The province is letting Washington State take the lead on high speed rail between Vancouver and Seattle.
“It’s far too premature at this point to talk about any financial commitment from the province,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone told reporters in Victoria Tuesday.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a $1-million high speed rail feasibility study in the state’s 2017-2019 budget to connect Vancouver and Portland with stops in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, WA.
Microsoft President Brad Smith has lauded the project in the past, saying that it offers a unique opportunity to connect the tech sectors along the Cascadia (Pacific Northwest) corridor.
A Boston Consulting Group report released in September said the lack of connectivity between the tech sectors in Vancouver and Seattle harms both cities. Nearly nine million people are expected to live in the Lower Mainland and Puget Sound regions by 2040.
While the idea of high speed transit has come up in the past, UBC Sauder School of Business Prof. Marc-David Seidel sees it as absolutely critical now.
“The Vancouver-Seattle-Portland and even northern California is an essence one large ecosystem,” he said.
“Things are becoming more and more intertwined and it’s making more sense to connect the regions.”
Currently, transit by Amtrak takes four hours between Vancouver and Seattle. That’s too long, Seidel said, not only for the tech sector but for tourism as well.
Destination BC spokesperson Clare Mason said that the organization is in favour of anything that makes cross border travel between the U.S. and Canada easier.
“The U.S. is our biggest international market,” she said.
“Between January and November 2016, visitation from the US rose 9.4% over the same period in 2015, and we expect these numbers to continue to grow.”
But it’s not all good news from south of the border.
With the current climate in the U.S., Seidel said that border issues and talk of renegotiating NAFTA could become a roadblock for the project.
There’s also the need for new rail lines to be built to accommodate the high speed trains.
According to the working paper on Cascadia High-Speed Rail Opportunity by WSP and Parsons Brinckerhoff, the goal of less than one hour between Seattle and Vancouver can’t be achieved on the current passenger rail route.
“The route is slow and filled with freight trains,” said the report.
It envisions the high-speed trains travelling over 320 kilometres per hour to get passengers across the 193 kilometres between Vancouver and Seattle and run every 10-15 minutes on two tracks, the report said. The electric train would require a 50- to 100-foot right-of-way and need a mostly straight track to reach max speeds – costs for infrastructure would reach the tens of billions, according to the report.
Premier Christy Clark and Inslee signed an agreement in fall 2016 committing the two governments to working together in areas including trade, research, transportation and education.