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.
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 modelfor 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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan Seltzer, email@example.com
Principles of Successful High-Speed Rail: Lessons from Around the World
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
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.
Albalate, D. and Bel, G. (2010). “High-speed rail: Lessons for policymakers from
experiences abroad.” Research Institute for Applied Economics. Retrieved from