Study: High-speed rail connecting Seattle to Vancouver BC would spur $355B in economic growth

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Microsoft wants to make high-speed rail connecting Vancouver and Seattle a reality. (BigStock Photo)

A high-speed train connecting the biggest cities in the Pacific Northwest — zipping passengers from Seattle to Portland or Vancouver in less than an hour — would be an economic engine for the region, a new study finds.

The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) published the results of a years-long study this week. It estimates that a high-speed rail connecting Portland, Ore., Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. would spark $355 billion in economic growth in the region. The proposed project has backing from government leaders in the Northwest and the software behemoth that calls it home. Microsoft donated $300,000 to help with the costs of studying high-speed rail’s feasibility.

The study confirms previous estimates that the project would cost $24 billion to $42 billion and estimates the rail line would generate between $160 million and $250 million in annual revenue.

In addition to the economic boost, the study makes the case for investing in high-speed rail to reduce carbon emissions from car and airplane trips. WSDOT estimates that the rail system would reduce carbon emissions by 6 million metric tons in the first 40 years.

“Imagine fast, frequent and reliable travel with the potential for zero emissions and the opportunity to better compete in a global economy,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “It could transform the Pacific Northwest.”

The high-speed rail system is projected to travel faster than 200 mph, transporting passengers between Portland to Seattle and Seattle to Vancouver in under an hour. It would be built using high-speed rail, magnetic levitation, or hyperloop technology according to WSDOT.

WSDOT delivered the study to the Washington State Legislature on July 12. Though the proposal has support from leaders in the region, it’s still a long way from getting off the ground. The study did not include a detailed plan to pay for the initial development of a new high-speed rail line. It does, however, include an overview of possible funding and financing sources. One possibility floated in the study is a public-private partnership. Microsoft has already emerged as an early supporter of the project.

High-speed rail is part of Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to make the “Cascadia” region an innovation hub akin to Silicon Valley. The idea dates back to the 2017 Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference, which convened businesses and government leaders in Oregon, Washington, and B.C. to discuss ways to better connect the region. At that time, Microsoft kicked in $50,000 to supplement the state of Washington’s $300,000 budget to study the possibility of a high-speed rail line.

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