The US state of Washington has announced that it will spend $1m on a feasibility study into a 230km high-speed rail link between Seattle, Portland in Oregon, and Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
The idea of a high-speed line to link northwestern cities is not new – the Pacific Northwest Corridor is one of 11 possible high-speed routes identified by the US government in 1992 – but no steps have been taken to set such a project in motion.
The issue is back on the agenda partly because of increasing congestion on the region’s roads and airports, and partly because Bill Gates and Satya Nadella, his successor as chief executive of Microsoft, have teamed up with politicians and other business people to support the idea.
Mark Hallenbeck, the director of the Washington State Transportation Centre, told Canada’s CBC News the "Cascadia" region fitted the economic profile for a high-speed line.
He said the cities were close enough together, and large enough, to generate journeys and allow trains to compete with aeroplanes.
The time for a rail journey between Seattle and Vancouver would be about an hour.
He added that the main problem would be the cost of acquiring land. "You can’t run a high-speed bullet train like France’s TGV on a conventional track and it’s not allowed to share the track with freight trains, so you’d have to come with the right of way to build two new train tracks," he said.
An estimate of the costing has already been made by Canadian engineer WSP. It used work already done on the cost of a Houston-to-Dallas link, as well as the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project that is presently under way to suggest a price tag of between $20bn and $30bn.
The feasibility study would look at the cost-benefits of a 400km/h line, the location of stations, the environmental impact, the available technology, as well as the route’s compatibility with existing transport corridors.
The report will be presented to the Washington State legislature by 15 December.
Image: The existing Seattle-to-Vancouver line: scenic, but no use for high-speed trains (Panoramio)