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High-speed Train
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VANCOUVER, B.C. — Plenty of barriers have kept Seattle and Vancouver from becoming a single, connected region. Chief among them, the international border and the numerous traffic jams that travelers inevitably encounter one a journey between the two cities.

One solution to that: high-speed rail. As part of the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver B.C. Tuesday, political leaders from both sides of the border pitched an idea to build trains that would travel between Seattle and Vancouver in less than an hour.

King County Executive Dow Constantine.
King County Executive Dow Constantine at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C., today. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Though a fully-baked plan was not proposed, King County Executive Dow Constantine and former Member of the Legislative Assembly Kevin Falcon argued the idea is less of a fantasy than most would think. This isn’t the first time such a plan has been discussed. High-speed rail connects disparate regions all over the world. Why not build it between Seattle and Vancouver?

“Though some may look at this as a moonshot or the kind of idea that’s never going to happen … I’d rather view high-speed rail as a bold idea that deserves serious research and consideration,” Falcon said.

Kevin Falcon, former Member of the Legislative Assembly.
Kevin Falcon, former Member of the Legislative Assembly. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

If you think traffic is bad now, just wait until 2040. Constantine cited figures saying the Vancouver area’s population is expected to increase by 50 percent from 2.2 million to 3.4 million in the next few decades. In Seattle, population is expected to rise about 30 percent, to approximately 5 million people in the region by 2040.

“The future is coming whether you like it or not,” Constantine said. “The growth is coming, and we’re either going to allow it to overwhelm us, or we are going to face it squarely.”

The discussion did not go into exactly how such a project would get done. Falcon recommended building a task force of high-ranking government officials, engineers and contractors to work together and build a plan, a feasibility study of sorts. Constantine said regional consensus as well as influential people and groups championing high-speed rail would be key.

Constantine laid out some specifics of how the trains might work. They would travel 200 to 250 miles per hour, multiple trains would come every hour at all hours of the day. Trains could have on-board customs and the latest technology to speed up boarding and arriving at a destination.

Any project of such grand scope is going to be tough, Constantine and Falcon said. Big transportation projects inevitably face challenges from inception to completion. Further complicating a high-speed rail corridor between Seattle and Vancouver is the border. But Falcon said British Columbia and Washington transportation officials have a strong history of working together.

However, there are already competing visions for rapid travel between the cities. A report this week by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, proposing exclusive lanes for driverless vehicles on Interstate 5, argued against high-speed rail as an alternative, saying that the estimated cost is $250 million a mile, or $30 billion for the Seattle to Vancouver corridor. For that cost, Madrona said, every household in Seattle and Vancouver could be given a self-driving Tesla.

Undaunted, Constantine closed his comments today by challenging the many tech luminaries at the conference — he and Falcon followed a rare joint public appearance by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and its CEO Satya Nadella — to advocate for high-speed rail.

“The people in this room have made their mark harnessing their creativity, and making things that were impossible, possible,” Constantine said. “You are literally in the business of changing the world. So Let’s do that. Let’s connect Seattle and Vancouver; let’s build high-speed rail. Let’s create the prosperous future that we on both sides of this border deserve.”

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