This is the fifth paper added to the resources available describing the Cascadia megaregion. These “Ecolopolis” papers have been developed through the work of graduate classes concerned with a wide range of regional development, planning, governance, and implementation issues. They are intended to be linked through a common interest in Cascadia and its prospects as a megaregion. In this case, the topic is high speed rail, but the fundamental purpose in addressing this issue is part of the continuing inquiry into what can contribute to a great understanding of the region and what its sense of place, now and in the future.
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What is an Ecolopolis?
Jean Gottman’s “Megalopolis”, first described in 1964 as the urbanized area stretching from Boston to Washington, DC, has inspired the contemporary use of the term “megapolitan” (or “megaregion”) to describe linked cities and the micropolitan areas between them. However, does or should the East Coast’s Megalopolis provide a model for potential Cascadian-scale urban development and interaction?
The heavily urbanized nature of Megalopolis immediately seems to clash with Cascadian sensibilities. After all, access to the outdoors, open space and preservation of agricultural land provide many residents here with a strong sense of place and pride. People are attracted to the quality of life in our cities. Proximity to pristine mountains, rivers and forests, and the ocean is a top draw for skilled workers and young people. Cascadia’s competitive advantage lies, at least in part, in the fact that it is NOT a continuously urbanized region yet still provides cosmopolitan amenities like arts and culture, fine food, shopping and sports.
What kind of Pacific Northwest do we want to live in? Can celebrating our uniqueness be the cornerstone for boosting our competitiveness? How can we prosper, accommodate a growing population and remain livable? The answer lies in the commitment of decision makers, developers and citizens to develop the region into what we’ve called an “Ecolopolis” rather than a Megalopolis.
What is an ecolopolis? We have defined it as a networked metropolitan system consisting of the metropolitan areas for Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, other metropolitan areas in the I-5 corridor from Eugene, north, and the vital working and wild landscapes between them. An Ecolopolis, in our view, is a continental and global economic unit, and it is a reflection of the unique Pacific Northwest bioregion known as “Cascadia.”
In “Ecolopolis 1.0: Making the Case for a Cascadian Supercity,” we took up the challenge of investigating the nature and promise of a binational, tristate regional supercity in the territory referred to as Cascadia. For the purposes of this study, we concentrated on the three major metropolitan areas in the Pacific Northwest, namely Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC.
The question we asked ourselves was what, besides locations in the northern temperate rainforest and the expectations of national interests outside of our respective corners of the Pacific Northwest, did these three metros share? What dynamics linking the three pointed to the promise of working to unite them under a common banner? More specifically, what would justify an investment in high(er) speed rail? If this is about economic competitiveness, what about current models of competitiveness suggested that the territory we should care about was Cascadian in scale?
What we found in that first effort was that local concerns trumped megaregional ties. Simply put, Cascadia was not yet at the point where megaregional projects would receive priority over local metropolitan and even statewide concerns. That said, we found strong suggestions for possible economic clusters organized and operating at a Cascadian scale, and clear allegiance to what can best be described as a Cascadian “brand.” Both of these observations suggested the potential development of a competitiveness strategy for a Cascadian megaregion based on distinctive traits, landscapes, and culture. Further, work done on high and higher speed rail laid the groundwork for imagining a more connected and highly accessible Cascadian megaregion.
In “Ecolopolis 2.0” we identified a rationale for Cascadia-scale planning within global, national, and regional contexts. Globally, we found that Cascadia done right could become a laboratory and source for innovation in the world-wide search for more sustainable development patterns and life styles. Nationally, Cascadia provides an opportunity for exploring Federal-State and international relations aimed at creating both sustainable urban places and a better future for intervening rural areas and towns.
Regionally, imagining Cascadian-scale strategies for global competitiveness, accessibility, and sustainable development opens up new opportunities not immediately apparent in the existing context provided by states and separated metropolitan regions. Ecolopolis 2.0 began by documenting the history of the idea of Cascadia as a means for better understanding what a unified Cascadian brand might consist of. We analyzed conditions and trends for both rural Cascadia and for its metropolitan centers. Though we found many similarities linking the metropolitan regions of Cascadia, as in Ecolopolis 1.0 we also found many forces working against integration of efforts at a Cascadian scale.
Nonetheless, we identified four strategies that could be used to both better integrate the Cascadian megaregion and to prepare Cascadia for engaging future national initiatives directed at megaregions:
- In light of the similar strategies for metropolitan growth management employed in Cascadian metropolitan regions, create an internationally recognized effort to learn from this experience;
- Save agriculture, and the working landscape more generally, to maintain separation between metropolitan areas;
- Develop industry clusters across Cascadia, particularly in areas like green building and software that are already operating at a Cascadian scale; and
- Increase accessibility through the development of high speed rail and other strategies linked to their strategic value at a Cascadian scale.
With “Ecolopolis 3.0” we took the next step towards defining a strategic agenda for Cascadia. Through the efforts of members of Congress and others, and due to the catastrophic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, new attention is being paid to the condition of the nation’s infrastructure. Calls for a national infrastructure initiative are being made, echoing previous national initiatives in 1808, the Gallatin Plan, and 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s plan for national conservation and development.
Whereas the Gallatin plan was about moving the natural resource bounty of the nation to the seaports in the east coast cities, and Roosevelt’s effort focused on mitigating the impacts of rapid urbanization and industrialization, the focal point for this new effort remains undefined. Many expect that sustainability, energy conservation, and a fundamental response to climate change and uncertainty will emerge as organizing principles, at least in part, for this new endeavor. In addition, given the demands of global competition coupled with demographic shifts, realizing the promise for innovation emerging from the interaction of people in cities will likely become part of this new national conversation.
Nonetheless, the lead strategy is likely to be infrastructure planning and finance, with a new role for and sense of urgency on the part of the Federal government. Consequently, with Ecolopolis 3.0 we attempted to identify an infrastructure agenda for the Cascadian megaregion, one that is attuned to the objectives for creating an Ecolopolis, as outlined above. To do this, we approached Cascadia as being defined by three central elements:
- Competencies – the things that Cascadian metros and the megaregion itself are distinctly and perhaps uniquely good at, and which differentiate us from other megaregions in North America.
- Sustainability – patterns of resources use, settlement, and interaction that address core values in Cascadia underlying the turn towards growth management, resource conservation, green building, local food systems, and other core behaviors and activities associated with the Cascadian brand.
- Flows – the movement of people, goods, materials, capital, ideas, and information throughout the megaregion.
For each of these elements, we identified issues, trends, and the roles that infrastructure development can play in advancing them. Our intent was to both advance the idea of a unified and integrated Cascadia, and prepare Cascadian decisionmakers to be effective on behalf of the megaregion as the details got worked out in Washington DC.
Ecolopolis 4.0, examined the implications for Cascadia from the U.S. federal livability partnership of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation. This new interest in the role that Federal agencies can and should play in furthering goals for livability and smart growth prompted an investigation of how the livability theme might be acted on here in Cascadia in anticipation of increased engagement from federal partners. The report is divided into three parts:
- Defining Livability – all of the Cascadian metros, states, provinces, and major cities have worked with this idea in the past. We sought to document what “livability” means here, and what Cascadians have already identified as a livability agenda.
- Planning and Acting on Livability – planning and acting at the scale of the megaregion requires a focus on techniques and outcomes appropriate to that scale. Our task was to identify the techniques and objectives that made the most sense from the perspective of the Cascadia Ecolopolis.
- Understanding Livability from the Federal Perspective – similarly, each of the federal agencies involved in the Livability Partnership have, in the past, adopted and acted on a range of initiatives directed at what we’re now calling livability themes. We wanted to better understand what those agencies were engaged in as a means for better understanding the intent and direction behind the seven Federal Livability Principles.
In Ecolopolis 5.0: High Speed Rail in Cascadia, we present the products of a unique collaboration between students at the University of Washington and at Portland State University. Continuing on in the tradition of previous documents, what you have before you is the product of term-long projects conducted by graduate students from the two universities, and enrolled in either PBAF 544: Transportation and Land Use Policy, taught at the Evans School of Public Policy by Professor Daniel Carlson, or USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management, taught at the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning by Professor Ethan Seltzer.
The courses, both taught during the Winter term, 2011, engaged the questions of identifying the impacts, maximizing the benefits, and exploring implementation options for high speed rail development in the Cascadia corridor. Though passenger rail has long been a shared interest in the corridor, recent U.S. Federal initiative proposed by the Obama administration have accelerated high speed rail activity and discussions in Cascadia. To explore these issues and add to the dialogue, a two-part project was developed:
- Identify baseline route, alignment and system attributes
- Assemble and analyze existing state, regional and local comprehensive plans in the HSR corridor
- Identify likely impacts on the corridor’s environment, municipalities, residents and businesses consistent with the comprehensive land use and transportation plans
- Identify the potential benefits of HSR
- Develop a set of principles to guide future analysis and implementation. The products of this inquiry will be developed by Ethan Seltzers USP 549 class and presented to Dan Carlson’s PBAF 544 class at a seminar in Portland on Friday, February 4, 2011.
Part 2: using the information developed in Part 1,
Identify the policy implications of developing a Cascadia HSR with particular emphasis on community development, economic development, growth management and the environment
- Explore and analyze options for financing, governing, and operating regional HSR passenger service in order to optimize potential benefits at the local and regional level. The products of this inquiry will be developed by Dan Carlson’s PBAF 544 class and presented to Ethan Seltzer’s USP 549 class at a seminar in Seattle on Friday, March 4, 2011.
- The seven papers developed by students in these two courses are presented in this document. The first paper identifies key principles for high speed rail development gleaned from the literature and from the experience in other countries. The second chapter looks specifically at alignment and operations issues. The next two chapters consider community-level impacts in both Oregon and Washington. The last three chapters present scenarios for high speed rail development– rationales for a range of service options and analyses of their impacts governance, funding, economic development, land use and the environment– starting with the existing system (“sensible rail”) and proceeding to true, 150 mph+ service in the corridor.
As with our previous efforts, we welcome your comments and suggestions. All of the Ecolopolis documents are posted on the America 2050 website (www.america2050.org) and are available for downloading. The Ecolopolis series is presented as a work in progress, just as the very idea of Cascadia and conception of megaregions themselves are works in progress. We are optimistic in our belief that acting on behalf of the megaregion will ultimately prove to be a useful strategy for achieving the kind of future that residents of this megaregion would prefer for Cascadia in the years to come.
This project could not have happened without the commitment and interest of the students involved in both classes. In addition, we received financial support from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) at Portland State University, Transportation Northwest (TRANSNOW) at the University of Washington and the Cascadia Center for Metropolitan Development and its Director, Bruce Agnew, that enabled our students to travel between the two campuses.
For additional information, please contact:
- Dan Carlson, email@example.com
- Ethan Seltzer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Principles of Successful High-Speed Rail: Lessons from Around the World
- Becky Bodonyi
- Sarah Bronstein
- Erin Kirkpatrick
- Dillon Mahmoudi
- Andrew Parish
- Chloe Ritter
- Tony Vi
Portland State University
Dr. Ethan Seltzer
Regional Planning & Metropolitan Growth Management
The United States lags far behind many parts of the world in its capacity for passenger rail. As policy makers and state and federal agencies embark on the process of planning for and implementing high-speed rail (HSR) along the Cascadia corridor from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia, we feel it is important to inform our efforts with a study of those who have led the way. There are many case studies of successful rail lines worldwide to guide our efforts here in Oregon and Washington.
What follows is a list of guiding principles drawn from an examination of case studies around the globe. In some instances, these lessons are based on successes, as in the case of HSR in Japan, France, Germany and China. In others, we can learn from mistakes made, as in failed attempts to implement HSR in the United States, or in Spain’s failed attempt to use HSR as an economic development tool. We have consolidated these lessons into five principles that are both relevant to HSR in Cascadia and could be utilized as a guide for any region looking to build HSR. Where appropriate, we have analyzed how these principles relate specifically to local scenarios.
Our principles of successful HSR are as follows:
- Establish a shared goal and vision
- Acknowledge HSR’s opportunities and constraints
- Utilize existing assets
- Integrate HSR with the rest of the public transportation network
- Maximize operational efficiency and service reliability
The first principle, to establish a shared goal and vision, is immensely significant to any planning issue spanning multiple jurisdictions and of regional importance. The motivation for pursuing rail infrastructure will vary by locality, and specific objectives of HSR will serve as the basis of evaluation for measuring progress and success. Developing a shared goal and vision, then, will ensure all parties will be working within in the same framework and towards the same ends rather than at cross-purposes. In turn, this first principle acts as a starting place for the remaining four principles of successful HSR, which assume a shared objective exists and provide insight into the limitations, benefits, and best practices of HSR.
Principle 1: Establish a Shared Goal and Vision
Most successful HSR lines worldwide have been implemented in Europe and Asia, where systems of planning and governance bear little resemblance to those of the United States.
In France, for example, the Train à Grand Vitesse (TGV) was built based on the decisions of a strong central government, without any regional input about alignment (Albalate, 2010). In stark contrast, HSR in the United States requires commitment by, and coordination among, leaders at a local, state, and federal level. The most salient lessons of HSR for Cascadia stem from examples within the US.
The rail system itself is only as strong as the vision and the governing process that creates it. Several key elements are critical considerations for policy makers in the development of HSR:
- Leadership, authority, and means
- Shared vision and goal-setting
- Stakeholder engagement
Leadership, Authority, and Means
In a congressional report by the Mineta Transportation Institute, de Cerreño et al. (2005) point to leadership, authority, and means as fundamental elements influencing the successful implementation of HSR in the United States. There are examples of the necessity of these three components in successful and unsuccessful HSR projects in the United States.
Many state-level HSR proposals begin with one political champion, often influenced by an inspiring experience onboard world-class rail lines such as Japan’s Shinkansen or France’s Train à Grand Vitesse. Florida has been pursuing HSR in some capacity for over 30 years because of such a trip by Governor Bob Graham (de Cerreño et al., 2005). He was able to rally support for HSR initially, but many of the original champions of HSR have since left the political arena and leaders have now cooled towards development of faster rail in their state. Because HSR has not benefited from Mainstreet Cascadia consistent and continuous political support, the state has made very little progress towards development and implementation of HSR. In order for HSR to be realized, there must be long-term political support and leadership that will withstand the lengthy planning process necessary to see the project through to completion.
Rail on the East Coast is another case in which “leadership, authority and means” made the difference in successful implementation (de Cerreño et al., 2006). Like the proposed line in Cascadia, Amtrak’s Acela line is a multistate operation, passing through eight states and the District of Columbia. HSR in the Northeast was initially funded through the federal High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965, followed by the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 which gave Amtrak the right of way to the Northeast corridor. Congress had the authority and funding to make a regional rail line possible across state boundaries, and the leadership to pass legislation that led to the rail line’s creation.
Cascadia has two of these three aspects in place. Federal funding provides the initial means for the Northwest Rail Corridor and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have the authority to begin planning efforts. However, no outstanding political champions have emerged to help introduce supportive legislation or secure matching local funds. The level of political support for the project has remained fragmented and varied across state lines. Washington and Oregon have pursued planning and goal-setting independently, and have received differing levels of federal funding. Vancouver, BC, the northernmost city on the proposed line, has remained disengaged from the rail project, consistent with its current refusal to fund the one daily train that currently runs across the US-Canada border. In spite of federal financial support and local authority to implement the project, Cascadian HSR risks being planned piecemeal unless coordination takes place between Oregon, Washington, Vancouver, BC, and the many other stakeholders with an interest in the project.
Shared Vision and Goal-setting
There is no “one-size-fits-all” HSR solution, and its design choices will depend on the purposes HSR will serve. If the overarching goal is to reduce congestion and increase commuting by rail, then incremental improvements to existing passenger rail may be the most effective strategy. Incremental improvements capitalize on existing stations, rights of way and ridership, and are accessible to more users along the route. However, if the goal is to connect major metropolitan areas by decreasing the travel time between cities, or relieve air congestion between cities, then fully grade-separated HSR with minimal stops may be the best option. Washington and Oregon have exhibited very different priorities in planning for their stretch of Cascadia’s HSR line. While both states play a vital role in rail travel alongthis corridor – the vast majority of ridership occurs between Seattle and Portland – all interim stops are located within Washington borders. The Oregon portion of the alignment, from Portland to Eugene, experiences much lower ridership, making ODOT
Rail hesitant to invest in a costly new right of way. Additionally, Washington’s rail feasibility reports have conducted a cost-benefit analysis of HSR using the cost of highway growth as a baseline for comparison, whereas Oregon’s rail strategies have only compared new separated track with incremental improvements to existing track, making incremental improvements seem like the better investment. Washington’s plans include ambitious goals for increased efficiency and speed in the Seattle to Portland trip that Oregon does not share (de Cerreño, 2005). If WSDOT wants to achieve its aspirations for the Cascadia line, it needs to coordinate with ODOT Rail to develop a shared goal and vision for the rail corridor.
Engage Public and Private Stakeholders
HSR in much of Europe was developed without any consultation with localities regarding alignment, but rail projects in the United States require a more robust public involvement process. There are many businesses, service providers, community groups, non-profits, and local governments that have an interest in how HSR will be built. These include airlines, freight companies, railroad companies, large-scale businesses along the corridor, cities along the alignment, and environmental groups. California’s planning process for HSR has involved engagement with many such stakeholders regarding station placement and right of way alignment (de Cerreño, 2005). Many of the communities along proposed HSR alignments in Cascadia have strong feelings for or against locating a station in their town or having a tracks run through their community. These stakeholders need to be invited into the conversation early in order to create a constituency for change able to identify opportunities for joint gains and overcome HSR’s many obstacles (McKinney and Johnson, 2009).
Designing a system of governance that meets these criteria will be difficult and complicated, but there is no better time to begin than the present. We recommend forming a regional steering committee comprised of diverse stakeholders with the leadership, authority, and means to define and guide the project’s vision and maintain communication between stakeholders and implementers.
Acknowledge High-Speed Rail’s Opportunities and Constraints
In large urban areas that are centers of cultural, social, and economic activity, HSR may be used to direct growth and support existing systems. Additionally, HSR presents an opportunity to accommodate an increasing travel demand while reducing air and highway congestion and greenhouse emissions in the region. However planners should be cautious about promoting HSR as an economic development tool, particularly in small cities, rural communities, or remote locations.
HSR and Local Economic Development
Local planning and development incentives can play an important role in aiding station-area development, but HSR’s role in this growth is mixed at best. In urban areas, dense development appears to increase around stations, and in some cases HSR has been shown to help improve the region’s economic competitiveness by integrating peripheral communities with one another and with regional centers (Ross, 1994; Melibaeva, 2010).
However, in other cases higher land costs have stymied development around rural stations. For example, rural station development along Japan’s HSR network often took decades to realize, while some areas remain underdeveloped (Ehlers, 2010). Economic activity has increased near stations in regions with self-sustained economic growth, but HSR itself may not change development patterns. For these reasons, some studies suggest that Spain might have benefited more from improving existing rail service than building HSR (de Rus and Inglada, 1997; Gutiérrez, 2001).
It is difficult to determine the exact role played by HSR stations in a community’s economic development. For example, when HSR came to the French city of Lille, it was transformed from a shrinking industrial town to a knowledge-intensive, serviceproducing city within the culturally and economically integrated Oresund region. Much of this change, though, was due to the role Lille plays as an important node between London, Paris and Brussels. Additionally, Lille’s station attracted substantial public and private investment, without which development would not have occurred. (Matthiessen, 2005; Gutiérrez, 2001; Vickerman, 1997; Campos and de Rus, 2009; Ehlers, 2010).
Intelligently Accommodating Growth
According to America 2050, Cascadia’s population is estimated to grow upwards
of 40 percent by 2040 (Hagler and Todorovich, 2009). This dramatic increase has serious
implications for transportation, livability, and the human impacts upon natural systems
both locally and globally. Managing increased congestion between cities in Cascadia will
be a major challenge in the future. Currently, “traffic congestion between Portland and
Seattle is about average, with nearly 50 percent of Interstate 5 operating at above 75
percent of design capacity during the peak hour,” but as the region grows, increased
congestion along the only major corridor between these cities may limit both business
and personal travel, ultimately leading to fragmentation of the region (Hagler and
The distance between Eugene to Vancouver is only 466 miles, making HSR travel
a potential alternative to short haul flights and automobile traffic in the region. The HSR
network in Spain, for example, halved demand in air travel between Madrid and Sevilla
and there has been a significant reduction in traffic and road congestion between Madrid
and Sevilla (de Rus and Inglada, 1997; Campos and de Rus, 2009). The region has
derived benefits from the associated time-savings, reductions in automobile operating
costs, road repairs, and accident prevention.
In summary, HSR can aid the economic integration of a region, but it should not
be viewed as a panacea for struggling localities (Hagler and Todorovich, 2009;
Vickerman, 1997). Authors have agreed that quantifying HSR’s economic impact is
difficult, but studies indicate a strengthening of existing social, cultural, political, and
economic networks based in urban cores. Urban centers are therefore likely to receive the
largest benefit from HSR in Cascadia, which has direct ethical implications for its
planning and implementation (Sasaki et al., 1997; Melibaeva, 2010; Hagler and
Todorovich, 2009). Examples from Japan, France, Spain, Portugal, the multinational
Oresund region, and potential American sites all support these conclusions.
Utilize Existing Assets
Planners and engineers will face many alignment choices in the implementation
of HSR. There are trade-offs to be considered in deciding whether to use existing tracks,
upgrade infrastructure along existing corridors, or acquire entirely new rights of way. In
addition to monetary costs, there are environmental and political issues to be considered.
The following sections hope to inform these decisions and advocate leveraging the
cultural attitudes within the region.
Utilizing existing transportation corridors can reduce the costs of land acquisition
and construction while minimizing environmental impacts. Substantial barrier effects are
created by roads and railways in both communities and ecological systems, and these
costs must be balanced against benefits of a new corridor (Nash, 2003). HSR can also
follow freeway corridors to reduce the need for right-of-way acquisition, which can take
advantage of current development patterns that follow freeway corridors and potentially
make HSR more accessible.
Impacts upon the region’s freight system must be considered as well. Currently,
Cascadia’s rail rights-of-way are shared between passenger and freight trains in a manner
that reduces the speed and reliability of
both systems (Nash, 2003). However,
incremental improvements such as
passing tracks and coordinated
signaling systems can improve the
corridor for all users while keeping
costs relatively low. Freight operators
have been opposed to increased
passenger capacity in the region, but
HSR funding could be used in a way
that provides opportunities for mutual
gain (California High-Speed, 2010).
Germany’s Intercity Express system
provides an example of shared track
with HSR trains using tilt-train
technology, allowing trains to maintain
higher speeds when rounding a curve on regular tracks (Gimpel and Harrison, 1997).
German ICE Tilting Train
Source: Deutsche Bahn AG in Nash, 2003
There are currently eighteen stations on the Amtrak Cascades line, with high
ridership at Vancouver, BC, Seattle, and Portland. Attempts should be made to align the
system with existing stations demonstrating high ridership and stations poised to
significantly increase their ridership. This will reduce or eliminate the need for building
new stations, retain and expand existing ridership, and provide the ability to revitalize
stations and enhance station areas with development.
HSR can be seen as a tool of “smart growth,” facilitating sustainable development
in line with current environmental commitments. The Portland metropolitan region has
developed a culture of growth management and Portland’s Metro Regional Government’s
2040 Growth Concept envisions a hierarchy of nodes (central city, regional centers, town
centers, station communities, and corridors) where urban development will occur in
various densities and forms, and where land will be preserved for rural uses and nature
(Metro, 2000). HSR can help leverage and complement current planning commitments to
sustainable growth by helping focus growth along corridors and station areas.
Integrate High-Speed Rail with the Rest of the Public
Studies show that HSR can replace a significant portion of short-haul flights along
routes where the journey time is comparable to that of air travel and where service is
reliable (Steers Davies Gleave, 2006). These flights are less fuel-efficient per passengermile
than longer flights, which can cover greater distances at high altitudes. Rather than
competing with HSR, cooperative integration of airports into a HSR system can provide
benefits to airlines through reduced runway congestion and increased capacity for longhaul
flights (Givoni and Banister, 2007 ).
There are different levels of air/rail interoperability. Rail can serve as merely an
access mode to airports, which could lower air pollution in the vicinity, reduce parking
requirements, and improve the image or visibility of the airport. Alternatively, rail could
be more closely integrated into air travel through coordinated scheduling, combined
ticketing, and luggage services, though the small number of these systems operating
today speaks to the technical difficulty and security concerns involved.
The choice of whether to include an HSR stop at one of the region’s airports
should be addressed in the visioning process, with airlines themselves actively engaged
as stakeholders. If attracting tourists from abroad and facilitating their movement
throughout the region emerges as an important goal of HSR in Cascadia, then tight
integration with at least one large airport in the region could be more desirable than
relying on conventional rail or other public transit for airport connectivity.
Station Location and Supportive Land Uses
A major benefit of rail over air travel is the ability to bring passengers into the
urban core and connect them to local transit systems. Without convenient options for
reaching their final destination, passengers must rely on automotive travel at the
beginning and end of their trip, reducing environmental advantages and convenience of
high-speed rail. Ridership on the Acela service, for example, has benefited greatly from
connectivity to the New York City subway system and DC Metro (Hagler and
Station location and design will affect not only the system itself, but will also have a
substantial impact on the communities along the route. Stations on the urban periphery or
between cities, known in France as “beet field” stations, can draw development away
from historical downtowns and require automobile-oriented infrastructure unless great
care is taken to provide appealing transit alternatives. Stations located in central cities, on
the other hand, can more easily facilitate intermodal connections and encourage
supportive, sustainable development nearby (Facchinetti-Mannone, 2009).
In the United States,
have control over
issues of urban form.
refers to the missed
a regional transit
station but do not
make land use
decisions that are
supportive to access and density near the station, often negatively impacting the transit
system and the community itself. The 2011 San Francisco Planning and Urban Research
Association (SPUR) report “Beyond the Tracks” addresses this issue. Acknowledging the
great variation between communities in size and planning capacity, SPUR makes several
recommendations for creating supportive land uses near HSR stations, which we have
adapted for HSR in Cascadia:
● Develop station-area plans for each station area.
● Draft state- or region-wide planning guidelines to inform local decision makers,
including possible implementation tools such as form-based codes and tax
● Establish oversight and certification of station-area plans, either at the state level
or through a regional body.
● Link HSR considerations to statewide land use goals, where applicable.
● Correlate future HSR investment with measured ridership, giving localities
incentives to support HSR through land use decisions.
Implementation of coordinated station-area planning will require a robust regional effort
and faces many difficulties, as Cascadian HSR will cross state and national boundaries.
Providing funding for planning efforts in smaller communities and tying transportation
investment to desired station designs are strategies that may overcome these obstacles.
California BART Station with unsupportive land
uses Source: flickr member Lawrence Chernin
Maximize Operational Efficiency and Service Reliability
Maximizing operational efficiency and service reliability requires the
consideration of several factors from both an operator’s perspective and from a
passenger’s perspective. Some improvements to operational efficiency can also serve to
make high-speed train travel more attractive to passengers, while others may involve
trade-offs between service, travel time, and energy efficiency. Agencies who will plan
and implement HSR should consider how best to incorporate the following practices.
Maintain Uniform Train Speeds
International experience suggests that maintaining uniform speeds minimizes the
amount of energy trains require to accelerate and decelerate (Nash, 2003). Train speed
variation can be lessened by a by minimizing the overall number of stations and locating
them at greater intervals, minimizing at-grade crossings with roads, and limiting the
amount of travel through developed areas. On the Acela line on the U.S. East Coast,
citizen reports suggest that “When stops average 35-40 miles apart … 70 mph average
speed results. When stops average 45-50 miles apart, more respectable 80-85 mph
average speeds … result.” (Dorsey, n.d.).
Minimize the Number of Stops
As previously noted, this is an important consideration for the practice of
maintaining uniform train speeds, as the number and location of stations will determine
how frequently the trains must accelerate and decelerate. It also helps to decrease overall
journey time. Finally, HSR is most competitive with other travel modes for trips that are
100-500 miles long (Albalate and Bel, 2010). Even for “higher-speed rail,” which does
not reach top speeds of more than 110 mph, fewer stops means greater energy efficiency
and shorter overall travel times.
Locate Stations According to Population Density and Passenger
Locate stations where the most passengers can access them with the least
inconvenience and cost. This means that, to a certain degree, the practice of minimizing
stops must be balanced against the practice of making the HSR system accessible to
many communities. Lessons from other HSR systems suggest that stations should be
located in medium-sized cities, at a minimum. In European systems, it has been
recommended that stations should link urban centers with populations of at least .75
million (Vickerman, 1997). In the Cascadia corridor, only Portland, Seattle, and
Vancouver, BC have sufficiently large populations by this standard. Smaller communities
can be connected to the HSR system through local or regional transit. Siting stations in
dense, downtown locations is also recommended, as this makes them more easily
accessible than peripheral stations.
Keep Grades Separated
Employ grade-separation where possible, particularly at crossings and stations.
This is important both for ensuring safety and for improving speeds. European HSR
systems do not have at-grade crossings, and the U.S. Federal Railroad Association has
determined that no grade crossings should be allowed for trains traveling over 125 mph.
At stations, grade separations and HSR passing tracks separated from the platform can
improve the safety of waiting passengers and allow high-speed trains to bypass the
station (Nash, 2003).
Coordinate with Freight
Where high-speed trains
share track with freight and
conventional passenger rail
services, operations and
maintenance should be
coordinated to maximize the
benefits to all parties. In
particular, operators of different
systems should coordinate train
schedules and dispatching to
minimize conflicts and delays.
Multiple tracks or passing tracks
allow for increased capacity, and
track and alignment improvements can allow for higher speeds, but improvement options
must be considered in the context of how they will benefit the varied needs of all users
(Nash, 2003). Shared-use, while challenging, can offer significant benefits such as shared
costs. It is possible to have fully or partially shared-use systems; partially shared systems
are common in urban areas. ICE in Germany, TGV in France, and Acela in the Northeast
United States are three examples of partial shared-use HSR systems.
Employ Demand-Responsive Pricing Strategies
Make greater use of yield management systems to improve overall efficiency per
passenger. This means that rail operators could employ more flexible pricing strategies to
encourage more efficient use of existing train capacities (Steers Davies Gleave, 2006).
Airlines use demand-responsive pricing and on average fill 85-90% of the seats, while
rail operators may fill as few as 35% of their seats. However, unlike airlines, train
operators face difficulty filling seats due to passengers boarding or alighting at
intermediary stops. Also, the success of these strategies depends upon improving the
attractiveness of rail services in order to increase demand.
In summary, passengers of HSR seek reliability, reduced journey time, high
frequency trains, affordable ticket prices, and easily accessible stations. These service
needs must be balanced against operational needs. Rail operators need to reduce costs,
which in the Cascadia corridor includes coordinating freight and conventional passenger
rail operations, as building dedicated track for HSR is likely cost-prohibitive given
current population densities along the corridor. This coordination in turn means that there
Freight and Passenger Rail in Shared
are limitations to the top speeds that trains can reach, making reliability improvements
more complicated. Operators also need to fill trains to reduce costs per passenger,
meaning high frequency trains are not viable unless demand for rail travel increases
significantly. However, improvements to reliability, journey times, and system
accessibility, could lead to increased demand, creating a virtuous cycle of both improved
operational efficiency and improved services.
We have attempted to distill lessons and insights from the experiences of others in
creating passenger rail systems for the 21st century. The unique political and economic
realities of American governance, with its emphasis on planning at the local level while
funding transportation projects at the state or federal level, certainly limits the
applicability of HSR experiences internationally, but we believe these examples from
abroad should inform our discussion in the Cascadian region. To summarize:
• First and foremost, “High-Speed Rail” has a multitude of meanings, and its Cascadian
incarnation should be part of a regional conversation that serves to promote regional
identity, establish shared goals of the system, and address the distribution of costs and
benefits in an equitable manner.
• While it does have distinct advantages over automobile and air travel, HSR is not
without its costs and limitations and should not be seen as a panacea for struggling
economies, especially in the short term.
• The monetary, environmental, and social costs of implementing HSR can be reduced
by using existing rail infrastructure and highway corridors.
• Benefits to HSR ridership and to communities are maximized when stations are
located in urban cores with supportive transit connections and land uses.
• Reducing the number of stops and at-grade crossings, coordinating with freight, and
locating stations only in the most populous communities will increase speed and
service reliability, but must be balanced against regional goals.
High-Speed Rail in Cascadia presents an exciting opportunity to shift our regional
transportation and land use systems away from inefficient and costly automobile-oriented
infrastructure, and we hope that our efforts will help inform its implementation.
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Cascadia High Speed Rail:
Alignment and Operations
CASCADIA HIGH SPEED RAIL
ALIGNMENT & OPERATIONS
Portland State University
USP 549: Regional Planning & Metropolitan Growth Management
Professor Ethan Seltzer
David M. Ruelas
Cover image courtesy of Amtrak
Section I. Introduction
This chapter presents information on potential Cascadia High Speed Rail station
locations, alignment alternatives, and operational considerations. Criteria for station
location and alignment is presented for both siting stations within the major cities of
Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC, as well as the corridors between them. Alternatives
are evaluated and proposed station location recommendations provided. HSR station
analysis in major cities consists of evaluating station locations and alignments within
each metro region. Analysis for smaller cities focuses on which cities should have a
station, why, and the recommended level of service it should receive. Considerations for
rights of way options are discussed and presented.
This report finds that right of way considerations, station locations in regional
centers, as well as stops between those centers depend on the goals of the overall
system. Improvements to existing service is possible using existing right of way;
building a rail system that provides true high‐speed service between regional
metropolitan centers requires grade separated right of way acquisition. Likewise,
avoiding impacts to freight and achieving service competitive with regional air and
highway travel also requires new right of way.
HSR stations in major cities of the Pacific Northwest should promote overall goals of
HSR development, including focusing growth on urban centers rather than promoting
sprawling development on working and wild lands, by reflecting strong integration with
land use and transportation planning throughout Cascadia. In order for high speed rail to
maintain an appropriate level of efficiency, stops between major metropolitan areas need
to be carefully considered before deciding on their inclusion in a High Speed Rail system.
Section II. Rights of Way Considerations
Rights‐of way (ROW) considerations have significant implications for regional HSR
planning efforts in Cascadia. The primary options include obtaining new and/or
dedicated ROW, using existing shared‐use ROW, or other new novel solutions. As
expected, new ROW costs can be a major obstacle to HSR implementation. Using
existing ROW is less costly, however, in order to reach true HSR speeds, new and/or
dedicated ROW is often needed. Further, the Federal Rail Administration requires
grade separated crossings in design guidelines for HSR threshold speeds. Grade
level crossings are numerous on existing ROW, especially outside of urban area. The
following sections describe the motivation behind using existing ROW as well as the
motivation for using new ROW in planning for regional HSR.
Two western states, California and Washington, are moving forward with plans for
HSR using both existing ROW and new ROW. California is planning to acquire new
ROW for the majority of its HSR system that is projected to reach speeds of up to
220 MPH. Washington, on the other hand, is taking an incremental approach to HSR,
utilizing existing ROW and even sharing track in some areas of the proposed system
with freight rail (Washington State Department of Transportation, 2010). Speeds
are expected to reach 90 MPH in the Washington State system.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR USING EXISTING RIGHTS OF WAY
Planning for HSR utilizing existing ROW coincides with the Emerging Routes
category as defined by the federal government (de Cerreno, 2005). By using existing
ROW, overall maintenance costs are lower, especially when track is shared with
freight operations. Enhancements made to existing ROW would not only benefit
passenger rail, but also improve the freight system while leaving it undisturbed to
continue freight operations as usual. Impacts to the environment are minimized
since little land is disturbed when using existing ROW (Washington State
Department of Transportation, 2010). Land‐uses do not need to be redesignated or
rezoned along the alignment using existing ROW, and unwelcomed development
stemming from HSR can largely be avoided by cities and other populated areas
along the alignments. Farmland is kept unaltered and political criticism regarding
land acquisition is curtailed, giving incremental HSR a better chance of being
The typical cross section shown in Figure 1 below demonstrates an upgraded
existing ROW that shifts original ROW used by
freight and Metrolink in Southern California outward
to be configured for use by HSR (Murakami, 2010).
Note that this design, as illustrated, takes advantage
of unused ROW that isn’t necessarily available along
an entire alignment or along every alignment.
Further, the use of Overhead Cantilever System
(OCS) poles in HSR also pose a challenge as they
require large and deep foundations that must be
considered when evaluating ROW. Studies estimate
that 25 to 30 feet of additional ROW is needed to accommodate HSR along most
existing freight and passenger alignments (de Cerreno, 2005).
CONSIDERATIONS FOR NEW AND/OR DEDICATED RIGHTS OF WAY
New and dedicated ROW would allow for higher speeds comparable to HSR systems
found in Asia and Europe (de Cerreno, 2005). Cutting edge technologies could be
used in building a HSR System with new ROW, allowing for much needed updated
transportation infrastructure. More current technologies can also help reduce risk
of liquefaction, enabling a more reliable transportation network overall. Moving
people quickly and effectively can be better accomplished through dedicated ROW
at higher passenger rail operating speeds. Freight rail bottlenecks, currently a
problem in many areas of the country, would be improved by proposed HSR using
new ROW since it reduces interference between faster passenger trains and slower
freight trains. Obtaining new ROW also reduces implementation risk factors based
in the need to procure new agreements and cooperation from existing privatesector
freight rail owners.
Figure 1: Use of Existing ROW for HSR
Figure 2: Use of Grade Separated Track
Designs using grade separated track facilities have been fashioned using existing
and newly acquired ROW for HSR. Figure 2 below shows a cross section whereby
HSR travels above existing freight rail (Murakami, 2010). This design is proposed in
sections of Los
Angeles and can be
elsewhere. A bore
and tunnel alternative
is also available
for areas along an
new ROW is cost prohibitive
underground is feasible.
for a bore and tunnel
HSR have decreased
in cost and is viable
Ultimately, the literature suggests that the appropriate approach to ROW depends
on the goals of the overall system. Where goals include mitigating vehicle
congestion in urban areas, existing ROW for HSR should be used. In contrast, new
and/or dedicated ROW should be used if the goal of the HSR system is to reduce
airport congestion between urban areas of 100 miles to 600 apart.
Section III. Criteria for Metropolitan Station Location
HSR stations in major cities of the Pacific Northwest should promote overall goals of
HSR development including secondary effects on transportation and land use. The
Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor by
the Federal Railroad Association and WSDOT (2010) lists policy goals of “reducing
the nation’s dependency on foreign sources of energy, reducing greenhouse gas
emissions that contribute to climate change, increasing public safety, and
strengthening transportation system redundancies in the event of natural and manmade
disasters,” which incremental improvements to passenger rail would address.
Reduced auto trips, fuel use and emissions are modeled for improved rail service
between Seattle and Portland. (USDOT, 2010) The FONSI states that any immediate
energy and land use impacts would be small and mitigated by various particular
efforts. The finding does not, however, consider the dynamic role HSR might take in
influencing the form of land use and transportation systems in the broader context
of the mega‐region.
The High Speed Rail in America report by America 2050 (2011) lists employment
and population as the main factors which determine which markets are best served
by HSR. However, the transit catchment in potential rail markets is also an
important criterion for evaluating the potential for ridership without creating
additional roadway congestion and other deleterious effects associated with low
density development and increased vehicle miles traveled.
The Fall 2010 OSPIRG Foundation Report, A Track Record of Success, includes
recommendations for HSR implementation in line with such goals. The OSPIRG
Foundation (2010) recommends that HSR station locations should be:
• easily accessible to people using multiple modes of transportation;
• located in areas which support transit‐oriented development;
• in existing downtowns or inter‐modal facilities (in contrast to greenfield or
park‐and‐ride type facilities);
• located to focus future development and increase intensive commercial and
residential uses or
• reinforce existing high density locations like central cities, rather than
• integrated with other transit, particularly other commuter and freight rail, to
facilitate track upgrades and shared stations.
Guidance from the USDOT, America 2050, and OSPIRG reports informed the
creation of criteria used for evaluating possible HSR station locations in the three
urban centers of the Cascadia mega‐region. Criteria are in categories of local and
regional access, and land use density as summarized in Table 1 below. The
application of these criteria help evaluate possible station locations which would
best integrate with existing and planned transportation systems and land use to
provide access for strong ridership and focus development at high‐density locations.
Table 1: Urban Station Location Criteria
Transit access Number of transit lines
Local inter‐modal access Proximity to bike and pedestrian facilities; walkability
Regional Access scores
Central to regional population Regional population density distribution
Central to regional employment Regional employment density distribution
High Density Location
High population/employment area Localized population and employment data
Supportive current land use Land use regulations, designations, and current conditions
Supportive long‐range land use Land use and comprehensive plans
Section IV. Vancouver, B.C. Alignment and Station
VANCOUVER ALIGNMENT ALTERNATIVES
There are three existing rail corridors, highlighted in Figure 3, that enter Vancouver and
could be used to travel to the Central Business District (CBD).
Alignment A is an abandoned rail line that runs primarily through residential districts and
terminates just south of the CBD near Granville Island. Its main advantage is that it is
abandoned. Its primarily disadvantages is that it would also require extensive upgrades at
grade crossings and safety improvements. The corridor runs down the middle of an
arterial street and would likely be a very controversial due to the adjacent residential
Alignment B is the existing corridor for Amtrak and Via Rail and also shared with
freight. Alignment C is also an active freight corridor shared with a regional commuter
rail line between the CBD and the City of Mission to the east. Both B and C run primarily
through industrial districts. Of the two lines however, alignment B is the most direct to
the United States border and would offer opportunities to improve track for Via Rail. For
this reason the preferred alignment for a Cascadia high-speed rail within the City of
Vancouver using existing right of way is Alignment B. Potential alignments using new
right of way was not evaluated within Vancouver.
Figure 3: Vancouver Rights of Way
VANCOUVER STATION ALTERNATIVE A: PACIFIC CENTRAL STATION
Pacific Central Station (shown in Figure 4) is the current terminus for Amtrak’s Cascades
line, Via Rail’s Canadian line, and the central bus station for Greyhound and Pacific
Coach Lines. It is located just over one mile to the southeast of the central business
district near False Creek. This station has a moderate level of access to the greater
Vancouver region through 9 bus lines and the Main Street SkyTrain station (Translink
Pacific Central station is relatively close to the central business district where the highest
residential and employment densities are located. The zoned land uses around the station,
however, are less than ideal. It is surround to the east and south by light industrial uses
and commercial and residential to the north and west (Vancouver 2009). Based on City of
Vancouver’s zoning the long-term land uses are not as supportive.
Figure 4: Pacific Central Station
Table 2: Pacific Central Station Criteria
Transit access 11
Local inter‐modal access Medium‐High
Central to regional population Medium (Near high population, but not central)
Central to regional employment Medium (Near high population, but not central)
High Density Location
High population/employment area Yes
Supportive current land use Medium
Supportive long‐range land use Medium
VANCOUVER STATION ALTERNATIVE B: CANADA PLACE / WATERFRONT STATION
This new proposed station would be constructed at the north end of the central business
district above the existing rail yard. This location is one of the most highly accessible
locations in the greater Vancouver region. Well over twenty bus lines are within walking
distance to the proposed station. The regional commuter rail, SkyTrain, and the West
Coast Express (serving communities between Vancouver and Mission to the east) both
terminate at Waterfront station. The SeaBus Terminal provides ferry service to North
Vancouver and multiple cruise ships dock at Canada Place one block away. This location
is also centrally located to the regions’ highest employment and residential density
Figure 5: Proposed Waterfront / Canada Place Station
Table 3: Proposed Waterfront / Canada Place Station Criteria
Transit access 25+
Local inter‐modal access High
Central to regional population Medium (Near high population, but not central)
Central to regional employment Medium (Near high population, but not central)
High Density Location
High population/employment area Yes
Supportive current land use Yes
Supportive long‐range land use Yes
VANCOUVER, B. C. RECOMMENDED STATION LOCATION
Waterfront/Canada Place is recommended as the future high speed rail station for
Vancouver, B.C. This location edges out the current Pacific Central Station because it is
better served by regional transit and closer to the central business district. The higher
employment and residential densities would better support HSR goals than a less
centrally located station.
Table 4: Summary of Seattle Station Location Criteria
Pacific Central Station Waterfront / Canada Place
Transit access +
Local inter‐modal access +
Central to regional population O
Central to regional employment + ‐
High Density Location ‐
Supportive current land use O
Supportive long‐range land use O
Section V. Seattle station location alternatives
For the Seattle metro area, four locations were evaluated for potential HSR station
development (Figure 6), including two central city locations, and two international air
terminal locations. In central Seattle the South Lake Union district was considered on the
north side of downtown Seattle, as well as at King Street Station on the south end of
downtown. Airport locations evaluated include Boeing Field, and SeaTac International
Airport, both of which are south of the core central business district.
Information and maps used to characterize aspects relevant to station location criteria for
the Seattle region include documents provided by King County (2010), Seattle
Department of Planning and Development (2006, 2011a, 2011b), Seattle Department of
Transpiration (2011), and Sightline Institute (2006).
Figure 6: Seattle Station Locations Evaluated
SEATTLE STATION ALTERNATIVE A: SOUTH LAKE UNION
South Lake Union is a former industrial area on the north end of downtown Seattle
bordered to the north by commercial uses along Lake Union, and to the south by
relatively dense multifamily housing. Increased development density is planned for the
area which was given an Urban Center designation by the Seattle Department of Planning
and Development (2011). The district lies between the University of Washington and
downtown is linked to downtown by streetcar. Current freight rail corridors do not
service this area. Access from the I-5 corridor is possible, as is a linkage to the current
BNSF line (Figure 7). However, each of those alternatives would likely require above or
below grade facilities given existing dense development in the central city.
Left: Connecting to the current BNSF line (green) requires tunneling or other substantial corridor development issues
for traversing central Seattle. Right: Utilizing an I-5 alignment is likely to require similarly intensive corridor
development, but over a shorter distance. Source: GoogleEarth
Table 5: South Lake Union Station Criteria
Transit access 5
Local inter‐modal access High scores
Central to regional population Yes
Central to regional employment Yes
High Density Location
High population/employment area Yes
Supportive current land use No (Commercial, Industrial)
Supportive long‐range land use Yes
SEATTLE STATION ALTERNATIVE B: KING STREET STATION
The King Street Station (Figure 8), the current Amtrak station for Seattle on the main
BNSF rail, is located in a comprehensive mix of major transportation infrastructure and
Figure 7: South Lake Union
the Seattle central business District. The station is served by the Sounder Commuter Rail
line to Tacoma and is adjacent to the Seattle Ferry Terminal. Situated just south of the
downtown business core, the station neighbors Safeco and Qwest Fields, the Pioneer
Square Historic District and the International District. Its location is also at the southern
terminus of the downtown transit tunnel and has access from I-5 and I-90.
Figure 8: King Street Location
Table 6: King Street Station Location Criteria
Transit access 12
Local inter‐modal access Medium‐High
Central to regional population Yes
Central to regional employment Yes
High Density Location
High population/employment area Yes
Supportive current land use Yes
Supportive long‐range land use Yes
SEATTLE STATION ALTERNATIVE C: BOEING FIELD KING CO. INTERNATIONAL
Serving as the Seattle Metro area’s second international airport, Boeing field is a regional
hub for general aviation and air cargo. Lying 5 miles south of downtown, adjacent to I-5,
it offers connections beyond the region with better access to downtown Seattle relative to
SeaTac. Because of its location in Seattle’s sprawling Duwamish Industrial Area and its
close proximity to I-5, Boeing Field offers relatively inexpensive station and corridor
development. However, this alternative does not match the density and centrality of
downtown station locations.
Figure 9: Boeing Field Station Location
The BNSF line (black) and I-5 have are close to a possible Boeing Field Station. Source: Google Earth
Table 7: Boeing Field Station Location Criteria
Transit access 7
Local inter‐modal access Low/Medium (Sightline Walkable King County)
Central to regional population Moderate (poor access to North Seattle)
Central to regional employment Moderate
High Density Location
High population/employment area Mixed
Supportive current land use No (Industrial)
Supportive long‐range land use No (Greater Duwamish Industrial Area)
SEATTLE STATION ALTERNATIVE D: SEATAC INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
SeaTac, the Seattle Metro area’s primary international airport, is a major air hub for the
Cascadia Region. It is located between the major cities of Seattle and Tacoma, 11 miles
south of the Seattle CBD. SeaTac is also an incorporated city in King County. The City
of SeaTac comprehensive plan identifies an area across from the main airport terminal for
future high capacity transit development in conjunction with Sound Transit. Substantial
land assemblage is required for HSR service as the main terminal lies several miles from
existing corridors of I-5 and the BNSF railway. SR 99 is the primary roadway
connection between SeaTac and I-5. Its location is also near other highway facilities
including SR 518 and SR 509.
Figure 10: SeaTac Station Location
SeaTac is some distance away from both 1-5 (left green line) and the BNSF rail corridor (right green line). Source:
Table 8: SeaTack Station Location Criteria
Transit access 6
Local inter‐modal access Low
Central to regional population Poor
Central to regional employment Poor
High Density Location
High population/employment area No
Supportive current land use No (low density commercial and residential)
Supportive long‐range land use Mixed (High capacity transit, but continued low density)
SEATTLE RECOMMENDED STATION LOCATION
King Street Station ranks as the most promising HSR station location for the Seattle
metro area. The central city station locations are suggested much more strongly than the
airport locations according to the evaluative criteria applied here. Both South Lake
Union and King Street Station were given positive rankings for a majority of the criteria.
The transit access and current land use are more supportive of an HSR station at King
Street Station relative South Lake Union, which currently lacks density.
Both airport locations rated neutrally or negatively for each of the criteria. Both Boeing
Field and SeaTac lack sufficient regional and local access, population and employment
density, and supportive land use needed for locating an HSR station.
Table 9: Summary of Seattle Station Location Criteria
Criteria South Lake
Boeing Field SeaTac
Transit access O + O O
Local inter‐modal access + O O ‐
Central to regional population + + O ‐
Central to regional employment + + O ‐
High Density Location
+ + O ‐
Supportive current land use ‐ + ‐ ‐
Supportive long‐range land use + + ‐ O
Section VI. Portland Station Alternatives
PORTLAND ALIGNMENT ALTERNATIVES
Figure 11 shows potential rail alignments within the City of Portland. Most alignments
use existing corridors except for the portions of alignment C and B1. All existing
alignments are owned and used for freight rail and all would need extensive right of way
retrofits to accommodate high speed rail. Many of the alignments that are abandoned or
have minimal freight operations were not considered (such as the Lake Oswego
alignment proposed by Oregon Department of Transportation) because a large proportion
of the corridor would operate in close proximity to residential areas. The proposed
alignment, the B/B1 alternative, largely travels through industrial districts.
Alignment A is the existing corridor for Amtrak and primarily owned by BNSF and
requires two Willamette River crossings. Alignment B, mostly owned by Union Pacific,
offers a more direct route into downtown compared to Alignment A. This route would
utilize the existing Peninsular Tunnel avoiding impacts to North Portland neighborhood
and travels through Swan Island and the Albina rail yard. The main disadvantages of
alignment B is that it would be expensive to widen the Peninsular Tunnel and would
require a new Willamette River crossing if the Portland HSR station were to be located in
downtown Portland. In contrast, if the HSR station were to be located in the Lloyd
District alignment B1 could be utilized and connected to the current Alignment A to the
Alignment C travels along the Columbia industrial corridor and heads south in a new
right of way along Interstate 205 on its way to a potential station in Gateway. An
Interstate 205 alignment may be a cheaper and faster alternative because room for a rail
corridor was included when the highway was constructed. Currently the MAX light rail
has taken advantage of this space and high-speed rail may be able to do the same.
Alignment C would connect back with the existing Amtrak corridor south of Gateway
near Oregon City.
Figure 11:Portland Alignment Alternatives
PORTLAND STATION ALTERNATIVE A: UNION STATION / POST OFFICE
Union Station is the current Amtrak station for the Portland metropolitan region. It is
located at the north end of downtown adjacent to the Greyhound bus terminal. Across the
street is the13-acre central Portland United States Post Office site. Currently, this site is
used as a sorting facility and mail distribution center. The postal service, however, has
long term plans to vacate the site and move operations closer to the airport. This post
office facility, thus, is included as a potential high speed rail station along with Union
station because it is relatively close to the existing alignment and may minimize
construction impacts to existing freight and passenger service, particularly if a new tunnel
or bridge is built under/over the Willamette River. Also the size of the Post Office site
offers opportunities to integrate high density transit oriented development with the high
speed rail station.
Union Station is served by nine bus lines, two MAX light rail lines, and the Portland
Streetcar. The location is highly walkable and bike friendly based on Portland’s draft
accessibility analysis (Portland, draft). The station is centrally located from a
geographic perspective and within the downtown business districts where high
employment densities are located. The current and long‐term land uses would be
very supportive of a high speed rail station. The regional government Metro has
designated that the central city serve as the finance and commerce, government,
retail, tourism, arts and entertainment center for the region have will have the most
intensive form of housing and employment development within the entire
metropolitan region (Metro 2000).
Figure 12: Portland’s Union Station Location
PORTLAND STATION ALTERNATIVE B: LLOYD DISTRICT / MEMORIAL COLISEUM
The Lloyd District is located in the central city opposite of downtown Portland on the
eastside of the Willamette River. A station located in the broader Lloyd District offers
many advantages for a high sped rail line, particularly if it is located at or near the Rose
Quarter Transit Center. The Memorial Coliseum is included here as a focus site because
it is owned by the City of Portland, the future use for this building is under consideration,
and it is adjacent to existing railroad corridors.
Memorial Coliseum has excellent transit connections. About two blocks away is the
Rose Quarter Transit Center which is serviced by four MAX light rail lines and ten
bus lines including CTRAN which connects to Vancouver, WA. To the north will be a
Portland Streetcar stop which is currently under construction. Additionally, the
station is centrally located from a geographic perspective and within the downtown
and Lloyd business districts both of which enjoy high employment densities. The
current and long‐term land uses would be very supportive of a high speed rail
station. The regional government, Metro, has designated that the central city serve
as the finance and commerce, government, retail, tourism, arts and entertainment
center for the region have will have the most intensive form of housing and
employment development within the entire metropolitan region (Metro 2000).
Figure 13: Proposed Memorial Coliseum Station
PORTLAND STATION ALTERNATIVE C: GATEWAY
Gateway is located about seven miles east of Portland’s downtown near the convergence
of Interstates 84 and 205. Gateway is designated as a regional center by the Metro
regional government and intended to be a center of commerce and local government
services with a development pattern comprising of two- to four- story compact
employment and housing types served by high-quality transit(Metro 2000). The primary
advantage for this station is that it may offer a cheaper alignment/station combination
compared to the more central Portland alternatives.
Gateway has a moderate level of access to the region. It is served by three MAX light rail
lines and seven bus lines. The current local infrastructure is not well suited for pedestrian
and bicycle modes (Portland 2010). Given the station area’s regional center status, it may
have supportive land uses in the long term. However, it is currently surrounded by low
density commercial and residential uses. Another disadvantage is that this location is not
central to the metropolitan region.
Figure 14: Proposed Gateway Station
PORTLAND RECOMMENDED STATION LOCATION
Both Union Station/Post Office and the Lloyd District/Memorial Coliseum are
recommended as potential future high speed rail stations. Both stations have a high
degree of accessibility, supportive land uses, and are central to the regional employment
and population. Union Station may have a small advantage being a litter closer to the
central city but Memorial coliseum may have advantages from an alignment perspective
as it avoids two Willamette river crossings required to reach the Union Station / Post
Table 10: Summary of Portland Station Location Criteria
Criteria Union Station /
Transit access + + O
Local inter‐modal access + O O‐
Regional Access ‐
Central to regional population + + ‐
Central to regional employment + + O‐
High Density Location ‐
+ + ‐
Supportive current land use + + ‐‐
Supportive long‐range land use + + +‐
Section VII. Ancillary Service
STATIONS AT POINTS IN BETWEEN
In order for high speed rail to maintain an appropriate level of efficiency, stops on the
alignment between major metropolitan areas need to be carefully considered before
deciding on inclusion in a High-Speed Rail system. The Principles section of this report
identifies an efficiency for HSR for travel of between 100 and 500 miles. Beyond this
distance, rail travel even at the highest speeds is not competitive with air. At shorter
distances, automobiles become competitive as rail efficiency declines with slow-downs
due to starting and stopping. Further, in order to minimize the potential for HSR to
induce sprawl and low-density development, siting locations at supportive environments
Based on these principles, HSR station site selection criteria for ancillary station
• Station access to local and regional transit
• Centrality to Regional population and employment (generators and attractors)
• Current Amtrak boardings
• Supportive vision for future development by the community
• Minimum spacing between stations
Additional factors to be considered include land uses, density, and supportiveness of
station location to alternative transportation options. In the Cascadia mega-region, the
current population densities are largely located along the existing rail / Interstate 5
corridor. For this reason, evaluation of inter-metropolitan station locations assumes that
the existing passenger train stations would serve the final HSR route with or without
minor modifications to the actual track alignments between stations. Thus, the ancillary
alignment becomes “which stops?”
While not all smaller towns would qualify under the above criteria for inclusion of a HSR
station, most smaller towns would benefit by improvements to existing rail services. For
this reason, alternate levels of service are proposed for locations with less supportive
potential. Table 11 summarizes recommendations for level of service for stations along
the proposed Cascadia HSR corridor. Super Express Stations will serve large cities north
and south of the Canadian border (Vancouver, BC; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR). The
stations recommended for a “Regional Express” level include those with strong local
attractors, supportive local transit, and medium levels of existing ridership. These
Regional Express stations may require special siting arrangements with respect to overall
track alignment to ensure that regional services could stop but allow HSR to continue
through with minimal negative impact to local station area locations. As such, exploration
of HSR “bypass” routes are suggested for all Regional Express service stations.
However, most towns and small cities along the current right of way do not meet the
station location criteria for Regional Express or Super Express Stations. Local service
improvements that increase access to Regional Express and Super Express Stations will
be part of High-Speed Rail implementation and will be critical to overall success of the
projects. For example, it may be necessary to locate HSR right of ways on new
infrastructure (instead of shared track or adjacent right or way) to reduce the interference
of higher speed trains on local and freight services. These new and improved
infrastructure should improve local service by allowing increases in schedule frequency
and increasing schedule reliability. The growth and interest in these smaller towns may
warrant building capacity into the system for later HSR implementation.
Table 11: Station Level of Service Summary
BC X X X
Bellingham X X X
Mt. Vernon X
Seattle, WA X X X
Tacoma X X
Olympia/Lacey X X
Portland X X X
Oregon City X
Salem X X
Eugene X X
CANADA TO SEATTLE SERVICE RECOMMENDATIONS
The state of Washington has done much to plan and prepare for high-speed rail
implementation. The Washington State Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades is a
comprehensive overview extending over a twenty year horizon of implementation
elements from infrastructure development to economic outcomes. Their findings
included that “development of a new rail corridor—especially in western Washington—
would be very expensive.”(WADOT, 2010) New rail corridors (relocating HSR right of
way around existing business districts, for example) may also be met with resistance.
Current conditions at existing Amtrak stations along the Canada to Seattle service area
are summarized in Table 12. The level of commitment and community buy-in already
present in Washington is demonstrated in the fact that these stations all serve as multimodal
transportation hubs for their cities and enjoy local transit service. BNSF, the track
owner, is a cooperative partner with WADOT on track improvements.
However, existing stations are closely spaced. Further, Everett and Edmonds are already
served by commuter rail to Seattle and Tacoma is connected to Seattle via public
transportation. While there are some strong trip attractors along the local routes, only
Seattle has density and access sufficient to location of a Super Express Station. Even
though better rail service along this stretch would benefit communities and the region,
only the Bellingham station, 95 miles from Seattle, has the demand figures and distance
for true High Speed Rail.
Table 12: Canada to Seattle Stations Summary
2009 Pop 2009
Transit Other Attractors
Bellingham HSR 80k 62k Yes Alaska Cruises
Mt Vernon Local 32k 21k Yes Ferry to San Juan Islands
Everett Local 99k 23k Yes
Boeing Assembly Plant
US Naval Station
Port of Everett
Edmonds Local 40k 23k Yes
SEATTLE TO PORTLAND SERVICE RECOMMENDATIONS
Population densities and boarding numbers along the existing rail route between Seattle
and Portland are not sufficient to generate the number of riders necessary to successfully
support high-speed rail. Attractors for these interior cities are limited largely to industry
(with the exception of Olympia, the state capital and home to Evergreen College). While
disappointing to communities that are anxious to see High-Speed Rail implemented
locally, as stated previously, Super Express Service should be limited to the largest cities.
The distance from Seattle to Portland includes long haul sections of track that create the
potential for significant efficiency gains in Cascadia High-Speed Rail if stops and slow
downs on the route are limited or eliminated. A direct, high speed connection between
Portland and Seattle is more likely to serve and create regional agglomeration economies
than a more inclusive set of stops catering to relatively small populations. High-speed
service to smaller interior towns with low ridership may encourage undesired
development such as making low-density bedroom communities more attractive.
Regional Express Services may be sufficient to support the existing demands of mediums
sized towns that have positive employment and business attractors such as Olympia and
Existing Amtrak stations closest to the major cities, in contrast to the interior stations,
enjoy the largest populations, best local transit service, and greatest boarding numbers.
However, instead of inclusion as HSR stops, increased capacity for these local transit
serving train stations through improved short run service to Seattle would best support
HSR implementation goals.
Table 13: Seattle to Portland Stations Summary
2009 Pop 2009
Transit Other Attractors
Tacoma Regional Express 196k 93k Yes Port of Tacoma
Major Oil refinery
Lacey Regional Express 84k 48k
Capital of Washington
Ft Lewis (between
Tacoma & Lacey
Centralia Local 15k 19k Limited
Longview Local 49k 23k Yes Timber Industry
Vancouver Local 160k 75k Yes
PORTLAND TO EUGENE SERVICE RECOMMENDATIONS
The stations along the Portland to Eugene stretch do not have the same level of boardings
to population ratios as stations on stretches between major cities in Washington. Further,
long the Oregon rail corridor there is a mix of community sentiment with regard to highspeed
rail implementation. These communities have not demonstrated the same unified
strategy with the state as have the communities in Washington. The owner of the existing
right of way (Union Pacific) is resistant to allowing HSR on its property. Exploration of
alternate rights of way between Portland and Salem are being met by local opposition by
both communities which stand to gain and loose rail service.
Given the attractors offered by the universities along the southern terminus and the state
capital in Salem, communities along this alignment would benefit from improvements to
existing rail service, especially for schedule enhancements and reliability. An upgraded
service to Regional Express may be sufficient to meet these demands without dramatic
upgrades to a true HSR corridor.
Table 14 : Portland to Eugene Stations Summary
Section VIII. References
America 2050. (2010). High Speed Rail in America. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from
de Cerreno, A. L., Evans, D. M., & Permut, H. (2005). High Speed Rail Projects in the United
States: Identifying the Elements for Success. Mineta Transportation Institute,
College of Business, San José State University.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), et al. (2011). Finding of No Significant Impact,
Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from
2009 Pop 2009 Boardings Local
Transit Other Attractors
Oregon City Local 31k 8k Tri-Met
Salem Regional Express 155k 37k Yes Capital of Oregon
Local 48k 20k
not at station
Access to Oregon State
Eugene Regional Express 150k 51k Yes University of Oregon
King County. (2010). Metro Transit System Map. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from
Metro. (2000). The nature of 2040 – The region’s 50‐year strategy for managing growth.
Portland, OR. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from
Murakami, J., & Cervero, R. (2010). California High‐Speed Rail and Economic Development:
Station‐Area Market Profiles and Public Policy Responses. University of California
Transportation Center, UC Berkeley.
OSPIRG Foundation. (2010). A Track Record of Success: High‐Speed Rail Around the World
and Its Promise for America, page 40.
Portland, City of. (draft).Portland Plan Atlas. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from
Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2011a). Creating Opportunity in
South Lake Union. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from
Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2011b). City of Seattle Generalized
Zoning. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from
Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2006). Urban Centers and Villages.
Retrieved January 12, 2011, from
Seattle Department of Transportation. (2011). Seattle Transit Plan. Retrieved January 12,
2011, from http://www.cityofseattle.net/transportation/transitnetwork.htm
Seattle Department of Transportation. (undated). 2030 Population and Employment
Density. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from
Sightline Institute. (2006). Map of walkable King County, WA. Retrieved January 12, 2011,
Translink. (2010). City Centre System Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from
Vancouver, City of. (2009). Zoning Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from
Vancouver, City of. (2011). Vancouver Bicycle Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from
Washington State Department of Transportation. et al. (2010). FONSI Finding of No
Significant Impact Washington State Segment – Columbia River to the Canadian
Border. U.S. Department of Transportation
Community Impacts of High Speed
Rail in Washington State
Community Impacts of High Speed Rail in Washington State
USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management
Prof. Ethan Seltzer
The Washington State Department of Transportation received over $600M in
Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Dollars in 2010. The
State of Washington has decided to allocate these dollars toward select projects
along the existing 297 miles of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail between
the Columbia River in Southern Washington and the Canadian border (see Figure 1).
The goal of this effort is to improve the reliability and the frequency of Amtrak
Cascade service between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada. The Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI) prepared by the Federal
Railroad Administration explain that improvements are concentrated along the
current BNSF line to avoid or minimize impacts (FONSI, p. 1).
The majority of High Speed Rail (HSR) improvements will occur in the State of
Washington, but it is acknowledged and understood that the improvements made to
Washington rail will align with improvements in the State of Oregon. As of today,
Oregon’s process is in its nascent stage; however, the State of Washington has
known that rail improvements were necessary as early as 1993 (FONSI, p. 2). In
2009, application for federal funds accelerated the planning process and prompted a
Tier‐1 Environmental Assessment. State‐level impact assessments have been
prepared and documented in the Federal Railroad Administration’s FONSI, but this
document fails to address impacts of concern to specific jurisdictions as they relate
to a particular county, city, or town’s comprehensive plan. The following is an
examination of anticipated impacts of High Speed Rail development upon the
Washington counties, cities, and towns affected by Amtrak Cascades service, based
upon evaluation of comprehensive plans.
As per Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA), passed in 1990, local
governments are required to develop comprehensive land‐use plans in accordance
with the State’s thirteen land‐use planning goals. These goals include concentrating
development in areas with adequate public infrastructure, encouraging density in
urban areas, provision of affordable housing, encouragement of economic
development, ensuring just compensation for land acquisition and several others.
While many of Washington State’s land use planning goals intersect with goals for
and possible benefits of High Speed Rail, goals pertaining to transportation are
central to this discussion. According to Revised Code of Washington statute
RCW36.70A.020, transportation should “Encourage efficient multimodal
transportation systems that are based on regional priorities and coordinated with
county and city comprehensive plans.” Analysis of potential impacts must address
compliance with this goal as well as adherence with local comprehensive plans.
Washington’s HSR projects have undergone Tier‐1 analysis, which assesses
environmental impacts generally. The findings stipulate that individual projects
planned for lengths of BNSF track will require more in depth Tier‐2 review (FONSI,
p. 1). Improvements include two updates to Tacoma rail, such as the D to M Street
Connection and the Point Defiance Bypass (Figure 2); Vancouver’s Yard Bypass
Track, New Middle Lead, West Side Port Associate Trackage, and a variety of
reliability upgrades in the southern and northern counties Amtrak traverses.
Improvements are expected to increase the frequency and reliability of Amtrak
service. Amtrak’s record‐breaking 2010 ridership, up a staggering 13%, is attributed
to connection with Vancouver British Columbia. The addition of four trips between
Portland and Seattle is expected to meet this growing demand. Improvement is met
with mayoral‐approved protocol agreements from the mayors in Portland, Seattle
and Vancouver which will unite cities in order to attain HSR improvements. Impacts
of these improvements are discussed extensively in the FRA prepared FONSI and a
selection of environmental, community and commerce impacts are highlighted here.
Environmental considerations are two‐pronged: 1) the impact of construction and
improvement and 2) the impact of increased frequency of Amtrak service.
Construction impacts are discussed extensively FONSI indicates most impacts can
and will be mitigated. Construction may lead to air quality disturbances, but
mitigation procedures will minimize effects of dust, odor, particulate matter, and
hydrocarbons. Construction is also likely to affect between 18 to 25 acres of
vegetation, but FONSI indicates mitigation procedures should limit the effects of
The primary benefit associated with higher speed train service is increased fuel
efficiency and decreased fuel emissions. It is anticipated that increased reliability
will decrease traffic congestion on I‐5; however, it is more likely that HSR will
provide an option for those seeking a timely and reliable alternative to vehicle
travel. Fuel efficiency shall be realized through use of new models of locomotives
assumed to be 10% more fuel efficient than current models. Currently, fuel
consumption is 3,200 gallons per day or 1.17 million gallons per year; however,
future fuel consumption is estimated at 1,000 gallons per day or 365,000 gallons per
Communities and Residents
Specific impacts of HSR improvements on Washington communities will be
discussed in more detail throughout this analysis; however, this portion reflects the
findings of the initial assessment by the FRA. Namely, increased frequency of
Cascades service is likely to have adverse affects on the communities through which
it travels including construction, increased speeds and frequency of train vibrations
and whistle sounds, and in some cases accessibility will be permanently altered as a
result of improvements. Vibration and noise is expected to impact each community
as it has before, but improvements seek to mitigate noise and vibration to maintain
usability and livability of communities impacted by train travel.
Eight at‐grade crossings will be removed and six grade separations will be
constructed. These alterations will alter access in Clark, Cowlitz, Snohomish and
Whatcom counties. In Kelso, construction may require the relocation of five homes
and one business; however the exact details remain at large and should be
addressed during Tier‐2 review. FONSI finds that by adhering to the existing BNSF
rail, corridor service expansion shall affect most residents equally. Improvements
shall not effect populations disproportionately.
Trade and freight are significant stakeholder interests in the HSR discussion. HSR
threatens the efficiency of Fright Rail and ensuring that commerce remains
uninterrupted by passenger rail. Freight moves commodities and links the
economies of many states, so balancing the interests of freight rail with HSR is
essential. HSR improvements are expected to reduce bottlenecks in the rail system
resulting in increased frequency and reliability of Amtrak Cascades service while
maintaining the efficiency of the freight system.
In the following pages, local impacts are assessed and discussed in relation to these
same areas. Commerce, community, environmental and economic lenses are applied
to understand how HSR will impact, either positively or negatively, the communities
of Washington State.
Bellingham, with a population of roughly 80,000 spread over 25.6 miles, is bisected
by I‐5, and located on the coast of the Puget Sound (City‐data, Bellingham). It sits
approximately half an hour south of the Canadian border, only one hour south of
Vancouver, B.C., and is the largest hub of employment in Whatcom County. The City
of Bellingham is committed to policies which reduce reliance on single‐occupancy
vehicles (SOVs) as well as traffic congestion (predominantly caused by vehicles
traveling through Bellingham from loci outside of city limits). Up until now, the City
has tackled its congestion issues primarily by way of land use policy, fostering infill
development and sustainable building practices.
Bellingham has acknowledged the future role of HSR explicitly in its comprehensive
plan, settling forth the goal of fostering inter‐county and inter‐national
transportation links, including Amtrak and HSR, as well as the continued
maintenance of rail rights‐of‐way. While the City pledges to “support State and
regional planning efforts to develop and improve passenger and freight rail
transport within the region,” the City does strictly limit the areas in which such
development may be permitted to occur, stressing the importance of preserving
environmentally sensitive areas (Bellingham Comprehensive Plan). Being already a
recipient of Amtrak service, and given the current trend of funding, it is likely that
improvements within the Bellingham area will coincide well with existing lines of
Bellingham would experience numerous benefits from HSR. The City has built its
image on progressive planning and environmentalism, and HSR would reinforce
that image. Additionally, the improved link to British Columbia could be a major
development in terms of its international business. A large portion of Bellingham’s
economy stems from Canadian dollars, and an improved link could increase that
influx of revenue. It also offers a sensible stop in that it is the last major population
center along the tentative HSR line prior to the Canadian Border, as well as the most
populous area along the HSR line north of the Seattle MSA, and is well distanced
from the terminus of the HSR line in Vancouver, B.C. For these reasons, and given
that HSR has already been a feature of Bellingham’s planning efforts, this is a city in
which a HSR station should be strongly considered.
Mount Vernon, Washington
Skagit County reports a population of 117,500 residents, approximately 30,000 of
which live in the county seat of Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is located on the
Skagit River, roughly 60 miles north of Seattle’s urban center. The City markets itself
through a “Get a Great Life” campaign. A Mount Vernon community visioning
process in 2005 revealed that the residents share a sense of pride in the quality of
life and character of their city. The community is viewed as a mixed employment
center set in a scenic rural landscape, within convenient proximity to the greater
Seattle‐Everett urban area.
The community credits wise planning for the preservation of outlying natural
resources and working landscape by focusing growth on the redevelopment of
urban areas. Specifically, the City has focused strategic planning and investment in
its downtown through flood mitigation, economic development, and a multi‐modal
transportation hub for the city. Mount Vernon is reliant upon rail and the I‐5
corridor for the transportation of passengers, goods and services, regionally as well
as internationally. Mount Vernon’s Skagit Station is a stop on the current Amtrak
Cascades route. Residents are concerned about preserving the Mount Vernon
quality of life, when faced with growth, development, transportation improvements,
and regional transit projects.
The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is undertaking
improvements to rail sidings in Mount Vernon. The Washington DOT reports that
this construction project will improve speed and reliability of the trains by enabling
southbound trains from Bellingham to pass northbound trains from Seattle.
Additionally, the closure of one at‐grade crossing at Hickox Road in Mount Vernon
will increase community safety by eliminating potential conflicts with rail. The
project is managed by the BNSF Railway and will cost $7.1 million total, $3.3 million
of which is 2010 HSIPR grant funding.
Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG)
The Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) is an organization of local governments
for regional collaboration, predominantly on transportation and economic
development‐related issues. The SCOG is the lead agency in both the Regional
Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) and the Skagit Metropolitan Planning
Organization (SMPO). Additionally, the SCOG partners in the North Sound
Connecting Communities Project (NSCCP) and the Skagit/Island Regional
Transportation Planning Organization (SIRTPO). The current draft of the Skagit‐
Island Counties Metropolitan & Regional Transportation Plan was completed in
January of 2011. The draft plan indentifies an increasing demand for Amtrak
Cascades passenger rail at Skagit Station, as well as the critical role that freight rail
plays in maintaining a diverse regional economy. The draft plan references planned
incremental capital improvements to the BNSF rail line for high speed rail within the
Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor.
Stanwood, located in Snohomish County with a population of 5,705, is too small to
get a stop for HSR (City‐data, Stanwood). However, HSR may still pass through the
town, which has the residents worried about safety of at‐grade crossings and
preservation of the rural character of their town. The FONSI report, which states
that all construction impacts will be mitigated, may allay some of their fears. Also,
the so‐called ‘high‐speed’ rail will reach a maximum speed of 110 mph and will not
necessarily travel at that speed along its entire length. Small towns like Stanwood
will have to negotiate to get HSR to slow down when passing through, especially if
the grade is not separated.
Everett, with a population approaching 100,000 spread over roughly 33 square
miles, is located between the Snohomish River (along which runs I‐5) to the east and
the Puget Sound to the west (City‐data, Everett). The city itself is largely suburban in
composition, and is often characterized as a bedroom community to Seattle.
However this is not entirely true: while only approximately 21,000 people both live
and work in the city, the city undergoes a population increase of nearly 40,000
people due to commuting (City‐data, Everett). Consequently, traffic congestion
(particularly along the I‐5 corridor and I‐405) is an issue which has plagued Everett
for over a decade. HSR, while perhaps initially exacerbating congestion issues
during the construction phase, could ultimately serve to reduce congestion by
providing an alternative to SOVs. Another clear benefit for the City of Everett would
be the provision of jobs, but more importantly the link to additional job‐centers
such as Seattle and Portland.
In early 2010, five projects were proposed for the lines north of Seattle which
included over $8.9 million for projects improving service for Everett. However, only
$3.6 million for an Everett track addition survived cuts which came in March of
2010. Figure 3 highlights the area of rail proposed for improvement in Everett. The
logic for the cuts was that areas north of Seattle did not possess the potential
ridership to justify investment, at least in the initial phases of system improvement.
Everett was ready and willing to adopt those projects, and appears highly willing to
Given its location among many environmentally sensitive areas, restrictions
stemming from Everett’s Critical Areas ordinance and Washington’s Shoreline
Management Act could present a few hurdles, but Everett possesses well65
established industry and freight lines, making improvements to those lines a highly
attainable goal given adequate funding. Still, closer analysis is needed as to the
provision of a high‐speed stop in Everett. While its proximate location to Seattle has
been an asset (if not a primary driver) to Everett’s development, the city may be too
close to the Seattle stop to justify an additional station.
Like many of the communities in Washington, the community already has a
significant rail presence. Commuter trains to Seattle, freight shipments and
AMTRAK all run through the town. An average of 37 trains per day already roll
through Edmonds. Thus, any increase in Amtrak traffic is deemed to be of negligible
consequence. In order to reduce conflicts between modes of transport, the City
wants to build a new multi‐modal transportation facility downtown called Edmonds
It would bring together ferry, rail and transit services under one roof. It would also
upgrade the station to Amtrak passenger standards. The new station would require
a realignment of Highway 104, but the impacts of this are unclear at this time. The
City also desires new, transit‐oriented development near the proposed train station
to take advantage of Edmonds Crossing.
Unfortunately, the money for the project has yet to appear. The proposed price tag is
well over $200 million and the latest news seems to put the project at least $100
million short. It is obvious that the City views the development of the Crossing
Project as a catalyst for development, but how much that relates to high‐speed rail is
not quite clear. Everyone’s favorite libertarian, Randal O’Toole, wrote the only local
newspaper article addressing high‐rail. No prize will be awarded for guessing his
The population of the City of Seattle is currently estimated to be 612,000. Seattle’s
Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Strategic Plan (TSP) serve an overarching
vision for urban villages as the focus for concentrated development and multi‐modal
transportation hubs throughout the city. The TSP supports the development of a
regional high capacity transit system with complementary intermediate and local
transit systems of rail and bus. The TSP calls for the integration of these systems
into existing neighborhoods such that the design reflects the community identity,
minimizes negative environmental and economic impacts to surrounding areas, and
provides safe, accessible options for all residents. Further, integrated transit
services in Seattle serve an important connection to the Washington State Ferry
The King Street Station in Seattle is undergoing two separate projects (see Figure 4).
The first project provides for the construction of new tracks and switches in the rail
yard to increase the capacity of the station to serve both passenger and freight
purposes. The King Street rail tracks are currently shared by Amtrak, Sound Transit,
and the BNSF Railway. The second project is the renovation, seismic retrofitting,
and modernization of the historic King Street Station. Located just south of the city
center, the station is one of the main transportation hubs in Seattle, and a current
Amtrak passenger rail stop. The station was purchased by the City of Seattle in
2008. This project leverages a number of funding sources, of which, the Federal
High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Grant is the largest contributor.
Two other critical rail projects in King County include an engineered design to
increase the speed limit for the Talgo trains on the Ballard Bridge and the recent
phased construction of an Amtrak maintenance facility south of downtown Seattle.
Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC)
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is an association of regional governments
in the greater Seattle‐Tacoma Metropolitan area. The council guides regional growth
through land use, transportation, and economic development planning. Member
organizations include: King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties, their respective
jurisdictions, and local tribal authorities. Planning in the region is guided by three
major processes: VISION 2040, Transportation 2040, and Prosperity Partnership.
Other capacities of the PSRC include data warehousing and project funding.
The current two‐year budget is just over $26 million, acquired largely through
federal and state grants. The PSRC has served to review and coordinate ARRA HSR
funding such that all projects are aligned with the regional economic strategy. The
position of the council is that “the State of Washington should take the lead role in
planning for long‐term commercial air transportation capacity and supporting high
speed inter‐regional ground transportation” (2004). Transportation 2040 calls for
an “aggressive transit strategy”; in support of the state’s commitment to develop a
high‐speed rail corridor in the Pacific Northwest region (2009).
Tukwila is a small suburb, population 17,000, situated south of Seattle. Due to its
small size and relatively close proximity to Seattle (12 miles), the community is
primarily concerned with its immediate connections to the central city rather than
with the broader Cascadia region. Washington State procured $9 million in funding
in FY 2010 to construct a new train station in Tukwila to better support HSR
improvements and Sound Transit Commuter Rail. This upgrade will allow for better
local connectivity with the nearby Seattle‐Tacoma International Airport.
The City of Tacoma’s primary transportation goal is to balance multi‐modal
transportation with the efficient and safe movement of people and goods (Tacoma
Comprehensive Plan, p. T‐1). The following demonstrates how HSR meets the policy
intent of the Comprehensive Plan’s Transportation goal and the unique challenges it
poses for the City of Tacoma.
HSR is a regional service and promotes interconnectivity between jurisdictions.
Interconnectivity increases the potential for information and talent exchange.
Arising as a genuine non‐automobile mode choice, HSR will provide Tacoma with
convenient access to Seattle and Portland. Availability of non‐automobile multimode
choice supports several policy objectives of the Tacoma Comprehensive Plan,
including availability of a well connected urban core, construction of Transit
Oriented Developments, and linkages with the region as a whole. It is unclear how
increased speeds and frequency of HSR will affect pedestrian and cycling safety in
the urban core and Tier‐2 analysis should discuss this element.
HSR supports the efficient operation of Tacoma’s port. The Port of Tacoma is an
economic lynchpin for the City of Tacoma and State of Washington and serves as the
Continental US’ hub for Alaskan imports and exports. Freight Rail disseminates most
of these goods to the continental US and rail efficiency is integral to smooth
operation of the Port. Improvements set forth by WSDOT plan rail extensions and
construction of bypass track which will support Freight Rail while enhancing
frequency and reliability of Amtrak Cascades service.
HSR improvements align with Tacoma’s Comprehensive plan and its policy
objectives. Connectivity via HSR is one strategy to comply with the Commute Trip
Reduction Law, promotes improved fuel emissions quality as stipulated by
Washington’s Clean Air Act, and complies with the National Environmental Policy
Act and State Environmental Policy Act, thereby balancing the interests of
community, environment and commerce.
The City of Olympia, located in Thurston County, WA, has enumerated several
transportation goals in their comprehensive plan that can be served by HSR. These
goals include providing for alternative transportation services, increasing personal
mobility, allowing denser development, and committing to sustainability (Olympia
Comprehensive Plan, 2002). In order to reduce the growth of traffic as much as
possible, Olympia wants to provide realistic transportation options to reduce car
ownership and vehicle miles traveled.
In a shared vision exercise in January 2010, the residents of Olympia named HSR
their third top transportation priority (after safe bike lanes and regional
transportation/light rail). They also envisioned that by 2030 Olympia will be served
by HSR as part of a regional transit system that makes it possible for most residents
to work, play, shop and meet most needs without owning or using a motor vehicle,
as well as have significantly reduced vehicle miles traveled to 1990 levels. Olympia
also wants to make sure that the city’s aesthetic qualities are not degraded with
HSR and other service options are being actively explored in a partnership between
Thurston Regional Planning Council and the Washington State Department of
Transportation. The most direct future rail service into the urban core area of the
county (Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater) could occur over the St. Clair‐to‐Olympia
corridor. Identified in the Railroad Right of Way Strategy Report (March 1992), this
rail corridor offers the most direct connection to the mainline service north to
Tacoma and south to Portland. In order to connect HSR to the central city, the most
likely scenario would be to transfer from the HSR to light rail or bus rapid transit
(BRT). Two options being explored would allow service either to the waterfront and
Port Peninsula or close to Capitol Campus.
The challenge for the HSR option in Olympia is that part of this alignment is out of
use and already abandoned. The need for right‐of‐way purchase for high capacity
must be identified and acted upon before rights‐of‐way become more costly or are
dedicated to other uses. Currently, efforts to piece the right‐of‐way back together
are proceeding in order for the corridor to be used for recreation purposes and
possible future transportation purposes.
Intercity Transit (Thurston County’s public transportation provider) has prepared
commuter service alternatives in its Transit Development Plan (TDP). Alternatives
to HSR include fully utilizing the transit system that is currently in place (i.e.
Amtrak) and/or developing bus rapid transit (BRT). Current Amtrak service is
increasing and allows commuters and others to use the train for trips north to
Tacoma and Seattle and south to Portland on the mainline. Passengers board on
Amtrak at the Centennial Station on the Yelm Highway with connecting service to
the Olympia City Center by Intercity Transit. Although Olympia supports HSR, it is
only a second‐tier candidate for a stop. If HSR does not stop in Olympia it will have
more of an impact on the identity of the city than on the residents themselves.
Centralia’s comprehensive plan does not specifically mention HSR, but does list
several goals for rail. These include safety, sustainability, and efficiency of
circulating goods and people. The expansion of both passenger and freight services
is encouraged (Centralia Comprehensive Plan, 2007). A major problem in Centralia
is congestion due to freight conflicts. Centralia’s comprehensive plan encourages
grade‐separated crossings for rail. The BNSF line currently has three gradeseparated
crossings in Centralia: East 6th Street, North Pearl Avenue and North
Tower Ave. If HSR does not introduce any more at‐grade crossings in Centralia and
helps to improve the timing of freight as well as passenger rail then it will be of
much benefit to the city.
There were no findings of significant impact to the Kelso/Longview community in
the EIS report. However, the area will see a significant number of projects come its
way. The projects are essentially phased parts of one larger effort that will see the
construction of new track. Right now, Kelso acts as a bottleneck for passenger rail.
Freight traffic trying to get into the Kalama Port interferes with the passenger rail.
The changes that come to Kelso will be primarily aimed at separating the two types
of trains and increasing efficiency for both freight and passenger traffic.
The proposed projects include:
· New siding near the port of Kalama.
· A siding track extension and a new grade separation for Toteff Road.
· A new 4.5 mile main line between Kelso and Longview Junction and a new grade
separation on Hazel Avenue.
For the most part, there will not be a “significant impact” on the way people live or
get to work. One section of track will see 4‐5 homes being moved along with one
business. The report deemed this consequence of no significant impact. Home
owners may differ. Noise is already high in the area from freight traffic and will
continue to be high. Additionally, 4 to 5 acres of farmland could be displaced
because of rail improvements. New bridges will be built, but they will be alongside
the old ones and won’t do anything to rock the boat. A number of at grade crossings
are going to be turned into above grade to eliminate the chance of Grandma being
run over by a train and to limit time wasted in traffic.
Construction will be in areas with lots of hazardous materials and underground
storage tanks. Officials seem to believe this is quite manageable. So will
management of waste generated. Long‐term impacts of having high speed trains
running are deemed negligible, if not positive. Jobs would mostly be short term and
most likely would not have a long term impact.
The comprehensive plan for the city does not mention high‐speed rail, although it
does mention a desire to be tied into a rail system.
With a rapidly growing population of over 165,000 residents, Vancouver is the heart
of Clark County in southwestern Washington and the largest suburb of Portland.
While not explicitly mentioned in the community plan, goals and guidelines
emphasize balancing all transportation modes when determining future
infrastructure improvements. HSR is on the radar politically for Vancouver as
evidenced by the Mayor recently signing a protocol agreement with the Mayors of
Seattle and Portland. This protocol agreement was an effort to cooperatively align
the cities in order to attain HSR development along the Cascadia corridor.
Developers are already starting to take notice of the push towards HSR in
Vancouver. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Brian Baird steered $3 million in federal
funding towards infrastructure improvements in the Crescent Industrial area near
downtown. The goal is to unlock the potential of this under‐utilized area and set it
up mesh with the forthcoming HSR improvements. Local leaders are eager to see the
development return on its estimated 750 jobs generated given the currently
Despite Vancouver’s prominence in southwestern Washington, it’s train station is
just 10 miles from Portland’s. While this arguably duplicative station is much more
convenient for residents north of the Columbia River, having stations so closely
spaced makes it difficult for trains to achieve and maintain higher speeds. It is clear
that given the recently signed protocol that Vancouver has no intentions of being
omitted from an HSR stop, and this must be taken into consideration when planning
The State of Washington has directed significant energy toward HSR by securing
hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal Government, conducting an initial
FONSI, and planning projects to balance economic, environmental and community
impact with HSR benefits. The major cities of Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia, Mount
Vernon, Vancouver, Tacoma, and Everett explicitly support HSR. Kelso, Centralia,
Tukwila, and Edmonds do not explicitly support HSR but support regional rail and
have enumerated goals that can also be supported by HSR. The small town of
Stanwood has decidedly less enthusiasm for HSR than do the larger cities in
Washington. The proposed HSR is unlikely to stop at all of the cities that desire
access to HSR, and the cities that do not get a stop have a right to fear that all of the
drawbacks to HSR will be imposed on their cities while they reap none of the
benefits. However, our research considers this an unlikely scenario.
HSR will be successful for all cities throughout Washington if it decreases freight
and passenger conflicts. Freight conflicts cause major congestion in many cities and
decrease the reliability of passenger service. Also, the Federal Railroad
Administration’s FONSI report acknowledged that HSR construction impacts will be
minimal and readily mitigated. When built, HSR will benefit Washington’s image as a
state leader in sustainability by providing a reliable alternative to single occupancy
vehicles commutes throughout Cascadia.
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Vernon, WA. Retrieved from: http://www.ci.mountvernon.
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City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2005). City of Seattle
Comprehensive Plan: A Plan for Managing Growth 2004 – 2024. Seattle, WA.
City of Stanwood. (2007). City of Stanwood Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:
City of Tacoma Washington Community and Economic Development Department.
(2010). City of Tacoma Comprehensive Plan. Tacoma, WA: Author. Retrieved from:
City of Vancouver. (2010). Press Release: Vancouver, Seattle and Portland Sign Pact
for High Speed Rail. Vancouver, WA. Retrieved from:
Cowlitz‐Wahkiakum Council of Governments. (2009). Metropolitan and Regional
Transportation Plan 20092029.
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Retrieved on 1/21/11 from: http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/freight/3011.shtml
Gilmore, Susan. (2010, October 28). “Feds Award Money for King Street, Tukwila
Stations.” The Seattle Times. Retrieved from:
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Hall, C.B. (2010, December 8). Washington State Rolling Along on HighSpeed
Crosscut: News of the Great Nearby. Retrieved from:
Puget Sound Regional Council. (2011). About Puget Sound Regional Council.
Retrieved from: http://www.psrc.org/
Skagit Council of Governments. (2011). About Skagit Council of Governments.
Retrieved from: http://scog.net/
Skagit Council of Governments. (2011). SkagitIsland
Counties Metropolitan &
Regional Transportation Plan – Draft. Mount Vernon, WA. Retrieved from:
Thurston County Washington. (2004). Thurston County Comprehensive Plan Chapter
5: Transportation. Thurston Co., WA. Retrieved from:
Todorovich, et. al. (2010). Connecting Cascadia Briefing Book. Conference July 8‐9,
2010. America 2050.
Todorovich, P. and Y. Hagler. (2011). High Speed Rail in America. America 2050.
Washington State Department of Transportation. (1993). Pacific Northwest Rail
Corridor, Rail Passenger Program. Presented to Skagit County, Washington.
Washington State Department of Transportation. (2006). Washington State LongRange
Plan for Amtrak Cascades. Olympia, WA: The Resource Group Consultants, Inc.
et. al. Retrieved from: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/AE671CC5‐6633‐
Washington State Department of Transportation. (2011). King Street Station
Renovation. Retrieved from:
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Siding Upgrade. Retrieved from:
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Figure 1: Map of current and proposed rail corridor in the Pacific Northwest,
including the cities along the corridor.
Figure 2: Proposed Pt. Defiance bypass near Tacoma, WA.
Figure 3: Area of rail improvement proposed for HSR in Everett.
Figure 4: Region of proposed improvement for HSR near King Street Station, Seattle.
Laying the Tracks for High Speed
Rail in Oregon
Laying the Tracks for High Speed Rail in Oregon
Spencer Alan Williams
Portland State University
Discussion concerning high‐speed rail (HSR) in Oregon has only recently gained traction
despite its inclusion in a federally designated HSR corridor‐‐the Pacific Northwest
Corridor, also known as the Cascadia Corridor (Federal Railroad Administration). With
the recent influx of Federal funds for the development of HSR between Vancouver BC
and Eugene, OR, the importance of beginning the process of identifying stakeholders,
engaging with communities, and identifying the benefits and impacts of development
cannot be overstated. Such steps will help to define a cohesive vision for HSR service in
the both the region and the State. Despite a lack of comprehensive data regarding the
needs and desires of Oregon communities along any of the potential alignments, the
development of HSR is known to align with several State and many local community’s
transportation, economic, and environmental goals. The following sections illustrate the
existing conditions in Oregon through an examination of State and local community
plans and policies, the relationship with private freight interests, and the rationale for
engaging the public in a more meaningful and comprehensive manner, as the process to
develop HSR in Oregon progresses.
WHY HSR in OREGON?
Oregon is predicted to experience a significant increase in population over the next two
decades. With much of this growth expected to occur in the central Willamette Valley,
the State is interested in pursuing increased or enhanced passenger rail service.
Improving the reliability, capacity, and inter‐city travel time for passenger rail service is
viewed as a means for battling the negative impacts associated with projected increases
in highway congestion. These impacts include increased emissions of green house gases
(GHGs) which can lead to the degradation of the environment and human health, as
well as impacts to the economy due to loss of time and efficiency in transporting people
and goods. A number of Oregon communities are addressing these issues through
planning efforts at the local, regional, and statewide level.
Demand for freight is projected to increase up to 80 percent by 2030, according to the
Oregon Transportation Plan. HSR passenger rail is seen as a mechanism to relieve
commuter congestion on Interstate 5 and other State Highways. By giving commuters
an alternative to the private automobile conditions for the robust freight trucking
industry might be improved—an industry requiring free flow of traffic to reliably and
cost effectively deliver goods. In addition, HSR in Cascadia could further ensure an
efficient shipping system and increased benefits for local and global economies.
While rail lines are privately owned and operated in Oregon, round‐trip Amtrak service
between Eugene and Portland is currently available through a combination of train and
bus service. Due to the private ownership of the rail lines, the State has been limited in
its ability to shape the future role of rail and effectively plan for its growth. The 2010
Oregon Rail Study is the most recent planning effort concerned with freight and
passenger rail in Oregon. The study recommends three key factors to consider in any
discussion about HSR:
• Involve freight railroad stakeholders early in the process
• Recognize that land use decisions have real impacts on freight rail
• Include rail carriers in local jurisdiction plans
The study further stipulates that due to having no State‐owned public rail right‐of‐way,
it is paramount that a unique strategy for incorporating freight interests be developed
during the planning phase. Findings from the 2010 Oregon Rail Study and analysis of
community plans in relation to HSR punctuate the importance of corresponding rail and
National Environmental Policy Act
The current condition of planning and public process related to HSR development in
Oregon is largely due to the federally mandated National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA). NEPA requires federal agencies to analyze and document actions that may have
adverse effects on environmental resources. This requirement must be fulfilled
whenever a federal agency proposes an action, grants a permit, or agrees to fund or
authorize an action that could possibly affect environmental resources (Bass, 2001). In
the case of the Cascadia HSR Corridor, NEPA applies because the project will be federally
funded, namely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA ).
One way in which a federal project can satisfy NEPA is by preparing an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS). Under NEPA regulations, and EIS must be prepared when an
action: (Bass, 2001)
• Is likely to have significantly adverse impacts on natural ecosystems, cultural
resources and scenic resources
• Is likely to require controversial relocations
• May divide or disrupt established neighborhoods
• Affects endangered or threatened species
• Is likely to have significant impact on groundwater, flooding, erosion, or
Figure 1 illustrates the steps in the EIS process. Currently, the Cascadia HSR Corridor
project is in the scoping phase. Scoping begins in the early planning stages of the
project and is a public participatory practice intended to bring forth issues in the
beginning in order to avoid future conflicts. Ideally, ODOT Rail will invite the
participation of affected federal, state, and local agencies, Native American Tribes,
interested parties, and the general public (Bass, 2001).
NEPA’s shortcoming is that it does not contain time limits for EIS preparation. In
practice, an EIS for a project like the Cascadia HSR Corridor could easily take several
years, possibly even a decade, due to the need to address State and local laws between
Oregon and Washington. Furthermore, the project may impact several public lands with
the need for cooperation among several federal government agencies including the
Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Department
of the Interior (DOI), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), just to name a few.
Additionally, this process may be further complicated with this project spanning
international borders. While beneficial, the NEPA process is insufficient for fostering
collaborative community planning efforts.
2010 Oregon Rail Study
Furthermore, the 2010 Oregon Rail Study‐‐the only comprehensive study of HSR in
Oregon‐‐was largely technical and conducted without public input. Successful HSR in
Oregon will require measures beyond these initial, and largely formal planning
processes. A comprehensive planning effort, which includes all the affected
communities and stakeholders, will more easily identify the opportunities and
constraints associated with a given alignment, fare structure, station location, and the
myriad other factors that must be considered.
Though many of the opportunities and constraints will only be revealed in future public
processes and community outreach efforts, there are some general factors that should
be discussed regardless of where the HSR corridor is developed and the level of service
it provides. The following section describes several factors that must be considered for
HSR in Oregon.
Existing Public Transit Systems
Many communities with the potential to be served by new HSR, such as Salem, Corvallis,
and Eugene have existing public transit systems. Many of these communities have
developed goals to reduce average vehicle miles traveled (VMT), reduce carbon
emissions, and improve safety and equity in their transportation system. Access to HSR
station locations will be a major factor in any city where an HSR station is developed and
ensuring safe and equitable transportation to the HSR station will be vital to the success
of the system. During the initial planning phase for HSR there should be a focus on
connecting to existing public transit systems so that there are viable alternatives to the
personal automobile for reaching the station. Seamless integration with the local transit
service provider will improve the level of service for HSR and the community.
Congestion and VMT Reduction Goals
Existing conditions along the I‐5 corridor exhibit a high level of congestion. Mitigating
this problem by increasing capacity of the roadway is not possible in many places due to
physical constraints, and is also in direct conflict with regional, state, and local goals
related to climate change and energy conservation. An HSR system in Oregon has the
potential to decrease reliance on the personal automobile for inter‐city travel and this
opportunity should be stressed to political leaders and the public. Quantifying the
potential decrease in congestion and reductions in average VMT with hard numbers
could further bolster the case for HSR development in Oregon.
Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Goals
Reductions in GHG’s are closely related to reductions in VMT. The State of Oregon is
known for its commitment to the environment, and air quality standards are one facet
of Oregon’s environmental goals as set forth in Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals and
Guidelines. Therefore, any demonstration of HSR’s potential to decrease VMT and
harmful GHG emissions is a political win for development.
Potential Increased Travel Time Reliability
Current Amtrak service is hampered by unreliable travel times due to passenger and
freight rail sharing tracks. Since freight companies are always given priority over
passenger service, this arrangement has led to large discrepancies in passenger travel
time between destinations. HSR has the potential to develop in such a way as to
alleviate some of the current issues between passenger and freight rail.
If travel time reliability is improved it may encourage individuals to begin commuting by
rail. If a travel preference for HSR is established it will reduce the numbers of passenger
vehicles on I‐5; improving travel time reliability for the trucking freight companies on
which the regional economy depends.
Improving Connections Between Commercial and Educational Centers
Good connectivity improves quality of life by giving people access to goods and services
that meet their daily needs. Developed correctly, HSR will also provide a vital link along
the education corridor made up by the University of Oregon, Oregon State University,
Portland State University, University of Washington, Washington State University, Simon
Fraser, and University of British Columbia, among other small universities and research
Acquiring right‐of‐way is prohibitively expensive even when it is available. Oregon HSR is
limited by the existing right‐of‐way available and the extremely limited funds that would
be needed to purchase it. Given this very serious constraint, it is imperative that
negotiations with freight rail owners be initiated early in the process. The result of such
negotiations would hopefully provide a shared rail situation that can meet the needs of
freight and passenger service.
There are currently a few cities, notably in the south Portland metropolitan area, that
oppose the possibility of an HSR alignment through their communities. Among these
are Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie. According to an interview with Jeanne
Lawson, who was recently hired to facilitate public involvement between ODOT Rail and
the public due to the NEPA process activated by HSR, these cities have little interest in
HSR. However, ODOT has already recommended, in the 2010 Oregon Rail Study, an
alignment that passes through these areas. In the case of Tualatin, much of this
controversy stems from previous issues that arose with the Westside Express Service
(WES) commuter line, specifically impacts from noise and the creation of Quiet Zones
still being debated today. Furthermore, if a separate right‐of‐way is considered with
HSR, the lack of build‐out area near existing rail infrastructure or the need to source a
new alignment has communities worried about loss of land, impacts on property values,
noise, and safety.
Despite a likely build scenario that includes connecting only the three largest cities
(Portland, Seattle and Vancouver), an HSR corridor in Cascadia unquestionably stands to
improve regional connectivity. However, with this increased connectivity comes an
associated cost—the threat of sprawl. Historically, increased transportation options
have encouraged migration patterns that allow greater separation of work and home
environments. Reliable and significantly reduced travel times between the major
metropolitan areas may cause enormous pressure for local governments to allow
unsustainable growth (low density residential in former open spaces/agricultural lands)
in smaller towns, cities, and urban edges.
Equitable Placement of HSR Stations
Another constraint associated with HSR has to do with its alignment. While numerous
alternatives may be explored during the planning process, one alternative includes
placing stations in only the three largest cities in the Cascadia region. If developed in this
way, Portland would be the only city with HSR in Oregon. Medium sized cities that might
benefit from increased access to larger markets would be effectively passed‐by. Cities
such as Salem and the Corvallis/Albany metro area could be impacted by such a decision
and these jurisdictions may present a strong lobby to have an HSR station. Especially in
the case of Albany, the city has been planning their downtown central area around
renewal efforts of the existing Amtrak train station. Consequently, what impacts can be
expected by eliminating such a location from participating directly in the development
of HSR in Cascadia?
Alignment of Plans for Oregon Communities
An analysis of comprehensive, regional, and transportation plans for communities along
the proposed alignment was conducted to gauge readiness and receptiveness of HSR in
Oregon. Comprehensive plans for these jurisdictions revealed a considerable lack of
planning for HSR. However, Statewide Planning Goals and Policies related to
transportation, environment and economy support multi‐modal public transit relevant
to HSR. Because comprehensive plans are required to be consistent with Statewide
Planning Goals, the majority of local and regional goals are essentially slight variants of
State goals. For this reason, this section examines the development of a HSR system in
relation to statewide goals.
Strategies to promote alternate travel mode choices are predominate in almost all
planning efforts state wide including Oregon’s city comprehensive plans, Council of
Government’s planning efforts, and Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept. Additionally,
Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal 12 focuses on transportation with nine objectives, of
which HSR is consistent with seven. These objectives state that transportation plans
1) Consider all transportation modes
2) Be based on local, regional and state needs
3) Avoid primary dependence on any one transportation mode
4) Mitigate negative social, environmental and economic impacts and costs
5) Conserve energy
6) Provide transportation options for the disadvantaged
7) Strengthen local and regional economies through the flow of goods and
Not having to create new right‐of‐way significantly helps ensure that HSR is consistent
with environmental goals. Not only does the use of an existing right‐of‐way minimize
the potential for negative environmental impacts, but also fewer impacts may ensure a
more efficient and timely environmental review. HSR’s potential to reduce carbon
emissions and energy use while simultaneously extending the lifespan of the existing
freeway system are also consistent with statewide environmental goals.
Statewide Planning Goal 12
To provide and encourage a safe, convenient and economic transportation system.
Statewide Planning Goal 5
Natural Resources, Scenic and Historic Areas and Open Spaces:
To protect natural resources and conserve scenic and historic areas and open spaces
Statewide Planning Goal 6
Air, Water and Land Resources Quality:
To maintain and improve the quality of the air, water and land resources of the
Statewide Planning Goal 13
Land and uses developed on the land shall be managed and controlled so as to
maximize the conservation of all forms of energy, based upon sound economic
While HSR may not be a long‐term economic development tool, it does have economic
benefits. Construction and renovations to rail‐related infrastructure provide an
injection of capital and jobs into the economy. Additional jobs will be created to handle
day‐to‐day maintenance and operations. HSR also posits to increase efficiencies of the
current freight rail system. Additionally, HSR has the potential to bolster the regional
economy by connecting regional markets.
The four cities most commonly proposed as possible Oregon HSR station locations
include: Eugene, Albany, Salem and Portland. The transportation planning areas within
jurisdictions are illustrated in Map 1. This section provides an overview of these
communities along with relevant anecdotal findings uncovered during this analysis.
Eugene is the southernmost city on the HSR corridor. It is the Lane County seat and is
home to the University of Oregon. With an estimated population of 157,845 (Population
Research Center, 2010) Eugene is Oregon’s second largest city. It is part of the greater
Eugene‐Springfield metropolitan statistical area and serves as a cultural and retail center
for central and southern Oregon. Lumber and agriculture are Eugene’s largest
industries, and the University of Oregon is the city’s largest employer.
Current planning in Eugene consists of the Eugene‐Springfield Metropolitan Area
General Plan (a.k.a. Metro Plan) and TransPlan, the Regional Transportation Plan. Both
plans note that future high‐speed rail service will require improved infrastructure and
make broad policy directives to improve tracks, rail crossings and signals. However, the
TransPlan calls for more specific actions including:
• System‐wide Policy 3: Corridor Preservation: stating that corridors such as rail
rights‐of‐way, private roads, and easements of regional significance that are
identified for future transportation‐related uses shall be preserved.
Statewide Planning Goal 9
To provide adequate opportunities throughout the state for a variety of economic
activities vital to the health, welfare, and prosperity of Oregon’s citizens.
• Other Modes Policy 2: High Speed Rail Corridor: identifying the purchase of the
Amtrak station in downtown Eugene as the future high speed rail terminal; and
planning for future high‐speed rail train servicing facilities.
Based on the TransPlan, Eugene shows a strong willingness to participate in the
development of an HSR system.
Albany, the Linn County seat, is located approximately 45 miles north of Eugene. It has
an estimated 2010 population of 49,530 (Population Research Center, 2010), making it
the eleventh largest city in Oregon, and the smallest city considered for a station in the
Oregon HSR corridor. However, if an Albany station is included, it will also serve
Corvallis and it’s 55,370 residents (Population Research Center, 2010). Albany has a
diversified manufacturing industry that specializes in metal, food and paper production.
Rail has long been of important cultural and economic significance to Albany. This is
evidenced by the Albany Depot, around which the town center has been developed.
Current planning in Albany consists of the Albany Comprehensive Plan and its
Transportation System Plan (TSP). Neither contains HSR specifically, but both reference
infrastructure deficiencies at several existing railroad crossings. While the proximity of
Albany to Eugene may deem it a non‐essential station location, it is difficult to ignore
Albany’s pro‐rail sentiment through current city development efforts. The personal
interview with Jeanne Lawson of JLA Public Involvement, revealed that Albany is
focusing its downtown planning efforts around the Amtrak station renewal and may be
expecting an HSR rail stop (personal communication, January 17, 2011). Albany is
currently updating its TSP, which will likely include provisions for HSR. Should HSR
bypass Albany, this community’s overall support may wane and turn into opposition.
Salem, the State capitol and Marion County seat, is located at the midpoint of the
corridor between Eugene and Portland. It is home to an estimated 157,460 residents
(Population Research Center, 2010), making it the third largest city in Oregon. Salem’s
largest employer is the State of Oregon.
Current planning in Salem consists of the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan (SACP), the
Salem TSP and the 2031 Regional Transportation Systems Plan. The SACP makes no
mention of HSR and the Salem TSP only mentions it as a possible future transportation
system improvement. However, the 2031 Regional TSP, the most recently updated of
the three plans, does make considerations for HSR. Specifically, Goal 4 calls for “staged
infrastructure upgrades as part of the High Speed Rail Corridor Project.”
While the 2031 Regional TSP seems to imply that Salem supports HSR, there is anecdotal
evidence that suggests this community is more ambivalent than supportive. The
recently completed Riverfront City Park, part of the Salem Riverfront‐Downtown Urban
Renewal Area, sits between the Willamette River and the existing Union Pacific right‐ofway.
There is concern that an HSR corridor in this right‐of‐way would negatively impact
the community by preventing safe pedestrian access to the riverfront. While it seems
logical to include Oregon’s capital and political hub among the designated HSR stops,
controversy over unwanted impacts may impede HSR development.
Portland, Oregon’s largest city and the Multnomah County seat, is located at the
confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. An estimated population of 583,835
in 2010 (Population Research Center, 2010) makes it the third largest city in the region
after Seattle, WA and Vancouver, B.C. However, there are an estimated 2,241,841 (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2009) people in the Portland metropolitan area, which consists of
Multnomah County, parts of Washington and Clackamas Counties and extends across
the river into Washington’s Clark County. The metropolitan area is serviced by an
extensive transit system that includes buses, light rail, commuter rail and a tram. Major
employers in the Portland Metropolitan area include Intel, Nike, and numerous
universities both public and private. It is also home to the Portland International Airport
and a deep fresh‐water harbor making it a regional shipping hub and directly connecting
Portland to the global economy.
Current planning in Portland consists of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan Goals and
Policies, Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Transportation System Plan (TSP)
and Metro’s 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The Comprehensive Plan (1980) is
currently being updated. Considerations for HSR in the revised plan are not yet known
and Portland’s current Comprehensive Plan makes no reference to HSR.
PBOT’s TSP references HSR, but provides no actual planning or policy direction. Metro’s
2035 RTP is absent of HSR, but does note that the Federal Rail Administration is
developing an HSR network and that the next RTP will address this issue further.
Overview of Statewide Planning Goals and Local Plans
Analysis of plans for Oregon communities reveals that HSR vaguely aligns with broad
transportation, environment and economic Statewide Planning Goals. There are several
overarching themes among these goals, such as:
• Promoting Livability
• Creating a balanced, efficient, safe, and accessible transportation network
• Supporting environmental responsibility and protection of valuable natural
resources and open spaces
• Responding to community needs and impacts
• Supporting responsible and sustainable development
• Being economically viable and financially stable
Of those communities along the proposed HSR corridor, Eugene, Albany, Salem and
Portland are being considered as possible HSR station locations. Though this study found
HSR to be consistent with themes from local, regional and state plans, how HSR will be
realized in local plans is to be seen. As local and regional TSPs and comprehensive plans
are updated, a process for providing continuity of planning goals should be considered.
The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has appointed the Oregon Department of
Transportation Rail (ODOT Rail) as the decision‐making entity for the HSR planning
process. Historically, ODOT Rail has taken a traditional approach to planning rail projects
that is technical in nature. While NEPA mandates that HSR include a public process,
ODOT Rail has fallen short of Oregon’s public involvement planning standards.
ODOT Rail is primarily a regulatory agency, and is therefore not held to the same
standards as other planning bodies. High‐speed rail challenges ODOT Rail to travel into
uncharted territory. For example, unlike comprehensive plans, ODOT Rail has not had to
consider Statewide Planning Goal 1: Citizen Involvement in its planning process.
ODOT Rail’s track record does not assume a sufficient public process. Consequently, a
broad range of stakeholder groups has not participated in the visioning and planning of
most rail related projects in Oregon. This holds true for the HSR planning process to
date. As such, though HSR could bring transportation, environmental and economic
benefits to jurisdictions within Oregon, a lack of public participation has given
stakeholders mixed feelings about laying the tracks to HSR.
Rail and land use plans should not be mutually exclusive. As stated in the 2010 Oregon
Rail Study, involving stakeholders early in the planning process, recognizing that land
use decisions have impacts on freight rail, and including rail carriers in local jurisdiction
plans, are key to the success of HSR. Involving multiple stakeholders in the planning
process is one step toward forming some continuity among plans.
Though high‐speed rail may provide added value to Oregon, to assure its long‐term
support and to align its goals more explicitly with local, State, regional and freight plans,
an inclusive advocacy program must be created. To substantiate HSR via common
interests, several stakeholders need to be invited to the table. These include, but are
not limited to: freight, concerned citizens, the business community, city councils,
counties, and environmental groups.
The process should match the situation. For HSR to be truly aligned with Oregon plans
and stakeholder interests, a new type of governance model must be crafted. This model
would provide a framework for regional collaboration that would include:
• A two‐tiered governance model consisting of:
• Tier 1: A participatory approach including a broad range of stakeholder
• Tier 2: A regional decision‐making and regulatory body representing
• Explicit roles, authority and communication flows among these two tiers
• Process evaluation
• A monitoring component
A collaborative two‐tiered approach can articulate a regional strategy that is supported
by common interests and objectives. As identified by Matthew J. McKinney and Shawn
Johnson in Working Across Boundaries (2009), collaborative planning can bring the
• By working together to identify a common vision, knowledge is shared and
stakeholders gain understanding of each other’s values and priorities;
• This process fosters community and a regional identity;
• By framing problems together, stakeholders discover solutions together;
• Actions are implemented that have broad community buy‐in;
• This approach supports mutual learning and adapting among its participants.
Though the State has a long‐standing rich heritage in public process, citizen involvement
has not been implemented in conjunction with rail projects. HSR in Cascadia may meet
broad Statewide Planning Goal themes, but, as mandated by NEPA, involving a range of
stakeholder interests to the table from the outset will be key to its regional success.
Expected population growth in Cascadia calls for creative growth management
practices. High‐speed rail lays the tracks for increased transportation, environmental
and economic benefits for the growing region. Opportunities provided by HSR include:
• Increasing connectivity among existing public transit systems
• Reducing congestion and VMT
• Reducing GHG emissions
• Increasing train travel reliability
• Enhancing connectivity among commercial and educational centers
These opportunities meet many state, local and regional planning goals. Conversely,
possible adverse effects of HSR include the expense of acquiring right‐of‐way; anti‐HSR
sentiment among some Oregon communities; the threat of sprawl; and implications of
HSR on those communities passed‐by.
Attached to Federal funding for HSR come federal mandates. HSR challenges ODOT Rail
to rethink its process. Though traditionally, protocol for rail projects in Oregon does not
necessitate citizen involvement, NEPA federally mandates a public process be
implemented for HSR.
To align with freight, local, State and regional stakeholder interests, ODOT Rail needs to
consider a more collaborative approach. The Oregon Rail Study highlights the
importance of freight and land use interests in relation to rail. A collaborative approach
to planning HSR will lay the tracks to increased buy‐in and support from regional, state
and local stakeholders. In Oregon, process matters.
1. Figure 1: Steps in the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Preparation
2. Map 1: Transportation Planning Areas addressed in the report
Prepare Environmental Assessment (optional)
Publish Notice of Intent (NOI)
Determine Lead Agency
Conduct scoping process
Prepare Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
Circulate Draft EIS for review
File Draft EIS with EPA
Hold public hearing if required or desired
Prepare Final EIS
Circulate Final EIS
File with EPA
Adopt Final EIS
Make agency decision
Prepare Record of Decision (ROD)
Figure 1: Steps in the EIS
Source: Bass, R. (2001). The NEPA Book.
MAP 1. Transportation Planning Areas addressed in the report
Bass, R., Herson, A., and Bogdan, K. (2001). The NEPA Book: A step-by-step guide on
how to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Point Arena, CA: Solano
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. (1980) Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:
City of Albany. (1980). Albany Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:
City of Albany. (2005). Albany Transportation System Plan. Retrieved from:
City of Salem. (2009) Salem Area Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:
City of Salem. (2007). Salem Transportation System Plan. Retrieved from:
Federal Railroad Administration. HSR Corridor Descriptions. Retrieved from:
Lane Council of Governments. (2007). 2031 Regional Transportation Systems Plan.
Retrieved from: http://docs.lcog.org/mpo/PDF/rtp/2031/2031RTP_Chapters1‐4_Nov‐
Lane Council of Governments. (2004). Eugene‐Springfield Metropolitan Area General
Plan. Retrieved from: http://docs.lcog.org/metro/2004MetroPlan_91306_web.pdf
Lane Council of Governments. (2007). Eugene/Springfield Regional Transportation Plan.
Lane Council of Governments. (2002). Eugene‐Springfield Transportation System Plan.
Retrieved from: http://docs.lcog.org/transplan/default.htm#0702
McKinney, Matthew J. and Johnson, Shawn. (2009). Working Across Boundaries: People,
Nature and Regions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Metro. (2008). 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. Retrieved from: http://www.metroregion.
Multnomah County. (2009). Multnomah County Comprehensive Framework Plan.
Retrieved from: http://www2.co.multnomah.or.us/Community_Services/LUTPlanning/
Oregon Department of Transportation. (2010) 2010 Oregon Rail Study. Retrieved from:
Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. (1973). Oregon Statewide
Planning Goals. Retrieved from: http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/goals.shtml
Oregon Department of Transportation. (2006). Oregon Transportation Plan. Retrieved
Population Research Center. (2010, December 15). Oregon Population Estimates 2010
Certified. Portland State University. Retrieved from: http://www.pdx.edu/prc/annualoregon‐
Portland Bureau of Transportation. (2006). Portland Transportation System Plan.
Retrieved from: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=52495
U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Population estimates, Metropolitan and Micropolitan
Statistical Area Estimates. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/popest/metro/CBSAest2009‐
Scenario 1: Sensible Rail
Winter Quarter 2011
Washington State and Oregon, along with the rest of the nation, stand at a
crossroads. The new push for high-speed rail signals the most concentrated effort for a
national transportation policy since the Interstate Highway System. The allure of highspeed
rail, along with a feeling of being outpaced by our neighbors and competitors, has
created a frenzy of activity intended to push high-speed links from one US metropolis to
another. In this moment of passion, it is often difficult to recall the lessons learned years
before, when a similar effort was made to construct the Interstate system. Many of the
problems facing the US today, and, ironically ones the high-speed rail aims to fix, are a
direct result of the passionate, “single vision” mindset that seems to overpower our most
reasonable institutions in such crucial moments. Let us then examine the case for highspeed
rail in the Northwest Corridor (from Eugene, OR to Vancouver, BC) from a level,
dispassionate and, above all, sensible perspective.
Amtrak Cascades is a publicly funded service that operates on a privately owned
rail line. This intercity passenger rail service carries travelers between major population
centers, and connects with Amtrak’s long-distance trains and local/regional transit.
Amtrak Cascades has 18 stations in Washington and Oregon, and one in Canada’s British
Columbia Province. The typical rider travels 150 miles, which is roughly the distance
between Portland and Seattle.
Presently, the Amtrak Cascades service, which runs through the Northwest
Corridor, consists of six daily departures that serve primarily the cities of Seattle and
Portland. The line operates at a deficit and at 50% capacity, but provides important
connectivity between the two metro regions. Recent proposals have been made to
upgrade the current line, shared with and owned by freight rail companies, to a
standalone or near-standalone system one that would reduce the current travel time of
three and a half hours to around two. The alternative to these “high speed” and “regional
express” scenarios is to maintain and improve the current service and gradually grow to
meet demand using existing facilities – the “Sensible Rail” scenario. To understand
which alternative is best suited for the region, issues such as governance, funding,
economics, operations, and land use must be considered as a whole. This report attempts
to review these facets from a realistic perspective, highlighting the relatively modest
passenger travel needs of the region, immense costs of the high speed and regional
express alternatives and the sensitivity of the current passenger-freight relationship.
To improve the Cascades rail corridor, a vast array of public, private, and
international stakeholders are involved. This makes decision-making and consensus
significantly more complicated. The key stakeholders are:
• U.S. Department of Transportation
• Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
• Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)
• British Columbia
• BNSF Railways
• Union Pacific Railways
United States Department of Transportation – Federal Railroad Administration1
Created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, the Federal Railroad
Administration (FRA) promotes and enforces rail safety regulations; administers railroad
assistance programs; conducts development in support of improved railroad safety and
national rail transportation policy; and consolidates government support of rail
transportation activities. FRA supports the development of the nation’s intercity rail
passenger system and informs and implements Federal rail policy.
FRA administered the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 and the
Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which relieved private rail carriers of their obligation
to provide passenger rail service. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of
2008, which created new railroad investment programs and reauthorized Amtrak for five
years, affirms Federal involvement in developing the nation’s intercity passenger rail
system. FRA’s greatest contribution to the Cascades Corridor was investing $8.4 million
1 Federal Railroad Administration. http://www.fra.dot.gov/Pages/5.shtml
to improve grade crossings primarily between Seattle and Portland. In addition, FRA is
helping to study the possibility of increasing frequency of trains in the Cascades Corridor.
Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
WSDOT’s role in the Amtrak Cascades service includes many functions2:
• Planning and project identification
• Budget development
• Construction project management and reporting
• Operations oversight and reporting
• Local, regional, state, national, and international program coordination
• Public education, public involvement, and marketing activities.
WSDOT also contributes significant financial resources to the Cascades line,
investing over $331 million in public funds for track and signal improvements, new train
equipment, station construction and renovations, and train operations.3
Oregon State Department of Transportation (ODOT)
ODOT pays for Cascades service between Eugene and Portland, with stops in
Eugene, Albany, Salem, Oregon City, and Portland. Although Amtrak’s Coast Starlight
service between Los Angeles and Seattle makes these same stops, ODOT does not pay
for this service. In addition to funding, ODOT provides several other functions for the
6. Administers safety issues including public highway-railroad crossings, railroad
employee safety, track inspections, and other safety monitoring;
7. Acts as an agent for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) by inspecting
track, railroad equipment and cars, hazardous materials and operating practices;
Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) is a for-profit corporation that
operates intercity passenger rail services throughout the United States. Amtrak was
2 Washington State Department of Transportation. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Freight/Rail/RideTrain.htm
3 “WSDOT and Amtrak Cascades.” March 2010 Washington State Department of Transportation
4 Oregon State Department of Transportation. http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/RAIL/Passenger_Rail.shtml
5 Federal Railroad Administration. http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/passenger/30.shtml
created by Congress in the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, assuming the common
carrier obligations of the private railroads (which found passenger service to be generally
unprofitable) in exchange for the right to priority access of their tracks for incremental
cost. Amtrak operates the Cascades line and funds a portion of its cost and in charge of
scheduling passenger trains and setting fairs. While a key player in the governance issues
of the corridor, Amtrak is limited in bargaining because it only owns the trains, not the
rail on which they operate.
Via Rail Canada is an independent corporation offering intercity passenger rail
services in Canada, carrying approximately 4.3 million passengers annually.6 The US to
Vancouver, BC connection is provided by agreement with Amtrak. Due to the
international boundary, several other agencies are involved in the Cascades service to
Vancouver. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the U.S. Customs and
Border Protection Agency manage the Cascades border crossing. Border agencies are
important to governance issues because they are a mandatory part of services to Canada.
Border crossings are the single greatest reason for train delays into Canada, making the
trip lengthy and generally unpredictable.
Freight and Private Rail7,8
In addition to the challenges in coordinating the governmental agencies described
in the previous sections, the role of private freight corporations in the corridor is arguably
the most significant barrier to coordinating Sensible Rail improvements. The Burlington
Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) owns the majority of Washington’s portion
of the Cascades line, and Union Pacific Railroad owns Oregon’s. The Staggers Rail of
1980 gave freight lines significantly more flexibility in operations, allowing them to enter
into private agreements with no need of preapproval from the government. Private
6 Via Rail Canada. http://www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail
7 Rose, Mathew K. “Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads.” BNSF Railways. 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 6 Mar.
8 “American Railways: High-speed Railroading | The Economist.” The Economist – World News, Politics,
Economics, Business & Finance. 22 June 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2011.
companies were able to remove passenger rail service as long as freight companies
preserved access for Amtrak. For freight lines, the passing of the Staggers Act was an
overwhelmingly positive and profitable outcome.
The question for the Cascades Corridor is, how and who should develop
incentives for private rail lines to make concessions for passenger rail? While BNSF
includes passenger rail in their planning, they are opposed to high-speed rail. Running a
train at 110 mph on existing freight lines would require removing freight service on those
lines, which is against their financial interest. BNSF already believes that Amtrak does
not pay the true value for access rights onto its rail lines, further complicating
negotiations. A more minor point regarding the private firms’ aversion to passenger rail is
the cost of the passenger safety liability associated with running passenger trains on their
lines. The issues facing Union Pacific in Oregon can be assumed to align closely with
those of BNSF in Washington, as both operators have similar goals and characteristics,
although BNSF owns the majority of the Northwest Corridor.
What Can Increase Amtrak’s Bargaining Position?9
Because Amtrak owns only the trains, it has almost no bargaining power. Some
actions, however, could improve its relations with freight and allow for further passenger
rail use. Small steps with private freight are more likely to have positive effects than large
demands. The following are steps that can be taken to bargain with private freight lines
more actively and positively:
• Secure funding
• Increased political support
• Find experienced negotiators
• Find common goals and objectives
• Establish a trusting relationship with private companies
• Make the situation a win-win for everybody, with each party coming away with a
new positive aspect
• Develop partnerships with local DOTs that have political positions of power
9 Prozzi, Jolanda. “Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements.” Center
for Transportation Research and the University of Texas Austin. 1 Mar. 2006. Web. 6 Mar. 2011.
These steps could aid preparations for Sensible Rail and future investments in the
Cascades Corridor. In addition, Congress, after 30 years since the Staggers Rail Act’s
passage, has recently expressed interest in some re-regulation of freight rail. The time
may be opportune for Amtrak to push for negotiations with private rail. In the current
economic climate, rail freight has seen a significant decrease in revenues. With current
need for capital investments for freight rail systems, a window of opportunity may have
opened to make concessions for passenger rail in exchange for funds for capital
As there are few profitable rail lines in the country, investment and funding
opportunities for the Seattle to Portland corridor are largely contingent upon public
funding. For Cascades, this is mainly realized through the Washington Multimodal
Because this fund is
sustained by automobiledependent
licensing fees and taxes),
it could decrease in the
future if the U.S.’s
primary means of
transportation shifts away
from the car.
Funding for the Cascadia comes from a various sources (Figure 1). Washington
State is the largest continuing contributor to capital and operating costs on the Cascades
Corridor. From 1994 to 2007, Washington invested $300.4 million out of the total $984.6
million allocated for capital/operating funds for the Cascades Corridor.10 BNSF made the
10 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,
Figure 1: Cascades capital investments, 1994-2007
only private investment, which totaled less than $10 million for Seattle to Vancouver
signalization upgrades. Although some of these investments to commuter rail benefit
Cascades, they are not explicitly directed toward Cascades service.11Sound Transit
appears to be a large contributor due to two $200 million dollar commuter rail packages
for the Sounder commuter rail line.
Planned Funding—ARRA Money
In 2010, Washington State was selected to receive $782 million from the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, specifically for the High
Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program. The passage of ARRA signified a substantial
commitment from the federal government to fund rail projects. ARRA funds were
distributed through a proposal process via the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail
(HSIPR) Program.12 Projects funded by these grants will help grow the Amtrak Cascades
service and improve on-time performance and reliability between Seattle and Portland.
For fiscal year (FY) 200913 and 201014, Washington and Oregon were awarded projects
• Washington FY 2009: 1 project – Seattle to Portland Corridor Projects ($590
• Oregon FY 2009: 3 projects – Union Station improvements ($8 million)
• Washington FY 2010: 4 projects – King Street and Tukwila station
improvements; Mount Vernon siding extension; Washington State Rail Plan ($31
• Oregon FY 2010: 3 projects – Union Station improvements; track improvements;
rail plans ($9 million).
While ARRA funds for rail projects are supposed to be the impetus for a true
high-speed rail network throughout the U.S., they actually support incremental
improvements that will provide Sensible Rail from Seattle to Portland. For example,
roughly $100 million will be funneled to the Point Defiance Bypass project near Tacoma.
12 This was set up in 2009 by President Obama. Federal Railroad Administration. “High-Speed Intercity
Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program” <http://www.fra.dot.gov/rpd/passenger/2325.shtml>
13 Federal Railroad Administration. “Summary of Applications.”
14 Federal Railroad Administration. “FY10 and Remaining FY09 Funding Selection Summary.”
This new track will cut six minutes of travel along the Cascades Corridor using existing
train technology and speeds.15 IN addition, more funding might be allocated to
Washington State. A portion of funding rejected by Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida will
most likely be allocated to Washington.
Sensible Rail is considerably less expensive than “true” high-speed rail in both
total cost and cost per minute of trip time savings, as seen in Table 1 below.16 Given the
immense cost of other options, Sensible Rail appears to be just that – sensible.
Table 1: Cost/minute travel saved for rail speed options
Options Travel Time
1994 Baseline 240 0 0 0
Sensible Rail 210 30 1 5,000,000
Regional “Express” 180 60 3 7,500,000
High Speed Rail 150 90 10 16,666,667
Potential Funding Sources
Despite the significant investment of ARRA funds, which will cover much of the
capital cost necessary to implement incremental improvements for sensible rail,
continued funding will be necessary to support operating costs, ongoing maintenance,
and future service improvements. Currently, ticket revenue, Amtrak, and the states of
Washington and Oregon pay operating costs.17 These funds, however, still do not cover
total operating costs given ticket revenue for FY2010 is $27.6 million; this equated to a
15 Washington State Department of Transportation. “Rail – Tacoma – Bypass of Point Defiance.”
16 Data from Washington’s Long Range Plan, based on lowest cost estimates of price per mile of rail and a
distance of 150 miles. Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak
Cascades,” December 2006, <http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/E768E7BA-4788-42B1-ADC8-
17 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,
loss of 10.8 cents per passenger mile and 5.7 cents per seat mile.18 This suggests the
trains are running at 53% capacity. Truer “high-speed rail” proposals, such as those found
in the Cascades Long Range Plan, include operation of 13 trains daily.19 This volume
seems unreasonable given current capacity levels. Nonetheless, continued funding is
necessary to operate Cascades service in a Sensible Rail scenario. Some of these potential
funding sources are described below.
Because Amtrak receives reduced fees for operating on freight-owned tracks, it
already enjoys cost savings over state-run or private operators.20 Still, there is likely room
for further savings. Labor is Amtrak’s largest operating cost.21 Nine out of ten Amtrak
employees are unionized, and their collective bargaining agreements limit the number of
hours per day they may spend on certain tasks.22 Renegotiation of these contracts could
potentially reduce labor costs.
Although transportation infrastructure in the United States has typically been
financed by a combination of Federal and state tax dollars and user fees, partnerships
with private entities have been seen as a way to increase efficiency, fill capital costs or
operating funding gaps, or decrease government involvement. For example, a recent
high-speed rail project in Florida attracted interest from corporations willing to pay for
the state’s portion of capital costs and cover the risk, in return for profits from the line.23
The United Kingdom transitioned their rail system to completely private operation in
18Amtrak. “October 2010 Monthly Performance Report,” December 21, 2010.
19 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades,” December
20 Texas Transportation Institute. “FUNDING STRATEGIES AND PROJECT COSTS FOR
STATESUPPORTED INTERCITY PASSENGER RAIL: SELECTED CASE STUDIES AND COST
DATA,” June 2005. <http://tti.tamu.edu/documents/0-4723-1.pdf>
21 Congressional Research Service – High Speed Rail:
22 Congressional Research Service
23 Zink, Janet. “Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejects funding for high-speed rail,” February 16, 2011.
1997, with some signs of success in terms of long-term cost savings.24
Federal funding could be enhanced and stabilized through the creation of a
dedicated funding source.25 Suggestions to utilize a portion of the Highway Trust Fund
have not been well received. An increase in the federal gas tax dedicated to a rail trust
fund could be more politically feasible. Still, rising gas prices and increasingly efficient
cars could contribute to declining revenue from this source. Other suggestions have
included funding from Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reductions programs. At the
state level, a dedicated rail fund could also help fund maintenance and future
improvements. Funding could not come from gas tax due to constitutional limitations;
however creative alternatives could be explored. WSDOT recently partnered with
Washington’s lottery to sell a new ticket that will contribute to funding for a second
Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C. The program could raise as much as $144,000 over
A stable source of funding at the State or Federal level would offer several
benefits of greater funding reliability, and therefore efficiency; and the ability to increase
Amtrak’s rolling stock, which is at times limiting factor to service increases27
Although rail tends to be more expensive than other modes in capital costs,
Sensible Rail is a cost-effective solution in the long run. Tables 2 and 3 show the
comparison of costs between the modes.28 At first glance, the current capital costs for rail
are much higher than air or auto travel. It is important to consider that the capital cost for
25 Congressional Research Service
26 Publicola. “Amtrak Teams Up With Lottery to Fund Cascades Route,” March 8, 2011.
27 Texas Transportation Institute. “FUNDING STRATEGIES AND PROJECT COSTS FOR
STATESUPPORTED INTERCITY PASSENGER RAIL: SELECTED CASE STUDIES AND COST
DATA,” June 2005. <http://tti.tamu.edu/documents/0-4723-1.pdf>
28 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades,” December
the other two modes’ infrastructure has already been paid for. On the other hand, the rail
system relies on privately owned freight tracks, with a lack of infrastructure devoted
solely to passenger rail. Rail is simply in a different phase of implementation compared
to the other modes; one that is lagging quite a bit behind. As for operating costs, rail costs
significantly less per passenger mile than air travel and close to half the cost of
automobile travel. Looking at the overall costs (capital and operating combined), over the
long run, rail is the least expensive option in terms of cost per passenger mile. As the
capital costs slow down over the long run and operating costs become the main cost,
passenger rail levels out in terms of overall cost per passenger mile. Because most of the
costs of automobile are operating, they will continue to rise to become more expensive
Table 2: Capital cost comparison
Table 3: Operating cost comparison
Rail is also less expensive in terms of the environmental costs – at just $0.05 per
mile versus $0.11 per mile for highway travel. Amtrak releases just under 0.6 lbs of CO2
per passenger mile while single occupancy vehicles release anywhere from 1.2 lbs per
passenger mile for compact cars to 1.7 for SUVs.29
Another component of cost is safety. Highways are dangerous – accidents are
costly both in terms of equipment costs and human costs – while rail is safer. Safety costs
for highways are 12 times as high as rail, at $0.06 to rail’s $0.005 per passenger mile.
Safety costs for rail make up just 1% whereas it is 8% for highway use. These are costs
that users do not pay, and are therefore externalities.
Nevertheless, the user’s cost-per-passenger mile is much lower for passenger rail
than for highway, with $0.20 to $0.55 respectively. For rail, the typical cost is just the
ticket, whereas auto users must consider gas, maintenance, vehicle depreciation, and
insurance. The one area rail is more expensive is the system utilization cost. For
highways, it is just six cents; for rail, it is 25 cents, which is a subsidy. In this respect,
highways are cheaper because it is by user fees and taxes.30
Another key consideration is the additional cost savings from a reduction in
highway maintenance costs due to shifting auto trips to passenger rail. This analysis
applies the methodology used in a study done for the Montana DOT. Highway
maintenance costs are approximately $0.32 per mile driven. Considering that the average
vehicle occupancy is 1.59 people, the result is a cost of about $0.20 per person. Though
the full route from Vancouver to Eugene is 466 miles, the majority of riders travel the
Seattle to Portland route, which is about 150 miles. In an effort to be conservative, the
average amount of miles traveled that will be taken into account for a passenger on
Amtrak Cascades is 200 miles. In 2010, there were 838,251 passengers, meaning that at
$.20 per person, the cost savings in terms of avoided highway maintenance needs is 33.7
29 “Transportation Emissions: The short version.” How Low-Carbon Can You Go: The Green Travel
Ranking. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <http://www.sightline.org/maps/charts/climate-CO2byMode>.
30 This does not include the external costs imposed by automobile systems. WSDOT State Rail and Marine
Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,
31 Calculation for highway cost savings: $0.32 per mile/1.59 people per vehicle x 200 miles x 838,251
passengers = $33.7 million.
Direct benefits from Sensible Rail
Rail systems buy fuel locally, pay wages to employees on the train and at stations,
and pay for car maintenance. Amtrak employs over 500 people in Washington State, and
in 2005, paid $23 million in wages (an average of $42,000 per employee). Additionally,
Amtrak spends about $18 million on fuel and train and station maintenance in
Washington State each year. When you consider the $33.7 million saved in highway
maintenance in addition to the tax revenue from $23 million in wages and $18 million in
spending, the impact is significant.
Washington and Oregon also benefit from Amtrak-related tourist spending.
Amtrak provides a link to other cities for passengers who arrive and depart from only one
city. For example cruise ship passenger who arrives in Seattle can easily visit another
destination. In 2009, Washington State saw $14.2 billion in direct travel spending and
$4.17 billion in travel industry earnings, though the number of tourists who arrived via
train is unknown.32 A study of the direct economic impacts from spending by nonresidents
who traveled to Maine and New Hampshire on the DownEaster train and would
not have visited otherwise showed $3 million in additional spending.33 Montana similarly
saw $7.6 million in spending thanks to the Empire Builder train that travels through
Montana as it travels between Seattle and Chicago.34
The benefit/cost analysis for Sensible Rail was essentially conducted by WSDOT
for the mid-range plan. Benefit/cost ratios and net benefit are measures to evaluate
economic efficiency and the size of benefits, respectively. Of four options WSDOT
Montana. Analysis of the Economic Benefits of The Amtrak Empire Builder to Montana. , 2003. Web. 9
32 Dean Runyan Associates (http://www.deanrunyan.com/impactswa.html)
33 Economic Benefits of Amtrak Downeaster Services (Feb 2005). Prepared for: Maine DOT. Prepared by:
Economic Development Research Group, Inc
34 Montana. Analysis of the Economic Benefits of The Amtrak Empire Builder to Montana. , 2003.
35 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008
analyzed, “Option 2” most closely matches Sensible Rail. Option 2 is an incremental
strategy with minimal amount of capital costs. It also accounts for four projects that are
currently in progress:
• Tacoma – Bypass of Pt. Defiance
• Vancouver – Yard Bypass and 39th St. Bridge
• King Street Station – Track Improvements
• Cascades Train Sets – Overhaul
The WSDOT analysis considered revenue in the cost section (instead of benefits) because
revenue projections did not offset estimated costs. Costs and benefits included were:
• Capital investments
• Any costs to subsidize the operations and maintenance
• Administrative and Marketing costs
• Economic benefits (income from jobs, profits for businesses, taxes paid to
• Societal benefits
o Congestion relief (savings to relieving congestion on the roads)
o Safety improvements (savings in reduction of motor vehicle collisions)
o Environmental benefits (greenhouse gas emissions reductions)
The results shown in Table 4 below demonstrate that Sensible Rail has the highest
benefit/cost ratio, of the options analyzed by WSDOT. In comparison to options 2-4,
Option 2 provides the greatest economic efficiency, producing more than two and a half
times the benefit, relative to the cost. It also has the lowest total cost, mainly due to the
lower capital cost investment, but has a lower net benefit than Option 4.
Table 4: Benefit/cost analysis of investment options
In looking at the current state of passenger rail in the Cascades Corridor, some
questions regarding operations arise. In particular, it is of interest how the current state of
operations can be improved under the “shared rail” constraints that exist between freight
and passenger entities. Prior to suggesting that passenger rail be given more priority, it is
important to examine the relationship between freight and passenger rail more closely.
Regulating Freight to Benefit Passenger Rail
Freight train interference is responsible for almost half of the delay on the
Northwest Corridor lines36. Many of the freight trains do not run on schedule, and are
often used as needed to haul goods to or from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, putting
pressure on rail owners to retain as much rail-time as possible. Thus, shifting priorities
from freight to passenger service is not an attractive option from a freight rail
perspective. BNSF argues that it is more environmentally responsible to focus on freight
rail operations at the cost of passenger rail: “… you could make the case that the nation
would realize significantly more environmental benefits by shifting more freight to rail
than it would by shifting more passengers to rail.” 37 To some extent, this is corroborated
36 “Amtrak performance information” Accessed, Feb 28, 2011. <www.amtrak.com>
37 “RAILWAY” BNSF Team Magazine. March 2010. Accessed Mar 2nd, 2011.
by a 2007 Environmental Science Technology paper that cites rail for producing just 40
g/ton-mile of CO2 compared to the 235 g/ton-mile and 1469 g/ton-mile of CO2 produced
by auto and air modes.38 According to the Texas Transportation Institute, “travel time has
a value of $16.01 per person-hour and $105.67 per truck-hour in 2009.”39 This has
serious implications – freight time is 6.5 times more valuable than passenger-time,
making it even more difficult to have a sound argument for improving passenger service
at the cost of freight.
Washington State’s freight system transports primarily farm products and lumber,
which also shipped by truck. Most of the rail freight in Washington State is inbound, with
over 55% of all rail freight ending up in Washington – a significant increase to the 36%
back in 1996 and a stark contrast to a US average inbound flow value of just 12%. This is
in part attributable to the large ports located in Washington State. In Washington State,
over 39% of employment is related to the freight system, thus any additional constraints
imposed must be done very carefully. Increased competition from a new northern port,
Price Rupert as well as the expansion of the Panama Canal has created additional
concerns for the region’s freight system. 40 Passenger rail improvements on freight lines
must be done in a symbiotic manner. For example, infrastructure investments that
improve both services, such as grade separations create a win-win scenario.
Travel time is one of the most important characteristics of service and many of the
proposed improvements along the corridor ultimately address the travel time between
cities. With evidence that performance improvements should not be made at the cost of
freight operations, an alternative strategy is needed. Another potential means of obtaining
shorter travel times is to skip stations. It is conceivable, even at the current level of
38 Facanha, C., and Horvath, A. (2007), Evaluation of Life-cycle Air Emission Factors of Freight
Transportation. Environmental Science & Technology, 41(20), pp. 7138-7144.
39 Texas Transportation Institute Annual Congestion Report, 2010
40 Washington State Freight Rail Plan 2010-2030 http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/34925D95-
investment, to run two types of service on the corridor – an express service that connects
the primary cities (Seattle to Portland most likely) without any stops in between and a
regional service, that makes stops at all locations. A rough estimate of 5-minutes per stop
(accounting for deceleration, stopping and acceleration) would yield a 30-minute traveltime
savings on the Seattle-Portland corridor, while serving nearly 80% of the current
rider base. Meanwhile, the remaining 20% can be served by the less frequent and slower
regional service. Furthermore, it may be possible to combine some of the current Sounder
operations with the slower regional train, thereby providing access to even more towns
along the corridor and reducing the total amount of track time being leased from BNSF –
thus potentially improving freight operations in the state.
LAND USE & STATION DEVELOPMENT
Smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD) are important planning
strategies to address a myriad of social, fiscal, and environmental issues. These include
climate change, local air
affordability, public health,
and mounting infrastructure
costs. While smart growth
and TOD can only yield
incremental change in
development density and
other indicators of compact
development, there is great
potential for compact development to become the predominant development type by the
middle of this century. These techniques can be applied in conjunction with the Sensible
Figure 2: Transit-oriented development land use plan.
Rail service improvements to better anchor ridership and improve the case for further rail
improvements. A typical TOD land use plan is presented in Figure 241.
Growth Management Acts
Wider recognition of the costs and negative impact of sprawl has generated
greater interest in methods to control it. In Washington and Oregon, growth management
attempts to address a wide range of issues and incorporate them into a consensus on the
shape of the community’s future. Such factors as the timing of infrastructure
development and financing, the proper balance of development with environmental
protection, and the provision of incentives for certain types of development are blended
together to ensure that individual land-use decisions foster, rather than harm, a
community’s goals. Both states have legislation that requires counties and cities to plan
for future growth, including goals for transportation infrastructure. An improved intercity
passenger rail corridor, with investments toward transit-oriented development appropriate
to each station area, would reinforce the goals of growth management legislation in
Washington and Oregon.
The transportation goals in Oregon and Washington’s growth management
legislation call for local governments to link land use planning and transportation
planning. In addition, they promote smart growth principles with the objective of meeting
transportation needs within communities and improving mobility regionally. Providing
site-appropriate TOD around existing stations would create dense centralized
development, allowing residents easy access to an alternate mode of transportation.
Improving the existing rail infrastructure would provide a viable alternative to
automobile use and would allow for efficient intercity travel within the region, which is
directly in-line with growth management principles.
41 Peter Calthorpe “The Great American Metropolis: Ecology, community and the American Dream”.
Princeton Architectural Press. 1993.
Transportation concurrency planning plays a major part in Oregon and
Washington’s growth management strategies. In terms of transportation, concurrency
requires that adequate transportation capacity is available to support new development.
Basically, concurrency forces us to ensure that, as a community grows, the system of
roads is able to handle daily trips. When new development is proposed, it is studied to
determine if it would exceed the city’s established Level of Service (LOS) standards.
Most LOS standards deal with how long it takes to get through an intersection or turn at
an intersection. They are the lowest acceptable operating level for a given road or
intersection. Before the city can approve a development, it must find that the
development will not create enough traffic to overrun the LOS standards, or that the City
or developer will make traffic improvements to ensure compliance with LOS standards.
Making concurrency work requires difficult decisions about how to fulfill
community goals. The basic question is this: Is the community willing to face higher
levels of traffic and delay, or would it rather invest tax dollars and make the sacrifices
associated with improving existing roads? This question is even more difficult to make
given that LOS standards might only be exceeded during several hours of the day.
In looking at what Sensible Rail supports and can accomplish, it appears to be the
most viable and logical of the different high-speed rail alternatives. By decreasing
headways caused by sharing the track with freight as well as adding some “express”
trains, the level and reliability of service could be increased as well as a sizeable decrease
in travel time. Also, the redevelopment of the areas in and around the stations can elevate
the “image” of railway and help produce and environment of increased ridership.
Impacts of TOD
When transit investments are made, the real estate markets are a good way to get a
feel of what kinds of benefits they are creating. As long as there is a finite supply of
parcels around stations, those wanting to live, work, or do business near transit will bid
up land prices. The benefits of being well connected to the rest of the region (i.e., being
accessible) get capitalized into the market value of land. As the cliché goes, rail-served
properties enjoy good “location, location, location”: residents can more easily reach jobs
and shops; more potential shoppers pass by retail outlets; and for employers, the labor
shed of workers is enlarged.
Because the benefit conferred by being near transit is improved accessibility,
looking at the land-value premiums is a good way to gauge the benefits of TOD. While
research findings are varied, much of the evidence suggests that being near transit
enhances property values and rents. In some cases, prices can be anywhere from 20% to
40% above market rates. In the Washington DC area, some space near the Metrorail
stations exhibits even higher premiums.42 With the benefits, however, there are other
studies that show conflicting results. A Portland MAX light-rail study only found a
residential benefit within 500 meters of the station. It would make sense that being very
close to a rail system could create an environment where ambient noises and activity are
so much that it become more of a burden to live there. One other factor to keep in mind is
the alignment of the system. Elevated systems would have a much more negative effect
than those that are belowground.
Some land-value premiums can also be explained by the public policies aimed at
TOD development. In Denver, at The Commons, planned use development (PUD) was
instrumental in allowing property to be sold in pieces at a premium. A TOD study in
Atlanta showcased policies that encourage more intensive development (e.g., parking
waivers and minimum Floor Area Ratio) led to rent premiums.43 What is probably the
most important is the potential source of revenue these land premiums can provide. Being
able to recapture some of the benefits would be equitable from a social perspective.
Recapturing value is particularly important to initiating TODs. This is especially
true in distressed inner-city settings where a lot of upfront improvements and amenities
are often needed to entice private investment. Already short on cash, municipalities are
42 R. Cervero, “Rail Transit and Joint Development: Land Market Impacts in Washington, D.C. and
Atlanta,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 60, No. 1 (1994): 83–94.
43 J. Landis, S. Guathakurta, W. Huang, and M. Zhang, Rail Transit Investments, Real Estate Values, and
Land Use Change: A Comparative Analysis of Five California Rail Systems, Monograph 48 (Berkeley,
Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, 1995).
responsible for taking the lead in finding the appropriate capital for rail station areas, and
enhancing the neighborhood through landscaping and sidewalk improvements.
These include maintaining the character of the existing neighborhood, providing a safe
pedestrian environment, creating a flexible connect to other transportation nodes, and
most importantly create a housing balance. One issue that can occur is gentrifying lowincome
areas. The rise in housing costs can push low- and moderate-income residents
farther away from jobs and transit. This basically eliminates TOD’s core benefit for these
residents. If TOD is thought from an equity perspective by providing a solid balance of
housing options, it can tie workers to employment nodes, create jobs, and provide an
added economic boost to an area that had previously been most likely neglected. TOD
also has the benefit of reducing transportation costs. This is very important to low- and
moderate-income families because they pay a much higher portion of their income than
their higher-income peers.
Pedestrian safety is also another important aspect to consider in TOD design.
Because of the close proximity to the rail system, equitable pedestrian access is critical in
the sustainability of transit development. Clarendon Hills, Illinois,44 and Glenside,
Pennsylvania, are two examples where pedestrian access has been accentuated in order
for transit to server its immediate population.
Both of these examples have the benefit of the rail system crossing via a bridge
helping mitigate pedestrian issues. Clarendon Hills, 20 miles outside of Chicago, also
added a layer of landscaping that would also help keep the two separate. In Glenside, 11
miles outside of Philadelphia, the planning process followed a rigorous and methodical
path where many different alternatives were explored. Some created a bridge over the
tracks and others when under. Ultimately, two ADA compliant access ramps and
pedestrian walkway under the bridge immediately adjacent to the station were used. On
either side, plazas were developed to help create a continual urban area.
44 S.B. Friedman & Company, The Lakota Group, Metro Transportation Group, Village of Clarendon Hills
Downtown Master Plan, March 2006
Locally, the city of Centralia provides an opportunity to take a step back and look
at how the benefits listed above could provide value to the community. Centralia is
equidistant between Seattle and Portland, has a majority of its population at low- or
moderate-income, and has desperate commercial nodes created by both an interstate and
rail going through the town. In looking at the Comprehensive Plan for Centralia, there
are many areas where transportation infrastructure needs to be enhanced due to numerous
potential pedestrian, bike, and traffic accident areas.45 The city itself has a great
foundation and has a topography that is very similar to the standard TOD design as seen
in the Great American Metropolis. The downside is the separate of the commercial nodes
by Interstate 5. One of the major initiatives in developing further connectivity would be
to join these areas effectively with either a trolley type of system (i.e., piggyback off
existing rails) or its bus service. Whatever the end result, zoning changes will need to
occur so more comprehensive land use and planning can occur.
As the Northwest Region continues to grow, it becomes necessary to anticipate
the resulting increase in transportation demand with sound investments in infrastructure.
These investments provide the necessary capacity for future growth, but must be
evaluated carefully and in proper context. Prior to investing into a high-speed Northwest
Corridor link, the overarching goal must be clear. The current rail system is not operating
at anywhere near capacity and new needs can be met with increases in service. Running
an express service can attain shorter travel times. The rail “image” can be drastically
improved by renovating stations and trains. The overall uncertainty of high speed rail is
evident not only in the lack of a clear goal, but also in the definition of the term itself –
the current “high speeds” considered for the Northwest Corridor are half of those in
Japan, China, and France. Inversely to these nations, the US has optimized the use of its
rail for freight movement and highways for passengers. The movement for high-speed
rail involves flipping these established priorities physically, as well as in the mindset of
the general population, which is not an easy, quick, nor inexpensive task. It is on these
45 CH2MHill, City of Centralia Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element, June 2007
grounds that this report makes a case for a more gradual investment into Sensible Rail.
The information and arguments presented in this report are not meant to discourage
investment in rail or passenger transit – it is simply meant to provide context for the
significant decisions that await the region.
Scenario 2: Cascadia Regional
A Feasibility and Impacts Analysis
for Improved Passenger Rail
Service in the Cascadia Region
A Feasibility and Impacts Analysis for Improved Passenger
Rail Service in the Cascadia Region
Landon Bosisio, Colin Morgan-Cross, Zach Eskenazi, Stephanie Garbacik,
Michael Houston, Katlin Jackson, Andy Krause, Jonathan Olds, Andreas Piller, Chris Rule
University of Washington
Table of Contents
Executive Summary……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
Proposed Service…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 7
Service Assumptions……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
Ridership Assumptions………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8
Cascade Stakeholders……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
Structure of this Report…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
Canadian Border…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 12
Costs and Current Funding…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15
Future funding mechanisms…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 16
Political viability of funding and funding options………………………………………………………………………… 17
Economic Analysis……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 20
Regional Express Railway Benefit-Cost Analysis………………………………………………………………………….. 21
Direct Regional Express Benefits…………………………………………………………………………………………… 21
Direct Regional Express Costs……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 25
Benefit-Cost Analysis Scenarios…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26
Benefit-Cost Timeline………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 27
Indirect Economic Benefits…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 28
Land Use…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 30
Land-Use Impact from New Line Construction……………………………………………………………………………. 30
Station Area Land Use Analysis………………………………………………………………………………………………… 30
Suburban Fringe…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 32
Redevelopment of Station Areas………………………………………………………………………………………………. 33
Growth Management……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 34
Summary of Criteria……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 38
Appendix A – Cascades Stakeholders…………………………………………………………………………………………. 41
Rail Operators…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 42
Municipal Government……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 42
Appendix B – Monte Carlo Uncertainty Analysis…………………………………………………………………………. 43
Appendix C – Portland, OR Zoning Map…………………………………………………………………………………….. 44
Appendix D – Vancouver, B.C. Zoning Map…………………………………………………………………………………. 45
Appendix E – Bellingham, WA Zoning Map………………………………………………………………………………… 46
Amtrak Cascades extends through an exciting, scenic corridor that links several destinations in the Pacific
Northwest, including the three major cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. To enhance the cultural,
economic, and social ties in Cascadia, additional investment in the corridor is necessary to improve
the existing level of service and reliability of the Amtrak train service. This report examines the potential
benefits and impacts of introducing regional express service to the corridor from Eugene, Oregon to
Regional express service strikes a balance between existing train service and expensive high speed rail
that envisions train travel in excess of 150 mph. By eliminating several low ridership stations and making
track improvements that will allow the current rolling stock to travel up to a maximum speed of 110
mph, this service will provide a significant upgrade in travel for the region with a reasonable amount of
The improved rail service requires a governance framework that supports the investment and specifically
focuses on the mega-region. The Governance section of this report analyzes the political feasibility,
a framework for accountability, and funding for capital improvements and systems operations of regional
express service. Successful Regional Express service hinges on agreement and sustained commitment
from two states, two nations, two nations and two private railroads. We find that one likely governance
challenge will be for governments to negotiate with the railroads for access to the right of way without
an unreasonable request for compensation, and that current agreements between affected states, the
FRA and BNSF to spend ARRA funds can serve as a template for future agreements and secure a commitment
to improved passenger rail service.
The Obama administration’s interest in investment in high speed rail presents the greatest opportunity
for acquiring the approximately $6 billion in capital costs to develop an Express Rail service. However,
without federal funding the infrastructure improvements for Express Rail service would likely continue,
just at a slower pace. This is due to the commitment demonstrated by the State of Washington to improve
reliability, frequency and speed of service in corridor.
An economical cost-benefit analysis shows the investment in Regional Express Rail service is feasible
under the assumptions outlined above. Direct economic benefits include revenues recouped from ticket
fares, tax revenue increases from direct and indirect employment, and savings for businesses due to
improved freight train travel times on the corridor. In addition, there numerous social benefits, including
reductions in greenhouse gases, travel time savings for leisure and business travelers, and increased accessibility
for communities linked by regional express service.
Land uses throughout the corridor will change with the investment in regional express rail service. This
report examines potential land use changes in three categories based on the character of station locations:
downtown, industrial, and suburban fringe. Regional express service is not expected to drive land
use changes in the region; instead it is expected to strengthen existing industries and tourism-based
businesses by enhancing travel in Cascadia.
Stations areas are anticipated to gradually transform as service reliability and frequency improves. A case
study of real estate prices around rail stations in Seattle and Tacoma determined there are several thousand
square feet of land available for redevelopment. The real estate case study contained in this report
uses existing land values to determine the feasibility of new mixed-use developments for residents and
Our analysis and findings show that regional express service has the potential to improve travel times
and the reliability of train service in Cascadia. As a result, Amtrak Cascades will positively influence land
use changes in the station areas by providing an option for alternative travel between major cities in the
The states of Washington and Oregon use statewide growth management policies to minimize the inefficient
expansion of development by guiding land use development, and by ensuring public infrastructure
is compatible and sufficient to meet agreed on development form and capacity. The analysis shows that
Express Rail service is generally consistent with and supportive of these growth management laws. However,
the service is not likely to address transportation concurrency requirements in Washington State.
Amtrak Cascades links major destinations in the
Pacific Northwest region of the United States and
Vancouver, British Columbia. The 18 stations served
over 1.6 million people in 2010, a significant increase
in ridership over the past year. As ridership continues
to grow on the corridor, further investment in rail
infrastructure has the potential to strengthen connections
between urban centers up and down the
northern Pacific Coast.
This report examines the potential for, and potential
impacts of expanding Amtrak Cascades with a higher
level of service than is possible on the existing infrastructure.
This improved service will continue to focus
on the corridor between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver,
B.C., with stops in Seattle and Portland, among
other regionally-significant cities.
The analysis, findings, and recommendations herein
provide a framework for governance and funding
requirements to establish regional express train service
in Cascadia. The introduction of high-quality rail
service to Cascadia will require increased cooperation
and communication between Washington, Oregon,
and B.C. As land uses evolve throughout the Cascadia
corridor and station areas develop new businesses
and residential areas that serve regional express service,
state and regional roles will ultimately shape the connection between transportation and development.
This report organizes the discussion of these elements through the following criteria:
• Political Feasibility –The potential for a chosen policy to be accepted and adopted by those
responsible for implementation. For the Regional Express, we will examine the potential for the
Express Rail and associated governance framework to be accepted, supported, and funded by
the mega-region’s principal stakeholders.
Figure 01 – Amtrak Cascades corridor
• Accountability for Level of Service – Any policy should outline the stakeholders responsible for
implementing and maintaining a policy requiring a sizeable investment of public resources. We
will examine the Regional Express Rail project in terms of how effectively those responsible for
providing service are held accountable for these expectations.
• Ongoing and Adequate Funding – It is important to take into consideration funding options
when pursuing a policy that will require a sizeable investment of public resources. Policy-makers
should take into consideration the current and ongoing funding needs of a chosen policy. In the
case of Regional Express Rail service, we will discuss the current levels of funding as well as the
needed funding to maintain operations.
• Effectiveness – A policy is considered effective if it can adequately meet the goals that have been
outlined. In the case of investing public resources in Regional Express, we will examine its potential
effectiveness based on how likely it is to meet the intended goals of creating an efficient and
timely level of service.
• Efficiency – Generally, efficiency is measured by examining the predicted economic benefits and
costs of a public infrastructure project. A benefit-cost analysis is the preferred tool used to measure
the level of efficiency of undertaking a certain policy. In this case, we will use a benefit-cost
analysis to determine whether implementing a Regional Express Rail project is an efficient use of
• Equity – According to the definitions of horizontal and vertical equity, transportation policies
should not favor one individual group over others, consumers should get what they pay for, and
access to opportunity should be considered for disadvantaged groups (Litman). Regional Express
Rail requires a sizeable investment from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. How these
benefits and costs are distributed will have important equity consequences.
• Land conversion due to track construction – Large infrastructure policies, such as Regional Express,
tend to have myriad impacts on the surrounding environment. For the Regional Express
policy option, we will examine the potential land-use impacts it might have on the rail corridor
and evaluate the Regional Express Rail across these different impacts.
• Station area land development – To evaluate the impact on development that Regional Express
will have on the area surrounding stations, we will use an analysis of current land uses and application
of common real estate metrics.
• Growth Management – Both Washington and Oregon have comprehensive growth management
plans that have components for helping cities and regions plan for transportation infrastructure.
Regional Express Rail is a policy that outlines a very specific investment in transportation infrastructure.
We will examine the potential for Regional Express Rail to comply with goals of current
Growth Management Plans and the consistency of Regional Express with state land-use policies.
Structure of this Report
In this report we first clearly delineate what is meant by regional express service and what ridership
assumption we are operating under. The remainder of the report is divided into the following sections:
1) Governance and Funding; 2) Economic Benefits; 3) Land Use and Station Planning; with a brief Real
Estate Case Study and discussion of Growth Management.
The proposed Amtrak Cascades Regional Express service can be conceptually defined as lying between
the existing standard rail service, which provides a top speed of 79 mph, and proposals for more ambitious—
and considerably more expensive—true high speed rail service, which may travel speeds as high
as 200-300 mph. The regional express service envisioned herein anticipates speeds up to 110 mph where
conditions allow, namely on the segments between Bellingham and Everett, and between Olympia and
Portland. Other portions of the route are heavily-urbanized therefore it is impractical to provide similar
speeds in those locations.
The alignment for this service remains within the same right-of-way as the current service, but additional
dedicated passenger lines and/or track sidings will be constructed in accordance with the Washington
State “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades”, allowing for significantly reduced congestion and competition
for track space between freight and passenger trains.
The intent of a “regional express” service is not necessarily intuitive and could potentially take on a
variety of meanings , hence before analyzing the details of the express service envisioned here, we
must begin by defining the characteristics of and assumptions underlying our vision of Amtrak Cascades
Regional Express Service.
We began by building off of the express level of service recommendation provided by our Portland State
University colleagues. In this vision, the regional express service consists of eight stops: Vancouver, BC,
Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem and Eugene. We believe these eight stops represent
reasonable candidates for regional express service. However, in order to discontinue service to the
remaining 10 cities, we felt these omissions should be justified.
One of the primary rationales behind regional express service is to provide the largest time/cost savings
to the largest number of riders at the most reasonable cost. As Table 1 shows, although our regional
express service limited to eight stops eliminates 55 percent of the existing stops, it loses only 17 percent
of the total population of the cities currently with stops and 15 percent of the ridership in the entire
system. Providing significant improvement to 85 percent of the ridership at the expense of the other
15 percent makes sense from an efficiency standpoint, however this reduction in service is not without
Under our regional express proposal, residents of the large urban areas benefit at the expense of residents
of the smaller cities along the route, thus creating horizontal equity issues. On the other hand,
regional express service will be cheaper than air travel and allows those who cannot drive a much more
reliable option for travel between these eight destinations. In this fashion, regional express service will
furthers vertical equity (Litman 2011). In addition, regional express service could be operated primarily
during peak travel hours, with complementary standard service serving smaller markets at other times of
the day, thereby reducing the impact to equity.
A focus on peak travel periods is ultimately expected to capture the largest ridership. In the areas
between Olympia and Portland and between Bellingham and Everett we are planning to add an extra
track in order to facilitate full 110 mph service (See Figure 1). In the remaining areas we see incremental
improvements being made to the ‘sensible rail’ plans with the goal of achieving speeds in these regions
as high as cost-effectively possible.
Table 01 – Profile of Corridor Ridership
The primary goal of regional express service is to target the locations and the specific potential ridership
groups most likely to realize the largest gains from the time savings involved. To do this we must identify
this set of potential riders. Given the likely cost of regional express ticketing, competition from the
Sounder and the elimination of traditional commuter friendly stations such as Everett and Vancouver,
WA we see our target ridership as being infrequent users, not commuters. These infrequent users range
from business travelers and conference attendees to families on vacation, students, professional sports
fans, and concert goers.
Another assumption includes the likely changes to ridership volumes due to the regional express service.
A 1996 study shows that train travel in the United States has an elasticity of time savings of around 1.60
– 1.67 percent for business travelers and 1.58 percent for leisure travels (Morrison and Winston 1985).
This means that for every 1 percent decrease in trip time duration one would expect to see 1.60 percent
increase in ridership. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) uses this figure to
estimate an 18 percent ridership increase throughout the entire system when incorporating the time
savings due to the currently planned changes resulting from the ARRA funding (WSDOT 2008). Applying
this elasticity solely to the Seattle to Portland segment of this regional express service, we expect to see
an increase in ridership of approximately 33 percent (due to the 45 minute reduction in trip time).
Looking at these values more closely we see that the Seattle and Portland stations along with the two
stops between Tacoma and Olympia had 1,090,000 boardings in 2010. The 33 percent increase in ridership
equates to an additional 360,000 riders on the express service. However, from this we must subtract
the 140,000 riders who would have boarded at the eliminated stops in Tukwila, Centralia, Kelso and
Vancouver, WA. It should be noted that we are making the conservative assumption that no riders from
Tukwila or Vancouver will travel to Seattle or Portland to board the express service. Thus, in all likelihood
the loss of passengers would be less than the 140,000 quoted here. In sum, after accounting for the loss
of passengers we expect a net increase of around 220,000 riders, or about 20 percent.
Creating a passenger rail line capable of reaching speeds up to 110 mph requires a great deal of involvement
and coordination of a diverse range of stakeholders. These stakeholders include federal, state and
local government agencies, private entities such as rail companies, and various organizations. We outline
many of the stakeholders required to upgrade the existing rail service in Appendix A.
In order for the Regional Express option to be successful, a diverse group of stakeholders must agree
on how to fund necessary rail projects and provide accountability for meeting goals, raising capital and
sustaining service. Upgrading rail service to 110 mph will require billions of dollars in investment from
a combination of federal and state governments and cooperation from the private entities that own
much of the rail right of way. In this section we will outline and discuss the political feasibility of Regional
Express service. We will also examine the challenges of holding various parties accountable for meeting
standards for quality passenger rail service in a timely, cost-effective manner. And since the availability of
funds is uncertain, we will examine how developments at the state and federal levels affect the prospects
for Regional Express to be built using various funding sources.
Balancing and managing a variety of stakeholders and the values and interests that accompany them
within a coherent and effective governance framework is one of the largest challenges facing the creation
of a regional express service. Improving the current rail service to become more reliable is a challenge
in itself; boosting speeds up to 110 mph will entail additional effort from a governance framework
to ensure safety in the case of rail congestion, accelerate border crossing processes, effectively plan as a
whole mega-region, and allocate funds in a fair yet timely manner.
One crucial relationship that needs to be handled delicately is the balance between passenger rail and
freight rail. One of the reasons BNSF and Union Pacific oppose passenger rail expansion is the regulation
expected to follow. Higher speeds will invariably necessitate increased regulation from the FRA for
both passenger and freight rail companies to avoid costly accidents. In the 1980s, freight rail enjoyed the
results of extensive deregulation; attempts by Congress in recent years to re-implement regulation to
curb rising freight rates has several freight companies fearful of the consequences of sharing track with
more passenger trains (The Economist 2010). Already, freight companies have expressed their concern to
the USDOT and the FRA over the latter’s initial guidelines concerning stakeholder agreements between
public agencies, passenger rail service, and freight. One guideline, for instance, asks that all rail capacity
not being utilized by freight be reserved for future passenger rail use. Freight companies believe that
their utilization of track will increase as the economy improves, and fear that the FRA will fail to provide
flexibility when implementing the guidelines (Frailey 2010).1
Both BNSF and Union Pacific strongly oppose the expansion of passenger rail if it reduces their overall
1 Another part of the new safety regulations the FRA is planning to implement by 2015 is Positive Train
Control, a system designed to automatically slow trains that fail to yield at a stop signal or are traveling too fast. The
freight companies estimate that the PTC would cost up to $15 billion nationwide, and question if the cost justify the
benefit . They also argue that within the last decade, freight has enjoyed only an 8 percent return on investment;
hardly enough to cover their capital costs (The Economist 2010).
freight capacity and if the companies are not fully compensated for the use of their rail lines. In the
case of a regional express service, BNSF is a more important stakeholder for two distinct reasons. First,
BNSF owns the rail line in Washington, by far the greatest distance in the Cascadia corridor. The rail line
includes the highly urban section between Everett and Olympia, where the majority of congestion is
expected. Second, the regional express service proposed segments of increased speed primarily occur on
BNSF right of way. Public agencies will struggle to accommodate BNSF due to their history of effectively
utilizing their bargaining position during negotiations to their advantage. In 2003, when in discussions
with Sound Transit over the new Sounder commuter train service, BNSF drove up easement payments to
$258 million (Sound Transit 2003).
Ultimately, a long-term shared-use agreement will be needed to ensure the success of the regional
express service and working relationship with freight for rail improvements in the future. The longer the
term of the agreement, the less likely it will be adjusted or canceled, therefore strengthening the relationship.
Public agencies who sign on to short-term agreements often risk losing bargaining power when
the agreement requires renegotiation (Prozzi 2006). Any governance framework should also look at
airports as a model for effective, shared-use agreements (Nash 2003).
Additionally, there are several ways through which public agencies can regain power in negotiations with
the powerful freight companies such as BNSF and Union Pacific. One is to secure funding sources, something
that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is expected to cover. A second is to gain
high-level political support. The Obama Administration’s recent advocacy for high speed and intercity
rail clearly shows the high-level support that public agencies could use to better position themselves to
create a favorable agreement. Another key is to utilize experienced negotiators with an extensive understanding
of freight rail and the timeline needed for both sides (Prozzi 2006). Lastly, building trusting
relationships between freight companies and public agencies cannot be overlooked. While fairly obvious,
this can be accomplished by setting achievable expectations and finding common objectives for both
sides, such as increased capacity and performance measures for reliability. Increasing reliability predictably
serves to also increase political support, thereby further solidifying political agencies’ negotiation
power (Prozzi 2006).
In February 2011, WSDOT and ODOT reached early agreements with FRA and BNSF in order to define
a level of service for the corridor. The parties agreed to add two more trains per day by 2017 through
the Portland to Seattle portion of the Cascade corridor and reach 88 percent on-time performance. Top
speed of each train is not the relevant metric within the agreement; instead overall reliability and travel
time are used as they provide the most benefit to passengers and garners additional political support
Public agencies will need to continue refining the shared-use agreement to accommodate BNSF while
using the negotiation tactics discussed previously.
Another problem that thus far has gone largely ignored is the rail line’s portion that extends into Canada.
As the only mega-region to cross an international border, effectively governing an increased level of
service rail line requires involving and accommodating an additional number of stakeholders and complexities.
As it currently stands, the trip from Seattle to Vancouver takes, on average, four hours with
most of that time spent in British Columbia (Ferry 2008). This time delay is in large part explained by the
freight congestion from the Port of Vancouver, one of the biggest ports in North America. The creation
of a regional express service would certainly worsen congestion and possibly threaten to reduce political
support of fully funding an improved passenger rail line from Seattle to Vancouver. Future plans to add a
third track to this section may alleviate this congestion. Currently the funding situation for British Columbia
is unclear. Regardless, an effective governance framework would require identifying key stakeholders
within the province and gaining the necessary support for the express service’s overall objectives.
A substantial roadblock to moving forward is procuring an international agreement with both countries’
border security personnel. The Canada Border Services Agency has repeatedly frustrated B.C. officials
with their lack of cooperation in expediting border crossing processes, most notably before the 2010
Winter Olympics (Ferry 2008). Both Canadian and U.S. border agencies will need to come to an official
treaty that accommodates both countries’ security requirements for passenger and freight rail, yet expedites
the process to allow for significant time savings. The European Union offers an outstanding model
for international border agreements. Other options can be found elsewhere across the U.S. – Canada
border where the pre-approved NEXUS card gives frequent travelers the chance to swiftly cross into
either country; expanding this program to the regional express service would likely save time and money
for passengers and border agencies alike.
The keys to a successful governance framework for a regional, intercity express service are the combination
of leadership, means, and authority (De Cerreño 2005). Leadership, primarily from prominent politicians
and public officials, garners public awareness of the benefits of the rail project, from decreased airport
and highway congestion to expanded tourism across the region. Public funding provides the capital
necessary to construct, operate, and maintain public infrastructure and is an effective bargaining chip in
negotiations with private firms. Authority gives the framework room to make big-impact decisions and
the enforcement to see those decisions through to implementation. In the case of the Cascadia regional
express service, two main governance options apply: the current multi jurisdictional leadership framework
, and an inter-jurisdictional framework capable of managing and guiding the entire mega-region rail
corridor’s stakeholders and strategic objectives.
The current multi jurisdictional leadership framework is developing as the needs of the rail project arise.
Thus far, WSDOT has acted as the lead agency, evidenced by their intent to improve the Amtrak Cascades
rail service in the 2006 Long-Range Plan and the 2008 Mid-Range Plan. WSDOT is seen as an example of
top-down governance, organizing stakeholder involvement and developing different options for upgrading
the Cascades rail line. ODOT’s involvement has been less concrete, with much of their interest
in improving passenger rail service driven by other stakeholders. Now, with the recent ARRA funding
agreements to Washington and Oregon, USDOT may establish guidelines for all future stakeholder agreements,
between public agencies and other vested parties such as freight companies.
The current governance framework has demonstrated the ability to improve passenger rail infrastructure
and service, and therefore proven its political feasibility. With increased federal funding The state will
likely accept a growing role for USDOT in rail corridor development.. Furthermore, with the security of
federal funding, agencies and stakeholders like Amtrak will be more willing to invest their own resources.
Institutions must be risk-averse, but the ARRA serves as a signal of intent that passenger rail service
is a priority for the country and specifically for Cascadia. The framework does not, however, offer any
certainty that funding will continue into the future. The Obama Administration’s push for high speed rail
has been met with criticism from some. With the 2012 election within sight, the corridor may not be
able to expect federal funding if changes occur in the White House.
An alternative governance structure is an inter-jurisdictional framework that would supersede all federal,
state, and local agencies and MPOs. This regional body could centralize all planning for the express
service rail, thereby consolidating the corridor’s objectives, problem-solve with the mega-region’s
economic and social prosperity in mind, and organizing stakeholders to efficiently accomplish the rail
line’s improvement (Ross 2008). Developing a regional governance framework would require a complete
paradigm shift, with other MPOs relinquishing some of their power in order to make way for coherent
policymaking for the entire mega-region. Doing so would unify the numerous fragmented policies and
agendas of the region’s various governance structures (Ross 2008). The framework would be better
placed to receive and distribute future federal funds than state or local governments would, who continually
compete with each other for those funds (Ross 2008). On the other hand, the problem of rivalry
would not cease to exist as competition for funds among public organizations would presumably shift
from lobbying federal agencies to within the political arena of the regional body.
Successful models of inter-jurisdictional governance and regional planning combine environmental protection,
transportation, and land use policymaking to achieve region-wide objectives that are then conveyed
for MPOs and local governments to carry out (Barbour 2001). In the case of Washington’s Growth
Management Act, the state government gives policy guidelines rather than prescribing specific strategies
and allows county governments to implement the Act’s objectives. Compliance is enforced through separate
hearing boards that can apply sanctions from the state level (Barbour 2001). A Cascadia governance
institution would need to follow models such as these to ensure accountability from the region’s MPOs.
An inter-jurisdictional framework would certainly increase the level of service as all relevant stakeholders
would be held accountable by the regional body. The regional institution would theoretically be attractive
to potential federal funding and its big-picture planning capability would centralize the corridor’s
objectives and coordinate all levels of stakeholders and their interests. Politically, however, an interRegional
jurisdictional framework is nearly impossible. MPOs are generally unwilling to relinquish power. Creating
another level of governance is generally seen as inefficient as it places another layer of bureaucracy
between the planning and implementation processes (De Cerreño 2005).
“…there is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at airports
to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades.” (USDOT, 2011)
– Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood
Both capital costs and ongoing operating costs must be addressed in addressing the means for building
and running a Regional Express service in the Cascades corridor. The sources of funding for both operations
must be politically and fiscally stable. This section identifies some of the conflicts and policy changes
that would enable or cripple Regional Express. When evaluating the costs and benefits of Regional
Express, one should also consider the opportunity costs of planned investment in highway and airport
Costs and Current Funding
In its Connecting Cascadia report, America 2050 estimates the cost of a rail service that completes
Washington’s long-range plan and includes the capability of 110 mph service at $6.5 billion (America
2050, 2011). In the time since their report was published, Washington State was selected to receive $782
million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds from the High Speed Intercity Passenger
Rail program (WSDOT, 2011a). Oregon also received ARRA funds and used them to purchase
two Talgo train sets (ODOT, 2011). WSDOT has reached multiple agreements with BNSF, FRA and other
stakeholders on spending these funds. With the most recent agreement in February, 2011, WSDOT plans
to complete 11 construction projects along the rail corridor using $590 million in ARRA funds (WSDOT,
2011b). In addition to providing the governance framework, further contracts with all parties may help
secure these funds and protect them from rescissions. While the Obama administration’s transportation
plan dedicates an additional $3 billion to high-speed rail, the House Republican plan would eliminate this
program and rescind $2 billion in ARRA funding for rail. Thus, the largest existing source of funding for
accelerating the implementation of Regional Express service remains in jeopardy. Due to the uncertainty
of funding from the federal government, state governments may need to identify and acquire additional
Future funding mechanisms
In the last decade, the largest investments in passenger rail in the Cascade corridor federal ARRA funds
and Washington’s “Nickel Package,” which consisted of a five-cent gas tax increase, as well as an increased
sales tax on cars and weight fees. This package dedicated $221 million to multimodal improveRegional
ments that include freight rail infrastructure and Amtrak Cascades (WSDOT, 2011c). As of today, WSDOT
says it has spent $331 million since 1994 on improving on-time performance and reducing travel times in
this corridor (WSDOT, 2011a). However, declining gas tax revenues threaten these projects. Another major
source of revenue could be a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax or system-wide tolling, at least in the Puget
Currently the states look to the federal government for capital funding for transit while generating operating
revenue within the state. This may change if the Obama administration is able to pass its recommendations,
which would tear down the firewall between capital and operating revenues (DC Streetsblog,
2011). The America 2050 report also suggests the possibility of value capture at stations, federal
grants, public transit taxes, public rail districts, and national security funding as ways to augment funding
for the corridor (America 2050, 2011). Rather than large investments from certain revenue sources, operating
revenues could be cobbled together from small sources. WSDOT recently announced that some
proceeds of lottery tickets sold on Amtrak Cascades will be used to fund operations (WSDOT, 2011d).
However, these will likely not amount to the approximately $6 billion that likely remains to be identified.
Both ODOT and WSDOT face statutory challenges in raising the large capital costs that would fund major
rail improvements. Both states have limits on the gas tax that make it inflexible for modes other than the
automobile, regardless of their stated policy positions. For instance in Washington, WSDOT must contend
with a requirement in the 18th amendment to the state constitution to spend gas tax revenue only
for “highway purposes.” The state has creatively named ferry routes as state highways to work within
this law. Some transit funding comes from this since it can be justified for congestion reduction. But in
the case of rail we might only expect to fund grade separations that benefit roadway users by reducing
conflicts with rail traffic and allowing for free movement across the corridor.
Both states also face challenges by citizens’ initiative to transportation funding, and leaders who conservatively
place funding options before the voters. While the “Nickel package” was voter-approved,
Washingtonians have passed initiatives limiting license fees (the other main state source of transportation
revenue) and requiring that all tax increases be passed with a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
Thus any tax increase may require both a legislative supermajority and a voting majority for referenda.
Political viability of funding and funding options
Voters in the United States and the Pacific Northwest recognize the need for additional transportation
investments and desire alternatives to driving, but their willingness to pay is unclear. In its 2010 Future
of Transportation Survey, Transportation for America found that 58 percent of Americans believe that
more federal funding should be allocated to transportation (Transportation for America, 2010). As traffic
congestion was a major concern, the survey also asked respondents about how they felt the government
should invest funds to alleviate congestion. 59 percent of respondents preferred investing in transportation
choices rather than in widening roads (Transportation for America, 2010).
In the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound Regional Council commissioned a poll in conjunction with its
Transportation 2040 plan. This poll concluded that providing alternatives to driving was PSRC residents’
preferred way to reduce congestion, with expansion of transit ranking as their top priority (PSRC, 2009).
However, the polling confirm qualified this finding by stating that this preference was not necessarily
supported with the willingness to pay for those improvements. A VMT charge and gas tax increases were
highly unpopular, while a vehicle emissions fee was found to be the most palatable option. No potential
funding source measured in the poll received majority support (PSRC, 2009). Some existing revenue
sources that could be used include a sales tax on gasoline or the gas tax tied to inflation, which would
recognize the need to account for rising costs of projects.
Since either the voters or elected officials may inhibit passenger rail funding in the US, the real promise
for funding Regional Express service lies in a paradigm shift among the region’s residents and state and
federal elected officials. The Obama administration’s $556 billion transportation plan would shift federal
money towards highway system preservation and maintenance, consolidate 55 programs and gear them
toward a multimodal transportation system. It would even change the name of the Highway Trust Fund
to the Transportation Trust Fund (DC Streetsblog, 2011). In the current environment, tax increases to
pay for this plan are unpopular even if citizens recognize the need for high-speed rail and other improvements.
If citizens become aware that US infrastructure must be upgraded, they may take into account the opportunity
cost of various options. Secretary La Hood’s quote above is instructive in that expanding the
highway system and airports will at some point become impracticable. The current cost of flying Seattle
to Portland is approximately $140. Driving is becoming more expensive as gas prices rise. A major
campaign to increase funding may succeed in the short term if it focuses on adapting familiar funding
sources in ways that people understand – i.e., adjusting rates for inflation because rising costs are a
familiar problem. But Regional Express and similar projects are only likely to be successful with a broader
paradigm shift, which will come if citizens recognize the benefits of high-speed rail and other multimodal
A successful Regional Express service hinges on agreement and sustained commitment from two states,
two nations, two nations and two private railroads. We find that one likely governance challenge will be
for governments to negotiate with the railroads for access to the right of way without an unreasonable
request for compensation. In addition, the requirement of governments with different interests to work
together raises the possibility that an inter-jurisdictional governing body could manage the rail corridor.
Beyond the inconvenience of creating a new level of bureaucracy, elected officials would be unlikely to
cede authority to such a body. Current agreements between affected states, the FRA and BNSF to spend
ARRA funds can serve as a template for future agreements and secure a commitment to improved passenger
A Regional Express plan will depend on developments in federal transportation policy. The Obama
administration intends to spend $53 billion over six years on high speed rail, as well as make funding
more flexible so that it can be used to cover operating as well as capital costs. This presents the greatest
opportunity for acquiring the approximately $6 billion needed for construction and operations. However,
the majority Republicans in the House of Representatives would not only eliminate high-speed rail funding
but rescind stimulus money promised for rail. If this were the case, more funding would be required
than expected and Regional Express would likely be untenable.
At the state level, Washington has shown the greatest commitment to improving passenger rail service,
but most sources for further revenue are unpopular or limited by law. The most promising revenue
sources are increased license fees and smaller incremental funding sources that do not place a large
burden on citizens who are not users of rail. However, all tax increases in Washington must pass by two
thirds in the state legislature and in both states, large tax increases are likely to be challenged later by
citizen initiative or placed up for referendum. Thus, popular support among Washington and Oregon
voters is crucial for Regional Express service in the long-run. While increasing rail service is popular, rail
advocates must address opposition to tax increases by presenting the benefits that a Regional Express
Looking at the overall economic benefits and costs when trying to make a decision about an infrastructure
project of this magnitude is also important. In the previous section we discussed aspects of funding
a project this size, in this section we discuss the economic benefits and costs of Regional Express Rail.
Benefit-cost analysis is particularly important for public sector projects because it provides a specific
indicator upon which to evaluate efficiency. Using a net present benefit calculation and benefit-cost ratio
provides a clear indicator of the benefits received with the costs incurred. In this section we will describe
the benefits and costs of a project this size and determine if this is an efficient use of public resources.
The WSDOT Long-range Plan provides a basis for the regional economic impacts which are incurred from
investing in Regional Express Rail. The Long-range Plan includes all of the track and station improvements
from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR. It also provides information on benefits in terms of improvements,
ridership, and travel times. The WSDOT Mid-range Plan provides some information on social benefits.
We calculated the benefits to local economies, safety and environment, and congestion. As for the indirect
economic benefits, a variety of sources were used to determine those benefits.
In terms of the assumptions we are using, many of them are from the Long-range Plan. In addition, we
provide some of our own assumptions to adapt this plan to our vision of what economic impacts a regional
express system would have. As previously noted, the regional express service analyzed here is not
focused on providing a commuter-oriented service, but rather to make trips through the corridor more
frequently and efficiently in order to attract infrequent business, tourist, and recreational travelers. For
the economic analysis that we are conducting in this section, we are making the following assumptions:
• Project Timeline: The benefit and cost estimates for Regional Express Rail range from Fiscal Year
2010 to Fiscal Year 2030.
• Discount Rate: The plan includes inflation but does not include time preference of money – so
we further discount future benefits and costs.
• Conservative Estimates: Our plan does not include several of the stops included in the Longrange
Plan (thus, the Long-range Plan’s costs may be slightly higher because it includes station
improvements for these communities). Furthermore, because monetizing the social benefits of
Regional Express Rail involves making various assumptions, when deciding about which values to
include, we chose to use more conservative estimates when possible.
• Benefit Cost Analysis: Monetizes and evaluates direct economic and social benefits and costs,
and evaluates but does not monetize indirect economic and social benefits.
Regional Express Railway Benefit-Cost Analysis
Using the assumptions outlined above, we conducted a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of the
Regional Express Rail plan. Benefit-Cost analysis techniques are used to determine the efficiency of a
particular project, in terms of benefits to society per unit of cost. Because many of the benefits from a
transportation project are social impacts, such as improvements to the environment, congestion relief,
and increased accessibility, they are difficult to compare directly to dollar amount costs. Thus, traditional
Benefit-Cost analysis uses various methods to monetize these social benefits so that they can be directly
compared to the monetary costs of the project.
To effectively assign values to non-monetized benefits (such as a unit reduction in CO2 emissions), many
assumptions are required. Each time an assumption is made, risk is introduced into the analysis in the
form of uncertainty. To address this uncertainty, after examining the benefits and costs of the Regional
Express Rail project, we will present three scenarios: Conservative, Baseline, and Best-Case. In each, we
will adjust the assumptions made in calculating both benefits and costs. Additionally, we will produce
an uncertainty analysis, which will provide a probability distribution for different levels of net benefits,
adjusting for levels of uncertainty in the assumptions.
Direct Regional Express Benefits
There are many social and economic benefits from a large-scale transportation project like Regional
Express Rail. Direct economic benefits include farebox revenue, increases in tax revenue due to employment
and business activity from project construction and operation, and savings to businesses attributed
to a decrease in travel time for freight. However, there is also a myriad of social benefits, such as reduced
congestion on Interstate-5 and arterial roadways, a reduction in greenhouse gases, travel time savings
for leisure and business travelers, and an increase in accessibility for communities benefiting from
regional express service. Various methods are widely used to monetize these social benefits so that they
may be added to the economic benefits, and ultimately compared to the project costs.
The various benefits of Regional Express Rail included in this Benefit-Cost Analysis are as follows and will
be discussed individually below:
• Revenues • Environmental Benefits
• Employment & Business • Congestion Relief
• Travel Time Savings • Local Community Benefits
• Safety Improvements • Freight Time Savings
Revenues: In its Long-range Plan, WSDOT forecasts an increase in farebox recovery from 45 percent in
2010 to 99 percent recovery in 2030. Based on forecasted annual ridership levels in 2030 of nearly 3 million
riders, WSDOT predicts total revenues to equal approximately $948 million (total annualized revenues
in 2030 are forecasted at $82.3 million).
Employment & Business: Undoubtedly, constructing and operating a Regional Express Rail system will
bring significant numbers of new employment to the region, as well as increased business activity for
firms directly involved in construction and operation. However, not all of this job creation and business
activity can be counted as a net gain in benefits. For one, Amtrak already produces employment benefits,
in the form of payroll taxes of its current employees. A new Regional Express Rail system should use
these benefits as a baseline for determining net increase in employment revenues. Secondly, not all of
the jobs created by the project will go to people who are currently unemployed. Thus, rather than new
benefits, these signify a transfer of welfare – some people will switch from other, lower paying jobs to
construction jobs, and thus we count only the net increase in tax revenue from this increase in wages.
With these considerations in mind and using WSDOT’s forecasted employment benefits for the project,
we predict total employment and business benefits to be approximately $2.2 billion.
Travel Time Savings (Amtrak): By year 2030 and completion of the Regional Express project, WSDOT
predicts an average travel time from Vancouver, BC to Portland of five hours and seven minutes (down
from an average of 7 hours and 35 minutes in 2010). This will result in an average travel time savings
of approximately 2.5 hours. Because WSDOT does not forecast the ridership rates to and from specific
stations, we calculated an average savings in travel time from ridership at one hour.2 Next, we calculated
the monetized value of time. Traditional Benefit-Cost analysis uses the average regional wage rate as the
opportunity cost of time saved (Forkenbrock and Weisbrod, 2001). Because business travelers will likely
be otherwise working at this rate, we used the wage rate for the percentage of forecasted travelers who
will be on business.3 However, for leisure travelers, most would not be receiving income for the time
saved and thus using the wage rate would over-estimate the benefits. Instead, we used estimates of the
opportunity cost of leisure time from Benefit-Cost research (60 percent) and calculated the total value of
time saved as $670 million.
Safety Improvements: It is well documented that rail travel is much safer, in terms of accident and injury
rates, than automobile travel (WSDOT Long-Range Plan, 2006). WSDOT uses a sum of fatalities per million
passenger miles and injury per million passenger miles to measure safety. While rail’s sum measure
of safety is 0.06 fatalities and injuries per million passenger miles, highway travel’s sum is 0.78, for a rail
to highway ratio of 8 percent. Because of the diversion from I-5 and arterial roads, Regional Express Rail
will contribute to a reduction in the costs of accidents to both equipment repair and injuries from accidents.
These figures are presented in WSDOT’s Mid-range Plan. Because significantly higher ridership is
forecasted in the Long-range Plan, and thus higher diversion, we calculated the expected further reduction
in accident costs under the Regional Express model. The total monetized safety improvements
under these assumptions is $165 million.
2 Because not all riders will save the total 2.5 hours from Vancouver BC to Portland, we used an
average time savings of 1.0 hours (two thirds of the total time saved from Seattle to Portland) as a benchmark.
3 WSDOT forecasts the current rate of business travelers at 19 percent. This may increase as Regional
Express Rail will likely increase this ratio because of higher frequency or trips and greater reliability.
Environmental Benefits: This benefit is derived from a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
caused by a mode shift from automobiles and air travel due to the implementation of Regional Express
Rail. We used environmental benefit estimates from the WSDOT Mid-range Plan, and adjusted for the
higher mode shift expected from the regional express service, to calculate these benefits. Therefore,
WSDOT estimates that this reduction will lead to indirect social environmental benefits of $406 million.
Congestion Relief: Because Regional Express Rail is forecasted to cause significant mode shifts from
I-5, arterials, and airline travel, the project will have an effect on travel times on these other modes,
particularly in reducing congestion and delay. WSDOT has calculated a multiplier to use as the travel
time savings due to modal shift; we use the wage rates calculated above to determine the approximate
monetized travel time savings as $1.9 billion. It is important to note, however, that due to decreased
congestion and delays on these modes, overall demand may rise, particularly with population and regional
growth. Many of the initial gains in travel speeds may be offset by the “triple convergence” from
this demand (Downs, 2004). For instance, many people who currently avoid I-5 because of the congestion
would opt to use it after Regional Express Rail is implemented. To keep our analysis conservative, we
thus calculated only the congestion relief benefits for a percentage of the time saved.
Community Benefits: Regional Express Rail will undoubtedly have other impacts on local communities
where stations are located. These impacts include benefits, such as local economic development,
increased connectivity of goods and businesses, and enhanced accessibility to other core cities in the region.
However, these impacts also include disbenefits, for example the negative impacts of construction
and increased noise and safety impacts during operation. These impacts are extremely difficult to accurately
monetize. Traditional Benefit-Cost analysis uses two methods to place a monetary value on these
impacts: Contingency Valuation and Hedonic Property Pricing. Contingency Valuation involves surveying
residents of the “impact area” to determine their willingness to pay for a benefit, and their willingness to
accept an amount for experiencing a disbenefit. Because this would involve surveying and interviewing
residents, we will not utilize this method for this analysis.
Alternatively, Hedonic Property Pricing determines the effect on property values that an amenity will
have on a community, while controlling for other factors (Dively and Zerbe). A utility weight is thus calculated
using a statistical regression and aggregated across the property values of all communities affected.
Studies have shown that this utility weight for Intercity Rail is approximately 0.1. Thus, we determined
the current property values of the communities receiving Regional Express service, and calculated the
overall increase in utility (social benefit) to communities to be $548 million. Because it is not clear from
existing research when these benefits are likely to occur, we assumed that property values would not
adjust and stabilize until later in the project, when most of the Regional Express Rail is operational. Thus,
in our calculations these benefits are actualized in the final six years of the project.
Freight Savings: In reducing congestion on I-5, arterials, and in the air, Regional Express Rail will also
have a beneficial impact on freight activity in the region. Because of this mode shift, freight will be able
to operate more frequently and reliably, thus reducing the costs to businesses. This will spur additional
business activity and raise tax revenues. This is a direct economic impact from the project, and Benefit-
Cost methodology notes that it should be included in any analysis. However, we were unable to find
reliable and accurate information into the benefits to business from a specific reduction in freight delay,
nor the travel time savings to freight from a Regional Express Rail system. Thus, to err on the side of
conservatism, we excluded this from our analysis. However, these benefits should be considered by any
policy-maker evaluating a regional rail system.
Benefit Mid-point (Annual) End Point (Annual) Total
Revenues $36.5 $82.3 $948
Employment & Business $97 $97 $2,237
Travel Time Savings $28 $60 $670
Safety Improvements $5 $10 $165
Environmental Benefits $12 $25 $406
Congestion Relief $58 $116 $1,914
Community Benefits $0 $137 $598
TOTAL BENEFITS DISCOUNTED $238
Table 02 – Mid-point, End-point, and Total Benefits (in millions)
Direct Regional Express Costs
The direct costs for Regional Express Rail can be divided into two broad categories, capital costs and
operating costs. The WSDOT Long-range Plan represents capital costs as an investment in improvements
to railroad infrastructure, facilities, and equipment (WSDOT Long-range Plan, 2006). The Long-range Plan
is an incremental investment approach to creating a regional rail system. The plan reports on the capital
costs for the collection of independent projects including station improvements, right of way appropriations,
track construction, grade separation in rural areas, signalization improvements, and projected train
car improvements and purchasing. British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon will undertake these projects
with the largest portion occurring in Washington. It is also important to note that our analysis only
evaluates certain segments of the regional express corridor which are primarily located in Washington,
so the capital costs for Oregon are significantly less.
Operating costs are defined by the WSDOT Long-range Plan as a direct function of operating the regional
express train annually. These costs include the labor, maintenance, insurance, marketing and sales, and
general administrative costs (WSDOT Long-range Plan, 2006). It is important to note that some of these
costs are offset by the revenue collected from operating the trains. The operating costs, like the capital
costs, are also broken down by state and province. Table 03 provides a direct project cost overview for
British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.
Costs Mid-point (Annual) End Point (Annual) Total
WA Capital Costs $153 $222 $4,332
OR Capital Costs $6 $33 $460
BC Capital Costs $10 $37 $549
Misc Capital Costs $84 $65 $1,694
Operating Costs $48 $83 $1,185
TOTAL COSTS DISCOUNTED $300
Table 03 – Mid-point, End-point, and Total Costs (in millions)
Benefit-Cost Analysis Scenarios
Because of the multitude of assumptions required to monetize the myriad of social benefits of Regional
Express Rail, we next examined and compared three scenarios: the Baseline scenario forecasted by
WSDOT; a conservative scenario, and a best-case scenario. Following this comparison, we conducted an
uncertainty analysis to allow variability in several of the assumptions.
• Baseline: As presented above, the baseline scenario assumes that the parameters forecasted by
WSDOT will occur as predicted and follows the assumptions outlined above regarding the social
benefits of the project.
• Worst-case: In this scenario, we adjusted the inputs to reflect the benefits and costs of a case
where ridership would be lower than forecasted (thus reduced farebox revenues), reduced mode
shift from I-5 and airlines resulting in decreased safety, environmental, and congestion benefits,
and cost overruns.
• Best-case: In the best-case scenario, we assumed that all costs remained constant (no overruns),
but that ridership would be slightly higher than forecasted, resulting in increased farebox revenues
and a higher rate of modal shift. This would lead to higher than forecasted benefits from
congestion relief, safety improvements, and environmental benefits. Under this scenario, we
also assume that many of the benefits would be realized earlier on in the project’s lifetime. For
instance, if gas prices rise significantly, modal shift is likely to occur at a higher rate, leading to
more immediate benefits.
Scenario Benefits Costs Net Benefits BC Ratio
Baseline $3,602 $4,579 ($977) .79
Worst-Case $3,069 $4,989 ($1,919) .62
Best-case $4,767 $4,579 $187 1.04
Table 04. Benefit-Cost Ratio
These scenarios show that on a project of this magnitude and long-term range, there is high variability
in outcomes. Appendix B further examines the impact of uncertainty, through a Monte Carlo uncertainty
Another important aspect to consider is the timeline of benefits and costs. Our analysis shows that
Regional Express Rail will become more beneficial in the later years of the project, particularly as capital
costs begin to subside and the social benefits of mode shift and community accessibility are realized.
Because of this misalignment of benefits and costs, it is possible that if the lifespan of the project were
continued, total benefits would outweigh total costs (See Figure 02).
Figure 02. Timeline of Benefits, Costs, and Net Present Benefits
Indirect Economic Benefits
Regional Express Rail also provides a range of indirect economic benefits to the region. These benefits
are not monetized because it is not possible to discern how much of the benefit is from the actual investment
in this project. Instead these benefits are discussed as the likely impacts from an investment in an
infrastructure investment of this scope. The following are the types of indirect benefits we would expect
Tourism: Leaders of Washington and British Columbia have promoted the “Two-Nation Vacation” concept
in order to draw more people to the region (America2050, 2010). The Cascadia mega-region boasts
amenities for a variety of travelers. From vibrant urban centers to ample opportunities for outdoor
exploration, Cascadia arguably has something for everyone. A Regional Express Rail system will provide
a more efficient link between the three largest urban hubs allowing visitors to more easily enjoy all the
region has to offer. Imagine arriving in Seattle from Portland for dinner and being able to easily go to
Bellingham in the morning for some whale watching and then Vancouver for a late lunch and having the
option of staying or returning to Seattle quickly and efficiently. The possibilities are endless and a faster,
more efficient rail system will open up Cascadia in ways no one has imagined –the benefits from this
tourism are difficult to accurately monetize for a Benefit-Cost analysis.
Regional Commerce: Three potential emerging clusters of economic growth predicted for the region
are: “green building” design industry, creative industries, and high-tech. As it stands now the cities of
Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are not served very well with a regional transportation system. These
emerging industries could benefit greatly from the disparate knowledge and expertise that exist in each
city. However, as many of these emerging companies are start-ups travel in-between these cities on a
regular basis by automobile or plane is prohibitively expensive. Regional Express Rail would provide an
opportunity for business travelers to move through the corridor frequently and conveniently with less
cost than via another mode. Regional Express Rail can link these urban centers making Cascadia a true
mega-region capable of competing with other mega-regions both nationally and internationally.
Freight Savings: The Cascadia Regional economy also depends heavily on freight movement. Seattle and
Vancouver both have large ports that receive goods from around the world. Much of these goods are
placed on trains and taken to various locations throughout the US and Canada. Many of the proposed
improvements in the WSDOT Long-Range Plan are track siding additions and improvements to Amtrak’s
right of ways. These improvements will allow freight trains and passenger rail to more easily and efficiently
operate on the shared tracks. Freight trains, it is argued, will not suffer under this plan but rather
receive a boost in the speed and efficiency of delivering goods.
Modal Shift: Currently the predominate modes of travel between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver
are by automobile and airplane. According to Amtrak it takes about 3.5 hours by train from Seattle to
Portland. In a car it takes between 2.5 to 3 hours and about 1 hour by plane. Even though traveling by
automobile or airplane is on average faster, this is not always the case. Try traveling from Seattle to Portland
during rush hour traffic and the trip could take upwards of five to six hours (personal experience).
The SeaTac airport is the only large-scale international airport in Washington State and as population
grows so will the need to use the airport. Regional transport will suffer as SeaTac struggles to provide for
increasing demand and it is likely that delays will be more common as the airport becomes more congested.
Regional Express Rail would provide the region with a travel option that is reliable, convenient,
and fast. As the benefits of the Express Rail service become known, we expect more and more people
will move away from current transportation modes.
As can been seen above, our analysis shows that using WSDOT projections, Regional Express Rail is not
an efficient investment. However, because of the intangible economic impacts, the fact that we used
conservative estimates for our analysis, and the rising trend of annual benefits, the actual net present
benefits may be higher than those forecasted. Additionally, because a Regional Express Rail system
enhances public value, it can be argued that indicators that do not take public value issues into consideration,
such as efficiency, and should not be overly relied upon for public sector projects.
While much of the report has thus far focused on the conceptual framework, policy, and financial aspects
associated with regional express service, the focus is now directed to the tangible, physical impacts
such a service could have. Land use is a particularly important related subject matter, as land use and
transportation are intricately interwoven concepts. Evolutions in transportation technology, new infrastructure
construction, and improved service delivery all have well-documented impacts on the land use
surrounding these improvements (Hanson and Giuliano, 2004). Improved Amtrak Cascades service can
also reasonably be expected to incur some degree of land use change, and this interaction in the context
of proposed Regional Express service will be addressed here.
Land-Use Impact from New Line Construction
Because the proposed Regional Express service will operate within the same right-of-way as existing
Cascades services, land use impacts directly related to new line construction will be relatively minimal.
Miles of new line in the form of second tracks and sidings will be required to accommodate Regional
Express service; the WSDOT Long-range Plan identifies each of the segments to be improved (WSDOT,
2006). As that plan’s service is very similar to that being proposed here, its figures are used as analogous
for the purpose of land use considerations. Staging and construction of these lines is expected to
require the conversion of between 10 and 15 acres of adjacent, predominantly agricultural land in Clark,
Cowlitz, Whatcom, and Snohomish counties (WSDOT, 2010). Both the Long-range Plan and 2010 Finding
of No Significant Impact consider the resulting impacts to be “less than significant”, but it remains a
worthwhile point to note, particularly because of county and state regulations regarding the conversion
of agricultural lands and wetlands.
Station Area Land Use Analysis
Given that increased development in station areas is often touted as one of the primary rationales for
building rail services, we find that land use conditions and expectations are an important component
of the Express Rail service. In this analysis we evaluated the likelihood that a Regional Express service
would impact land uses and/or density in the areas immediately adjacent to the stations.
Much of the impact of new rail stations or increases in ridership at existing stations is realized in the
increase in land values in the surrounding area. Research has shown that, on average, a commuter rail
station will increase land values from 5 percent to 15 percent in a one quarter mile radius around the
Another key finding was that the results are highly context- (type of service) and location-dependent.
Those stations that created the largest time savings gains for riders also saw the largest increases in land
4 A recent meta-analysis by Debrezon et al. examines the published results of land use changes
from train stations from 102 different studies around the world (Debrezon 2009).
value, following the bid-rent theory expounded by Alonso (1964). Their analysis of over 100 previous
studies showed that very few studies have been conducted with regard to intercity and express train
stations like those in many of the cities along our route (Seattle, Portland and Vancouver BC excluded).
Most of this lack in research can be attributed to the fact that throughout the world most stations are
dual purpose – they handle both commuter and regional express train traffic. What this means for our
regional express is that it is difficult to disentangle the effects from commuter and regional express services
in places like Seattle. As an example, in Seattle on a typical weekday five times more people arrive
via the Sounder commuter train at the neighboring Union Station than do Amtrak passengers at King
Street Station. What this means is that our express service will likely have lower impact on the land use
than a new commuter station would.
The Debrezon study also highlighted the fact that impacts to land use and land values are location dependent.
Looking at our eight express stations we can divide these into three clear locational categories:
1) Downtown; 2) Fringe; and 3) Suburban. The downtown stations include Seattle, Vancouver, BC, Portland
and Eugene. Tacoma, Bellingham and Salem comprise the fringe located stations. Olympia’s station,
on the other hand is located in the distant suburbs. We will now take an in-depth look at an example of
one station from each of the three location types mentioned.
Seattle’s King Street Station is a prime example of a downtown train station. As show in Figure 1, the
land uses surrounding the station are composed of a good mix of uses focused on office and mixed use
development (see Table 05). Connections to transit are abundant as the immediate area is serviced by
Sounder Commuter Rail, Link Light Rail, and numerous local and express bus routes. The King Street
Station also benefits from the immediate vicinity of Qwest and Safeco Fields, large stadium complexes
which are used more than 100 days each year.
Figure 03 – Seattle Land Use Map
The area around King Street station also has over 26 acres of underdeveloped or unimproved land that is
suitable for redevelopment. Current land values in the area average around $130 to $160/sq ft. Though
not necessarily driven by our regional express service, redevelopment in this area could reasonably be
anticipated. An example of this is the large proposed mixed use development slated for construction at
the north end of the Qwest Stadium lot.
The current Amtrak station in Tacoma is located in an industrial location at the southeast fringe of the
downtown/port area. The station is sandwiched between a large rail yard to the north and Interstate-5
to the south (Figure 2). It is located a half mile east of Freighthouse Square – the current location of the
commuter train and light rail stops. Though there is a rumor that the Amtrak Station will be moving to
Freighthouse Square there has been no official announcement of this change. The Tacoma station is
located one mile from the much-used Tacoma Dome, however the walk between the two is not an ideal
Land uses in the vicinity of the Tacoma station are mostly industrial with a scattering of retail and transportation
uses mixed in (See Table 3). Land values average around $11 to $12/sq ft.
Table 05 – Seattle Land Uses
Figure 04 – Tacoma Land Use Map
Table 06 – Tacoma Land Uses
The Olympia Station is a somewhat an anomaly. Built by volunteers, it is located at the far edge of the
Olympia-Lacey metropolitan region (see Figure 3). In fact, it is so far outside of the city that it is actually
located outside of the Urban Growth Area – though only just across the street from it. The station is serviced
by an hourly bus service that is a 45 minute ride to downtown Olympia. The land use is primarily
single family residential with land value in the range of $.90 to $1.10 per acre.
Figure 05 – Olympia-Lacey Land Use Map
Table 07 – Olympia-Lacey Land Uses
See Appendices C through E for land use maps of the Portland, Vancouver, and Bellingham station areas.
Land use data could not be obtained for Eugene and Salem station areas within the timeframe of this
The expected land use impacts of a Regional Express Service are likely to be much less significant than
the impacts of a busier commuter rail station. At stations where noticeable increases in foot traffic will
occur, such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC, the Regional Express Service will augment the viability
of commercial uses catering to occasional travelers; uses such as specialty retail and hotels. Near stations
with lower expected ridership such as Tacoma, Olympia, and Salem, land use changes are expected
to be minimal.
Redevelopment of Station Areas
It is often assumed that redevelopment will occur around infrastructure investments, such as transit
stations. Often times infrastructure investments do spur new development or redevelopment, however
this is not always the case. There are a number of elements that make making redevelopment around
infrastructure investments feasible, one of the most important being market demand. However, one of
the first measures of feasibility that can be determined is the financial feasibility.
Redevelopment only occurs if a developer is willing to pay a price for a property that a seller is willing to
accept. The price a seller is willing to accept is assumed to be anything more than the current value they
are getting from the property. The price a developer is willing to pay is assumed to be whatever they can
afford after accounting for project costs and profit. The price a developer is willing to pay is also called
residual land value.
A simple test of redevelopment feasibility is to compare current land value, or what a seller would be
willing to sell their property for, and residual land value, or what a developer would be willing to pay for
a property. If the current land value is greater than the residual land value, redevelopment will most
likely not occur. If current land value is less than residual land value, redevelopment most likely will occur.
Seattle and Tacoma will serve as the case studies for a redevelopment analysis around rail stations
given the improvement of an express rail line using the above described methodology.
There are 215 parcels within a quarter mile radius of the current Seattle rail station. Most of these
parcels are located in the International-District-Mixed (IDM) zoning. IDM zoning restricts all parcels to
a 3.0 FAR, except for hotels which are allowed a 6.0 FAR. FAR is the Floor Area Ratio, or the square feet
of building allowed as a ratio to the square feet of land. After valuing the development potential of the
subject parcels at a 3.0 and 6.0 FAR, it is determined that 90 parcels would qualify for redevelopment
based on the land value equation outlined above. Of these 90 parcels, the majority would likely be redeveloped
as a hotel use, given the less restrictive zoning for hotel uses. About half of the parcels would
also qualify for retail redevelopment. These uses are complimentary to the expected users of the station.
As the express rail is more geared towards infrequent visitors instead of resident commuters, hotel
and retail uses would be best served around the station.
There are 95 parcels within a quarter-mile radius of the current Tacoma rail station. Tacoma recently
up-zoned a large portion of this area, so the zoning is flexible around the station. Around the station,
parcels are either zoned at a 6.0 FAR, which would be a mid-rise building, or 12.0 FAR, which would be a
high-rise building. About half of the land area around the station is still zoned industrial, which provides
no redevelopment potential. 61 parcels around the site qualify for redevelopment. Given the high zoning
capacity, apartment, office, and hotel uses are equally viable around the station.
In total, there is redevelopment potential for 29.2 acres of land around the Seattle station and 14 acres
around the Tacoma station. The likelihood of this redevelopment will depend on market dynamics, availability
of financing, and the ultimate value lift of the station and rail improvements, which at this point in
time can only be speculated.
The states of Washington and Oregon use statewide growth management laws seek to minimize the inefficient
expansion of development by guiding land use development, and by ensuring public infrastructure
is compatible and sufficient to meet agreed on development form and capacity. Because improved
rail service would provide public infrastructure, and has the potential to effect land development around
station areas, we evaluate whether or not the Express Rail service would support or conflict with the
legislative growth management goals.
In Washington, the Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.010 was passed in 1990 followed by a second
phase in 1991 which occurred in response to significant population growth in the state. The primary goal
of this legislation was to provide the local governments land use planning tools to enable comprehensive,
statewide coordination (League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund 2006).
Within the GMA of Washington State there are 14 goals listed, these guide the plans and regulations for
those required to or voluntarily plan using the GMA tools. The specific goals that pertain to a high speed
rail project include:
• Goal (1) Urban growth;
• Goal (2) Reduce sprawl;
• Goal (3) Provide efficient transportation;
• Goal (10) Protect the environment; and,
• Goal (12) Ensure adequate public facilities and services.
Goal (1) may be supported by high speed rail through encouraging development in urban areas where
adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner. The urban growth
boundaries that have been drawn for the areas around the Regional Express Rail stations may be supported
through the ability to travel within this corridor, thereby attracting those who enjoy traveling and
providing an incentive to live within those boundaries. Goal (2) is a highly contested point for various
transportation goals due to the difficulty experienced in measuring the effects of transportation on
urban sprawl. But, similar to Goal (1), the Express Rail stations can encourage more concentrated living
for those who enjoy traveling north and south along the Cascadia Corridor. Goal (3) is supported by high
speed rail through the development of an efficient multimodal transportation system. It is important that
this system is based on regional priorities and coordinated with county and city comprehensive plans.
Goal (10) is supported by high speed rail if the efficiency and use of rail allows for the enhancement of
the environment and quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water. With
proper installation, rail can be environmentally beneficial through a modal shift from autos and air to rail,
in addition to potentially avoiding the need to expand the highway and airport infrastructure (Washington
Department of Commerce 2011). Express Rail service would provide important public infrastructure
as identified in Goal (12). However, current methods for assessing adequate transportation infrastructure
are limited to local service areas, and often are auto focused. Therefore The Express Rail Service would
likely not address local transportation concurrency requirements.
In Oregon, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) has developed 19 statewide
planning goals to address land use planning. Most of these goals are accompanied by guidelines, but
these are not mandatory steps to follow. Each city and county is required to adopt comprehensive plans
which are consistent with the state’s LCDC goals. The goals most pertinent to high speed rail include:
• Goal (2) Land use planning;
• Goal (6) Air, water, and land resources quality;
• Goal (12) Transportation; and,
• Goal (14) Urbanization.
Similar to the goals listed in the Washington GMA, linking transportation and land use planning is an
important aspect to this high speed rail project. Goal (2) may be supported by high speed rail through
the comprehensive planning the various land uses around station areas. As suggested in the section on
Land Use, Stations may encourage retail and residential development under the right conditions. Goal
(6) may be supported through the reduction in pollution in the event that rail creates a modal shift away
from autos and air travel, thereby reducing much of the air pollution currently produced as population
increases. It was noted in the Cost-Benefit analysis, that a modal shift from automobiles and air travel
will produce economic benefits through a reduction in environmental impacts.
Goal (12) is supported through instituting high speed rail by creating a multimodal transportation
system. It also provides more transportation options and can create redundancy in the transportation
system which allows the population to choose a preferred mode. Therefore, they are not being limited to
relying on automobiles or planes to travel this corridor. Goal (14), which institutes urban growth boundaries,
may or may not be supported by a Regional Express Rail service. High speed rail may allow for
concentrated growth around station areas and reduce sprawl directly around urban centers, but this may
encourage movement from one city station to another. So it could be considered “concentrated” sprawl
along a line of transport (Oregon.gov 2010).
Express rail service is generally consistent with and supportive of growth management goals in the states
of Washington and Oregon. The rail service provides mobility infrastructure and multi modal capacity,
supports higher density development in urban environments, and reduces pollution generated per
capita. However, the Express Rail service is not likely to assist Washington State communities in meeting
transportations concurrency requirements, because concurrency requirements are focused on local service
areas and the metrics are often auto focused. In addition, the increased time efficiency and service
may support relocation of residents to station areas.
While the Amtrak Cascades service is attractive to existing riders, it has the potential to draw new groups
of tourists, business travelers, and special event attendees throughout the length of the corridor. In
addition, the train service could further brand the identity of the Cascadia region as a vacation destination.
Travelers would be able to visit Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by train and enhance the
economic ties between cities in the region. While this service also has the potential to improve business
connections in the region, it is expected that investments would be targeted towards visitors and infrequent
A Regional Express service on the Cascades corridor would reduce travel times and increase reliability of
the service through a series of measures, including limiting the number of stops and increasing speeds
on certain segments of the line. Based on 2010 station boardings, the six major stops on the corridor
serve approximately 85 percent of existing riders. By eliminating the remaining ten stations, a Regional
Express service could reduce the total travel time on the corridor by 50 to 70 minutes. In addition, while
current service has a top speed of 79 mph, a Regional Express service has the potential to reach speeds
close to 110 mph on significant portions of the corridor.
Summary of Criteria
• Political Feasibility – Because the Regional Express Rail would involve significant inter-jurisdictional
planning, operations, and maintenance, it may be less politically feasible than “sensible
rail” options. However, the governance framework currently under development would likely
be feasible to implement. We also explored the possibility of developing an inter-jurisdictional
framework. While this inter-jurisdictional framework would help Regional Express operate more
efficiently, this framework is not politically feasible, as too many powerful stakeholders would be
required to relinquish power.
• Ongoing and Adequate Funding – The Regional Express option will require nearly $6 billion in investment
of capital and operating costs beyond the improvements currently underway. Regional
Express Rail project funding is tenuous and uncertain – federal funding delays might delay the
project. Thus, the potential for sustained funding at adequate levels is relatively low. However,
because Washington State has demonstrated a commitment to regional rail service, the potential
to explore alternative funding streams in the future may increase the potential for adequate
• Effectiveness – If implemented, the Regional Express Rail plan proposed by WSDOT would
undoubtedly improve service in the Cascadia corridor. However, because it is ambitious in its
forecasts of funding availability, construction schedules, and governance structure, it is likely that
it would be delayed in reaching service targets. Thus, the Regional Express Rail is likely less effective
than forecasted, but more effective at reaching system improvements than current sensible
• Efficiency – The benefit-cost analysis revealed Regional Express to be a fairly inefficient investment. However,
because of the conservative assumptions built into the analysis, and the other important economic
considerations, as a public project investment, Regional Express Rail would likely be more efficient in
comparison to other projects. Additionally, because Regional Express can be considered a public good,
it can be argued that efficiency does not take these public value issues into consideration and should not
be overly relied upon for public sector projects.
• Equity – Regional Express Rail does consider some important equity considerations. It would likely
increase accessibility to communities receiving stations, produce positive economic impacts, and reduce
dependence on car ownership. However, it is not clear how Regional Express Rail would positively
affect accessibility-disadvantaged populations. Additionally, the plan might not address important equity
considerations: because it is largely funded by the federal government, those who pay the funds through
federal taxes may not reap the benefits. Additionally, those in the Eastern portion of the State who
would benefit from funding to highways and cross-State accessibility would not benefit as much from
• Land conversion due to track construction – Our analysis found this likely to be minimal because most
of the track fits into existing right of way. The construction of new track, despite operating within the
same right-of-way, will require some land conversion for staging and construction purposes. Transportation
infrastructure policies that incentive transit oriented development around station areas should be
• Station area land development – though it is uncertain precisely how intercity passenger rail impacts
station-area development patterns, there is reason to believe that some development can be anticipated
as a result of improved service. However, our analysis shows that the potential for transit-oriented development
and high economic development growth rates in station areas may be minimal due to lack of
private development demand and current zoning.
• Complies with GMA and LCDC – Our analysis shows that Regional Express would likely be consistent with
broad GMA goals, but may not address specific concurrency requirements, particularly at the local level.
Appendix A – Cascades Stakeholders
The following list is in no way exhaustive but offers a brief overview of some of the major players and vested parties
required to upgrade the existing rail service:
United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) – the federal agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s
transportation systems and enhancing national interests and the life of American citizens through those
systems (USDOT 2011a). In the case of the Cascadia Railway Corridor, USDOT has been charged with allocating
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for rail improvements.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – an agency within USDOT, the FRA is primarily concerned with the safety
of the nation’s railways and enforcing existing rail safety regulations. Currently, the Amtrak Cascades passenger
service reaches speeds of up to 79 mph, the highest speed allowed for the railway under existing regulations and
conditions. Increasing the speed of passenger rail service would require increased regulation and coordination
with freight operators.
Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) – state agency whose mission statement is to “keep people
and business moving” through the state’s transportation systems (USDOT 2011b). WSDOT has taken the initiative
in incrementally developing the mega-region’s passenger rail service, in part due to the fact that the Cascadia rail
corridor travels through the entirety of Washington State. As evidenced by both the Long-Range and Mid-Range
plans, WSDOT has been planning for over a decade. Washington is slated to receive $590 million in ARRA funds.
Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) – state agency responsible for the creation and operation of a safe
and efficient transportation system. Currently, ODOT is in the midst of signing an agreement with WSDOT over
the construction of a new Columbia River bridge. It remains to be seen whether the crossing will be utilized by
rail. Oregon is expected to receive $8 million in ARRA funds.
British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – the agency responsible for managing the province’s
transportation policies and projects. In 2009, British Columbia and Washington signed a framework agreement
to improve cooperation on transportation initiatives including high speed rail (British Columbia 2009). But
with the 2010 Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror, it is unclear how much effort and funding the province
will contribute to improve the railway.
United States Customs and Border Protection – part of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs is
charged with enforcing immigration and trade laws at international borders. An agreement will be needed with
Canadian border officials if customs checks are to be expedited in the future.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) – Canada’s border guards carry out customs checks on all entries into the
country on the Vancouver – Seattle rail stretch. The CBSA have and will impose significant costs on any additional
rail service and remain a substantial roadblock in the way of streamlining passenger rail between the U.S. and
Canada (Ferry 2008).
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) – the owners of the existing track (and right of way) in
Washington. BNSF is against any policy that will reduce capacity for freight, but with federal funding on its way,
the company is willing to work with passenger rail to achieve both sides’ aims. Regardless, BNSF will want to
impress their strong bargaining position whenever possible.
Union Pacific – owners of the existing track in Oregon. Similarly to BNSF, Union Pacific opposes expansion of
passenger rail service on their railway as it will lead to increased congestion and regulation from the FRA, cutting
into their profit margin. According to the Association of American Railroads, BNSF and Union Pacific represent
the nation’s two largest freight rail companies, both in terms of miles of track operated and total revenue (The
Amtrak – the national provider of passenger rail service in the United States. Amtrak stands to significantly gain
from a faster and more reliable passenger rail service. The company is, however, already signed up to contribute
funding for rail improvements (Long-Range plan)
Cities (Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Eugene) – each municipality has similar
interests in maximizing the rail line for economic benefit and connection to each other. Differences exist in
the manner that each city will make land use, transportation, and other policy decisions based on the improved
Appendix B – Monte Carlo Uncertainty Analysis
Rather than focusing on a single indicator of efficiency, such as Benefit-cost Ratio it is thus useful to
examine several indicators and scenarios. To further examine the impact of uncertainty, we conducted a
Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis. A Monte Carlo analysis samples from random assumption levels based
on a set of defined probabilities and runs the project across 1,000 trials. In this analysis, we allowed
the following variables to fluctuate based on a normal probability distribution: Discount Rate, Ridership
Levels, Farebox Recovery Rate, Social Benefit Multipliers for Safety Improvements, Congestion Relief, and
Environmental Benefits, and Hedonic Property Utility Weight.
The Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis produced a distribution of net benefits. This distribution was
calculated to be negative in all scenarios, denoting that even allowing for wide variability in assumptions,
we can say with 99 percent confidence that net benefits will be negative (Please see graph below).
Additionally, during 95 percent of the trial projects, the range of net benefits fell between ($1.2) billion
and ($678) million. Thus, WSDOT should not expect positive net present benefits from implementation
of Regional Express Rail, under these assumptions. However, as we will see below, there are many other
economic and project considerations that should be understood to avoid making a decision about this
project solely based on the economic bottom line.
Appendix C – Portland, OR Zoning Map
Appendix D – Vancouver, B.C. Zoning Map
Appendix E – Bellingham, WA Zoning Map
“B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-border Opportunities.” British Columbia, The Premier Online, October 9, 2009. Accessed
March 5, 2011. http://www.gov.bc.ca/premier/media_gallery/events/2009/oct/bc_washington_state_partner_on_crossborder_
“B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-border Opportunities.” The Premier Online. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.gov.bc.ca/
“High Speed Railroading.” The Economist, June 22, 2010. http://www.economist.com/node/16636101.
“Growth Management Services – Overview of the Growth Management Act.” Washington State Department of Community, Trade,
and Economic Development. Washington Department of Commerce. Accessed March 5, 2011. <http://www.commerce.
“Mission Statement and Management Principles.” About WSDOT. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/About/ManagementPrinciples.
“Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development Goals.” Oregon.gov Home Page. Nov. 2010. Web. 09 March 2011.
“Sound Transit finalizes Sounder commuter rail agreement with BNSF – Seattle-to-Everett service starts December 21.” Sound Transit,
SoundTransit.com, December 17, 2003. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.soundtransit.org/News-and-Events/News-Releases/
“The Growth Management Act of Washington State: Successes and Challenges.” League of Women Voters of Washington. League of
Women Voters of Washington Education Fund, Aug. 2006. Web. Accessed Feb. 28, 2011. <http://www.lwvwa.org/pdfs/studies/
“Washington State Segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor – from the Columbia River to the Canadian Border: Finding of No
Significant Impact.” Washington State Department of Transportation, November 2010.
“What We Do: Mission.” USDOT. Accessed March 5, 2011. About DOT, http://www.dot.gov/about.html.
“What We Do: Mission.” About DOT. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.dot.gov/about.html.
Allison De Cerreño and Shishir Mathur, “High Speed Rail Projects in the United States: Identifying the Elements of Success, Part 2.”
Mineta Transportation Institute, 06-03 (2005): 87. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://transweb.sjsu.edu/mtiportal/research/publications/
Alonso, W. 1964. Location and Land Use: Toward a General Theory of Land Rent. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
America 2050, “Connecting Cascadia.” Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.america2050.org/upload/2010/12/Connecting-Cascadia-
Andrew Nash, “Best Practices in Shared-Use High-Speed Rail Systems.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 02-02 (2003): 26. Accessed
March 5, 2011. http://transweb.sjsu.edu/mtiportal/research/publications/documents/02-02.pdf.
Barbour, Elisa and Michael Teitz. “A Framework for Collaborative Regional Decision-Making.” Public Policy Institute of California, May
2001. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://web.ppic.org/content/pubs/op/OP_501EBOP.pdf.
California DOT. CalTrans Division of Transportation Planning – Benefit Cost Analysis. March 2011 <http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/offices/
Catherine L. Ross, “Megaregions: Literature Review of the Implications for U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Transportation Planning.”
Center For Quality Growth and Regional Development, Sept. 2008: 19. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.scribd.com/
De Cerreño, Allison L. and Shishir Mathur. “High Speed Rail Projects in the United States: Identifying the Elements
of Success, Part 2.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 06-03 (2005). Accessed March 5, 2011. http://transweb.
Debrezion, G., E. Pels, and P. Reitveld. The Impact of Railway Stations on Residential and Commercial Property
Value: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, 35(2): 161-180.
Dively, Dwight and Jr R Zerbe. Benefit-Cost Analysis: In Theory and Practice. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers
Elisa Barbour and Michael Teitz. “A Framework for Collaborative Regional Decision-Making.” Public Policy Institute
of California, May 2001: 19. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://web.ppic.org/content/pubs/op/OP_501EBOP.pdf.
Ferry, John. “Why not a bullet train for Vancouver – Seattle?” The Vancouver Province, November 17, 2008. Accessed
March 5, 2011. http://www2.canada. com/theprovince/columnists/story.html?id=311cba61-62a0-
Forkenbrock, David J. and Glen E. Weisbrod. A Guidebook for Assessing the Social and Economic Effects of Transportation
Projects. Washington D.C.: National Cooperative Highway Research Program – National Academy Press,
Fred W. Frailey, “Railroads may reject high speed projects.” Trains May 28, 2010. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://
Fred W. Frailey. “Railroads may reject high speed projects.” Trains, May 28, 2010. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://
Hanson, Susan, and Genevieve Giuliano. The Geography of Urban Transportation. Third ed. New York: Guilford,
Jon Ferry, “Why not a bullet train for Vancouver – Seattle?” The Vancouver Province, Nov. 17, 2008. Accessed March
5, 2011. http:// www2.canada.com/theprovince/columnists/story.html?id=311cba61-62a0-45d4-b0b0-
Jordan Prozzi, “Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements.” Center for Transportation
Research, Project Summary Report 0-5022-S, March 2006, p. 3. http://www.utexas.edu/research/ctr/
Litman, T. 2001. Evaluating Transportation Equity. Available at www.vtpi.org/equity.pdf
Morrison, S., and C. Winston. 1985. An Econometric Analysis of the Demand for Intercity Transportation. Research
in Transportation Economics, 2:213-237.
Nash, Andrew. “Best Practices in Shared-Use High-Speed Rail Systems.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 02-02
(2003): 26-43. http:// transweb.sjsu.edu/mtiportal/research/publications/documents/02-02.pdf
Oregon Dept. of Transportation, “ODOT purchases passenger trains.“ Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.oregon.
Prozzi, Jordan. “Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements.” Center for Transportation
Research, Project Summary Report 0-5022-S. Accessed March 5, 2011. http://www.utexas.edu/
Puget Sound Regional Council, Transportation 2040 Public Opinion Research. October 22, 2009. Accessed March
11, 2011. http:// www.psrc.org/assets/2977/Transportation_2040_Survey_Data_Summary.pdf
Rose, Michael K. “Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads.” BNSF Railway. October 19, 2009. Accessed March 5, 2011.
Ross, Catherine L. “Megaregions: Literature Review of the Implications for U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Transportation
Planning.” Center For Quality Growth and Regional Development, Sept. 2008. Accessed March 5,
Ruhl, Aad. “Intercity Rail Passenger Systems Update.” Current Research and Development in Intercity Rail Passenger
Transportations for America, “Future of Transportation Survey.” Accessed March 11, 2011. http://t4america.org/
USDOT Blog, “High-speed rail – the future we can’t afford to leave behind.”Accessed March 11, 2011. http://fastlane.
Washington State Dept. of Transporation. “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades.” February 2006. http://www.wsdot.
Washington State Dept. of Transportation, “2003 Nickel Funding Package.” Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.
Washington State Dept. of Transportation, “Agreements secure $590 million in federal passenger rail funding for
Washington state.” Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/News/2011/02/26_HighSpeedRailAgreements.
Washington State Dept. of Transportation, “Amtrak Cacsades and WSDOT.” Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.
Washington State Dept. of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades hoping to cash in with new lottery ticket partnership.”
Washington State Dept. of Transportation. “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan.” December 2008. http://www.wsdot.
Wee, Bert Van. “Rail Infrastructure: Challenges for Cost-Benefit Analysis and Other ex ante Evaluations .” Transportation
Planning and Technology (2007): 31-48.
Scenario 3: True High-Speed Rail
in the Cascadia Region
High-Speed Rail in the Cascadia Region
A report by:
Nick Armstrong, Easton Branam, Gregory Brey,
Erika Harris, Tera Hatfield, Yifan Li, Rachel May,
Dadi Ottosson, Jeff Pierson, Gary Pollack,
and Eiji Torikai
Table of Contents
Executive Summary ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 173
HSR: An Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 173
Governance …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 177
Economic Benefits and Impacts ……………………………………………………………………………………… 180
Economic Impacts of HSR ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 185
Financing High-Speed Rail ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 187
Land-Use Planning in HSR ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 189
Station Area Planning ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 192
Environmental Impacts ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 195
Conclusion ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 198
The United States Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has implemented a plan to
create regional High Speed Rail (HSR) systems throughout the nation, with the hope
of connecting megaregions into a national rail network. This plan will run in phases
in the hopes that local successes can be scaled into regional networks, which can
then be connected to one another. After evaluating the potential for successful rail
systems throughout the country, the Pacific Northwest (Cascadia Region) was
chosen as one of 11 megaregions to receive funding for HSR in the second phase of
This report analyzes the potential for HSR in the Cascadia Region as it relates to
governance structures, economic vitality, growth management, and environmental
impacts. Research shows that carefully connecting Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and
Vancouver, BC, can lay the foundation for regional interconnectivity that will
provide long-term benefits that cannot be paralleled otherwise. Through such
innovation as transit-oriented development, public-private partnerships, and a
regional governance authority, the Cascadia Region can surely establish itself as a
hub of collaboration and innovation whilst providing an efficient and dependable
mode of environmentally-friendly transportation.
HSR: An Introduction
Before embarking on a major infrastructure investment like a national High Speed
Rail (HSR) system it is necessary to have clear working definitions of such a project.
This section will highlight both national and international definitions of HSR. This
will establish a basis for the analysis conducted throughout this paper and limit
alternatives that fall outside of the traditional boundaries of HSR.
The main defining characteristic for HSR is the speed at which the trains operate.
The Federal Railroad Association (FRA) in the United States states the minimum
speed to be considered HSR is 240 km/h (150mph)1 while the International Union
of Railways and European Union requires speeds of 250 km/h (155 mph) for new
lines and up to 200 km/h (125 mph) for existing lines.2
A second characteristic of HSR is that it operates on dedicated tracks and has a
minimal number of at-grade crossings. The FRA definition goes a step further,
requiring “Top speeds of at least 150 mph on completely grade-separated, dedicated
rights-of-way (with the possible exception of some shared track in terminal areas).”
Overhead electric lines typically power HSR; magnetic levitation (aka maglev) is
under development in China and Japan, but these are by the far the minority. Since
All of these organizations
recognize there are many factors that may limit speeds, including geographic
constraints, safety regulations, and local ordinances.
1 Vision for High Speed Rail in America. FRA. April 2009.
2 “General definitions of highspeed.” International Union of Railways. March 12 2011.
maglev trains cannot run on conventional rail tracks, they will not be considered for
implementation in the Cascadia region.
Finally, according to the FRA, HSR occupies a very specific but important niche in a
country’s national transportation system. HSR is most efficient at connecting major
metropolitan areas at distances between 200 and 600 miles. At shorter distances, an
automobile or commuter rail is a more efficient means of transportation. Beyond
600 miles, airplanes are typically the mode of choice. Since there is very limited HSR
in the United States currently, the introduction of HSR is intended to relieve
highway and airline congestion in the mid-range.
The following sections provide a brief overview of some existing HSR systems
around the world that provide insights into what HSR in the Cascadia Region could
Japan has the distinction of
opening the first HSR link between
two major cities. The Tokaido
Shinkasen, operating between
Tokyo and Osaka, opened in
October of 1964 and has been in
operation since. Since that line
opened, HSR has spread across
Japan, as can be seen in the figure
at right. Unlike many other HSR
lines around the world, Japan’s
system is almost entirely linear
with very few spokes running off
the main line. This is due almost
entirely to the geographic makeup
of the islands of Japan.
Japan’s HSR is operated by six
different private entities. These
private companies were formed in
1987 when the government-owned Japanese National Railways disbanded and
distributed its assets and liabilities. The companies are organized under the label
Japan Railways Group. Although the companies are independent, they share trains,
which transfer from one company’s route to another without interruption.
The Tokyo-Osaka line has been upgraded several times but the current rolling stock
is capable of making the trip between the two cities in about 2 hours and 25 minutes
at top speeds of 270 km/h (170 mph). One unique aspect of this link is that three
different levels of service are operated along this route. Although High Speed trains
operate all trips, smaller cities are served intermittently throughout the day, which
Figure 1. Japan’s HSR System (Wikipedia)
increases the accessibility of towns along the route. This naturally increases the
travel time between Tokyo and Osaka but demonstrates the possibility of operating
different levels of HSR service on the same tracks. 3
Following Japan’s success with HSR, France was the second country to operate a
High Speed link between two cities. The first TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) line
opened between Paris and Lyon in September 1981. Since that first line, the French
HSR system has expanded in a typical hub and spoke fashion that has become
common in many countries, especially in Europe. There are currently nine lines in
operation, three under construction and eleven planned.
Speeds on France’s TGV currently reach
maximum speeds of approximately 320
km/h (200 mph). The hub and spoke design
allows TGV trains to connect to other major
European cities which enables convenient
transfers to other HSR systems around
Europe. The system is operated by the
French government’s rail program, SNCF.
One unique aspect of HSR in Paris is that true
high-speed service starts outside the city
center. TGV trains don’t reach high speeds
until they are approximately 16 km (10 mi)
away from the city center. This design was
necessitated by lack of available real estate
for track construction in downtown Paris.
TGV trains operate on traditional tracks
inside the city at traditional speeds and only
achieve HSR service once outside the city on
dedicated tracks specifically designed for
HSR service. 4
China, as a nation, has only recently undertaken HSR development but has quickly
become a leading authority. There are several HSR links currently in operation and
many more planned. The average speed of China’s HSR is about 310 km/h (190
mph) with approximately 8,000 km of track providing service at these speeds.
Another 2,000 km of track operate with top speeds around 350 km/h (220 mph).
China achieved these impressive results from the implementation of six government
sponsored “Speed-Up” campaigns that began in 1997 with the most recent one
3 “About the Shinkasen.” Central Japan Railway Company. March 1, 2011.
4 Trainweb. “TGV Basics.” Accessed March 2, 2011
Figure 2. France’s HSR System (Wikipedia)
concluding in 2007. Though China does operate a maglev train, the majority of
China’s HSR rolling stock is electrically powered. The entire system is operated by
China’s Ministry of Railways. 5
Northeast U.S. (Acela Express)
The United States has implemented HSR in
the Northeast Corridor (NEC) of the
country. The Acela Express service
operates between Boston, MA and
Washington, D.C. and opened in December
2000. While not true HSR service, it is the
only attempt at HSR in the United States.
Amtrak operates the service along the
corridor using existing tracks with minor
With these improvements, trains can
operate at maximum speeds of 240 km/h
(150 mph) with average speeds closer to
130 km/h (80 mph). The purchase of
rolling stock with greater tilting capability in turns is the greatest contribution to
the speed improvements, however, this does not qualify as true HSR because the
speeds are not fast enough and the trains operate on traditional track without
Northwest U.S. (Cascadia HSR)
After investigating HSR around the world, the first question that arises is whether
the Cascadia mega-region can support a true HSR system. The graphic below
compares the metro area populations in cities with HSR to the distance between
5 Xinzhen, Lan. “Riding the High Speed Rails.” Beijing Review, May 27, 2010.
6 Vantuono, William C. “Amtrak’s vision: Today, the Northeast. Tomorrow, America.”
Figure 3. Northeast U.S. HSR System (Amtrak)
Figure 4. Comparison of HSR Systems around the World
Two conclusions can be drawn from the above graphic. First, based merely on the
image above, there is definitely potential for HSR within the Northwest Corridor.
The regional populations and distances between Vancouver B.C., Seattle, WA and
Portland, OR are consistent with those along other HSR systems. On the negative
side, the difficulties in connecting a Cascadia HSR system with the remainder of the
United States are great, limiting the potential for connectivity to major population
and economic centers.
The evidence presented in this paper will demonstrate that HSR is a viable option in
the Cascadia region and should be pursued. When considering how HSR service
would look, the following assumptions were developed, based on comparisons with
HSR around the world and with input from research conducted by Portland
• HSR will first run between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland;
o Potential expansion to smaller cities can imitate the Shinkasen;
• True HSR speeds will begin outside of the city centers much like the TGV; and
• The system will initially run at top speeds of approximately 320 km/h (200
mph) and will operate 12 runs every day between Seattle and Portland.
Amtrak Cascades Ownership & Management
Amtrak Cascades is managed in a disconnected manner: tracks are currently owned
by the BNSF and Union Pacific railway companies while trains are owned separately
by the states (2 by WA, 1 by OR) and Amtrak.7
7 WSDOT, “Amtrak Cascades Long Range Plan”
The states and British Columbia each
have separate operating contracts with Amtrak, which are renewed annually and
• Amtrak’s responsibilities for providing high-quality Amtrak Cascades
• Each state’s share of the operating losses incurred by the trains;
• The maximum amount each state pays Amtrak to run service; and
• The states’ roles in Amtrak Cascades marketing efforts, fare structure,
scheduling, food service, and other on-board service delivery
The multiple-contract approach creates a disconnected regional rail system that
forces each partner to negotiate with one another on separate terms. Not only is this
detrimental to the general functionality of Amtrak Cascades, it does not create the
strong ties required for regional interdependence or coordinated infrastructure
The Amtrak Cascades route operates over an international boundary, forcing all of
the route’s partners to undertake additional coordination of customs and travel
policies. The Framework Agreement, signed in 2009 by WA State Governor
Christine Gregoire and BC Premier Gordon Campbell, established a commitment
between the two states that ensured each country would work to streamline the
border crossing process and abstain from imposing fees on passengers and
authorities9. This agreement led to the British Columbia-Washington State joint
Transportation Executive Council, established in the Fall of 2010. The Council’s role
is “to facilitate co-operation on initiatives of mutual interest related to multi-modal
regional transportation planning and coordination, and related bi-national
transportation issues.” What is most applicable, though, is that the first of the
Council’s four central goals is “developing and advancing a shared vision of highspeed
passenger rail service”10
One effective measure undertaken on the
WA/BC boundary is the Swift Customs
Facility, which briefly diverts goods
moving across the boundary to improve
the schedule reliability of
Amtrak Cascades passenger trains (see
Figure 5).11 Construction started in 2006
and completed in 2009 for $6 million.12
9 Framework for Transportation, Competitiveness & Prosperity.
10 Province of British Columbia. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. B.C., Washington State Improve
11 WSDOT, WSDOT Projects – Rail, Rail – Blaine – Customs Facility Siding -, “Project Map”
12 WSDOT, WSDOT Projects – Rail, “Rail – Blaine – Customs Facility Siding -“
Figure 5: Swift Customs Facility (Source: WADOT)
Similar efforts must build on the relationships established in this endeavor.
Need for Regional Governance
The complex structure of rail ownership and operation, including international
concerns, indicates that the success of HSR depends upon a cohesive governance
strategy. The region should create the Northwest High-Speed Rail Authority
(NWHSRA), akin to California’s HSR Authority13
, but building from the successes of
partnerships throughout the Region.
The proposed authority, NWHSRA, should be an entity established and operated
with cooperation between WA, OR, and BC, and be authorized through Joint Power
Agreements, a contract between administrative bodies in which each partner lends
its authoritative powers to the designated administrative body. For example, the
Northwest Power and Conservation Council is a regional organization organized by
Joint Power Agreements whose member states are ID, MT, OR, and WA.14 This
council develops and maintains a regional power plan and a fish and wildlife
program to collaboratively balance the Northwest’s environment and energy
Additionally, current funding for Amtrak Cascades is unbalanced, with Washington
State bearing the majority of the burden. While this may continue to be the case in
the future, as the majority of the rail line lies in WA, this governing body should be
based on equal stature and each state/province should fund the Authority
Structure of NWHSRA
Based on the composition of California’s HSR Authority, the NWHSRA should consist
of an Executive Council, ad hoc working groups, and a full staff tasked with
supporting the Authority’s work. The Executive Council would be made up of the
Washington and Oregon governors, the Premier of British Columbia, and the
secretaries and minister of each Dept/Ministry of Transportation. The inclusion of
executives and department heads will guarantee that the region’s authority figures
are present and capable of making decisions.
Working groups, created on an ad hoc basis to guide specific initiatives, would be
subject to the direction of the Executive Council and consist of:
• 1 executive from each DOT, each major city’s transit authority, and each MPO
• 1 representative from each major city’s Chamber of Commerce
• 1 representative from every affected tribe through the corridor
• 5 advocates appointed by each major City Council
13 California High-Speed Rail Authority, “Report to the Legislature December 2009”
14 Northwest Power and Conservation Council, About US
The creation of a regional authority that is equally empowered and funded will lay
the foundation for the level of regional collaboration necessary to fully realize the
benefits HSR can bring to the Cascadia Region.
Shared Vision Process
The Cascadia Region is particularly experienced in community engagement
techniques and has learned through decades of initiatives that shared visions not
only inform regional decisions but also uncover and cultivate regional assets and
priorities. Some successful programs that have proven these results include the
Vancouver Livable Region Plan, Waterfront Seattle, and Portland’s new Public
Involvement Advisory Committee (PIAC).
In particular, Portland’s PIAC has reported on seven guiding principles for effective
public involvement: partnership, early involvement, relationship building and
community capacity, inclusiveness and equity, good quality process design and
implementation, transparency, and accountability. These principles intend to define
expectations from city governments while retaining flexibility in the way individual
bureaus carry out their work.16
To discover and solidify a shared vision, an initial working group will be appointed
and tasked with facilitating a process intended to build a shared vision among
elected officials, administrators, and citizens. The authority should create a process
• Holistic & “bottom up” with interactive techniques to elicit ideation
• Supported by digestible data and visualization
• Transparent in addressing funding, levels of service, future stations, etc.
• Based locally in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver
• Accessible to those who cannot attend (e.g. live-streaming, recording)
• Conducted in waves to build on input gathered in each principality
After the shared vision process, stakeholder communities must continue to be
engaged in the process. Through public involvement, directed by each DOT in
collaboration with the Authority’s Council, working groups, and staff, stakeholder
groups will have the ability to provide feedback and potentially participate in
certain phases of the project. Besides the shared vision process, public involvement
should occur prior to most major planning, construction, and operation phases.
Economic Benefits and Impacts
HSR has the potential to create substantial economic benefits throughout the
Cascadia region. On a social level it can ensure safe and efficient transportation
choice, contribute to economic development and redevelopment, reduce
dependence on foreign fuel, lower carbon emissions, and support more
16 PIAC First Annual Progress Report, February 2010:
interconnected, livable communities.17 HSR in the Cascadia region can also increase
mobility and reduce congestion in the I-5 corridor and at regional airports. Lastly,
HSR supports tourism, one of Washington’s top industries.18
The economic benefits
and impacts of a HSR system in Cascadia are discussed below.
HSR Creates Temporary Construction Jobs
The Pacific Northwest Corridor HSR project, has the potential to create many shortterm
jobs. Based on jobs-per-mile estimates from California HSR studies, new shortterm,
full-time construction jobs over the course of building this project could range
from 65,00019 to 240,000 jobs.20 Most of the jobs would be created around the HSR
stations and would generally include planning, engineering, and construction.21
HSR Creates Permanent Jobs
HSR operation is estimated to require at least 2,400 new positions, including:22
• Train maintenance and overhaul, including system and electrical engineers
and technicians and other high-tech positions
• Drivers, conductors and on-board service
• Management, administration, ticketing, and security
• Operations, control, and power management
• Track, ballast, power system, signaling/telecommunications, and structure
Additionally, based on jobs-per-mile estimates from California studies,23 this project
has the potential to create up to 180,000 permanent new full-time jobs. These
include jobs that are created indirectly by population and economic growth over the
next 20 years. Since HSR can reduce transportation costs and increase accessibility,
the project has the potential to further induce population growth over this period.24
Direct Mobility, Environmental, and Economic Benefits
Regional HSR can be an alternative to expanding freeway and airway networks. It
has proven to be an effective transportation option around the world to reduce auto
and airline traffic and integrate new geographic regions into the market.25
17 AAR (Association of American Rail Roads), “Freight and Passenger Rail:
economic cost savings fall into four benefits categories: mode-shift, congestion
reduction, air pollution reduction and accident reduction.
Finding the Right Balance.”
18 WSDOT, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan.”
19 CHSRA, “California’s Economic Stimulus.”
20 CHSRA, “The Big Picture.”
21 Peterman, David, John Fritelli, and William Mallet, “High Speed Rail in the United States.”
22 CHSRA, “The Big Picture.”
23 CHSRA, “California’s Economic Stimulus.”
24 WSDOT, “Population Growth.”
25 Kantor, Shawn, “The Economic Impact of the California High-Speed Rail in the Sacramento/Central Valley
Mode-shift benefits can take two forms26
Congestion-reduction benefits are defined as the social time savings that travelers
experience due to both choosing HSR over other modes and the reduction in road or
air traffic caused by some people shifting to HSR
. First, mode-shift benefits are savings that
travelers receive simply by shifting their current travel mode to HSR. For example, a
person who has been driving to Portland for business would save valuable time and
reduce out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. gas, vehicle wear and tear, tolls, parking fees)
even after the cost of a ticket. In addition, using HSR exposes the person to less
safety risk than driving and enables the person to be more productive during the
ride. The second form of mode-shift benefits is generated by providing efficient
travel options to those whom otherwise might not have the means to travel.
27. Reducing congestion increases
the efficiency of existing highways and reduces pressure to build new highways,
relieving governments from spending billions in maintenance and construction.28
However, while a number of travelers may change their travel modes, reduced
highway congestion can attract new users29
. This is often called induced or latent
demand, and should be considered when making transportation decisions.
Air pollution reduction benefits come from the reduced number of people driving and
flying. This improves air quality because HSR trains in this region would likely use
clean energy. These benefits are discussed further in the Environmental section.
Safety benefits occur because HSR is an extremely safe mode of travel. Around the
world, HSR’s safety record is extraordinarily high. Excepting the recent earthquake
and tsunami in Japan, there has never been a fatal accident on either Japan or
France’s high-speed rail systems, despite carrying billions of passengers over the
course of several decades. 30 Conversely, automobiles are the leading cause of death
of people aged 1 to 24 years in the US.31 Automobile accidents result in 40,000
fatalities, 3.4 million injuries, and $200 billion of damages annually in the US. A shift
to HSR is therefore expected to save lives and reduce property damage.32 To realize
this safety, HSR corridors must be sealed and must contain no at-grade crossings.33
Table 1 shows the estimated value ($160.1 million) for the benefits discussed above:
Total $40 $100 $17 $3 $0.1 $160.1
28 AAR, “The Economic Impact of America’s Freight Railroads.”
29 Downs, Anthony, “Still stuck in traffic: coping with peak-hour traffic congestion.”
30 OSPIRG, “A Track Record of Success: high-speed rail around the world and its promise for America.”
31 Frumkin, Howard, “Injuries and Deaths from Traffic.”
32 Kantor, Shawn, “The Economic Impact of the California High-Speed Rail in the Sacramento/Central Valley
33 AAR, “The Economic Impact of America’s Freight Railroads.”
Table 1: Estimated Direct Benefits of HSR in the Cascadia region (in millions of dollars), based on total direct
benefits estimated for the California HSR project by Cambridge Systematics. Assuming that total benefits are
directly based on total ridership, total direct benefits are $160.1 million for HSR in the Cascadia region.
These are rough estimates, as there is not a simple linear relationship between
direct benefits and number of riders. To assess benefits more accurately, an
extensive study must be conducted to account for differences in the size and
structure of the region. Still, this direct benefits analysis does give a general idea of
the size of benefits that would accrue with HSR. In general, a state-of-the-art HSR
system offers more reliability and better travel times, and would therefore attract
more ridership and have more direct benefits than a slower system.
Opportunity for Building a Regional Utility Corridor
Constructing a new HSR corridor creates the opportunity to install an underground,
high-voltage, direct-current electrical transmission line in the HSR right of way.34
Sharing hydroelectric, and potentially wind-generated, power throughout the West
Coast could help stabilize the regional power grid – doing so under HSR lines could
minimize maintenance costs.35 Providing this transmission line would also generate
revenues for the HSR system, but revenue estimates are currently unavailable.36
Increased Freight Capacity and Reliability
By moving most passenger trains off of the freight tracks the project would increase
freight capacity and reliability.37 Further benefits to freight would be realized
through improvements to rights-of-way where freight would share tracks with HSR.
In addition, freight could use the HSR tracks at night, when HSR is not running.38
Timing and dispatching would be crucial, as the HSR trains would share tracks with
freight in some cities, as is done in France, Germany, and other European countries.
If increasing freight reliability and capacity results in making freight rail a more
attractive alternative for shippers, this freight shift from roads to rail would lead to
additional environmental, energy, and congestion relief benefits.39
Induced Economic Development in Station Areas
The findings on whether or not HSR increases economic development are mixed.
Albalate and Bel state that “It is consistently reported that HSR does not generate
any new activities nor does it attract new firms and investment, but rather it helps
to consolidate and promote on-going processes [and facilitates] intra-organizational
journeys for those firms and institutions for whom mobility is essential.”40
34 GAO, “Issues Associated with High-Voltage Direct-Current Transmission Lines along Transportation Rights of
35 Personal communication with Bruce Agnew, February 25, 2011.
36 GAO, “Issues Associated with High-Voltage Direct-Current Transmission Lines along Transportation Rights of
37 De Rus, Ginés and Gustavo Nombela, “Is Investment in High Speed Rail Socially Profitable?”
38 OSPIRG, “A Track Record of Success: high-speed rail around the world and its promise for America.”
40 Albalate, Daniel and Germà Bel, “High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad.”
Conversely, the Economic Development Research Group for the U.S. Conference of
Mayors studied the economic impact of high-speed rail on four different urban
regions and found many economic benefits.41
• Helps drive higher density, mixed use development at train stations
They found that HSR:
• Increases business productivity through travel efficiency gains
• Expands visitor markets and generates additional spending
• Broadens regional labor markets
• Supports the growth of technology clusters
Some transit-oriented development (TOD) in station areas is possible with
appropriate station placement and careful planning.42
This development can
provide jobs and services for people living in and traveling through the area. Station
area development is discussed further in the Station Area Planning section.
HSR Increases Regional Tourism
Tourism is one of the first sectors to grow following the inauguration of a HSR line.43
However, while the number of tourists in cities along the HSR network tends to
increase, the number of overnight stays falls due to easier same-day travel.
HSR can also be more reliable than air travel. A volcanic eruption in Iceland
disrupted global air traffic in the spring of 2010, but many travelers were able to get
to their destinations in a timely way by HSR. 44
Virgin Trains reported carrying an
extra 2,000 passengers between Glasgow and London. Other HSR systems reported
similar ridership increases after planes were grounded due the volcano’s activity.
While HSR has the potential to shift demand from other modes of transportation,
the various modes of travel can work together to attract tourism to the region. For
instance, the Victoria Clipper is marketing its “2 nation vacation”, a package in which
travelers from Seattle ride the Victoria Clipper to Victoria BC, take a BC ferry to
Vancouver, and ride an Amtrak Cascades train back to Seattle.45
Increases and Shifts in Business Travel
Currently, only about 19 percent of Amtrak Cascades customers are traveling for
business, leaving much room for growth in this market segment.46 HSR can provide
a highly reliable service with limited delays.47
41 Development Research Group, “The Economic Impacts of High-Speed Rail on Cities and Their Metropolitan
Additionally, HSR can offer
considerable advantages in terms of comfort, convenience, and productivity.
42 OSPIRG, “A Track Record of Success: high-speed rail around the world and its promise for America.”
43 Albalate, Daniel and Germà Bel, “High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad.”
44 BBC News, “Icelandic volcanic ash disruption prompts rush to rail.”
45 Victoria Clipper, “2 Nation Tour: Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver”
46 WSDOT, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan.”
47 Albalate, Daniel and Germà Bel, “High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad.”
Economic Impacts of HSR
According to the California HSR Business Plan48 and a report from the Congressional
the cost-per-mile can vary from $20 million up to $85 million. At
a per-mile cost of $30 million, the entire 320 miles of the Cascadia HSR line would
cost approximately $9.6 billion.
Yearly operational costs are estimated to be between $0.8 and $1 billion, based on a
study of the HSR segment from San Francisco to Merced to Los Angeles in
California.50 In this comparison, the operational costs “…consist of train operations
and equipment maintenance. Both of these are very labor intensive and depend
highly on the number of trains and the operating schedule. Maintenance-of-way and
replacement costs for infrastructure and train sets are included…These costs also
include a variety of long-term costs, including advertising, reservations, station
services and general support. Electric power consumption accounts for the
remaining major component of operations and maintenance costs.”51
These include loss of business during construction, traffic congestion and noise
caused by construction activities, and energy use from construction. Impacts from
operation of HSR not taken into account previously could include effects such as
train noise affecting communities along the rail line, losses to airlines and
businesses serving airline travelers, and losses to businesses serving auto travelers.
For instance, a year after the inauguration of HSR in France and Spain, a third of
their air traffic switched to rail, highly depleting the air-traffic economy.52
There is also the opportunity cost of focusing on constructing and maintaining HSR.
Resources could be spent on projects such as local light rail systems and social
services improvements and would depend on the source and restrictions of funding.
This may not be true for federal funding because funds not spent on HSR in this
region could potentially go to other regions. David Levinson acknowledges the
opportunity costs of HSR in his recent paper, stating that opportunity costs are
seldom mentioned in economic analyses of HSR.53
Equity Implications of HSR
From an income perspective, the HSR project is not vertically or horizontally
equitable. Horizontal equity considers the potential for each alternative to treat
48 CHSRA, “Business Plan 2008.”
49 Peterman, David, John Fritelli, and William Mallet, “High Speed Rail in the United States.”
50 CHSRA, “Business Plan 2008.”
52 Albalate, Daniel and Germà Bel, “High-Speed Rail: Lessons for Policy Makers from Experiences Abroad.”
53 Levinson, David, “Economic Development Impacts of High-speed rail.”
different groups of people equally.54
Vertical equity considers the effects on people
who differ in needs and abilities, including income. Moderate to higher-income
earners will likely travel more on HSR than low-income earners whom are less able
to afford to long distance travel. The taxes Low-income earners would likely pay to
fund HSR may be disproportionate to the low level of benefits they receive. On the
other hand, job seekers can benefit from the employment opportunities created by
HSR, and these jobs could help lower-income earners.
Large Subsidies in the Short-Term
At currently estimated ridership, operational costs are much higher than revenues.
Consequently, the system will need a subsidy in the short-term. Ridership was
estimated using demand elasticity for intercity passenger rails that was taken from
studies by Steven A. Morrison and Clifford Winston.55 In that study elasticities for
cost and travel time were on average -0.8 and 1.6 respectively. The ridership for
Fiscal Year 2023, according to the Amtrak Long-Range plan, is estimated to be 3
million riders (based on 110 MPH trains)56
. Assuming Cascadia HSR will reach 200
mph and the cost of a one-way trip is 80% of the average cost of airfare from Seattle
to Portland, ridership would be around 5 million passengers and revenues could
amount to $600 million. Table 2 below helps illustrate these differences:
Table 2: Estimated ridership (one-way trips) for Cascadia Corridor Rail Alternatives, FY 2023.
Corridor Ridership on 110 MPH Ridership on 200 mph
Seattle to Vancouver, BC 945,700 1,532,980
Seattle to Portland 1,916,400 3,106,484
Portland to Vancouver, BC 133,200 215,917
Total* 2,995,300 4,855,381
*Calculations are based on a study of Chicago’s project ridership in 110 and 200 MPH scenarios.
Assuming that the operation and maintenance costs will average $900 million
dollars, as assumed in the operational cost section, the gap between yearly fare box
revenues and operational cost will be around $300 million dollars. Other revenues
that could cover at least part of this gap are advertising and retail sales on trains and
at stations, as well as utility corridor rental. Although it is difficult to estimate these
revenues, they would not likely exceed $200 million per year, so a subsidy of at least
$100 million would be needed each year under this scenario. Assuming the same
ticket price, the ridership needed to close a $100 million gap is approximately 1.1
million riders, or 6 million riders total. It should be noted that all of the calculations
are estimates based on assumptions, including the elasticity of demand analysis.
Placing light rail in a region can increase growth and transit ridership, but only
under the right conditions and policies, including the right structure and
54 Litman, Todd, “Evaluating Transportation Equity.”
This implies that projecting accurate ridership is a much
55 Morrison, Steven A. and Clifford Winston, “An Econometric Analysis of the Demand for Intercity
56 WSDOT, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades.”
57 Handy, Susan, “Smart Growth and the Transportation-Land Use Connection: What Does the Research Tell Us?”
more complex calculation than the simple elasticity calculation provided above and
it is obvious that further studies are needed. These estimates do, however, provide a
rough, yet reasonable, picture of the costs and benefits of HSR and require decision
makers to grapple with the question: Is it worth $100 million per year (until
ridership increases) plus the cost of construction to have a HSR system in Cascadia?
Financing High-Speed Rail
General financing strategies
In the practice of local government capital budgeting and finance, there are four
types of tools that are commonly used to finance infrastructure projects: pay-asyou-
go capital financing, debt financing, public-private partnerships (P3s), and
outside capital financing.
Pay-as-you-go is a financing tool that typically funds small capital assets from the
annual operating budget while placing major capital projects and acquisitions in the
Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), securing debt and other capital financing for
This technique is most useful for small projects, as it places a large demand
on immediate resources.
Debt financing is an approach to issue different types of bonds or debt to finance
capital projects and acquisitions. Such debt is distinguished primarily in terms of
pledged security. The most common types of bonds are general obligation (GO)
bonds and revenue bonds.59 The California HSR system will be heavily funded by the
sale of GO bonds ($9.95 billion).60
P3s are usually in the form of a long-term lease of municipal assets. This type of
lease, which can last up to 99 years, is governed by a concession agreement that can
be tailored to meet the needs of public partners as well as the interests of private
partners. One well-known example of P3s in the United States is the Chicago Skyway
project. Cintra-Macquairie, a consortium of European investors, agreed to provide
the city with a one-time cash payment of $1.83 billion and assume responsibility for
all operations and maintenance on the Skyway in exchange for the right to collect
and manage tolls and concessions collected on the road until 2104.61
also included specific methods and timeframes for initial toll raises.
Outside capital financing includes federal and other intergovernmental grants, as
well as contributions from other local governments from interlocal arrangements.
The most important federal funding sources dedicated to high-speed rail projects
are those from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
58 Marlowe, Justin and Rivenbark William C., Capital Budgeting and Finance: A Guild for Local Governments
(Washington D.C., ICMA, 2004).
60 California High-Speed Rail Authority, “Report to the Legislature December 2009”
61 Skyway Concession Company, “History about the Skyway”.
Major infrastructure projects like HSR require such substantial investments that
they are seldom funded by one of the four tools alone. In practice, financing plans
for HSR are usually a complex combination of these tools, varying by political,
financial, and cultural factors of a country or region.
Challenges in Funding HSR
As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, equity fundraising for infrastructure projects
has dropped significantly. Virtually all states are facing severe budget shortfalls.
Combined U.S. state budget shortfalls exceed $300 billion in both state fiscal years
FY 2009 and FY 2010, and further deficits are anticipated in FY 2011 and FY 2012.62
While states are seeking ways to close these funding gaps, constitutional and legal
constraints limit many states’ abilities to borrow to fund their deficits. Usage of
federal funding and certain taxes is also frequently restricted.63
In other words,
states’ ability to use common funding tools to finance expensive infrastructure
projects has been largely restricted.
The ongoing California HSR
project is a good example in
addressing these challenges.
The total cost of the project
is estimated to be $42
billion. The project has
received $9.95 billion from
state bonds and $2.3 billion
from federal HSR stimulus
P3s— A Promising Approach for Funding HSR
The project will also
receive part of the federal
funds that were rejected by the
Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida corridors. However, these funds cannot solely finance
the entire project. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently traveled to
East Asia, appealing directly to Chinese and Japanese leaders for direct investment
in the HSR project. The Cascadia Region will face similar funding issues.
Budget shortfalls around the country largely limit states’ abilities to finance
infrastructure projects using pay-as-you go financing, debt financing, and federal
funding. Especially after the 2008 financial crisis, many local governments are
turning to P3s to finance infrastructure projects. In fact, with the exception of Hong
Kong, no HSR system in the world has been built with private or public means alone.
Below are some examples:
62 Runde, James, J. Perry Offutt, Stacie D. Selinger, and Jennifer Sarah Bolton, “Infrastructure Public-Private
Partnerships Re-Defined: An Increased Emphasis on “Partnerships.””
64 See note 3.
Figure 6: Total State Budget Shortfalls (In $Billions, Per FY)1
Figure 7: Source: Source Census.gov
• Japan: Shinkansen system was funded by the joint effort of the Japan Railway
Company (50%), National Government (35%) and local governments (15%).65
• Trans-European: The total cost of these projects is estimated to be 400 billion
ECU, and it was mostly financed with public resources until 2000. As budget
constraints have become increasingly severe, private funds are playing a more
important role in financing the HSR networks.
• Taiwan: The total project cost was approximately $14.5 billion. Taiwan High
Speed Rail Corporation, a consortium of private investors, provided $11 billion
in exchange for a concession period from 1998 to 2033. The remaining $3.5
billion was funded by the Taiwan Government.
• China (Beijing—Shanghai Line): The 750-mile HSR costs about $33 billion. It
will be co-financed by the Ministry of Railway (through Railway Construction
Funds and selling railway bonds) and Beijing Shanghai High Speed Rail
Corporation which is a consortium of private investors.
• Hong Kong: Approved on January 16, 2010, this controversial project will
connect Hong Kong to China’s national high-speed rail networks. The 26-
kilometer high-speed rail costs 6.69 billion HKD (i.e., approximately 0.86 billion
USD) and it will be exclusively funded by the Hong Kong SAR Government
through tax revenues.
Land-Use Planning in HSR
The increased accessibility and connectivity provided by HSR directly affects
regional economic structures, land values, and spatial patterns. In order for HSR to
result in desired changes, it is essential that local and regional governments plan for
the effects of HSR on land use, both directly around the station, as well as at a
Researchers theorize that HSR’s ability to
provide rapid intercity trips, under
specific conditions for success, can unify
regional labor markets to act as a single
65 Financial Affairs Division, Railway Bureau, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism of
Japan, in discussion with the author, February 2011.
These “co-cities” typically exist
when travel times are less than one hour.
While Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland
may be too far to be effective co-cities,
they can still benefit from coordinated, or
clustered, economies and exchange
66 Roll, Martin and Verbeke, Alain, “Financing of the Trans-European High-Speed Rail Networks: New Forms of
Public–Private Partnerships”, European Management Journal 16:6 (1998).
67 Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation, “About THSRC.”
68Powell, Bill. “China’s Amazing New Bullet Train.”
industries. Some economic advantages of the Cascadia Region are its focus on the
information technology sector, close proximity to the Pacific Ocean for foreign trade,
availability of renewable energy, and many aligned interests.
Foreign Trade Hub
Cascadia’s location gives it special advantages as a trans-Pacific shipment point
between the U.S. mainland and Alaska, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and
other points around the Pacific. Today, Seattle’s modern port facility handles
approximately 1.75 million cargo containers a year.71
The northwest freight rail
service, the Port of Tacoma, the Port of Seattle and the Seattle-Tacoma International
Airport create a strong connection within the Seattle metropolitan region which
strengthens the region’s presence as a global economy. With strong employment in
information technologies, biotech, tourism, agriculture, and the forest products
industry, the Cascadia regional economy is very export-oriented.
Suburbanization, the growth of the edges of the urbanized area at a rate faster than
the already developed interior, has been a characteristic of metropolitan America
since the advent of the automobile. 72
A time-distance radius of approximately 45
minutes is regarded as the maximum commute time most are willing to travel. As
transportation modes become more efficient yielding faster travel, it creates
opportunity for further suburbanization or “sprawl”. There is a legitimate concern
that HSR could create sprawl by offering faster commute times at farther distances.
Though HSR has never been demonstrated as capable of creating regional growth on
its own, it has been demonstrated to increase economic integration between two
mega-regions or between secondary cities and a primary city connected by HSR. It
has also been shown that HSR can create population growth in the areas directly
around stations, therefore station location is the primary factor determining
whether HSR will contribute to sprawl. The TGV Sud Est from Paris to Lyon, and the
surrounding Rhone-Alps region, was the first European HSR project beginning
service in 1981, and included stops in suburban and rural locations.73 The
significant reduction in travel times between Paris and its outlying hinterland led to
many greenfield developments. Small towns like Vendome experienced rapidly
rising property values and have become bedroom communities of Paris.74
In contrast, HSR can discourage sprawl by strengthening economic vitality of urban
centers. Locating HSR stations in city centers as opposed to outlying areas will
concentrate regional activities near stations. Limiting free parking will make driving
72 Susan Hanson and Genevieve Giuliano (2004). Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis. The Geography
of Urban Transportation Third Addition pg. 61
73San jose University, High Speed Rail’s Effect on Population Distribution in Secondary Urban Areas, An
Analysis of the French Urban Areas and Implications for the California Central Valley. Pg. 7
74Brian D. Sands 1993. “The Development Effects of High-Speed Rail Stations
and Implications for California.” University of California Transportation Center, No. 115. Pg 27.
to stations from outlying areas more difficult and encourage public transit usage and
denser development patterns. HSR services have been an integral part of several
successful city regeneration efforts. The Lyon Part-Dieu station in France resulted in
demand for new office space and hotels in the decades after TGV service began
extending the center. The German Intercity Express (ICE) HSR only serves primary
cities, with lower speed rail connects the system to regional cities. It has been
linked to increased retail service, hotel, residential, and office space, in the areas
around stations, and has attracted high-tech industries that benefit from HSR to
cities with ICE service.75
Station and Alignment Selection
The Amtrak Cascades currently has 17 stops between Vancouver, BC, and Eugene,
OR, that are located on the existing freight tracks. It is infeasible and impractical to
include all of these stations on a HSR
line. Only three cities on this line
have the population and economic
base to support a true HSR system:
Vancouver, BC, Seattle, WA, and
Portland, OR. Initially these should
be the only stops on the new HSR
track, though it may be justifiable
later to integrate regional cities like
Bellingham and Tacoma with partial
service, like smaller cities on Japan’s
Shinkansen line. Tacoma’s relatively
large population and potential
connectivity to the Olympic
Peninsula and Military Bases make it
a potential addition, but its proximity to Seattle would reduce travel speeds.
Despite the difficulties imposed by the international border, Vancouver, BC is crucial
to the viability of HSR in the Cascadian Corridor. Vancouver is the third largest
metro area in Canada, and is one of the three major population and economic hubs
of Cascadia. Employment and economy is heavily influenced by the international
trade, and the port has a total employment impact of 69,200 jobs. As discussed in
the economic benefits section, relieving passenger rail from existing rail tracks will
improve capacity for freight, and linking these major west coast ports can encourage
Tourism may be the single biggest driver of usage initially. In the 1.5 to 2.5 hour
travel market, HSR very successfully competes for business and leisure travel
against both autos and airplanes. Trip times of 2.5 hours or less allow for same day
75 James A. Dunn and Anthony Perl. 1994. “Policy Networks and Industrial Revitalization: High Speed Rail
Initiatives in France and Germany.”
Fig 8: Population in Cascadia. Source: www.census.gov
business travel between cities which would otherwise be impractical, and HSR will
take trips between Seattle and Vancouver or Portland under this threshold. The
French and cities of Lyon and Nantes and the Spanish city Seville are all regional
cities that experienced high ridership growth after HSR brought them within the
primary market time band of Paris or Madrid.76
The destinations near high-speed
rail stations will benefit the most from proximity to the station.
Any alignment that requires obtaining new ROW will be extremely expensive and
would significantly negatively impact property owners. Portland State University
made two strong recommendations for potential alignment: adding a designated
third rail in the existing ROW or aligning the new track along the I-5 ROW.
Property values around stations are likely to rise while values between stations are
unlikely to change much. Noise and visual impacts from the trains may negatively
affect properties adjacent to the HSR line, as has been demonstrated in some areas
HSR often attracts retail, service, and hospitality industries around
stations, and can attract industry to region. The development incurred by HSR
means cities will need to assess land use and zoning, particularly around station
areas. Station Area Planning will be discussed in the next section.
Statewide growth management policies, like the Oregon Land Conservation and
Development Act (1972), Washington Growth Management Act (1990) and British
Columbia Growth Strategies Act (1998), will help limit any sprawl that may be
incurred from HSR. These acts all require long range planning and
interjurisdictional coordination. Furthermore, the transportation, development, and
environmental impacts of HSR are consistent with the goals laid out by these plans.
Station Area Planning
There is little empirical evidence that the development of super fast train service is
an effective community building endeavor that provides direct benefits to outlying
cities. In fact, cities that are not destinations included in the web of regional
connectivity that HSR creates do not overtly benefit from the construction of HSR.
Rather, HSR networks seem to be most successful when stations are located in
dense center city areas or regionally important cities, rather than suburbs or
outlying airport centers.78
76 San jose University, High Speed Rail’s Effect on Population Distribution in Secondary Urban Areas, An
Analysis of the French Urban Areas and Implications for the California Central Valley.
77 Brian D. Sands 1993. “The Development Effects of High-Speed Rail Stations
and Implications for California.” Pg 27.
78 USPIRG Foundation. “A Track Record of Success: high-speed rail around the world and its promise for
The planning of HSR stations requires a commitment to urban quality during the
development and growth of regional networks. As stated previously, fast trains can
reduce driving trips and highway congestion between cities while also reducing
demand at congested airports.79 Locating stations in dense, central city areas
already connected to existing services increases intermodal demand and ridership
of public transportation.80 The immediate urban fabric in these core HSR stations is
rich enough in both proximity and density to absorb the increased demands of
travelers. At the same time, careful station area planning is needed in order to
maximize benefits from increased pedestrian traffic, higher demand for intermodal
connections, and commercial opportunities aimed to capitalize on the demands of
travelers in transit.81
For reasons stated above, the HSR Station Area Planning group proposes station
locations (based on PSU students work82 and recommendations cited in the OSPIRG
in dense urban centers—Vancouver, BC (Waterfront/Canada Place),
Seattle, WA (King Street Station), and Portland, OR (Union Station).
Urban Quailty Considerations
Urban quality is primarily defined as people-oriented space that is human scaled
and responds intelligently to its urban context, offering functional diversity, texture,
comfort and protection. Research such as Jan Jacob Trip’s analysis of urban quality
in relation to HSR station area development indicates that “besides their importance
as business locations and often residential areas, station areas are also entrances to
the city, important public spaces, and act as meeting places.”84 Functional diversity
at all hours results in an enlivened public realm after hours, which in turn leads to
increased social diversity and pedestrian traffic, as well as safety and new business
The next two sections focus on the opportunities of HSR station development in the
two core cities of Seattle and Portland. Although the analysis is specific to King
Street and Union Stations, the principles and core concepts are applicable to any
successful HSR station.
81 USPIRG Foundation. “A Track Record of Success,” 39-42.
82 Sadie Carney, April Cutter, Ryan Michie, David M. Ruelas, & Bridger Wineman. “Cascadia High Speed Rail
Alignment and Operations.” Powerpoint presented at Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, February 4,
83 USPIRG Foundation. “A Track Record of Success,” 39-42.
84 Trip, Jan Jacob. “Urban Quality in High-speed Train Station Area Redevelopment: The Cases of Amsterdam
Zuidas and Rotterdam Centraal.” Planning Practice and Research Volume 23, Issue 3 (August 2008): pg 399.
Accessed February 18, 2011. doi: 10.1080/02697450802423633.
85 Trip, Jan Jacob. “Urban Quality in High-speed Train Station Area Redevelopment,” pg. 387-389.
Seattle: King Street Station
Urban quality consultants Gehl
Architects of Copenhagen promote
similar goals as Jan Trip. Gehl
Architects work directly with cities
throughout the world to improve
the physical environment for
pedestrians and cyclists, promoting
alternative forms of transportation
through an integrated design approach.86 Employing a particular methodology to
build the urban fabric, the architects promote protection, comfort, delight and
proximity (as opposed to density).87 Four guiding principles of that methodology
are to assemble (not disperse), to integrate (not segregate), to open up (not close
in), and finally to invite (not repel). Hired by the City of Seattle in 2009 to devise a
public realm strategy, Gehl Architects provided a detailed public space analysis that
includes recommendations, visioning, and specific goals for King Street Station,
• A well functioning, integrated transit hub: clear information and convenient
• Strong sense of place and a series of welcome spaces with strong identity
• Adjacent spaces with recreational qualities and commercial opportunities
• Emphasized pedestrian and bicycle links
• Improved legibility and wayfinding
• High quality materials and design to transform the spaces into places
Portland: Union Station
In a comparable yet less intensive effort, Portland’s own Office of Sustainability and
Planning outlined basic goals for Union Station and the surrounding urban context
in the River District Design Guidelines (2008). The interventions outlined in the
report reinforce the identity of the station area. Unfortunately, a thorough
pedestrian analysis is lacking and subsequent goals are brief, promoting only the
lighting and articulation of the Union Station clock tower and the development of
multiple track crossings to visually connect areas and protect important views. The
River District Design Guidelines fortunately outline specific design elements that
should be used to buffer pedestrians from the railroad tracks, such as wrought iron
fencing, low masonry walls with open railings and deciduous trees.89
86 Gehl Architects. Accessed February 25, 2011. http://www.gehlarchitects.com
87 Hermansen, Bianca. “How to build urban fabric.” Gehl Architect powerpoint presented at the University of
Washington, Landscape Urbanism Seminar, Fall 2010.
88 Gehl Architects. City of Seattle Public Spaces Public Life Part I-II.” City of Seattle Department of Planning and
Development. Accessed February 22, 2011.
89 “River District Design Guidelines.” City of Portland’s Bureau of Sustainability and Planning. November 2008.
Accessed February 22, 2011. http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?c=52126&
more thorough public space analysis and visioning for the area is needed to
encourage functional and social diversity around the station area.
Window of Opportunity for Design
The primary takeaway from literature and design professionals is that urban quality
of life depends upon the details of human-scaled public places with strong identities,
strong connections to adjacent uses, and attractive spatial design elements (such as
lighting, seating and trees) that engender positive experiences for diverse sets of
people of all ages at all hours. Because HSR development requires a large initial
capital investment to build track infrastructure and stations with appropriate
connections for fast trains, station area planners have a rare opportunity to direct
investment in support of urban quality. HSR and the resulting physical coordination
of TOD, international airport terminals, and local access facilities contribute to
agglomeration benefits in knowledge and service-based sectors. Station area
location has the greatest impact on the success and failure of these potential
benefits. Station area design has the greatest implications for urban core areas.
The environmental implications of building a new train and right-of-way for highspeed
rail in the Cascadia corridor vary in terms of benefits and costs. As a viable,
affordable transportation alternative to automobiles or airplanes, high-speed rail
can reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise come from automobiles
or airplanes. However, high-speed rail also poses some concerns in terms of wildlife,
habitats, and noise. Also, the environmental benefits of high-speed rail greatly
depend on ridership, access from high-speed rail stations to other sustainable
transportation modes, and electricity from clean, renewable energy sources. We
evaluated the environmental impacts of high-speed rail in the Cascadia corridor by
focusing on the following criteria:
• Energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
• Wildlife and ecological concerns
• Environmental justice
Clean, Renewable, Efficient Energy
Since high-speed rail trains are powered via electricity or magnetic levitation,
renewable sources cleaner than diesel or gasoline, high-speed rail provides the
region with an opportunity to wean itself off of fossil fuels. However, electricity
generation is no cleaner than using an automobile or an airplane if the power source
is not clean and renewable. Correspondingly, over 3/4 of Washington’s electricity
and nearly 2/3 of Oregon’s energy comes from hydroelectric generation – a clean,
renewable power source.90 Approximately 78 percent of electricity in British
Columbia comes from hydroelectric generation.91
90 U.S. Energy Information Administration. “U.S. States.” http://www.eia.doe.gov/state/.
Therefore, high-speed rail’s
91 BC Hydro. “Generation System.” http://www.bchydro.com/about/our_system/generation.html.
energy consumption in the Cascadia region would generate minimal pollution and
decrease the smog and other air pollution.
In addition, carrying one passenger one mile on HSR uses less energy than
automobile or air travel. In California, high-speed rail is expected to require only
1/3 of the energy required by an airplane trip and only 1/5 of the energy required
by a commuter automobile trip.92 Japan’s highly successful Shinkansen high-speed
rail is even more energy efficient with the high-speed rail system consuming only
1/4 of the energy required by an airplane and only 1/6 of the energy required by an
As a comparison of the status quo train system in Cascadia, Great Britain’s dieselpowered
Hitachi Super Express train is similar to Amtrak Cascades (though Hitachi
is a little faster) while the electrified Shinkansen 700 series train is closer to the
proposed high-speed rail for Cascadia in terms of speed.94
While the total energy
consumption per seat for the Hitachi and the Shinkansen is similar, one major
difference between the two trains’ energy sources is that the diesel-powered Hitachi
train produces a considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions in contrast to
the Shinkansen train.
High-speed rail also gives the Cascadia region an opportunity to reduce its reliance
on expensive, polluting fossil fuels. While there will be an uptick in carbon emissions
derived from construction of the high-speed rail infrastructure, once completed,
high-speed rail will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by the behavior
change away from cars and airplanes. For a 240-mile trip, high-speed rail produces
only 32.1 pounds of carbon dioxide compared to 157 pounds for cars and 133.7
pounds for airplanes.95 Therefore, high-speed rail produces nearly five times less
carbon dioxide than automobiles or airplanes. Similarly, the Shinkansen produces
twelve times less carbon dioxide per seat than an airplane.96 In addition to carbon
emissions, petroleum fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel “…produce a variety
of other pollutants as a result of incomplete combustion and the oxidation of other
components of air (especially nitrogen).”97
These other pollutants lead to smog and
can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems.
92 California High-Speed Rail Authority. “Project Vision and Scope.”
93 Hiroki Matsumoto. Shinkansen (Bullet Train) System in Japan. Statement to the U.S. House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, 19 April 2007.
94 Network Rail. “Comparing environmental impact of conventional and high speed rail.”
95 Glaeser, Edward L. “How Big Are the Environmental Benefits of High-Speed Rail?” The New York Times, 12
August 2009. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/12/how-big-are-the-environmental-benefits-ofhigh-
96 Shinkansen: Modern Japan Line. “Environmental.” http://oolongcha.net/Environmental.html.
97 Hanson, Susan and Genevieve Giuliano. The Geography of Urban Transportation. (New York: The Guiford
Press, 2004) 285.
Wildlife and Ecological Concerns
Cascadia corridor’s proposed high-speed rail is located entirely within the Puget
Trough and Willamette Valley ecoregions, ecological regions with distinct flora and
fauna. The Puget Trough comprises much of Western Washington and lower British
Columbia from Vancouver, British Columbia to Vancouver, Washington. Oregon’s
Willamette Valley spans Western Oregon from Portland to Eugene. Within these
ecoregions, a variety of wildlife and ecology thrive and rely on specific resources.
Overall, HSR could have a slight negative
impact on local wildlife and ecology.
However, HSR pollute far less than
conventional trains, airplanes, and automobiles, so the natural environment will
benefit from better air quality. Also, if precautions are taken, HSR authorities can
mitigate potentially negative impacts with several courses of action such as
ensuring habitat connectivity for Cascadia’s wildlife and recognizing the delicate
bionetworks (of plants and animals) in the region when determining where to
construct the new right-of-way. Habitat connectivity refers to building physical
linking structures for plants and wildlife in places where high-speed rail splits the
habitat and therefore acts as a potential barrier preventing movement or
pollination. For example, on Interstate-90 through Snoqualmie Pass in Washington
State, several structures98 permit animals to cross the highway protected from
Disrupting species’ movements can lead to local extinctions or
isolation of interdependent or related populations. Therefore, wildlife and ecology
concerns must be taken into consideration when strategizing and constructing a
high-speed rail right-of-way.
Building a new high-speed rail line through the Cascadia corridor may reduce and
offset some of the environmental justice concerns created by the negative
externalities from previous transportation projects. Unfortunately, much of the
pollution or other negative externalities caused by transportation-related pollution
often disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities living in
urban centers with lower land values.100
For example, despite widespread protests from local, predominantly low-income
communities of color, planners in Los Angeles constructed Interstate-105 (I-105)
connecting Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with the Gateway Cities region.
As a result, many locals blame the interstate’s construction for “blighting entire
98 Structures including underpasses, bridges, viaducts, and overpasses
Additionally, the presence of a busy interstate adjacent to
residential neighborhoods implies that those neighborhoods disproportionately
99 Singleton, Peter H. and John F. Lemkuhl. “I-90 Snoqualmie Pass Wildlife Habitat Linkage Assessment.” U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Pacific Northwest Research Station, Wenatchee Forestry Sciences
Lab. Submitted to Washington State Department of Transportation: March 2000.
100 Ibid, 332.
101 Ibid, 341.
Figure 9: Puget Trough Map
(Source: Washington Biodiversity Project)
suffer from the noise and air pollution of the interstate. Many of the drivers using I-
105 to access LAX live further out in suburban neighborhoods and therefore are less
affected by the pollution they cause by using I-105.
Throughout the Cascadia corridor, many of the freeways, primarily Interstate-5, go
through or bisect low-income and minority communities in Seattle, Tacoma, and
Portland. High-speed rail will likely decrease vehicle miles traveled, the number of
automobiles on the road, and the number of automobile-related accidents or
injuries in highway-adjacent communities. In addition, since high-speed rail stations
will be located within urban centers, the influx of investment and new riders has the
potential to revitalize, develop, and connect urban neighborhoods in the region.
Rather than build more highways and as a result, disrupt, pollute, and degrade
urban communities, creating a high-speed rail system could encourage more
environmentally sustainable, transit-oriented development and promote the value
of Cascadia’s city centers.
A New Eco-Era
Adding high-speed rail to the Cascadia corridor builds upon the region’s already
robust canon of environmentally sustainable practices and infrastructure.
Emphasizing this reputation as a sustainability leader could increase worldwide
attention and show the region’s commitment to quality of life.
Ernest Callenbach once referred to the Pacific Northwest as “Ecotopia” in a novel by
the same name. However, while Callenbach’s novel describes Ecotopia as an
exclusionary utopia, building high-speed rail could eventually lead to new
connections with other high-speed rail corridors in California and the Eastern
United States. New connections could encourage economic development and create
new urban centers. Maintaining this image of a sort of ecological paradise, the
Cascadia corridor could resonate with outsiders and attract tourists and act as a
model for other countries’ and municipalities’ planning and development principles.
There is great potential for HSR in the Cascadia Region and much can be learned
from the lessons of other rail projects. In addition to rail infrastructure, though,
regional stakeholders at all levels must take into account transit-oriented
development initiatives, modern funding strategies, and inclusive governance
structures. By connecting the region with efficient, dependable, environmentally
sustainable, and growth-focused travel options, Cascadia can set itself apart in the
United States and throughout the world as a hub for innovative and collaborative
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