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Wash. State Delegation Supports Cascadia HSR

August 18, 2023

The Democratic members of Washington State’s delegation wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in support of Cascadia high-speed rail.

Members of Washington State’s Congressional delegation issued a letter this week in support of two federal grant applications to advance the Cascadia high-speed rail project. The corridor would run from Vancouver, British Columbia to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon, with trains capable of reaching 250 mph. The service would offer one-hour trips between Seattle and Portland, and Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.; and turn a 90-minute traffic-choked commute between Seattle and Tacoma into a breezy 15-minute ride.

The Democratic members of Washington State’s delegation wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in support of Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) grant applications to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Passenger Rail Grant Program (Fed-State). The Cascadia grant application was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) in April 2023 as part of the Corridor Identification Program (Corridor ID), a new project planning framework created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Corridor ID will provide a structure for the FRA to work with States to create service development plans and create a nationwide inventory of prioritized capital projects for passenger rail corridors. The FRA received 95 proposals under the initial Corridor ID solicitation and plans to announce the first round of Fed-State grants in November or December of this year. The agency has not provided any details on the applications, but Rail Passengers used information from the initial round of submissions to create our best guess as what the Corridor ID looks like.

The two grants, totaling $198.1 million, would support “pre-NEPA technical and advisory study planning requirements” to advance the project into the design phase, and is backed by $50 million in state funding passed by the Washington State Legislature. Rail Passengers is still working to ascertain the details of WSDOT’s Corridor ID and Fed-State applications. However, it’s clear that establishing a new, dedicated passenger rail right-of-way in the densely populated coastline surrounding Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. will require a significant amount of legal and engineering activity.

The letter focused on the benefits that upgrading the existing Amtrak Cascades service would provide for the region.

[Editor's Note: in response to a reader email, we want to clarify that the Cascadia High-Speed Rail corridor application is independent from the existing Amtrak Cascades service. We simply intended to communicate that a high-frequency, high-speed service would be an upgrade over existing levels of service (two daily roundtrips between Eugene-Portland; four daily roundtrips between Portland-Seattle; and two daily roundtrips between Seattle-Vancouver, B.C.) operating over a shared-use corridor. Rail Passengers hasn’t seen the final list of applications to the Fed-State Grant or Corridor ID programs, and we can’t comment on what applications may or may not exist for the existing Amtrak Cascades service. We apologize for any confusion.]

“Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are expected to add three to four million more people by 2050—joining the nine million people who already live there,” wrote the delegation. “The Cascadia High-Speed Rail project is one way we can manage that level of growth. Providing a fast and efficient transportation system would allow people to live in less densely populated areas and work anywhere in the megaregion. It also would facilitate more resiliency, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing across many sectors of our economy, uniting us in ways that are not possible today.”

It also highlighted ways in which the corridor satisfy project selection criteria established by the Fed-State program, including:

  • Creating stronger connections between Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia supporting equitable growth and job creation, catalyzing economic opportunities across the Cascadia region;
  • Decreasing emissions on Interstate 5 by reducing congestion, helping to mitigate climate change and supporting sustainability and resilience in the region;
  • Reducing barriers to opportunities and supporting an equitable transportation system that includes a network of transportation options, connecting people to jobs, educational institutions, housing, and regional destinations;
  • Transforming the nation’s transportation infrastructure by linking communities and job centers to accommodate our growing populations; and
  • Focusing on equitable engagement and ensuring early collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, as well as historically underserved communities throughout the corridor.

The letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; and Representatives Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Derek Kilmer, Pramila Jayapal, Kim Schrier, Adam Smith, and Marilyn Strickland.