Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cascadian Rail

I was researching how to get from Vancouver to Portland via rail. I learned some interesting things. Today you can take one train a day from Vancouver to Seattle. There is no training from Vancouver directly to Portland, and there are four trains daily between Seattle and Portland. There will be a new train running directly from Vancouver to Portland starting this summer when a $7 million siding track is completed in Delta to allow two trains a day between Canada and the US. This is where my research turned interesting.

Washington States has a long-term rail planning called surprisingly “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades”. But before we get to the long-range plan, a little history. In 1993 the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) decided it was time to reinvest in intercity rail service. Since that time, they have added more trains along the route, purchased new rail cars, added new stations, and upgraded existing stations. In total, they have provided $608.7 million in capital improvements.

While WSDOT is the lead in implementing the rail service, the program is jointly funding between Amtrak, BNSF, the state of Oregon, the province of British Columbia, local and regional agencies, ports, and Sound Transit (like Translink, but for Seattle). There will be 13 trains daily between Seattle and Portland, and 4 trains daily between Seattle and Vancouver by 2023. As a note, the travel times between Seattle and Vancouver will be 2h37m which is faster than driving. In order to get to the 2023 service level, the plan will require $503 million or $1,067 million (more on that later) from BC, $3,966 million from Washington State, $671 million from Sound Transit, and $421 million from Oregon State.

In BC there is two options for passenger rail service. The first is ending service by Scott Road SkyTrain that will cost $503m. The second option is to continue the service into downtown Vancouver (like it is today.) That will cost $1,067m.

BC Costs:
Greater Vancouver Terminal (Scott Road Station) - $86.3 million
Colebrook to Brownsville High-Speed - $91.8 million
Colebrook Siding New siding - $11.4 million
White Rock Bypass High speed rail bypass - $312.7 million

Downtown Vancouver Additional Costs:
Vancouver Terminal Control System - $6.9 million
Still Creek to CN Junction New siding - $12.9 million
Sperling-Willingdon Junction Siding New siding - $11.4 million
Willingdon Junction Grade separation - $16 million
Brunette-Piper Siding New siding - $28.6 million
Fraser River Bridge Replace or improve existing bridge - $575 million

If the downtown option were selected, it would benefit more than Amtrak Cascade service. It would also allow better freight connections between all the local ports in Vancouver, and allow for the Interurban to continue from Chilliwack right into downtown Vancouver.

Let’s hope the province does its part in funding this program. Since WSDOT started this project, it has seen ridership climb from 225,000 in 1993 to 683,000 in 2006.

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