Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Case for Ultra-high-speed Rail Across Cascadia

with 3 comments

An article in the Georgia Strait summarizes a report to Washington State Department of Transportation which examines the case for a new very high speed rail link between Vancouver BC and Portland OR. The potential for hyperloop is also mentioned but quickly discarded as the technology is not yet ready for implementation.

Happily the Strait includes a link to the report itself – a 94 page pdf which includes some very general maps but no actual alignments. Instead it shows where the freeways are, and also suggests that a link between Seattle and Spokane needs to be assessed as well.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 12.29.54 PM

This appears to be the favoured choice at present. Though I was struck by the apparently quite small advantage in terms of ridership between the MAGLEV and HSR model results

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 1.06.27 PM

Of course a lot more work needs to be done, and the report identifies these next steps. Not the least of these is the analysis of what needs to happen at the border. This is, of course, completely outside of the state jurisdiction and we can only hope that by the time any of this comes to pass, that a more sensible approach to border “security” between Canada and the US will have also come about. I won’t hold my breath on either account.

And here is a picture of a High Speed Train – which was not included in the original report

TGV 4409

My photo on Flickr

Technology Differentiation Results

7. In 2035, maglev seems to cover O&M costs in most alternatives; a small subsidy may be needed in the earlier period (2035) for HSR. By 2055, all corridor technological alternatives cover O&M and assist in capital carrying costs to various degrees.

8. While maglev and HSR have different capital and operating benefits over time, the CONNECT tool does not provide sufficient data to choose a specific technology at this time. More detailed technical analysis is required to select among the feasible technologies being examined.

Intercity Travel Mode Share Results

9. Both technologies have the potential to shift a significant share of the intercity travel market torail. For these technologies at 12 round trips, 12 to 17 percent of the travel market by 2035 could be diverted to UHSGT.

10. Conversely, the utilization of capacity is relatively low, indicating an immature market or a model input limitation. As noted in #1, a more detailed analysis of how the market economies are changing needs to be completed to adequately predict future ridership and revenue.


For context, the introduction of a direct high speed rail service between London and Amsterdam shows why trains can compete with air. In this case the flight time is around an hour and the new train will be closer to four. But add in the security line ups and this is actually competitive. Plus the train is actually comfortable, and the stations are usually much closer to where you are or want to be compared to the airport. But read through to the end to see how the British have managed to make getting in to Britain much harder – long before Brexit.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I haven’t read the detailed report yet but it would be bereft not to consider the fact the Californian HSR initiative has a jump start and is the only such system in North America with funding approval (via a referendum, which indicated public support and acceptance) to commence engineering and construction for Phase One. HSR between Vancouver and Portland costing $40 billion and attracting less than two million passengers annually just does not make economic sense. The Canada Line moves two million people every 20 days. Therefore, this idea needs to consider the context of West Coast HSR eventually linking Vancouver to San Diego and charging up the system through induced demand and the network effect.

    The other question is where will the terminus station be located in the Metro? Most people will immediately think of Pacific Central near Terminal x Main, and that makes a lot of sense in today’s context. However, by terminating HSR there the consideration for a direct connection to a ferry service to Vancouver Island is nixed. I suggest the lands surrounding the SeaBus terminal and Waterfront Station should be seriously considered, for that is the only site that connects a wide plethora of transit services to the sea where a direct passenger ferry service to Nanaimo and eventually Victoria could land (i.e. part of the BC Ferries system, not an exclusive for-profit tourist service). There is a lot to be said about a walk-off, walk-on public transport service under one roof between rail, road and sea.

    I suggest that another station should be provided in Surrey to provide access for outlying Metro travellers.

    Alex Botta

    February 11, 2018 at 3:49 pm

  2. the report mentions 3 arrival points in Vancouver.

    Pacific station (option 1)
    Airport (option 1a)
    KG station, Surrey (option 4)

    the fact the airport terminus provide better result than the Pacific central is something to analyze.

    What is unclear from this report is if the HSR infrastructure could be completely separated of the existing rail network and so able to work under different regulation like the current FRA ones, …that is one more akin of Europe, what is probably key.

    If so, I think the HSR line should be combined with regional links as much as possible, then may be it can be a case for it. In Vancouver a HST line (350km+ alignment) could be integrated to a fraser valley interurban (200km/h alignment on most of the line) as below:

    (see more here )

    I agree with Alex that the business case for such hst train between Vancouver and seattle looks pretty weak.

    BTW, who says Maglev, says LIM: how that works under snowy condition?


    February 12, 2018 at 8:32 pm

  3. Complete separation from the existing rail network is guaranteed with the maglev option, and essential if the desired speed is to be achieved with conventional HST.

    The existing routes were built for steam locomotive operation and therefore have very gentle ruling grades. They tend to follow watercourses and contour lines. Purpose built high speed rail tends to be more direct, but with steeper grades, since electric multiple units have much better hill climbing abilities. Ultra-High speed seems to suggest that the idea of interworking with long, slow, unscheduled freight trains will not be considered.

    Stephen Rees

    February 17, 2018 at 2:51 pm

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