A new business case study has found that an ultra-high-speed train between Vancouver and Portland, Oregon could be self-sustaining by 2055, or earlier under the right circumstances.
In 2018, B.C. contributed $300,000 to the Washington State Department of Transportation study, which examined whether such a project could attract enough riders and generate sufficient revenue.
The project as proposed would see a train capable of hitting speeds of 400 kilometres per hour linking Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, with intermediate stops between. Travel times between the major cities would be as low as one hour.
The new study, released Monday, found that the project could attract between 1.7 million and three million annual trips by 2040 and generate between US$156 million and US$250 million in fare revenues, making it “one of the best performing rail services in North America.”
That would be enough to cover costs by 2055, according to the study, which also said a 10 per cent boost in ridership coupled with a 10 per cent decrease in operating costs could make it self-sustaining by 2040.
The study found the project could be completed for between US$24 billion and US$42 billion, as estimated in a prior 2017 feasibility study.
“The reduced journey times—comparable to air travel—improved reliability, and the potential for direct downtown-to-downtown connections would enable residents and visitors to easily and quickly access the region’s major cities and towns.”
WATCH: (Aired: Feb. 15, 2017) Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high-speed rail study
The study drew its ridership estimates from a survey that found 74 per cent of respondents would “definitely” try the service, and said it could soak up between 12 to 20 per cent of intercity trips or more given growing road congestion and flight delays.
It also found that adding additional stops on the line, such as in Surrey, Bellingham or Everett, would increase travel times slightly while further boosting a ridership base.
“While this study is a preliminary assessment of the possible impacts, some of the key findings include reducing travel times between Vancouver and Seattle from three hours to one, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by six million tonnes over the first 40 years of operation,” said B.C. Jobs Minister Bruce Ralston in a media release.
“The project could have huge economic benefits, drawing new companies to the region, creating an estimated $355 billion in economic growth and up to 200,000 new jobs.”
In an introduction to the study’s executive summary, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee also touted the proposal’s potential benefits.
“The ability to travel each segment between Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C. in less than an hour will revolutionize the way we live, work, and play in the Pacific Northwest,” wrote Inslee.
“Moreover, it helps us preserve the natural beauty and health of our region by enabling faster, cleaner, and greener trips between our region’s largest cities. ”
The study listed a variety of factors it said would drive ridership and boost the region’s economies.
It argued the proposal has broad support from businesses and travellers and could boost business productivity as companies seek to relocate to major hubs along the route.
It also argued that the rail line would increase affordability by providing access to lower-cost housing and higher-paying jobs. It also argued building the high-tech trains and tracks themselves could underpin the development of a new industry in the region.
WATCH: (Aired: Nov. 21, 2017) Renewed calls for Vancouver-Seattle high-speed rail
It made the case that the project would also come with major green benefits while providing a better value investment than highway expansions — pointing to an estimated US$108 billion cost for adding an additional lane to Washington’s I-5 highway.
The study charts out six years’ worth of next steps for the initiative, which would be partially covered by existing funding.
Development of a governance model, environmental assessments, preliminary engineering and procurement would all be covered in that time, during which associated governments would also seek out more public and private funding.
A final design and detailed route planning would remain years away, with construction imagined between 2027 and 2034.
Earlier this year, B.C.’s NDP government contributed an additional $300,000 to the project, which would go to exploring “models for a multi-jurisdictional authority to lead a community-engagement process and preliminary environmental review.”