancouver — at about 220 mph (354 kph).
- Various scenarios with 21 to 30 daily round trips, with some express trips stopping at only a few locations, interspersed with others that stop at more locations.
- Ultimate potential to carry 32,000 people an hour using capacity to schedule many more trains.
- Estimate between 12 and 20 percent of total current intercity trips would shift to UHSGT.
- Estimate conservatively between 1.7 and 3.1 million riders annually when it opens.
- Estimate annual revenue of between $160 and $250 million when it opens.
- Can be built within the 2017 estimate of $24 billion to $42 billion in up-front construction costs.
- Estimate $355 billion in economic growth and 200,000 new jobs related to construction and ongoing operation of the service.
- Reduction of 6 million metric tons (tonnes) of CO2 emissions over first 40 years and potential for zero emissions by using clean energy sources (hydro, wind, solar).