This is the fifth paper added to the resources available describing the Cascadia megaregion. These “Ecolopolis” papers have been developed through the work of graduate classes concerned with a wide range of regional development, planning, governance, and implementation issues. They are intended to be linked through a common interest in Cascadia and its prospects as a megaregion. In this case, the topic is high speed rail, but the fundamental purpose in addressing this issue is part of the continuing inquiry into what can contribute to a great understanding of the region and what its sense of place, now and in the future.

[gview file="" height="300" save="1"]

What is an Ecolopolis?

Jean Gottman’s “Megalopolis”, first described in 1964 as the urbanized area stretching from Boston to Washington, DC, has inspired the contemporary use of the term “megapolitan” (or “megaregion”) to describe linked cities and the micropolitan areas between them. However, does or should the East Coast’s Megalopolis provide a model for potential Cascadian-scale urban development and interaction?

The heavily urbanized nature of Megalopolis immediately seems to clash with Cascadian sensibilities. After all, access to the outdoors, open space and preservation of agricultural land provide many residents here with a strong sense of place and pride. People are attracted to the quality of life in our cities. Proximity to pristine mountains, rivers and forests, and the ocean is a top draw for skilled workers and young people. Cascadia’s competitive advantage lies, at least in part, in the fact that it is NOT a continuously urbanized region yet still provides cosmopolitan amenities like arts and culture, fine food, shopping and sports.

What kind of Pacific Northwest do we want to live in? Can celebrating our uniqueness be the cornerstone for boosting our competitiveness? How can we prosper, accommodate a growing population and remain livable? The answer lies in the commitment of decision makers, developers and citizens to develop the region into what we’ve called an “Ecolopolis” rather than a Megalopolis.

What is an ecolopolis? We have defined it as a networked metropolitan system consisting of the metropolitan areas for Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, other metropolitan areas in the I-5 corridor from Eugene, north, and the vital working and wild landscapes between them. An Ecolopolis, in our view, is a continental and global economic unit, and it is a reflection of the unique Pacific Northwest bioregion known as “Cascadia.”

In “Ecolopolis 1.0: Making the Case for a Cascadian Supercity,” we took up the challenge of investigating the nature and promise of a binational, tristate regional supercity in the territory referred to as Cascadia. For the purposes of this study, we concentrated on the three major metropolitan areas in the Pacific Northwest, namely Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC.

The question we asked ourselves was what, besides locations in the northern temperate rainforest and the expectations of national interests outside of our respective corners of the Pacific Northwest, did these three metros share? What dynamics linking the three pointed to the promise of working to unite them under a common banner? More specifically, what would justify an investment in high(er) speed rail? If this is about economic competitiveness, what about current models of competitiveness suggested that the territory we should care about was Cascadian in scale?

What we found in that first effort was that local concerns trumped megaregional ties. Simply put, Cascadia was not yet at the point where megaregional projects would receive priority over local metropolitan and even statewide concerns. That said, we found strong suggestions for possible economic clusters organized and operating at a Cascadian scale, and clear allegiance to what can best be described as a Cascadian “brand.” Both of these observations suggested the potential development of a competitiveness strategy for a Cascadian megaregion based on distinctive traits, landscapes, and culture. Further, work done on high and higher speed rail laid the groundwork for imagining a more connected and highly accessible Cascadian megaregion.

In “Ecolopolis 2.0” we identified a rationale for Cascadia-scale planning within global, national, and regional contexts. Globally, we found that Cascadia done right could become a laboratory and source for innovation in the world-wide search for more sustainable development patterns and life styles. Nationally, Cascadia provides an opportunity for exploring Federal-State and international relations aimed at creating both sustainable urban places and a better future for intervening rural areas and towns.

Regionally, imagining Cascadian-scale strategies for global competitiveness, accessibility, and sustainable development opens up new opportunities not immediately apparent in the existing context provided by states and separated metropolitan regions. Ecolopolis 2.0 began by documenting the history of the idea of Cascadia as a means for better understanding what a unified Cascadian brand might consist of. We analyzed conditions and trends for both rural Cascadia and for its metropolitan centers. Though we found many similarities linking the metropolitan regions of Cascadia, as in Ecolopolis 1.0 we also found many forces working against integration of efforts at a Cascadian scale.

Nonetheless, we identified four strategies that could be used to both better integrate the Cascadian megaregion and to prepare Cascadia for engaging future national initiatives directed at megaregions:

  • In light of the similar strategies for metropolitan growth management employed in Cascadian metropolitan regions, create an internationally recognized effort to learn from this experience;
  • Save agriculture, and the working landscape more generally, to maintain separation between metropolitan areas;
  • Develop industry clusters across Cascadia, particularly in areas like green building and software that are already operating at a Cascadian scale; and
  • Increase accessibility through the development of high speed rail and other strategies linked to their strategic value at a Cascadian scale.

With “Ecolopolis 3.0” we took the next step towards defining a strategic agenda for Cascadia. Through the efforts of members of Congress and others, and due to the catastrophic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, new attention is being paid to the condition of the nation’s infrastructure. Calls for a national infrastructure initiative are being made, echoing previous national initiatives in 1808, the Gallatin Plan, and 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt’s plan for national conservation and development.

Whereas the Gallatin plan was about moving the natural resource bounty of the nation to the seaports in the east coast cities, and Roosevelt’s effort focused on mitigating the impacts of rapid urbanization and industrialization, the focal point for this new effort remains undefined. Many expect that sustainability, energy conservation, and a fundamental response to climate change and uncertainty will emerge as organizing principles, at least in part, for this new endeavor. In addition, given the demands of global competition coupled with demographic shifts, realizing the promise for innovation emerging from the interaction of people in cities will likely become part of this new national conversation.

Nonetheless, the lead strategy is likely to be infrastructure planning and finance, with a new role for and sense of urgency on the part of the Federal government. Consequently, with Ecolopolis 3.0 we attempted to identify an infrastructure agenda for the Cascadian megaregion, one that is attuned to the objectives for creating an Ecolopolis, as outlined above. To do this, we approached Cascadia as being defined by three central elements:

  • Competencies – the things that Cascadian metros and the megaregion itself are distinctly and perhaps uniquely good at, and which differentiate us from other megaregions in North America.
  • Sustainability – patterns of resources use, settlement, and interaction that address core values in Cascadia underlying the turn towards growth management, resource conservation, green building, local food systems, and other core behaviors and activities associated with the Cascadian brand.
  • Flows – the movement of people, goods, materials, capital, ideas, and information throughout the megaregion.

For each of these elements, we identified issues, trends, and the roles that infrastructure development can play in advancing them. Our intent was to both advance the idea of a unified and integrated Cascadia, and prepare Cascadian decisionmakers to be effective on behalf of the megaregion as the details got worked out in Washington DC.

Ecolopolis 4.0, examined the implications for Cascadia from the U.S. federal livability partnership of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation. This new interest in the role that Federal agencies can and should play in furthering goals for livability and smart growth prompted an investigation of how the livability theme might be acted on here in Cascadia in anticipation of increased engagement from federal partners. The report is divided into three parts:

  • Defining Livability – all of the Cascadian metros, states, provinces, and major cities have worked with this idea in the past. We sought to document what “livability” means here, and what Cascadians have already identified as a livability agenda.
  • Planning and Acting on Livability – planning and acting at the scale of the megaregion requires a focus on techniques and outcomes appropriate to that scale. Our task was to identify the techniques and objectives that made the most sense from the perspective of the Cascadia Ecolopolis.
  • Understanding Livability from the Federal Perspective – similarly, each of the federal agencies involved in the Livability Partnership have, in the past, adopted and acted on a range of initiatives directed at what we’re now calling livability themes. We wanted to better understand what those agencies were engaged in as a means for better understanding the intent and direction behind the seven Federal Livability Principles.

Ecolopolis 5.0

In Ecolopolis 5.0: High Speed Rail in Cascadia, we present the products of a unique collaboration between students at the University of Washington and at Portland State University. Continuing on in the tradition of previous documents, what you have before you is the product of term-long projects conducted by graduate students from the two universities, and enrolled in either PBAF 544: Transportation and Land Use Policy, taught at the Evans School of Public Policy by Professor Daniel Carlson, or USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management, taught at the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning by Professor Ethan Seltzer.

The courses, both taught during the Winter term, 2011, engaged the questions of identifying the impacts, maximizing the benefits, and exploring implementation options for high speed rail development in the Cascadia corridor. Though passenger rail has long been a shared interest in the corridor, recent U.S. Federal initiative proposed by the Obama administration have accelerated high speed rail activity and discussions in Cascadia. To explore these issues and add to the dialogue, a two-part project was developed:

Part 1:

  • Identify baseline route, alignment and system attributes
  • Assemble and analyze existing state, regional and local comprehensive plans in the HSR corridor
  • Identify likely impacts on the corridor’s environment, municipalities, residents and businesses consistent with the comprehensive land use and transportation plans
  • Identify the potential benefits of HSR
  • Develop a set of principles to guide future analysis and implementation. The products of this inquiry will be developed by Ethan Seltzers USP 549 class and presented to Dan Carlson’s PBAF 544 class at a seminar in Portland on Friday, February 4, 2011.

Part 2: using the information developed in Part 1,

Identify the policy implications of developing a Cascadia HSR with particular emphasis on community development, economic development, growth management and the environment

  • Explore and analyze options for financing, governing, and operating regional HSR passenger service in order to optimize potential benefits at the local and regional level. The products of this inquiry will be developed by Dan Carlson’s PBAF 544 class and presented to Ethan Seltzer’s USP 549 class at a seminar in Seattle on Friday, March 4, 2011.
  • The seven papers developed by students in these two courses are presented in this document. The first paper identifies key principles for high speed rail development gleaned from the literature and from the experience in other countries. The second chapter looks specifically at alignment and operations issues. The next two chapters consider community-level impacts in both Oregon and Washington. The last three chapters present scenarios for high speed rail development-- rationales for a range of service options and analyses of their impacts governance, funding, economic development, land use and the environment-- starting with the existing system (“sensible rail”) and proceeding to true, 150 mph+ service in the corridor.

As with our previous efforts, we welcome your comments and suggestions. All of the Ecolopolis documents are posted on the America 2050 website ( and are available for downloading. The Ecolopolis series is presented as a work in progress, just as the very idea of Cascadia and conception of megaregions themselves are works in progress. We are optimistic in our belief that acting on behalf of the megaregion will ultimately prove to be a useful strategy for achieving the kind of future that residents of this megaregion would prefer for Cascadia in the years to come.



This project could not have happened without the commitment and interest of the students involved in both classes. In addition, we received financial support from the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) at Portland State University, Transportation Northwest (TRANSNOW) at the University of Washington and the Cascadia Center for Metropolitan Development and its Director, Bruce Agnew, that enabled our students to travel between the two campuses.

For additional information, please contact:

  • Dan Carlson,
  • Ethan Seltzer,


Principles of Successful High-Speed Rail: Lessons from Around the World

Prepared by:

  • Becky Bodonyi
  • Sarah Bronstein
  • Erin Kirkpatrick
  • Dillon Mahmoudi
  • Andrew Parish
  • Chloe Ritter
  • Tony Vi

Portland State University

Dr. Ethan Seltzer

Regional Planning & Metropolitan Growth Management

March 2011


The United States lags far behind many parts of the world in its capacity for passenger rail. As policy makers and state and federal agencies embark on the process of planning for and implementing high-speed rail (HSR) along the Cascadia corridor from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia, we feel it is important to inform our efforts with a study of those who have led the way. There are many case studies of successful rail lines worldwide to guide our efforts here in Oregon and Washington.

What follows is a list of guiding principles drawn from an examination of case studies around the globe. In some instances, these lessons are based on successes, as in the case of HSR in Japan, France, Germany and China. In others, we can learn from mistakes made, as in failed attempts to implement HSR in the United States, or in Spain’s failed attempt to use HSR as an economic development tool. We have consolidated these lessons into five principles that are both relevant to HSR in Cascadia and could be utilized as a guide for any region looking to build HSR. Where appropriate, we have analyzed how these principles relate specifically to local scenarios.

Our principles of successful HSR are as follows:

  1. Establish a shared goal and vision
  2. Acknowledge HSR’s opportunities and constraints
  3. Utilize existing assets
  4. Integrate HSR with the rest of the public transportation network
  5. Maximize operational efficiency and service reliability

The first principle, to establish a shared goal and vision, is immensely significant to any planning issue spanning multiple jurisdictions and of regional importance. The motivation for pursuing rail infrastructure will vary by locality, and specific objectives of HSR will serve as the basis of evaluation for measuring progress and success. Developing a shared goal and vision, then, will ensure all parties will be working within in the same framework and towards the same ends rather than at cross-purposes. In turn, this first principle acts as a starting place for the remaining four principles of successful HSR, which assume a shared objective exists and provide insight into the limitations, benefits, and best practices of HSR.

Principle 1: Establish a Shared Goal and Vision

Most successful HSR lines worldwide have been implemented in Europe and Asia, where systems of planning and governance bear little resemblance to those of the United States.

In France, for example, the Train à Grand Vitesse (TGV) was built based on the decisions of a strong central government, without any regional input about alignment (Albalate, 2010). In stark contrast, HSR in the United States requires commitment by, and  coordination among, leaders at a local, state, and federal level. The most salient lessons of HSR for Cascadia stem from examples within the US.

The rail system itself is only as strong as the vision and the governing process that creates it. Several key elements are critical considerations for policy makers in the development of HSR:

  • Leadership, authority, and means
  • Shared vision and goal-setting
  • Stakeholder engagement

Leadership, Authority, and Means

In a congressional report by the Mineta Transportation Institute, de Cerreño et al. (2005) point to leadership, authority, and means as fundamental elements influencing the successful implementation of HSR in the United States. There are examples of the necessity of these three components in successful and unsuccessful HSR projects in the United States.

Many state-level HSR proposals begin with one political champion, often influenced by an inspiring experience onboard world-class rail lines such as Japan’s Shinkansen or France’s Train à Grand Vitesse. Florida has been pursuing HSR in some capacity for over 30 years because of such a trip by Governor Bob Graham (de Cerreño et al., 2005). He was able to rally support for HSR initially, but many of the original champions of HSR have since left the political arena and leaders have now cooled towards development of faster rail in their state. Because HSR has not benefited from Mainstreet Cascadia consistent and continuous political support, the state has made very little progress towards development and implementation of HSR. In order for HSR to be realized, there must be long-term political support and leadership that will withstand the lengthy planning process necessary to see the project through to completion.

Rail on the East Coast is another case in which “leadership, authority and means” made the difference in successful implementation (de Cerreño et al., 2006). Like the proposed line in Cascadia, Amtrak’s Acela line is a multistate operation, passing through eight states and the District of Columbia. HSR in the Northeast was initially funded through the federal High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965, followed by the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 which gave Amtrak the right of way to the Northeast corridor. Congress had the authority and funding to make a regional rail line possible across state boundaries, and the leadership to pass legislation that led to the rail line’s creation.

Cascadia has two of these three aspects in place. Federal funding provides the initial means for the Northwest Rail Corridor and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have the authority to begin planning efforts. However, no outstanding political champions have emerged to help introduce supportive legislation or secure matching local funds. The level of political support for the project has remained fragmented and varied across state lines. Washington and Oregon have pursued planning and goal-setting independently, and have received differing levels of federal funding. Vancouver, BC, the northernmost city on the proposed line, has remained disengaged from the rail project, consistent with its current refusal to fund the one daily train that currently runs across the US-Canada border. In spite of federal financial support and local authority to implement the project, Cascadian HSR risks being planned piecemeal unless coordination takes place between Oregon, Washington, Vancouver, BC, and the many other stakeholders with an interest in the project.

Shared Vision and Goal-setting

There is no “one-size-fits-all” HSR solution, and its design choices will depend on the purposes HSR will serve. If the overarching goal is to reduce congestion and increase commuting by rail, then incremental improvements to existing passenger rail may be the most effective strategy. Incremental improvements capitalize on existing stations, rights of way and ridership, and are accessible to more users along the route. However, if the goal is to connect major metropolitan areas by decreasing the travel time between cities, or relieve air congestion between cities, then fully grade-separated HSR with minimal stops may be the best option. Washington and Oregon have exhibited very different priorities in planning for their stretch of Cascadia’s HSR line. While both states play a vital role in rail travel alongthis corridor - the vast majority of ridership occurs between Seattle and Portland - all interim stops are located within Washington borders. The Oregon portion of the alignment, from Portland to Eugene, experiences much lower ridership, making ODOT

Rail hesitant to invest in a costly new right of way. Additionally, Washington’s rail feasibility reports have conducted a cost-benefit analysis of HSR using the cost of highway growth as a baseline for comparison, whereas Oregon’s rail strategies have only compared new separated track with incremental improvements to existing track, making incremental improvements seem like the better investment. Washington’s plans include ambitious goals for increased efficiency and speed in the Seattle to Portland trip that Oregon does not share (de Cerreño, 2005). If WSDOT wants to achieve its aspirations for the Cascadia line, it needs to coordinate with ODOT Rail to develop a shared goal and vision for the rail corridor.

Engage Public and Private Stakeholders

HSR in much of Europe was developed without any consultation with localities regarding alignment, but rail projects in the United States require a more robust public involvement process. There are many businesses, service providers, community groups, non-profits, and local governments that have an interest in how HSR will be built. These include airlines, freight companies, railroad companies, large-scale businesses along the corridor, cities along the alignment, and environmental groups. California’s planning process for HSR has involved engagement with many such stakeholders regarding station placement and right of way alignment (de Cerreño, 2005). Many of the communities along proposed HSR alignments in Cascadia have strong feelings for or against locating a station in their town or having a tracks run through their community. These stakeholders need to be invited into the conversation early in order to create a constituency for change able to identify opportunities for joint gains and overcome HSR’s many obstacles (McKinney and Johnson, 2009).

Designing a system of governance that meets these criteria will be difficult and complicated, but there is no better time to begin than the present. We recommend forming a regional steering committee comprised of diverse stakeholders with the leadership, authority, and means to define and guide the project’s vision and maintain communication between stakeholders and implementers.

Principle 2:

Acknowledge High-Speed Rail’s Opportunities and Constraints

In large urban areas that are centers of cultural, social, and economic activity, HSR may be used to direct growth and support existing systems. Additionally, HSR presents an opportunity to accommodate an increasing travel demand while reducing air and highway congestion and greenhouse emissions in the region. However planners should be cautious about promoting HSR as an economic development tool, particularly in small cities, rural communities, or remote locations.

HSR and Local Economic Development

Local planning and development incentives can play an important role in aiding station-area development, but HSR’s role in this growth is mixed at best. In urban areas, dense development appears to increase around stations, and in some cases HSR has been shown to help improve the region’s economic competitiveness by integrating peripheral communities with one another and with regional centers (Ross, 1994; Melibaeva, 2010).

However, in other cases higher land costs have stymied development around rural stations. For example, rural station development along Japan's HSR network often took decades to realize, while some areas remain underdeveloped (Ehlers, 2010). Economic activity has increased near stations in regions with self-sustained economic growth, but HSR itself may not change development patterns. For these reasons, some studies suggest that Spain might have benefited more from improving existing rail service than building HSR (de Rus and Inglada, 1997; Gutiérrez, 2001).

It is difficult to determine the exact role played by HSR stations in a community’s economic development. For example, when HSR came to the French city of Lille, it was transformed from a shrinking industrial town to a knowledge-intensive, serviceproducing city within the culturally and economically integrated Oresund region. Much of this change, though, was due to the role Lille plays as an important node between London, Paris and Brussels. Additionally, Lille’s station attracted substantial public and private investment, without which development would not have occurred. (Matthiessen, 2005; Gutiérrez, 2001; Vickerman, 1997; Campos and de Rus, 2009; Ehlers, 2010).

Intelligently Accommodating Growth

According to America 2050, Cascadia’s population is estimated to grow upwards

of 40 percent by 2040 (Hagler and Todorovich, 2009). This dramatic increase has serious

implications for transportation, livability, and the human impacts upon natural systems

both locally and globally. Managing increased congestion between cities in Cascadia will

be a major challenge in the future. Currently, "traffic congestion between Portland and

Seattle is about average, with nearly 50 percent of Interstate 5 operating at above 75

percent of design capacity during the peak hour," but as the region grows, increased

congestion along the only major corridor between these cities may limit both business


and personal travel, ultimately leading to fragmentation of the region (Hagler and

Todorovich, 2009).

The distance between Eugene to Vancouver is only 466 miles, making HSR travel

a potential alternative to short haul flights and automobile traffic in the region. The HSR

network in Spain, for example, halved demand in air travel between Madrid and Sevilla

and there has been a significant reduction in traffic and road congestion between Madrid

and Sevilla (de Rus and Inglada, 1997; Campos and de Rus, 2009). The region has

derived benefits from the associated time-savings, reductions in automobile operating

costs, road repairs, and accident prevention.

In summary, HSR can aid the economic integration of a region, but it should not

be viewed as a panacea for struggling localities (Hagler and Todorovich, 2009;

Vickerman, 1997). Authors have agreed that quantifying HSR’s economic impact is

difficult, but studies indicate a strengthening of existing social, cultural, political, and

economic networks based in urban cores. Urban centers are therefore likely to receive the

largest benefit from HSR in Cascadia, which has direct ethical implications for its

planning and implementation (Sasaki et al., 1997; Melibaeva, 2010; Hagler and

Todorovich, 2009). Examples from Japan, France, Spain, Portugal, the multinational

Oresund region, and potential American sites all support these conclusions.


Principle 3:

Utilize Existing Assets

Planners and engineers will face many alignment choices in the implementation

of HSR. There are trade-offs to be considered in deciding whether to use existing tracks,

upgrade infrastructure along existing corridors, or acquire entirely new rights of way. In

addition to monetary costs, there are environmental and political issues to be considered.

The following sections hope to inform these decisions and advocate leveraging the

cultural attitudes within the region.

Existing Rights-Of-Way

Utilizing existing transportation corridors can reduce the costs of land acquisition

and construction while minimizing environmental impacts. Substantial barrier effects are

created by roads and railways in both communities and ecological systems, and these

costs must be balanced against benefits of a new corridor (Nash, 2003). HSR can also

follow freeway corridors to reduce the need for right-of-way acquisition, which can take

advantage of current development patterns that follow freeway corridors and potentially

make HSR more accessible.

Impacts upon the region’s freight system must be considered as well. Currently,

Cascadia’s rail rights-of-way are shared between passenger and freight trains in a manner

that reduces the speed and reliability of

both systems (Nash, 2003). However,

incremental improvements such as

passing tracks and coordinated

signaling systems can improve the

corridor for all users while keeping

costs relatively low. Freight operators

have been opposed to increased

passenger capacity in the region, but

HSR funding could be used in a way

that provides opportunities for mutual

gain (California High-Speed, 2010).

Germany’s Intercity Express system

provides an example of shared track

with HSR trains using tilt-train

technology, allowing trains to maintain

higher speeds when rounding a curve on regular tracks (Gimpel and Harrison, 1997).

Local Commitments

German ICE Tilting Train

Source: Deutsche Bahn AG in Nash, 2003


There are currently eighteen stations on the Amtrak Cascades line, with high

ridership at Vancouver, BC, Seattle, and Portland. Attempts should be made to align the

system with existing stations demonstrating high ridership and stations poised to

significantly increase their ridership. This will reduce or eliminate the need for building

new stations, retain and expand existing ridership, and provide the ability to revitalize

stations and enhance station areas with development.

HSR can be seen as a tool of “smart growth,” facilitating sustainable development

in line with current environmental commitments. The Portland metropolitan region has

developed a culture of growth management and Portland’s Metro Regional Government’s

2040 Growth Concept envisions a hierarchy of nodes (central city, regional centers, town

centers, station communities, and corridors) where urban development will occur in

various densities and forms, and where land will be preserved for rural uses and nature

(Metro, 2000). HSR can help leverage and complement current planning commitments to

sustainable growth by helping focus growth along corridors and station areas.


Principle 4:

Integrate High-Speed Rail with the Rest of the Public

Transportation Network

Airport Interoperability

Studies show that HSR can replace a significant portion of short-haul flights along

routes where the journey time is comparable to that of air travel and where service is

reliable (Steers Davies Gleave, 2006). These flights are less fuel-efficient per passengermile

than longer flights, which can cover greater distances at high altitudes. Rather than

competing with HSR, cooperative integration of airports into a HSR system can provide

benefits to airlines through reduced runway congestion and increased capacity for longhaul

flights (Givoni and Banister, 2007 ).

There are different levels of air/rail interoperability. Rail can serve as merely an

access mode to airports, which could lower air pollution in the vicinity, reduce parking

requirements, and improve the image or visibility of the airport. Alternatively, rail could

be more closely integrated into air travel through coordinated scheduling, combined

ticketing, and luggage services, though the small number of these systems operating

today speaks to the technical difficulty and security concerns involved.

The choice of whether to include an HSR stop at one of the region’s airports

should be addressed in the visioning process, with airlines themselves actively engaged

as stakeholders. If attracting tourists from abroad and facilitating their movement

throughout the region emerges as an important goal of HSR in Cascadia, then tight

integration with at least one large airport in the region could be more desirable than

relying on conventional rail or other public transit for airport connectivity.

Station Location and Supportive Land Uses

A major benefit of rail over air travel is the ability to bring passengers into the

urban core and connect them to local transit systems. Without convenient options for

reaching their final destination, passengers must rely on automotive travel at the

beginning and end of their trip, reducing environmental advantages and convenience of

high-speed rail. Ridership on the Acela service, for example, has benefited greatly from

connectivity to the New York City subway system and DC Metro (Hagler and

Todorovich, 2009).

Station location and design will affect not only the system itself, but will also have a

substantial impact on the communities along the route. Stations on the urban periphery or

between cities, known in France as “beet field” stations, can draw development away

from historical downtowns and require automobile-oriented infrastructure unless great

care is taken to provide appealing transit alternatives. Stations located in central cities, on

the other hand, can more easily facilitate intermodal connections and encourage

supportive, sustainable development nearby (Facchinetti-Mannone, 2009).


In the United States,

local governments

have control over

issues of urban form.

“BART Syndrome”

refers to the missed

opportunities that

occur when

communities receive

a regional transit

station but do not

make land use

decisions that are

supportive to access and density near the station, often negatively impacting the transit

system and the community itself. The 2011 San Francisco Planning and Urban Research

Association (SPUR) report “Beyond the Tracks” addresses this issue. Acknowledging the

great variation between communities in size and planning capacity, SPUR makes several

recommendations for creating supportive land uses near HSR stations, which we have

adapted for HSR in Cascadia:

● Develop station-area plans for each station area.

● Draft state- or region-wide planning guidelines to inform local decision makers,

including possible implementation tools such as form-based codes and tax

increment financing.

● Establish oversight and certification of station-area plans, either at the state level

or through a regional body.

● Link HSR considerations to statewide land use goals, where applicable.

● Correlate future HSR investment with measured ridership, giving localities

incentives to support HSR through land use decisions.

Implementation of coordinated station-area planning will require a robust regional effort

and faces many difficulties, as Cascadian HSR will cross state and national boundaries.

Providing funding for planning efforts in smaller communities and tying transportation

investment to desired station designs are strategies that may overcome these obstacles.

California BART Station with unsupportive land

uses Source: flickr member Lawrence Chernin


Principle 5:

Maximize Operational Efficiency and Service Reliability

Maximizing operational efficiency and service reliability requires the

consideration of several factors from both an operator’s perspective and from a

passenger’s perspective. Some improvements to operational efficiency can also serve to

make high-speed train travel more attractive to passengers, while others may involve

trade-offs between service, travel time, and energy efficiency. Agencies who will plan

and implement HSR should consider how best to incorporate the following practices.

Maintain Uniform Train Speeds

International experience suggests that maintaining uniform speeds minimizes the

amount of energy trains require to accelerate and decelerate (Nash, 2003). Train speed

variation can be lessened by a by minimizing the overall number of stations and locating

them at greater intervals, minimizing at-grade crossings with roads, and limiting the

amount of travel through developed areas. On the Acela line on the U.S. East Coast,

citizen reports suggest that “When stops average 35-40 miles apart … 70 mph average

speed results. When stops average 45-50 miles apart, more respectable 80-85 mph

average speeds … result.” (Dorsey, n.d.).

Minimize the Number of Stops

As previously noted, this is an important consideration for the practice of

maintaining uniform train speeds, as the number and location of stations will determine

how frequently the trains must accelerate and decelerate. It also helps to decrease overall

journey time. Finally, HSR is most competitive with other travel modes for trips that are

100-500 miles long (Albalate and Bel, 2010). Even for “higher-speed rail,” which does

not reach top speeds of more than 110 mph, fewer stops means greater energy efficiency

and shorter overall travel times.

Locate Stations According to Population Density and Passenger


Locate stations where the most passengers can access them with the least

inconvenience and cost. This means that, to a certain degree, the practice of minimizing

stops must be balanced against the practice of making the HSR system accessible to

many communities. Lessons from other HSR systems suggest that stations should be

located in medium-sized cities, at a minimum. In European systems, it has been

recommended that stations should link urban centers with populations of at least .75

million (Vickerman, 1997). In the Cascadia corridor, only Portland, Seattle, and

Vancouver, BC have sufficiently large populations by this standard. Smaller communities

can be connected to the HSR system through local or regional transit. Siting stations in

dense, downtown locations is also recommended, as this makes them more easily

accessible than peripheral stations.


Keep Grades Separated

Employ grade-separation where possible, particularly at crossings and stations.

This is important both for ensuring safety and for improving speeds. European HSR

systems do not have at-grade crossings, and the U.S. Federal Railroad Association has

determined that no grade crossings should be allowed for trains traveling over 125 mph.

At stations, grade separations and HSR passing tracks separated from the platform can

improve the safety of waiting passengers and allow high-speed trains to bypass the

station (Nash, 2003).

Coordinate with Freight

Where high-speed trains

share track with freight and

conventional passenger rail

services, operations and

maintenance should be

coordinated to maximize the

benefits to all parties. In

particular, operators of different

systems should coordinate train

schedules and dispatching to

minimize conflicts and delays.

Multiple tracks or passing tracks

allow for increased capacity, and

track and alignment improvements can allow for higher speeds, but improvement options

must be considered in the context of how they will benefit the varied needs of all users

(Nash, 2003). Shared-use, while challenging, can offer significant benefits such as shared

costs. It is possible to have fully or partially shared-use systems; partially shared systems

are common in urban areas. ICE in Germany, TGV in France, and Acela in the Northeast

United States are three examples of partial shared-use HSR systems.

Employ Demand-Responsive Pricing Strategies

Make greater use of yield management systems to improve overall efficiency per

passenger. This means that rail operators could employ more flexible pricing strategies to

encourage more efficient use of existing train capacities (Steers Davies Gleave, 2006).

Airlines use demand-responsive pricing and on average fill 85-90% of the seats, while

rail operators may fill as few as 35% of their seats. However, unlike airlines, train

operators face difficulty filling seats due to passengers boarding or alighting at

intermediary stops. Also, the success of these strategies depends upon improving the

attractiveness of rail services in order to increase demand.

In summary, passengers of HSR seek reliability, reduced journey time, high

frequency trains, affordable ticket prices, and easily accessible stations. These service

needs must be balanced against operational needs. Rail operators need to reduce costs,

which in the Cascadia corridor includes coordinating freight and conventional passenger

rail operations, as building dedicated track for HSR is likely cost-prohibitive given

current population densities along the corridor. This coordination in turn means that there

Freight and Passenger Rail in Shared




are limitations to the top speeds that trains can reach, making reliability improvements

more complicated. Operators also need to fill trains to reduce costs per passenger,

meaning high frequency trains are not viable unless demand for rail travel increases

significantly. However, improvements to reliability, journey times, and system

accessibility, could lead to increased demand, creating a virtuous cycle of both improved

operational efficiency and improved services.



We have attempted to distill lessons and insights from the experiences of others in

creating passenger rail systems for the 21st century. The unique political and economic

realities of American governance, with its emphasis on planning at the local level while

funding transportation projects at the state or federal level, certainly limits the

applicability of HSR experiences internationally, but we believe these examples from

abroad should inform our discussion in the Cascadian region. To summarize:

• First and foremost, “High-Speed Rail” has a multitude of meanings, and its Cascadian

incarnation should be part of a regional conversation that serves to promote regional

identity, establish shared goals of the system, and address the distribution of costs and

benefits in an equitable manner.

• While it does have distinct advantages over automobile and air travel, HSR is not

without its costs and limitations and should not be seen as a panacea for struggling

economies, especially in the short term.

• The monetary, environmental, and social costs of implementing HSR can be reduced

by using existing rail infrastructure and highway corridors.

• Benefits to HSR ridership and to communities are maximized when stations are

located in urban cores with supportive transit connections and land uses.

• Reducing the number of stops and at-grade crossings, coordinating with freight, and

locating stations only in the most populous communities will increase speed and

service reliability, but must be balanced against regional goals.

High-Speed Rail in Cascadia presents an exciting opportunity to shift our regional

transportation and land use systems away from inefficient and costly automobile-oriented

infrastructure, and we hope that our efforts will help inform its implementation.



Albalate, D. and Bel, G. (2010). “High-speed rail: Lessons for policymakers from

experiences abroad.” Research Institute for Applied Economics. Retrieved from

California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA). (2010) “Chapter 4: Impacts to Union

Pacific Railroad Freight Operations.” Bay Area to Central Valley High-Speed

Train: Revised Final Program Environmental Impact Report, Volume 1. Retrieved



Campos, J. and de Rus, G. (2009). “Some stylized facts about high-speed rail: A review

of HSR experiences around the world.” Transport Policy, 16 (1), 19-28.


de Cerreño, A. and Evans, D. M. (2005). “High-speed rail projects in the United

States: Identifying the elements for success.” Mineta Transportation Institute, San

Jose State University.

de Cerreño, A. and Marthur, S. (2006). “High Speed Rail Projects in the United

States: Identifying the Elements of Success Part II.” Mineta Transportation

Institute, San Jose State University.

de Rus, G. and Inglada, V. (1997). “Cost-benefit analysis of the high-speed train in

Spain.” The Annals of Regional Science, 31(2),175-188.


Dorsey, T. (n.d.). “America must build an interstate high speed rail network, fast”

(Part I) [Web log]. Retrieved from

Ehlers, E. (2010). “HSR Report: What can California learn from high-speed rail systems

around the world?” SPUR - San Francisco Planning + Urban Research

Association. Retrieved from



Facchinetti-Mannone, V. (2009). “Location of high-speed rail stations in French mediumsize

city and their mobility and territorial implications.” Proceedings of the City

Futures '09 Conference. Retrieved from

Gimpel, W & Harrison, J. (1997). HSGT corridor planning: Land use and other

considerations. Journal of Transportation Engineering, May/June, 175-181.

Givoni, M & Banister, D. (2007). “Role of the Railways in the Future of Air Transport.”

Transportation Planning and Technology, 30(1), 95-112.

Gutiérrez, J. (2001). “Location, economic potential and daily accessibility: an analysis of

the accessibility impact of the high-speed line Madrid-Barcelona-French border”*

1. Journal of Transport Geography, 9 (4), 229–242.

Hagler, Y., and Todorovich, P. (2009). “Where high-speed rail works best.” America

2050. Retrieved from

“High-speed rail in America - America 2050."


Matthiessen, C.W. (2005). "The Öresund Area: Pre- and Post-Bridge Cross-Border

Functional Integration: The Bi-National Regional Question." GeoJournal 61, no.

1: 31-39. doi:10.1007/s10708-005-5234-1.

McKinney, Matthew and Shawn Johnson. (2009) “Working Across Boundaries: People,

Nature, and Regions.” Cambridge: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Melibaeva, S. (2010). "Development impacts of high-speed rail : Megalopolis formation

and implications for Portugal's Lisbon-Porto high-speed rail link." (Unpublished

Master's Thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, USA.

Metro Regional Government. (2000). The Nature of 2040: The region’s 50-year plan

for managing growth. Retrieved from

Nash, A. (2003). "Best practices in shared-use high-speed rail systems." Norman Y.

Mineta International Institute for Surface Transportation Policy Studies. Retrieved



Ross, J.F.L. (1994). High-speed Rail: Catalyst for European Integration? JCMS: Journal

of Common Market Studies 32(2), 191-214. doi:10.1111/j.1468-


Sasaki, K., Ohashi, T. and Ando, A. (1997). “High-speed rail transit impact on regional

systems: does the Shinkansen contribute to dispersion?” The annals of regional

science 31(1), 77–98.

Siemens USA. (2010). "High-speed trains running on freight line tracks: The

experience of Germany." Retrieved from


Steers Davies Gleave. (2006). European Commission, Mobility and Transport. "Air

and rail competition and complementarity: Final Report." Retrieved from


Terplan, Egon et al. (2011) “Beyond the Tracks: How Smart Land Use Planning Can

Reshape California’s Growth”. Retrieved from


Vickerman, R. (1997). "High-speed rail in Europe: experience and issues for future

development." The Annals of Regional Science 31(1), 21-38.



Cascadia High Speed Rail:

Alignment and Operations



Portland State University

USP 549: Regional Planning & Metropolitan Growth Management

Winter 2011

Professor Ethan Seltzer

Sadie Carney

April Cutter

Ryan Michie

David M. Ruelas

Bridger Wineman

Cover image courtesy of Amtrak



Section I. Introduction

This chapter presents information on potential Cascadia High Speed Rail station

locations, alignment alternatives, and operational considerations. Criteria for station

location and alignment is presented for both siting stations within the major cities of

Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC, as well as the corridors between them. Alternatives

are evaluated and proposed station location recommendations provided. HSR station

analysis in major cities consists of evaluating station locations and alignments within

each metro region. Analysis for smaller cities focuses on which cities should have a

station, why, and the recommended level of service it should receive. Considerations for

rights of way options are discussed and presented.

This report finds that right of way considerations, station locations in regional

centers, as well as stops between those centers depend on the goals of the overall

system. Improvements to existing service is possible using existing right of way;

building a rail system that provides true high‐speed service between regional

metropolitan centers requires grade separated right of way acquisition. Likewise,

avoiding impacts to freight and achieving service competitive with regional air and

highway travel also requires new right of way.

HSR stations in major cities of the Pacific Northwest should promote overall goals of

HSR development, including focusing growth on urban centers rather than promoting

sprawling development on working and wild lands, by reflecting strong integration with

land use and transportation planning throughout Cascadia. In order for high speed rail to

maintain an appropriate level of efficiency, stops between major metropolitan areas need

to be carefully considered before deciding on their inclusion in a High Speed Rail system.

Section II. Rights of Way Considerations

Rights‐of way (ROW) considerations have significant implications for regional HSR

planning efforts in Cascadia. The primary options include obtaining new and/or

dedicated ROW, using existing shared‐use ROW, or other new novel solutions. As

expected, new ROW costs can be a major obstacle to HSR implementation. Using

existing ROW is less costly, however, in order to reach true HSR speeds, new and/or

dedicated ROW is often needed. Further, the Federal Rail Administration requires

grade separated crossings in design guidelines for HSR threshold speeds. Grade

level crossings are numerous on existing ROW, especially outside of urban area. The

following sections describe the motivation behind using existing ROW as well as the

motivation for using new ROW in planning for regional HSR.

Two western states, California and Washington, are moving forward with plans for

HSR using both existing ROW and new ROW. California is planning to acquire new

ROW for the majority of its HSR system that is projected to reach speeds of up to

220 MPH. Washington, on the other hand, is taking an incremental approach to HSR,

utilizing existing ROW and even sharing track in some areas of the proposed system


with freight rail (Washington State Department of Transportation, 2010). Speeds

are expected to reach 90 MPH in the Washington State system.


Planning for HSR utilizing existing ROW coincides with the Emerging Routes

category as defined by the federal government (de Cerreno, 2005). By using existing

ROW, overall maintenance costs are lower, especially when track is shared with

freight operations. Enhancements made to existing ROW would not only benefit

passenger rail, but also improve the freight system while leaving it undisturbed to

continue freight operations as usual. Impacts to the environment are minimized

since little land is disturbed when using existing ROW (Washington State

Department of Transportation, 2010). Land‐uses do not need to be redesignated or

rezoned along the alignment using existing ROW, and unwelcomed development

stemming from HSR can largely be avoided by cities and other populated areas

along the alignments. Farmland is kept unaltered and political criticism regarding

land acquisition is curtailed, giving incremental HSR a better chance of being


The typical cross section shown in Figure 1 below demonstrates an upgraded

existing ROW that shifts original ROW used by

freight and Metrolink in Southern California outward

to be configured for use by HSR (Murakami, 2010).

Note that this design, as illustrated, takes advantage

of unused ROW that isn’t necessarily available along

an entire alignment or along every alignment.

Further, the use of Overhead Cantilever System

(OCS) poles in HSR also pose a challenge as they

require large and deep foundations that must be

considered when evaluating ROW. Studies estimate

that 25 to 30 feet of additional ROW is needed to accommodate HSR along most

existing freight and passenger alignments (de Cerreno, 2005).


New and dedicated ROW would allow for higher speeds comparable to HSR systems

found in Asia and Europe (de Cerreno, 2005). Cutting edge technologies could be

used in building a HSR System with new ROW, allowing for much needed updated

transportation infrastructure. More current technologies can also help reduce risk

of liquefaction, enabling a more reliable transportation network overall. Moving

people quickly and effectively can be better accomplished through dedicated ROW

at higher passenger rail operating speeds. Freight rail bottlenecks, currently a

problem in many areas of the country, would be improved by proposed HSR using

new ROW since it reduces interference between faster passenger trains and slower

freight trains. Obtaining new ROW also reduces implementation risk factors based

in the need to procure new agreements and cooperation from existing privatesector

freight rail owners.

Figure 1: Use of Existing ROW for HSR


Figure 2: Use of Grade Separated Track



Designs using grade separated track facilities have been fashioned using existing

and newly acquired ROW for HSR. Figure 2 below shows a cross section whereby

HSR travels above existing freight rail (Murakami, 2010). This design is proposed in

densely populated

sections of Los

Angeles and can be

implemented in

similar areas

elsewhere. A bore

and tunnel alternative

is also available

for areas along an

alignment where

new ROW is cost prohibitive

and going

underground is feasible.

New techniques

for a bore and tunnel

approach to

implementation of

HSR have decreased

in cost and is viable

under certain


Ultimately, the literature suggests that the appropriate approach to ROW depends

on the goals of the overall system. Where goals include mitigating vehicle

congestion in urban areas, existing ROW for HSR should be used. In contrast, new

and/or dedicated ROW should be used if the goal of the HSR system is to reduce

airport congestion between urban areas of 100 miles to 600 apart.

Section III. Criteria for Metropolitan Station Location

HSR stations in major cities of the Pacific Northwest should promote overall goals of

HSR development including secondary effects on transportation and land use. The

Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor by

the Federal Railroad Association and WSDOT (2010) lists policy goals of “reducing

the nation’s dependency on foreign sources of energy, reducing greenhouse gas

emissions that contribute to climate change, increasing public safety, and

strengthening transportation system redundancies in the event of natural and manmade

disasters,” which incremental improvements to passenger rail would address.

Reduced auto trips, fuel use and emissions are modeled for improved rail service

between Seattle and Portland. (USDOT, 2010) The FONSI states that any immediate


energy and land use impacts would be small and mitigated by various particular

efforts. The finding does not, however, consider the dynamic role HSR might take in

influencing the form of land use and transportation systems in the broader context

of the mega‐region.

The High Speed Rail in America report by America 2050 (2011) lists employment

and population as the main factors which determine which markets are best served

by HSR. However, the transit catchment in potential rail markets is also an

important criterion for evaluating the potential for ridership without creating

additional roadway congestion and other deleterious effects associated with low

density development and increased vehicle miles traveled.

The Fall 2010 OSPIRG Foundation Report, A Track Record of Success, includes

recommendations for HSR implementation in line with such goals. The OSPIRG

Foundation (2010) recommends that HSR station locations should be:

• easily accessible to people using multiple modes of transportation;

• located in areas which support transit‐oriented development;

• in existing downtowns or inter‐modal facilities (in contrast to greenfield or

park‐and‐ride type facilities);

• located to focus future development and increase intensive commercial and

residential uses or

• reinforce existing high density locations like central cities, rather than

creating sprawl;

• integrated with other transit, particularly other commuter and freight rail, to

facilitate track upgrades and shared stations.

Guidance from the USDOT, America 2050, and OSPIRG reports informed the

creation of criteria used for evaluating possible HSR station locations in the three

urban centers of the Cascadia mega‐region. Criteria are in categories of local and

regional access, and land use density as summarized in Table 1 below. The

application of these criteria help evaluate possible station locations which would

best integrate with existing and planned transportation systems and land use to

provide access for strong ridership and focus development at high‐density locations.


Table 1: Urban Station Location Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access Number of transit lines

Local inter‐modal access Proximity to bike and pedestrian facilities; walkability

Regional Access scores

Central to regional population Regional population density distribution

Central to regional employment Regional employment density distribution

High Density Location

High population/employment area Localized population and employment data

Supportive current land use Land use regulations, designations, and current conditions

Supportive long‐range land use Land use and comprehensive plans

Section IV. Vancouver, B.C. Alignment and Station



There are three existing rail corridors, highlighted in Figure 3, that enter Vancouver and

could be used to travel to the Central Business District (CBD).

Alignment A is an abandoned rail line that runs primarily through residential districts and

terminates just south of the CBD near Granville Island. Its main advantage is that it is

abandoned. Its primarily disadvantages is that it would also require extensive upgrades at

grade crossings and safety improvements. The corridor runs down the middle of an

arterial street and would likely be a very controversial due to the adjacent residential


Alignment B is the existing corridor for Amtrak and Via Rail and also shared with

freight. Alignment C is also an active freight corridor shared with a regional commuter

rail line between the CBD and the City of Mission to the east. Both B and C run primarily

through industrial districts. Of the two lines however, alignment B is the most direct to

the United States border and would offer opportunities to improve track for Via Rail. For

this reason the preferred alignment for a Cascadia high-speed rail within the City of

Vancouver using existing right of way is Alignment B. Potential alignments using new

right of way was not evaluated within Vancouver.


Figure 3: Vancouver Rights of Way

Source: GoogleEarth



Pacific Central Station (shown in Figure 4) is the current terminus for Amtrak’s Cascades

line, Via Rail’s Canadian line, and the central bus station for Greyhound and Pacific

Coach Lines. It is located just over one mile to the southeast of the central business

district near False Creek. This station has a moderate level of access to the greater

Vancouver region through 9 bus lines and the Main Street SkyTrain station (Translink


Pacific Central station is relatively close to the central business district where the highest

residential and employment densities are located. The zoned land uses around the station,

however, are less than ideal. It is surround to the east and south by light industrial uses

and commercial and residential to the north and west (Vancouver 2009). Based on City of

Vancouver’s zoning the long-term land uses are not as supportive.

Figure 4: Pacific Central Station

Source: Bing


Table 2: Pacific Central Station Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 11

Local inter‐modal access Medium‐High

Regional Access

Central to regional population Medium (Near high population, but not central)

Central to regional employment Medium (Near high population, but not central)

High Density Location

High population/employment area Yes

Supportive current land use Medium

Supportive long‐range land use Medium



This new proposed station would be constructed at the north end of the central business

district above the existing rail yard. This location is one of the most highly accessible

locations in the greater Vancouver region. Well over twenty bus lines are within walking

distance to the proposed station. The regional commuter rail, SkyTrain, and the West

Coast Express (serving communities between Vancouver and Mission to the east) both

terminate at Waterfront station. The SeaBus Terminal provides ferry service to North

Vancouver and multiple cruise ships dock at Canada Place one block away. This location

is also centrally located to the regions’ highest employment and residential density


Figure 5: Proposed Waterfront / Canada Place Station

Source: Bing

Table 3: Proposed Waterfront / Canada Place Station Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 25+

Local inter‐modal access High

Regional Access

Central to regional population Medium (Near high population, but not central)

Central to regional employment Medium (Near high population, but not central)

High Density Location

High population/employment area Yes

Supportive current land use Yes

Supportive long‐range land use Yes



Waterfront/Canada Place is recommended as the future high speed rail station for

Vancouver, B.C. This location edges out the current Pacific Central Station because it is

better served by regional transit and closer to the central business district. The higher

employment and residential densities would better support HSR goals than a less

centrally located station.

Table 4: Summary of Seattle Station Location Criteria


Pacific Central Station Waterfront / Canada Place

Local Access

Transit access +



Local inter‐modal access +



Regional Access

Central to regional population O



Central to regional employment + ‐



High Density Location

High population/employment





Supportive current land use O



Supportive long‐range land use O



Section V. Seattle station location alternatives

For the Seattle metro area, four locations were evaluated for potential HSR station

development (Figure 6), including two central city locations, and two international air

terminal locations. In central Seattle the South Lake Union district was considered on the

north side of downtown Seattle, as well as at King Street Station on the south end of

downtown. Airport locations evaluated include Boeing Field, and SeaTac International

Airport, both of which are south of the core central business district.


Information and maps used to characterize aspects relevant to station location criteria for

the Seattle region include documents provided by King County (2010), Seattle

Department of Planning and Development (2006, 2011a, 2011b), Seattle Department of

Transpiration (2011), and Sightline Institute (2006).

Source: GoogleEarth

Figure 6: Seattle Station Locations Evaluated



South Lake Union is a former industrial area on the north end of downtown Seattle

bordered to the north by commercial uses along Lake Union, and to the south by

relatively dense multifamily housing. Increased development density is planned for the

area which was given an Urban Center designation by the Seattle Department of Planning

and Development (2011). The district lies between the University of Washington and

downtown is linked to downtown by streetcar. Current freight rail corridors do not

service this area. Access from the I-5 corridor is possible, as is a linkage to the current

BNSF line (Figure 7). However, each of those alternatives would likely require above or

below grade facilities given existing dense development in the central city.

Left: Connecting to the current BNSF line (green) requires tunneling or other substantial corridor development issues

for traversing central Seattle. Right: Utilizing an I-5 alignment is likely to require similarly intensive corridor

development, but over a shorter distance. Source: GoogleEarth

Table 5: South Lake Union Station Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 5

Local inter‐modal access High scores

Regional Access

Central to regional population Yes

Central to regional employment Yes

High Density Location

High population/employment area Yes

Supportive current land use No (Commercial, Industrial)

Supportive long‐range land use Yes


The King Street Station (Figure 8), the current Amtrak station for Seattle on the main

BNSF rail, is located in a comprehensive mix of major transportation infrastructure and

Figure 7: South Lake Union


the Seattle central business District. The station is served by the Sounder Commuter Rail

line to Tacoma and is adjacent to the Seattle Ferry Terminal. Situated just south of the

downtown business core, the station neighbors Safeco and Qwest Fields, the Pioneer

Square Historic District and the International District. Its location is also at the southern

terminus of the downtown transit tunnel and has access from I-5 and I-90.

Figure 8: King Street Location

Source: GoogleEarth

Table 6: King Street Station Location Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 12

Local inter‐modal access Medium‐High

Regional Access

Central to regional population Yes

Central to regional employment Yes

High Density Location

High population/employment area Yes

Supportive current land use Yes

Supportive long‐range land use Yes



Serving as the Seattle Metro area’s second international airport, Boeing field is a regional

hub for general aviation and air cargo. Lying 5 miles south of downtown, adjacent to I-5,

it offers connections beyond the region with better access to downtown Seattle relative to


SeaTac. Because of its location in Seattle’s sprawling Duwamish Industrial Area and its

close proximity to I-5, Boeing Field offers relatively inexpensive station and corridor

development. However, this alternative does not match the density and centrality of

downtown station locations.

Figure 9: Boeing Field Station Location

The BNSF line (black) and I-5 have are close to a possible Boeing Field Station. Source: Google Earth

Table 7: Boeing Field Station Location Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 7

Local inter‐modal access Low/Medium (Sightline Walkable King County)

Regional Access

Central to regional population Moderate (poor access to North Seattle)

Central to regional employment Moderate

High Density Location

High population/employment area Mixed

Supportive current land use No (Industrial)

Supportive long‐range land use No (Greater Duwamish Industrial Area)


SeaTac, the Seattle Metro area’s primary international airport, is a major air hub for the

Cascadia Region. It is located between the major cities of Seattle and Tacoma, 11 miles

south of the Seattle CBD. SeaTac is also an incorporated city in King County. The City

of SeaTac comprehensive plan identifies an area across from the main airport terminal for

future high capacity transit development in conjunction with Sound Transit. Substantial

land assemblage is required for HSR service as the main terminal lies several miles from


existing corridors of I-5 and the BNSF railway. SR 99 is the primary roadway

connection between SeaTac and I-5. Its location is also near other highway facilities

including SR 518 and SR 509.

Figure 10: SeaTac Station Location

SeaTac is some distance away from both 1-5 (left green line) and the BNSF rail corridor (right green line). Source:


Table 8: SeaTack Station Location Criteria

Criteria Measurement

Local Access

Transit access 6

Local inter‐modal access Low

Regional Access

Central to regional population Poor

Central to regional employment Poor

High Density Location

High population/employment area No

Supportive current land use No (low density commercial and residential)

Supportive long‐range land use Mixed (High capacity transit, but continued low density)


King Street Station ranks as the most promising HSR station location for the Seattle

metro area. The central city station locations are suggested much more strongly than the

airport locations according to the evaluative criteria applied here. Both South Lake

Union and King Street Station were given positive rankings for a majority of the criteria.

The transit access and current land use are more supportive of an HSR station at King

Street Station relative South Lake Union, which currently lacks density.


Both airport locations rated neutrally or negatively for each of the criteria. Both Boeing

Field and SeaTac lack sufficient regional and local access, population and employment

density, and supportive land use needed for locating an HSR station.

Table 9: Summary of Seattle Station Location Criteria

Criteria South Lake


King Street


Boeing Field SeaTac

Local Access

Transit access O + O O

Local inter‐modal access + O O ‐

Regional Access

Central to regional population + + O ‐

Central to regional employment + + O ‐

High Density Location

High population/employment


+ + O ‐

Supportive current land use ‐ + ‐ ‐

Supportive long‐range land use + + ‐ O

Section VI. Portland Station Alternatives


Figure 11 shows potential rail alignments within the City of Portland. Most alignments

use existing corridors except for the portions of alignment C and B1. All existing

alignments are owned and used for freight rail and all would need extensive right of way

retrofits to accommodate high speed rail. Many of the alignments that are abandoned or

have minimal freight operations were not considered (such as the Lake Oswego

alignment proposed by Oregon Department of Transportation) because a large proportion

of the corridor would operate in close proximity to residential areas. The proposed

alignment, the B/B1 alternative, largely travels through industrial districts.

Alignment A is the existing corridor for Amtrak and primarily owned by BNSF and

requires two Willamette River crossings. Alignment B, mostly owned by Union Pacific,

offers a more direct route into downtown compared to Alignment A. This route would

utilize the existing Peninsular Tunnel avoiding impacts to North Portland neighborhood

and travels through Swan Island and the Albina rail yard. The main disadvantages of

alignment B is that it would be expensive to widen the Peninsular Tunnel and would

require a new Willamette River crossing if the Portland HSR station were to be located in

downtown Portland. In contrast, if the HSR station were to be located in the Lloyd

District alignment B1 could be utilized and connected to the current Alignment A to the



Alignment C travels along the Columbia industrial corridor and heads south in a new

right of way along Interstate 205 on its way to a potential station in Gateway. An

Interstate 205 alignment may be a cheaper and faster alternative because room for a rail

corridor was included when the highway was constructed. Currently the MAX light rail

has taken advantage of this space and high-speed rail may be able to do the same.

Alignment C would connect back with the existing Amtrak corridor south of Gateway

near Oregon City.

Figure 11:Portland Alignment Alternatives

Source: GoogleEarth



Union Station is the current Amtrak station for the Portland metropolitan region. It is

located at the north end of downtown adjacent to the Greyhound bus terminal. Across the

street is the13-acre central Portland United States Post Office site. Currently, this site is

used as a sorting facility and mail distribution center. The postal service, however, has

long term plans to vacate the site and move operations closer to the airport. This post

office facility, thus, is included as a potential high speed rail station along with Union

station because it is relatively close to the existing alignment and may minimize

construction impacts to existing freight and passenger service, particularly if a new tunnel

or bridge is built under/over the Willamette River. Also the size of the Post Office site

offers opportunities to integrate high density transit oriented development with the high

speed rail station.

Union Station is served by nine bus lines, two MAX light rail lines, and the Portland

Streetcar. The location is highly walkable and bike friendly based on Portland’s draft

accessibility analysis (Portland, draft). The station is centrally located from a

geographic perspective and within the downtown business districts where high

employment densities are located. The current and long‐term land uses would be

very supportive of a high speed rail station. The regional government Metro has

designated that the central city serve as the finance and commerce, government,

retail, tourism, arts and entertainment center for the region have will have the most

intensive form of housing and employment development within the entire

metropolitan region (Metro 2000).

Figure 12: Portland's Union Station Location

Source: GoogleEarth



The Lloyd District is located in the central city opposite of downtown Portland on the

eastside of the Willamette River. A station located in the broader Lloyd District offers

many advantages for a high sped rail line, particularly if it is located at or near the Rose

Quarter Transit Center. The Memorial Coliseum is included here as a focus site because

it is owned by the City of Portland, the future use for this building is under consideration,

and it is adjacent to existing railroad corridors.

Memorial Coliseum has excellent transit connections. About two blocks away is the

Rose Quarter Transit Center which is serviced by four MAX light rail lines and ten

bus lines including CTRAN which connects to Vancouver, WA. To the north will be a

Portland Streetcar stop which is currently under construction. Additionally, the

station is centrally located from a geographic perspective and within the downtown

and Lloyd business districts both of which enjoy high employment densities. The

current and long‐term land uses would be very supportive of a high speed rail

station. The regional government, Metro, has designated that the central city serve

as the finance and commerce, government, retail, tourism, arts and entertainment

center for the region have will have the most intensive form of housing and

employment development within the entire metropolitan region (Metro 2000).

Figure 13: Proposed Memorial Coliseum Station

Source: Bing



Gateway is located about seven miles east of Portland’s downtown near the convergence

of Interstates 84 and 205. Gateway is designated as a regional center by the Metro

regional government and intended to be a center of commerce and local government

services with a development pattern comprising of two- to four- story compact

employment and housing types served by high-quality transit(Metro 2000). The primary

advantage for this station is that it may offer a cheaper alignment/station combination

compared to the more central Portland alternatives.

Gateway has a moderate level of access to the region. It is served by three MAX light rail

lines and seven bus lines. The current local infrastructure is not well suited for pedestrian

and bicycle modes (Portland 2010). Given the station area’s regional center status, it may

have supportive land uses in the long term. However, it is currently surrounded by low

density commercial and residential uses. Another disadvantage is that this location is not

central to the metropolitan region.

Figure 14: Proposed Gateway Station

Source: Bing



Both Union Station/Post Office and the Lloyd District/Memorial Coliseum are

recommended as potential future high speed rail stations. Both stations have a high

degree of accessibility, supportive land uses, and are central to the regional employment

and population. Union Station may have a small advantage being a litter closer to the

central city but Memorial coliseum may have advantages from an alignment perspective

as it avoids two Willamette river crossings required to reach the Union Station / Post

Office location.

Table 10: Summary of Portland Station Location Criteria

Criteria Union Station /

Post Office




Local Access

Transit access + + O

Local inter‐modal access + O O‐

Regional Access

Central to regional population + + ‐

Central to regional employment + + O‐

High Density Location

High population/employment


+ + ‐

Supportive current land use + + ‐‐

Supportive long‐range land use + + +‐


Section VII. Ancillary Service


In order for high speed rail to maintain an appropriate level of efficiency, stops on the

alignment between major metropolitan areas need to be carefully considered before

deciding on inclusion in a High-Speed Rail system. The Principles section of this report

identifies an efficiency for HSR for travel of between 100 and 500 miles. Beyond this

distance, rail travel even at the highest speeds is not competitive with air. At shorter

distances, automobiles become competitive as rail efficiency declines with slow-downs

due to starting and stopping. Further, in order to minimize the potential for HSR to

induce sprawl and low-density development, siting locations at supportive environments

is recommended.

Based on these principles, HSR station site selection criteria for ancillary station

locations include:

• Station access to local and regional transit

• Centrality to Regional population and employment (generators and attractors)

• Current Amtrak boardings

• Supportive vision for future development by the community

• Minimum spacing between stations


Additional factors to be considered include land uses, density, and supportiveness of

station location to alternative transportation options. In the Cascadia mega-region, the

current population densities are largely located along the existing rail / Interstate 5

corridor. For this reason, evaluation of inter-metropolitan station locations assumes that

the existing passenger train stations would serve the final HSR route with or without

minor modifications to the actual track alignments between stations. Thus, the ancillary

alignment becomes “which stops?”

While not all smaller towns would qualify under the above criteria for inclusion of a HSR

station, most smaller towns would benefit by improvements to existing rail services. For

this reason, alternate levels of service are proposed for locations with less supportive

potential. Table 11 summarizes recommendations for level of service for stations along

the proposed Cascadia HSR corridor. Super Express Stations will serve large cities north

and south of the Canadian border (Vancouver, BC; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR). The

stations recommended for a “Regional Express” level include those with strong local

attractors, supportive local transit, and medium levels of existing ridership. These

Regional Express stations may require special siting arrangements with respect to overall

track alignment to ensure that regional services could stop but allow HSR to continue

through with minimal negative impact to local station area locations. As such, exploration

of HSR “bypass” routes are suggested for all Regional Express service stations.

However, most towns and small cities along the current right of way do not meet the

station location criteria for Regional Express or Super Express Stations. Local service

improvements that increase access to Regional Express and Super Express Stations will

be part of High-Speed Rail implementation and will be critical to overall success of the

projects. For example, it may be necessary to locate HSR right of ways on new

infrastructure (instead of shared track or adjacent right or way) to reduce the interference

of higher speed trains on local and freight services. These new and improved

infrastructure should improve local service by allowing increases in schedule frequency

and increasing schedule reliability. The growth and interest in these smaller towns may

warrant building capacity into the system for later HSR implementation.


Table 11: Station Level of Service Summary






Express Local



Bellingham X X X

Mt. Vernon X

Everett X

Edmonds X

Seattle, WA X X X

Tacoma X X

Olympia/Lacey X X

Centralia X

Kelso /

Longview X

Vancouver X

Portland X X X

Oregon City X

Salem X X

Albany X

Eugene X X



The state of Washington has done much to plan and prepare for high-speed rail

implementation. The Washington State Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades is a

comprehensive overview extending over a twenty year horizon of implementation

elements from infrastructure development to economic outcomes. Their findings

included that “development of a new rail corridor—especially in western Washington—

would be very expensive.”(WADOT, 2010) New rail corridors (relocating HSR right of

way around existing business districts, for example) may also be met with resistance.

Current conditions at existing Amtrak stations along the Canada to Seattle service area

are summarized in Table 12. The level of commitment and community buy-in already

present in Washington is demonstrated in the fact that these stations all serve as multimodal

transportation hubs for their cities and enjoy local transit service. BNSF, the track

owner, is a cooperative partner with WADOT on track improvements.

However, existing stations are closely spaced. Further, Everett and Edmonds are already

served by commuter rail to Seattle and Tacoma is connected to Seattle via public

transportation. While there are some strong trip attractors along the local routes, only

Seattle has density and access sufficient to location of a Super Express Station. Even

though better rail service along this stretch would benefit communities and the region,

only the Bellingham station, 95 miles from Seattle, has the demand figures and distance

for true High Speed Rail.

Table 12: Canada to Seattle Stations Summary



Level of


2009 Pop 2009



Transit Other Attractors

Bellingham HSR 80k 62k Yes Alaska Cruises

Mt Vernon Local 32k 21k Yes Ferry to San Juan Islands

Everett Local 99k 23k Yes

Boeing Assembly Plant

US Naval Station

Port of Everett

Edmonds Local 40k 23k Yes



Population densities and boarding numbers along the existing rail route between Seattle

and Portland are not sufficient to generate the number of riders necessary to successfully

support high-speed rail. Attractors for these interior cities are limited largely to industry

(with the exception of Olympia, the state capital and home to Evergreen College). While

disappointing to communities that are anxious to see High-Speed Rail implemented

locally, as stated previously, Super Express Service should be limited to the largest cities.

The distance from Seattle to Portland includes long haul sections of track that create the

potential for significant efficiency gains in Cascadia High-Speed Rail if stops and slow

downs on the route are limited or eliminated. A direct, high speed connection between

Portland and Seattle is more likely to serve and create regional agglomeration economies

than a more inclusive set of stops catering to relatively small populations. High-speed

service to smaller interior towns with low ridership may encourage undesired

development such as making low-density bedroom communities more attractive.

Regional Express Services may be sufficient to support the existing demands of mediums

sized towns that have positive employment and business attractors such as Olympia and


Existing Amtrak stations closest to the major cities, in contrast to the interior stations,

enjoy the largest populations, best local transit service, and greatest boarding numbers.

However, instead of inclusion as HSR stops, increased capacity for these local transit

serving train stations through improved short run service to Seattle would best support

HSR implementation goals.

Table 13: Seattle to Portland Stations Summary



Level of


2009 Pop 2009



Transit Other Attractors

Tacoma Regional Express 196k 93k Yes Port of Tacoma

Major Oil refinery


Lacey Regional Express 84k 48k

Yes (2009



Capital of Washington

Evergreen State

Ft Lewis (between

Tacoma & Lacey

Centralia Local 15k 19k Limited


Longview Local 49k 23k Yes Timber Industry

Vancouver Local 160k 75k Yes



The stations along the Portland to Eugene stretch do not have the same level of boardings

to population ratios as stations on stretches between major cities in Washington. Further,

long the Oregon rail corridor there is a mix of community sentiment with regard to highspeed

rail implementation. These communities have not demonstrated the same unified

strategy with the state as have the communities in Washington. The owner of the existing

right of way (Union Pacific) is resistant to allowing HSR on its property. Exploration of

alternate rights of way between Portland and Salem are being met by local opposition by

both communities which stand to gain and loose rail service.

Given the attractors offered by the universities along the southern terminus and the state

capital in Salem, communities along this alignment would benefit from improvements to

existing rail service, especially for schedule enhancements and reliability. An upgraded

service to Regional Express may be sufficient to meet these demands without dramatic

upgrades to a true HSR corridor.

Table 14 : Portland to Eugene Stations Summary

Section VIII. References

America 2050. (2010). High Speed Rail in America. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from‐speed‐rail‐in‐america.html

de Cerreno, A. L., Evans, D. M., & Permut, H. (2005). High Speed Rail Projects in the United

States: Identifying the Elements for Success. Mineta Transportation Institute,

College of Business, San José State University.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), et al. (2011). Finding of No Significant Impact,

Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from



Level of


2009 Pop 2009 Boardings Local

Transit Other Attractors

Oregon City Local 31k 8k Tri-Met

Salem Regional Express 155k 37k Yes Capital of Oregon


Local 48k 20k

Yes, but

transit hub

not at station

Access to Oregon State


Eugene Regional Express 150k 51k Yes University of Oregon


King County. (2010). Metro Transit System Map. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from

Metro. (2000). The nature of 2040 – The region’s 50‐year strategy for managing growth.

Portland, OR. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from

Murakami, J., & Cervero, R. (2010). California High‐Speed Rail and Economic Development:

Station‐Area Market Profiles and Public Policy Responses. University of California

Transportation Center, UC Berkeley.

OSPIRG Foundation. (2010). A Track Record of Success: High‐Speed Rail Around the World

and Its Promise for America, page 40.

Portland, City of. (draft).Portland Plan Atlas. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from

Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2011a). Creating Opportunity in

South Lake Union. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from

Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2011b). City of Seattle Generalized

Zoning. Retrieved January 12, 2011, from

Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2006). Urban Centers and Villages.

Retrieved January 12, 2011, from


Seattle Department of Transportation. (2011). Seattle Transit Plan. Retrieved January 12,

2011, from

Seattle Department of Transportation. (undated). 2030 Population and Employment

Density. Retrieved January 12, 2011 from

Sightline Institute. (2006). Map of walkable King County, WA. Retrieved January 12, 2011,


Translink. (2010). City Centre System Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from


Vancouver, City of. (2009). Zoning Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from

Vancouver, City of. (2011). Vancouver Bicycle Map. Retrieved January 8, 2011 from



Washington State Department of Transportation. et al. (2010). FONSI Finding of No

Significant Impact Washington State Segment – Columbia River to the Canadian

Border. U.S. Department of Transportation


Community Impacts of High Speed

Rail in Washington State

Community Impacts of High Speed Rail in Washington State

USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management

Winter 2011

Prof. Ethan Seltzer



Chad Armstrong

John Boren

Julia Crain

Nathan Emerson

Danielle Fuchs

Holly Howell



The Washington State Department of Transportation received over $600M in

Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Dollars in 2010. The

State of Washington has decided to allocate these dollars toward select projects

along the existing 297 miles of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail between

the Columbia River in Southern Washington and the Canadian border (see Figure 1).

The goal of this effort is to improve the reliability and the frequency of Amtrak

Cascade service between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia,

Canada. The Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI) prepared by the Federal

Railroad Administration explain that improvements are concentrated along the

current BNSF line to avoid or minimize impacts (FONSI, p. 1).

The majority of High Speed Rail (HSR) improvements will occur in the State of

Washington, but it is acknowledged and understood that the improvements made to

Washington rail will align with improvements in the State of Oregon. As of today,

Oregon’s process is in its nascent stage; however, the State of Washington has

known that rail improvements were necessary as early as 1993 (FONSI, p. 2). In

2009, application for federal funds accelerated the planning process and prompted a

Tier‐1 Environmental Assessment. State‐level impact assessments have been

prepared and documented in the Federal Railroad Administration’s FONSI, but this

document fails to address impacts of concern to specific jurisdictions as they relate

to a particular county, city, or town’s comprehensive plan. The following is an

examination of anticipated impacts of High Speed Rail development upon the

Washington counties, cities, and towns affected by Amtrak Cascades service, based

upon evaluation of comprehensive plans.

Washington State

As per Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA), passed in 1990, local

governments are required to develop comprehensive land‐use plans in accordance

with the State’s thirteen land‐use planning goals. These goals include concentrating

development in areas with adequate public infrastructure, encouraging density in

urban areas, provision of affordable housing, encouragement of economic

development, ensuring just compensation for land acquisition and several others.

While many of Washington State’s land use planning goals intersect with goals for

and possible benefits of High Speed Rail, goals pertaining to transportation are

central to this discussion. According to Revised Code of Washington statute

RCW36.70A.020, transportation should “Encourage efficient multimodal

transportation systems that are based on regional priorities and coordinated with

county and city comprehensive plans.” Analysis of potential impacts must address

compliance with this goal as well as adherence with local comprehensive plans.

Washington’s HSR projects have undergone Tier‐1 analysis, which assesses

environmental impacts generally. The findings stipulate that individual projects

planned for lengths of BNSF track will require more in depth Tier‐2 review (FONSI,


p. 1). Improvements include two updates to Tacoma rail, such as the D to M Street

Connection and the Point Defiance Bypass (Figure 2); Vancouver’s Yard Bypass

Track, New Middle Lead, West Side Port Associate Trackage, and a variety of

reliability upgrades in the southern and northern counties Amtrak traverses.

Improvements are expected to increase the frequency and reliability of Amtrak

service. Amtrak’s record‐breaking 2010 ridership, up a staggering 13%, is attributed

to connection with Vancouver British Columbia. The addition of four trips between

Portland and Seattle is expected to meet this growing demand. Improvement is met

with mayoral‐approved protocol agreements from the mayors in Portland, Seattle

and Vancouver which will unite cities in order to attain HSR improvements. Impacts

of these improvements are discussed extensively in the FRA prepared FONSI and a

selection of environmental, community and commerce impacts are highlighted here.


Environmental considerations are two‐pronged: 1) the impact of construction and

improvement and 2) the impact of increased frequency of Amtrak service.

Construction impacts are discussed extensively FONSI indicates most impacts can

and will be mitigated. Construction may lead to air quality disturbances, but

mitigation procedures will minimize effects of dust, odor, particulate matter, and

hydrocarbons. Construction is also likely to affect between 18 to 25 acres of

vegetation, but FONSI indicates mitigation procedures should limit the effects of


The primary benefit associated with higher speed train service is increased fuel

efficiency and decreased fuel emissions. It is anticipated that increased reliability

will decrease traffic congestion on I‐5; however, it is more likely that HSR will

provide an option for those seeking a timely and reliable alternative to vehicle

travel. Fuel efficiency shall be realized through use of new models of locomotives

assumed to be 10% more fuel efficient than current models. Currently, fuel

consumption is 3,200 gallons per day or 1.17 million gallons per year; however,

future fuel consumption is estimated at 1,000 gallons per day or 365,000 gallons per


Communities and Residents

Specific impacts of HSR improvements on Washington communities will be

discussed in more detail throughout this analysis; however, this portion reflects the

findings of the initial assessment by the FRA. Namely, increased frequency of

Cascades service is likely to have adverse affects on the communities through which

it travels including construction, increased speeds and frequency of train vibrations

and whistle sounds, and in some cases accessibility will be permanently altered as a

result of improvements. Vibration and noise is expected to impact each community

as it has before, but improvements seek to mitigate noise and vibration to maintain

usability and livability of communities impacted by train travel.

Eight at‐grade crossings will be removed and six grade separations will be

constructed. These alterations will alter access in Clark, Cowlitz, Snohomish and


Whatcom counties. In Kelso, construction may require the relocation of five homes

and one business; however the exact details remain at large and should be

addressed during Tier‐2 review. FONSI finds that by adhering to the existing BNSF

rail, corridor service expansion shall affect most residents equally. Improvements

shall not effect populations disproportionately.


Trade and freight are significant stakeholder interests in the HSR discussion. HSR

threatens the efficiency of Fright Rail and ensuring that commerce remains

uninterrupted by passenger rail. Freight moves commodities and links the

economies of many states, so balancing the interests of freight rail with HSR is

essential. HSR improvements are expected to reduce bottlenecks in the rail system

resulting in increased frequency and reliability of Amtrak Cascades service while

maintaining the efficiency of the freight system.

In the following pages, local impacts are assessed and discussed in relation to these

same areas. Commerce, community, environmental and economic lenses are applied

to understand how HSR will impact, either positively or negatively, the communities

of Washington State.

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, with a population of roughly 80,000 spread over 25.6 miles, is bisected

by I‐5, and located on the coast of the Puget Sound (City‐data, Bellingham). It sits

approximately half an hour south of the Canadian border, only one hour south of

Vancouver, B.C., and is the largest hub of employment in Whatcom County. The City

of Bellingham is committed to policies which reduce reliance on single‐occupancy

vehicles (SOVs) as well as traffic congestion (predominantly caused by vehicles

traveling through Bellingham from loci outside of city limits). Up until now, the City

has tackled its congestion issues primarily by way of land use policy, fostering infill

development and sustainable building practices.

Bellingham has acknowledged the future role of HSR explicitly in its comprehensive

plan, settling forth the goal of fostering inter‐county and inter‐national

transportation links, including Amtrak and HSR, as well as the continued

maintenance of rail rights‐of‐way. While the City pledges to “support State and

regional planning efforts to develop and improve passenger and freight rail

transport within the region,” the City does strictly limit the areas in which such

development may be permitted to occur, stressing the importance of preserving

environmentally sensitive areas (Bellingham Comprehensive Plan). Being already a

recipient of Amtrak service, and given the current trend of funding, it is likely that

improvements within the Bellingham area will coincide well with existing lines of


Bellingham would experience numerous benefits from HSR. The City has built its

image on progressive planning and environmentalism, and HSR would reinforce

that image. Additionally, the improved link to British Columbia could be a major


development in terms of its international business. A large portion of Bellingham’s

economy stems from Canadian dollars, and an improved link could increase that

influx of revenue. It also offers a sensible stop in that it is the last major population

center along the tentative HSR line prior to the Canadian Border, as well as the most

populous area along the HSR line north of the Seattle MSA, and is well distanced

from the terminus of the HSR line in Vancouver, B.C. For these reasons, and given

that HSR has already been a feature of Bellingham’s planning efforts, this is a city in

which a HSR station should be strongly considered.

Mount Vernon, Washington

Skagit County reports a population of 117,500 residents, approximately 30,000 of

which live in the county seat of Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is located on the

Skagit River, roughly 60 miles north of Seattle’s urban center. The City markets itself

through a “Get a Great Life” campaign. A Mount Vernon community visioning

process in 2005 revealed that the residents share a sense of pride in the quality of

life and character of their city. The community is viewed as a mixed employment

center set in a scenic rural landscape, within convenient proximity to the greater

Seattle‐Everett urban area.

The community credits wise planning for the preservation of outlying natural

resources and working landscape by focusing growth on the redevelopment of

urban areas. Specifically, the City has focused strategic planning and investment in

its downtown through flood mitigation, economic development, and a multi‐modal

transportation hub for the city. Mount Vernon is reliant upon rail and the I‐5

corridor for the transportation of passengers, goods and services, regionally as well

as internationally. Mount Vernon’s Skagit Station is a stop on the current Amtrak

Cascades route. Residents are concerned about preserving the Mount Vernon

quality of life, when faced with growth, development, transportation improvements,

and regional transit projects.

The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is undertaking

improvements to rail sidings in Mount Vernon. The Washington DOT reports that

this construction project will improve speed and reliability of the trains by enabling

southbound trains from Bellingham to pass northbound trains from Seattle.

Additionally, the closure of one at‐grade crossing at Hickox Road in Mount Vernon

will increase community safety by eliminating potential conflicts with rail. The

project is managed by the BNSF Railway and will cost $7.1 million total, $3.3 million

of which is 2010 HSIPR grant funding.

Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG)

The Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) is an organization of local governments

for regional collaboration, predominantly on transportation and economic

development‐related issues. The SCOG is the lead agency in both the Regional

Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) and the Skagit Metropolitan Planning

Organization (SMPO). Additionally, the SCOG partners in the North Sound

Connecting Communities Project (NSCCP) and the Skagit/Island Regional


Transportation Planning Organization (SIRTPO). The current draft of the Skagit‐

Island Counties Metropolitan & Regional Transportation Plan was completed in

January of 2011. The draft plan indentifies an increasing demand for Amtrak

Cascades passenger rail at Skagit Station, as well as the critical role that freight rail

plays in maintaining a diverse regional economy. The draft plan references planned

incremental capital improvements to the BNSF rail line for high speed rail within the

Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor.

Stanwood, Washington

Stanwood, located in Snohomish County with a population of 5,705, is too small to

get a stop for HSR (City‐data, Stanwood). However, HSR may still pass through the

town, which has the residents worried about safety of at‐grade crossings and

preservation of the rural character of their town. The FONSI report, which states

that all construction impacts will be mitigated, may allay some of their fears. Also,

the so‐called ‘high‐speed’ rail will reach a maximum speed of 110 mph and will not

necessarily travel at that speed along its entire length. Small towns like Stanwood

will have to negotiate to get HSR to slow down when passing through, especially if

the grade is not separated.

Everett, Washington

Everett, with a population approaching 100,000 spread over roughly 33 square

miles, is located between the Snohomish River (along which runs I‐5) to the east and

the Puget Sound to the west (City‐data, Everett). The city itself is largely suburban in

composition, and is often characterized as a bedroom community to Seattle.

However this is not entirely true: while only approximately 21,000 people both live

and work in the city, the city undergoes a population increase of nearly 40,000

people due to commuting (City‐data, Everett). Consequently, traffic congestion

(particularly along the I‐5 corridor and I‐405) is an issue which has plagued Everett

for over a decade. HSR, while perhaps initially exacerbating congestion issues

during the construction phase, could ultimately serve to reduce congestion by

providing an alternative to SOVs. Another clear benefit for the City of Everett would

be the provision of jobs, but more importantly the link to additional job‐centers

such as Seattle and Portland.

In early 2010, five projects were proposed for the lines north of Seattle which

included over $8.9 million for projects improving service for Everett. However, only

$3.6 million for an Everett track addition survived cuts which came in March of

2010. Figure 3 highlights the area of rail proposed for improvement in Everett. The

logic for the cuts was that areas north of Seattle did not possess the potential

ridership to justify investment, at least in the initial phases of system improvement.

Everett was ready and willing to adopt those projects, and appears highly willing to

embrace HSR.

Given its location among many environmentally sensitive areas, restrictions

stemming from Everett’s Critical Areas ordinance and Washington’s Shoreline

Management Act could present a few hurdles, but Everett possesses well65

established industry and freight lines, making improvements to those lines a highly

attainable goal given adequate funding. Still, closer analysis is needed as to the

provision of a high‐speed stop in Everett. While its proximate location to Seattle has

been an asset (if not a primary driver) to Everett’s development, the city may be too

close to the Seattle stop to justify an additional station.

Edmonds, Washington

Like many of the communities in Washington, the community already has a

significant rail presence. Commuter trains to Seattle, freight shipments and

AMTRAK all run through the town. An average of 37 trains per day already roll

through Edmonds. Thus, any increase in Amtrak traffic is deemed to be of negligible

consequence. In order to reduce conflicts between modes of transport, the City

wants to build a new multi‐modal transportation facility downtown called Edmonds


It would bring together ferry, rail and transit services under one roof. It would also

upgrade the station to Amtrak passenger standards. The new station would require

a realignment of Highway 104, but the impacts of this are unclear at this time. The

City also desires new, transit‐oriented development near the proposed train station

to take advantage of Edmonds Crossing.

Unfortunately, the money for the project has yet to appear. The proposed price tag is

well over $200 million and the latest news seems to put the project at least $100

million short. It is obvious that the City views the development of the Crossing

Project as a catalyst for development, but how much that relates to high‐speed rail is

not quite clear. Everyone’s favorite libertarian, Randal O’Toole, wrote the only local

newspaper article addressing high‐rail. No prize will be awarded for guessing his


Seattle, Washington

The population of the City of Seattle is currently estimated to be 612,000. Seattle’s

Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Strategic Plan (TSP) serve an overarching

vision for urban villages as the focus for concentrated development and multi‐modal

transportation hubs throughout the city. The TSP supports the development of a

regional high capacity transit system with complementary intermediate and local

transit systems of rail and bus. The TSP calls for the integration of these systems

into existing neighborhoods such that the design reflects the community identity,

minimizes negative environmental and economic impacts to surrounding areas, and

provides safe, accessible options for all residents. Further, integrated transit

services in Seattle serve an important connection to the Washington State Ferry


The King Street Station in Seattle is undergoing two separate projects (see Figure 4).

The first project provides for the construction of new tracks and switches in the rail

yard to increase the capacity of the station to serve both passenger and freight

purposes. The King Street rail tracks are currently shared by Amtrak, Sound Transit,


and the BNSF Railway. The second project is the renovation, seismic retrofitting,

and modernization of the historic King Street Station. Located just south of the city

center, the station is one of the main transportation hubs in Seattle, and a current

Amtrak passenger rail stop. The station was purchased by the City of Seattle in

2008. This project leverages a number of funding sources, of which, the Federal

High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Grant is the largest contributor.

Two other critical rail projects in King County include an engineered design to

increase the speed limit for the Talgo trains on the Ballard Bridge and the recent

phased construction of an Amtrak maintenance facility south of downtown Seattle.

Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC)

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is an association of regional governments

in the greater Seattle‐Tacoma Metropolitan area. The council guides regional growth

through land use, transportation, and economic development planning. Member

organizations include: King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties, their respective

jurisdictions, and local tribal authorities. Planning in the region is guided by three

major processes: VISION 2040, Transportation 2040, and Prosperity Partnership.

Other capacities of the PSRC include data warehousing and project funding.

The current two‐year budget is just over $26 million, acquired largely through

federal and state grants. The PSRC has served to review and coordinate ARRA HSR

funding such that all projects are aligned with the regional economic strategy. The

position of the council is that “the State of Washington should take the lead role in

planning for long‐term commercial air transportation capacity and supporting high

speed inter‐regional ground transportation” (2004). Transportation 2040 calls for

an “aggressive transit strategy”; in support of the state’s commitment to develop a

high‐speed rail corridor in the Pacific Northwest region (2009).

Tukwila, Washington

Tukwila is a small suburb, population 17,000, situated south of Seattle. Due to its

small size and relatively close proximity to Seattle (12 miles), the community is

primarily concerned with its immediate connections to the central city rather than

with the broader Cascadia region. Washington State procured $9 million in funding

in FY 2010 to construct a new train station in Tukwila to better support HSR

improvements and Sound Transit Commuter Rail. This upgrade will allow for better

local connectivity with the nearby Seattle‐Tacoma International Airport.

Tacoma, Washington

The City of Tacoma’s primary transportation goal is to balance multi‐modal

transportation with the efficient and safe movement of people and goods (Tacoma

Comprehensive Plan, p. T‐1). The following demonstrates how HSR meets the policy

intent of the Comprehensive Plan’s Transportation goal and the unique challenges it

poses for the City of Tacoma.


HSR is a regional service and promotes interconnectivity between jurisdictions.

Interconnectivity increases the potential for information and talent exchange.

Arising as a genuine non‐automobile mode choice, HSR will provide Tacoma with

convenient access to Seattle and Portland. Availability of non‐automobile multimode

choice supports several policy objectives of the Tacoma Comprehensive Plan,

including availability of a well connected urban core, construction of Transit

Oriented Developments, and linkages with the region as a whole. It is unclear how

increased speeds and frequency of HSR will affect pedestrian and cycling safety in

the urban core and Tier‐2 analysis should discuss this element.

HSR supports the efficient operation of Tacoma’s port. The Port of Tacoma is an

economic lynchpin for the City of Tacoma and State of Washington and serves as the

Continental US’ hub for Alaskan imports and exports. Freight Rail disseminates most

of these goods to the continental US and rail efficiency is integral to smooth

operation of the Port. Improvements set forth by WSDOT plan rail extensions and

construction of bypass track which will support Freight Rail while enhancing

frequency and reliability of Amtrak Cascades service.

HSR improvements align with Tacoma’s Comprehensive plan and its policy

objectives. Connectivity via HSR is one strategy to comply with the Commute Trip

Reduction Law, promotes improved fuel emissions quality as stipulated by

Washington’s Clean Air Act, and complies with the National Environmental Policy

Act and State Environmental Policy Act, thereby balancing the interests of

community, environment and commerce.

Olympia, Washington

The City of Olympia, located in Thurston County, WA, has enumerated several

transportation goals in their comprehensive plan that can be served by HSR. These

goals include providing for alternative transportation services, increasing personal

mobility, allowing denser development, and committing to sustainability (Olympia

Comprehensive Plan, 2002). In order to reduce the growth of traffic as much as

possible, Olympia wants to provide realistic transportation options to reduce car

ownership and vehicle miles traveled.

In a shared vision exercise in January 2010, the residents of Olympia named HSR

their third top transportation priority (after safe bike lanes and regional

transportation/light rail). They also envisioned that by 2030 Olympia will be served

by HSR as part of a regional transit system that makes it possible for most residents

to work, play, shop and meet most needs without owning or using a motor vehicle,

as well as have significantly reduced vehicle miles traveled to 1990 levels. Olympia

also wants to make sure that the city’s aesthetic qualities are not degraded with

increased infrastructure.

HSR and other service options are being actively explored in a partnership between

Thurston Regional Planning Council and the Washington State Department of

Transportation. The most direct future rail service into the urban core area of the


county (Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater) could occur over the St. Clair‐to‐Olympia

corridor. Identified in the Railroad Right of Way Strategy Report (March 1992), this

rail corridor offers the most direct connection to the mainline service north to

Tacoma and south to Portland. In order to connect HSR to the central city, the most

likely scenario would be to transfer from the HSR to light rail or bus rapid transit

(BRT). Two options being explored would allow service either to the waterfront and

Port Peninsula or close to Capitol Campus.

The challenge for the HSR option in Olympia is that part of this alignment is out of

use and already abandoned. The need for right‐of‐way purchase for high capacity

must be identified and acted upon before rights‐of‐way become more costly or are

dedicated to other uses. Currently, efforts to piece the right‐of‐way back together

are proceeding in order for the corridor to be used for recreation purposes and

possible future transportation purposes.

Intercity Transit (Thurston County’s public transportation provider) has prepared

commuter service alternatives in its Transit Development Plan (TDP). Alternatives

to HSR include fully utilizing the transit system that is currently in place (i.e.

Amtrak) and/or developing bus rapid transit (BRT). Current Amtrak service is

increasing and allows commuters and others to use the train for trips north to

Tacoma and Seattle and south to Portland on the mainline. Passengers board on

Amtrak at the Centennial Station on the Yelm Highway with connecting service to

the Olympia City Center by Intercity Transit. Although Olympia supports HSR, it is

only a second‐tier candidate for a stop. If HSR does not stop in Olympia it will have

more of an impact on the identity of the city than on the residents themselves.

Centralia, Washington

Centralia’s comprehensive plan does not specifically mention HSR, but does list

several goals for rail. These include safety, sustainability, and efficiency of

circulating goods and people. The expansion of both passenger and freight services

is encouraged (Centralia Comprehensive Plan, 2007). A major problem in Centralia

is congestion due to freight conflicts. Centralia’s comprehensive plan encourages

grade‐separated crossings for rail. The BNSF line currently has three gradeseparated

crossings in Centralia: East 6th Street, North Pearl Avenue and North

Tower Ave. If HSR does not introduce any more at‐grade crossings in Centralia and

helps to improve the timing of freight as well as passenger rail then it will be of

much benefit to the city.

Kelso/Longview, Washington

There were no findings of significant impact to the Kelso/Longview community in

the EIS report. However, the area will see a significant number of projects come its

way. The projects are essentially phased parts of one larger effort that will see the

construction of new track. Right now, Kelso acts as a bottleneck for passenger rail.

Freight traffic trying to get into the Kalama Port interferes with the passenger rail.

The changes that come to Kelso will be primarily aimed at separating the two types

of trains and increasing efficiency for both freight and passenger traffic.


The proposed projects include:

· New siding near the port of Kalama.

· A siding track extension and a new grade separation for Toteff Road.

· A new 4.5 mile main line between Kelso and Longview Junction and a new grade

separation on Hazel Avenue.

For the most part, there will not be a “significant impact” on the way people live or

get to work. One section of track will see 4‐5 homes being moved along with one

business. The report deemed this consequence of no significant impact. Home

owners may differ. Noise is already high in the area from freight traffic and will

continue to be high. Additionally, 4 to 5 acres of farmland could be displaced

because of rail improvements. New bridges will be built, but they will be alongside

the old ones and won’t do anything to rock the boat. A number of at grade crossings

are going to be turned into above grade to eliminate the chance of Grandma being

run over by a train and to limit time wasted in traffic.

Construction will be in areas with lots of hazardous materials and underground

storage tanks. Officials seem to believe this is quite manageable. So will

management of waste generated. Long‐term impacts of having high speed trains

running are deemed negligible, if not positive. Jobs would mostly be short term and

most likely would not have a long term impact.

The comprehensive plan for the city does not mention high‐speed rail, although it

does mention a desire to be tied into a rail system.

Vancouver, Washington

With a rapidly growing population of over 165,000 residents, Vancouver is the heart

of Clark County in southwestern Washington and the largest suburb of Portland.

While not explicitly mentioned in the community plan, goals and guidelines

emphasize balancing all transportation modes when determining future

infrastructure improvements. HSR is on the radar politically for Vancouver as

evidenced by the Mayor recently signing a protocol agreement with the Mayors of

Seattle and Portland. This protocol agreement was an effort to cooperatively align

the cities in order to attain HSR development along the Cascadia corridor.

Developers are already starting to take notice of the push towards HSR in

Vancouver. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Brian Baird steered $3 million in federal

funding towards infrastructure improvements in the Crescent Industrial area near

downtown. The goal is to unlock the potential of this under‐utilized area and set it

up mesh with the forthcoming HSR improvements. Local leaders are eager to see the

development return on its estimated 750 jobs generated given the currently

struggling economy.

Despite Vancouver’s prominence in southwestern Washington, it’s train station is

just 10 miles from Portland’s. While this arguably duplicative station is much more


convenient for residents north of the Columbia River, having stations so closely

spaced makes it difficult for trains to achieve and maintain higher speeds. It is clear

that given the recently signed protocol that Vancouver has no intentions of being

omitted from an HSR stop, and this must be taken into consideration when planning

for stops.


The State of Washington has directed significant energy toward HSR by securing

hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal Government, conducting an initial

FONSI, and planning projects to balance economic, environmental and community

impact with HSR benefits. The major cities of Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia, Mount

Vernon, Vancouver, Tacoma, and Everett explicitly support HSR. Kelso, Centralia,

Tukwila, and Edmonds do not explicitly support HSR but support regional rail and

have enumerated goals that can also be supported by HSR. The small town of

Stanwood has decidedly less enthusiasm for HSR than do the larger cities in

Washington. The proposed HSR is unlikely to stop at all of the cities that desire

access to HSR, and the cities that do not get a stop have a right to fear that all of the

drawbacks to HSR will be imposed on their cities while they reap none of the

benefits. However, our research considers this an unlikely scenario.

HSR will be successful for all cities throughout Washington if it decreases freight

and passenger conflicts. Freight conflicts cause major congestion in many cities and

decrease the reliability of passenger service. Also, the Federal Railroad

Administration’s FONSI report acknowledged that HSR construction impacts will be

minimal and readily mitigated. When built, HSR will benefit Washington’s image as a

state leader in sustainability by providing a reliable alternative to single occupancy

vehicles commutes throughout Cascadia.


City‐data. (2010). Bellingham, Washington. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved from:‐‐Washington.html

City‐data. (2010). Everett, Washington. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved from:‐‐Washington.html

City‐data. (2010). Stanwood, Washington. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved from:‐‐Washington.html

City of Bellingham. (2006). City of Bellingham Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:



City of Bellingham. (2009). Bellingham Municipal Code Shoreline Master Program.

Retrieved from:‐masterprogram/


City of Centralia. (2007). Centralia Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element

(Plan). Centralia, WA. Retrieved from:

City of Edmonds. (2009). Adopted Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:


City of Everett. (2010). Everett Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:

City of Kelso. (1994). Comprehensive Plan for the City of Kelso. Retrieved from:


City of Mount Vernon. (2006). The City of Mount Vernon Comprehensive Plan. Mount

Vernon, WA. Retrieved from:

City of Olympia. (2002). Olympia Comprehensive Plan Chapter 6: Transportation.

Olympia, WA. Retrieved from:‐government/codes‐plansand‐


City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development. (2005). City of Seattle

Comprehensive Plan: A Plan for Managing Growth 2004 – 2024. Seattle, WA.

Retrieved from:


City of Stanwood. (2007). City of Stanwood Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:‐163.pdf

City of Tacoma Washington Community and Economic Development Department.

(2010). City of Tacoma Comprehensive Plan. Tacoma, WA: Author. Retrieved from:‐


City of Vancouver. (2010). Press Release: Vancouver, Seattle and Portland Sign Pact

for High Speed Rail. Vancouver, WA. Retrieved from:‐



Cowlitz‐Wahkiakum Council of Governments. (2009). Metropolitan and Regional

Transportation Plan 20092029.

Retrieved from:

Federal Railroad Administration. Findings of No Significant Impact. (2010).

Retrieved on 1/21/11 from:

Gilmore, Susan. (2010, October 28). “Feds Award Money for King Street, Tukwila

Stations.” The Seattle Times. Retrieved from:


Growth Management Act Chapter 36.70a.020. (1990). Retrieved 1/21/11 from:

Hall, C.B. (2010, December 8). Washington State Rolling Along on HighSpeed


Crosscut: News of the Great Nearby. Retrieved from:‐staterolling‐


Puget Sound Regional Council. (2011). About Puget Sound Regional Council.

Retrieved from:

Skagit Council of Governments. (2011). About Skagit Council of Governments.

Retrieved from:

Skagit Council of Governments. (2011). SkagitIsland

Counties Metropolitan &

Regional Transportation Plan – Draft. Mount Vernon, WA. Retrieved from:‐content/uploads/downloads/2011/02/SIRTPO‐DRAFTM_


Thurston County Washington. (2004). Thurston County Comprehensive Plan Chapter

5: Transportation. Thurston Co., WA. Retrieved from:

Todorovich, et. al. (2010). Connecting Cascadia Briefing Book. Conference July 8‐9,

2010. America 2050.

Todorovich, P. and Y. Hagler. (2011). High Speed Rail in America. America 2050.

Washington State Department of Transportation. (1993). Pacific Northwest Rail

Corridor, Rail Passenger Program. Presented to Skagit County, Washington.

Washington State Department of Transportation. (2006). Washington State LongRange

Plan for Amtrak Cascades. Olympia, WA: The Resource Group Consultants, Inc.


et. al. Retrieved from:‐6633‐


Washington State Department of Transportation. (2011). King Street Station

Renovation. Retrieved from:

Washington State Department of Transportation. (2011). Rail ProjectsMt.


Siding Upgrade. Retrieved from:

Washington State Legislature. (1971). Shoreline Management Act. Retrieved from:


Appendix: Images

Figure 1: Map of current and proposed rail corridor in the Pacific Northwest,

including the cities along the corridor.


Figure 2: Proposed Pt. Defiance bypass near Tacoma, WA.

Figure 3: Area of rail improvement proposed for HSR in Everett.


Figure 4: Region of proposed improvement for HSR near King Street Station, Seattle.


Laying the Tracks for High Speed

Rail in Oregon


Laying the Tracks for High Speed Rail in Oregon

Abigail Cermak

Zachary Gustafson

Drew Meisel

Jake Nitchals

Lisa Peffer

Spencer Alan Williams

Ellen Wyoming

Portland State University



Discussion concerning high‐speed rail (HSR) in Oregon has only recently gained traction

despite its inclusion in a federally designated HSR corridor‐‐the Pacific Northwest

Corridor, also known as the Cascadia Corridor (Federal Railroad Administration). With

the recent influx of Federal funds for the development of HSR between Vancouver BC

and Eugene, OR, the importance of beginning the process of identifying stakeholders,

engaging with communities, and identifying the benefits and impacts of development

cannot be overstated. Such steps will help to define a cohesive vision for HSR service in

the both the region and the State. Despite a lack of comprehensive data regarding the

needs and desires of Oregon communities along any of the potential alignments, the

development of HSR is known to align with several State and many local community’s

transportation, economic, and environmental goals. The following sections illustrate the

existing conditions in Oregon through an examination of State and local community

plans and policies, the relationship with private freight interests, and the rationale for

engaging the public in a more meaningful and comprehensive manner, as the process to

develop HSR in Oregon progresses.


Oregon is predicted to experience a significant increase in population over the next two

decades. With much of this growth expected to occur in the central Willamette Valley,

the State is interested in pursuing increased or enhanced passenger rail service.

Improving the reliability, capacity, and inter‐city travel time for passenger rail service is

viewed as a means for battling the negative impacts associated with projected increases

in highway congestion. These impacts include increased emissions of green house gases

(GHGs) which can lead to the degradation of the environment and human health, as

well as impacts to the economy due to loss of time and efficiency in transporting people

and goods. A number of Oregon communities are addressing these issues through

planning efforts at the local, regional, and statewide level.


Demand for freight is projected to increase up to 80 percent by 2030, according to the

Oregon Transportation Plan. HSR passenger rail is seen as a mechanism to relieve

commuter congestion on Interstate 5 and other State Highways. By giving commuters

an alternative to the private automobile conditions for the robust freight trucking

industry might be improved—an industry requiring free flow of traffic to reliably and

cost effectively deliver goods. In addition, HSR in Cascadia could further ensure an

efficient shipping system and increased benefits for local and global economies.


While rail lines are privately owned and operated in Oregon, round‐trip Amtrak service

between Eugene and Portland is currently available through a combination of train and

bus service. Due to the private ownership of the rail lines, the State has been limited in

its ability to shape the future role of rail and effectively plan for its growth. The 2010

Oregon Rail Study is the most recent planning effort concerned with freight and

passenger rail in Oregon. The study recommends three key factors to consider in any

discussion about HSR:

• Involve freight railroad stakeholders early in the process

• Recognize that land use decisions have real impacts on freight rail

• Include rail carriers in local jurisdiction plans

The study further stipulates that due to having no State‐owned public rail right‐of‐way,

it is paramount that a unique strategy for incorporating freight interests be developed

during the planning phase. Findings from the 2010 Oregon Rail Study and analysis of

community plans in relation to HSR punctuate the importance of corresponding rail and

community plans.


National Environmental Policy Act

The current condition of planning and public process related to HSR development in

Oregon is largely due to the federally mandated National Environmental Policy Act

(NEPA). NEPA requires federal agencies to analyze and document actions that may have

adverse effects on environmental resources. This requirement must be fulfilled

whenever a federal agency proposes an action, grants a permit, or agrees to fund or

authorize an action that could possibly affect environmental resources (Bass, 2001). In

the case of the Cascadia HSR Corridor, NEPA applies because the project will be federally

funded, namely by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA ).

One way in which a federal project can satisfy NEPA is by preparing an Environmental

Impact Statement (EIS). Under NEPA regulations, and EIS must be prepared when an

action: (Bass, 2001)

• Is likely to have significantly adverse impacts on natural ecosystems, cultural

resources and scenic resources


• Is likely to require controversial relocations

• May divide or disrupt established neighborhoods

• Affects endangered or threatened species

• Is likely to have significant impact on groundwater, flooding, erosion, or


Figure 1 illustrates the steps in the EIS process. Currently, the Cascadia HSR Corridor

project is in the scoping phase. Scoping begins in the early planning stages of the

project and is a public participatory practice intended to bring forth issues in the

beginning in order to avoid future conflicts. Ideally, ODOT Rail will invite the

participation of affected federal, state, and local agencies, Native American Tribes,

interested parties, and the general public (Bass, 2001).

NEPA’s shortcoming is that it does not contain time limits for EIS preparation. In

practice, an EIS for a project like the Cascadia HSR Corridor could easily take several

years, possibly even a decade, due to the need to address State and local laws between

Oregon and Washington. Furthermore, the project may impact several public lands with

the need for cooperation among several federal government agencies including the

Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Department

of the Interior (DOI), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), just to name a few.

Additionally, this process may be further complicated with this project spanning

international borders. While beneficial, the NEPA process is insufficient for fostering

collaborative community planning efforts.

2010 Oregon Rail Study

Furthermore, the 2010 Oregon Rail Study‐‐the only comprehensive study of HSR in

Oregon‐‐was largely technical and conducted without public input. Successful HSR in

Oregon will require measures beyond these initial, and largely formal planning

processes. A comprehensive planning effort, which includes all the affected

communities and stakeholders, will more easily identify the opportunities and

constraints associated with a given alignment, fare structure, station location, and the

myriad other factors that must be considered.

Though many of the opportunities and constraints will only be revealed in future public

processes and community outreach efforts, there are some general factors that should

be discussed regardless of where the HSR corridor is developed and the level of service

it provides. The following section describes several factors that must be considered for

HSR in Oregon.



Existing Public Transit Systems

Many communities with the potential to be served by new HSR, such as Salem, Corvallis,

and Eugene have existing public transit systems. Many of these communities have

developed goals to reduce average vehicle miles traveled (VMT), reduce carbon

emissions, and improve safety and equity in their transportation system. Access to HSR

station locations will be a major factor in any city where an HSR station is developed and

ensuring safe and equitable transportation to the HSR station will be vital to the success

of the system. During the initial planning phase for HSR there should be a focus on

connecting to existing public transit systems so that there are viable alternatives to the

personal automobile for reaching the station. Seamless integration with the local transit

service provider will improve the level of service for HSR and the community.

Congestion and VMT Reduction Goals

Existing conditions along the I‐5 corridor exhibit a high level of congestion. Mitigating

this problem by increasing capacity of the roadway is not possible in many places due to

physical constraints, and is also in direct conflict with regional, state, and local goals

related to climate change and energy conservation. An HSR system in Oregon has the

potential to decrease reliance on the personal automobile for inter‐city travel and this

opportunity should be stressed to political leaders and the public. Quantifying the

potential decrease in congestion and reductions in average VMT with hard numbers

could further bolster the case for HSR development in Oregon.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Goals

Reductions in GHG’s are closely related to reductions in VMT. The State of Oregon is

known for its commitment to the environment, and air quality standards are one facet

of Oregon’s environmental goals as set forth in Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals and

Guidelines. Therefore, any demonstration of HSR’s potential to decrease VMT and

harmful GHG emissions is a political win for development.

Potential Increased Travel Time Reliability

Current Amtrak service is hampered by unreliable travel times due to passenger and

freight rail sharing tracks. Since freight companies are always given priority over

passenger service, this arrangement has led to large discrepancies in passenger travel

time between destinations. HSR has the potential to develop in such a way as to

alleviate some of the current issues between passenger and freight rail.

If travel time reliability is improved it may encourage individuals to begin commuting by

rail. If a travel preference for HSR is established it will reduce the numbers of passenger

vehicles on I‐5; improving travel time reliability for the trucking freight companies on

which the regional economy depends.


Improving Connections Between Commercial and Educational Centers

Good connectivity improves quality of life by giving people access to goods and services

that meet their daily needs. Developed correctly, HSR will also provide a vital link along

the education corridor made up by the University of Oregon, Oregon State University,

Portland State University, University of Washington, Washington State University, Simon

Fraser, and University of British Columbia, among other small universities and research



Right‐of‐way Acquisition

Acquiring right‐of‐way is prohibitively expensive even when it is available. Oregon HSR is

limited by the existing right‐of‐way available and the extremely limited funds that would

be needed to purchase it. Given this very serious constraint, it is imperative that

negotiations with freight rail owners be initiated early in the process. The result of such

negotiations would hopefully provide a shared rail situation that can meet the needs of

freight and passenger service.

Anti‐HSR Communities

There are currently a few cities, notably in the south Portland metropolitan area, that

oppose the possibility of an HSR alignment through their communities. Among these

are Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie. According to an interview with Jeanne

Lawson, who was recently hired to facilitate public involvement between ODOT Rail and

the public due to the NEPA process activated by HSR, these cities have little interest in

HSR. However, ODOT has already recommended, in the 2010 Oregon Rail Study, an

alignment that passes through these areas. In the case of Tualatin, much of this

controversy stems from previous issues that arose with the Westside Express Service

(WES) commuter line, specifically impacts from noise and the creation of Quiet Zones

still being debated today. Furthermore, if a separate right‐of‐way is considered with

HSR, the lack of build‐out area near existing rail infrastructure or the need to source a

new alignment has communities worried about loss of land, impacts on property values,

noise, and safety.


Despite a likely build scenario that includes connecting only the three largest cities

(Portland, Seattle and Vancouver), an HSR corridor in Cascadia unquestionably stands to

improve regional connectivity. However, with this increased connectivity comes an

associated cost—the threat of sprawl. Historically, increased transportation options

have encouraged migration patterns that allow greater separation of work and home


environments. Reliable and significantly reduced travel times between the major

metropolitan areas may cause enormous pressure for local governments to allow

unsustainable growth (low density residential in former open spaces/agricultural lands)

in smaller towns, cities, and urban edges.

Equitable Placement of HSR Stations

Another constraint associated with HSR has to do with its alignment. While numerous

alternatives may be explored during the planning process, one alternative includes

placing stations in only the three largest cities in the Cascadia region. If developed in this

way, Portland would be the only city with HSR in Oregon. Medium sized cities that might

benefit from increased access to larger markets would be effectively passed‐by. Cities

such as Salem and the Corvallis/Albany metro area could be impacted by such a decision

and these jurisdictions may present a strong lobby to have an HSR station. Especially in

the case of Albany, the city has been planning their downtown central area around

renewal efforts of the existing Amtrak train station. Consequently, what impacts can be

expected by eliminating such a location from participating directly in the development

of HSR in Cascadia?

Alignment of Plans for Oregon Communities

An analysis of comprehensive, regional, and transportation plans for communities along

the proposed alignment was conducted to gauge readiness and receptiveness of HSR in

Oregon. Comprehensive plans for these jurisdictions revealed a considerable lack of

planning for HSR. However, Statewide Planning Goals and Policies related to

transportation, environment and economy support multi‐modal public transit relevant

to HSR. Because comprehensive plans are required to be consistent with Statewide

Planning Goals, the majority of local and regional goals are essentially slight variants of

State goals. For this reason, this section examines the development of a HSR system in

relation to statewide goals.


Strategies to promote alternate travel mode choices are predominate in almost all

planning efforts state wide including Oregon’s city comprehensive plans, Council of

Government’s planning efforts, and Metro’s 2040 Growth Concept. Additionally,

Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goal 12 focuses on transportation with nine objectives, of

which HSR is consistent with seven. These objectives state that transportation plans


1) Consider all transportation modes

2) Be based on local, regional and state needs

3) Avoid primary dependence on any one transportation mode


4) Mitigate negative social, environmental and economic impacts and costs

5) Conserve energy

6) Provide transportation options for the disadvantaged

7) Strengthen local and regional economies through the flow of goods and



Not having to create new right‐of‐way significantly helps ensure that HSR is consistent

with environmental goals. Not only does the use of an existing right‐of‐way minimize

the potential for negative environmental impacts, but also fewer impacts may ensure a

more efficient and timely environmental review. HSR’s potential to reduce carbon

emissions and energy use while simultaneously extending the lifespan of the existing

freeway system are also consistent with statewide environmental goals.

Statewide Planning Goal 12


To provide and encourage a safe, convenient and economic transportation system.

Statewide Planning Goal 5

Natural Resources, Scenic and Historic Areas and Open Spaces:

To protect natural resources and conserve scenic and historic areas and open spaces

Statewide Planning Goal 6

Air, Water and Land Resources Quality:

To maintain and improve the quality of the air, water and land resources of the


Statewide Planning Goal 13

Energy Conservation:

Land and uses developed on the land shall be managed and controlled so as to

maximize the conservation of all forms of energy, based upon sound economic




While HSR may not be a long‐term economic development tool, it does have economic

benefits. Construction and renovations to rail‐related infrastructure provide an

injection of capital and jobs into the economy. Additional jobs will be created to handle

day‐to‐day maintenance and operations. HSR also posits to increase efficiencies of the

current freight rail system. Additionally, HSR has the potential to bolster the regional

economy by connecting regional markets.

Case studies

The four cities most commonly proposed as possible Oregon HSR station locations

include: Eugene, Albany, Salem and Portland. The transportation planning areas within

jurisdictions are illustrated in Map 1. This section provides an overview of these

communities along with relevant anecdotal findings uncovered during this analysis.


Eugene is the southernmost city on the HSR corridor. It is the Lane County seat and is

home to the University of Oregon. With an estimated population of 157,845 (Population

Research Center, 2010) Eugene is Oregon’s second largest city. It is part of the greater

Eugene‐Springfield metropolitan statistical area and serves as a cultural and retail center

for central and southern Oregon. Lumber and agriculture are Eugene’s largest

industries, and the University of Oregon is the city’s largest employer.

Current planning in Eugene consists of the Eugene‐Springfield Metropolitan Area

General Plan (a.k.a. Metro Plan) and TransPlan, the Regional Transportation Plan. Both

plans note that future high‐speed rail service will require improved infrastructure and

make broad policy directives to improve tracks, rail crossings and signals. However, the

TransPlan calls for more specific actions including:

System‐wide Policy 3: Corridor Preservation: stating that corridors such as rail

rights‐of‐way, private roads, and easements of regional significance that are

identified for future transportation‐related uses shall be preserved.

Statewide Planning Goal 9

Economic Development:

To provide adequate opportunities throughout the state for a variety of economic

activities vital to the health, welfare, and prosperity of Oregon's citizens.


Other Modes Policy 2: High Speed Rail Corridor: identifying the purchase of the

Amtrak station in downtown Eugene as the future high speed rail terminal; and

planning for future high‐speed rail train servicing facilities.

Based on the TransPlan, Eugene shows a strong willingness to participate in the

development of an HSR system.


Albany, the Linn County seat, is located approximately 45 miles north of Eugene. It has

an estimated 2010 population of 49,530 (Population Research Center, 2010), making it

the eleventh largest city in Oregon, and the smallest city considered for a station in the

Oregon HSR corridor. However, if an Albany station is included, it will also serve

Corvallis and it’s 55,370 residents (Population Research Center, 2010). Albany has a

diversified manufacturing industry that specializes in metal, food and paper production.

Rail has long been of important cultural and economic significance to Albany. This is

evidenced by the Albany Depot, around which the town center has been developed.

Current planning in Albany consists of the Albany Comprehensive Plan and its

Transportation System Plan (TSP). Neither contains HSR specifically, but both reference

infrastructure deficiencies at several existing railroad crossings. While the proximity of

Albany to Eugene may deem it a non‐essential station location, it is difficult to ignore

Albany’s pro‐rail sentiment through current city development efforts. The personal

interview with Jeanne Lawson of JLA Public Involvement, revealed that Albany is

focusing its downtown planning efforts around the Amtrak station renewal and may be

expecting an HSR rail stop (personal communication, January 17, 2011). Albany is

currently updating its TSP, which will likely include provisions for HSR. Should HSR

bypass Albany, this community’s overall support may wane and turn into opposition.


Salem, the State capitol and Marion County seat, is located at the midpoint of the

corridor between Eugene and Portland. It is home to an estimated 157,460 residents

(Population Research Center, 2010), making it the third largest city in Oregon. Salem’s

largest employer is the State of Oregon.

Current planning in Salem consists of the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan (SACP), the

Salem TSP and the 2031 Regional Transportation Systems Plan. The SACP makes no

mention of HSR and the Salem TSP only mentions it as a possible future transportation

system improvement. However, the 2031 Regional TSP, the most recently updated of

the three plans, does make considerations for HSR. Specifically, Goal 4 calls for “staged

infrastructure upgrades as part of the High Speed Rail Corridor Project.”

While the 2031 Regional TSP seems to imply that Salem supports HSR, there is anecdotal

evidence that suggests this community is more ambivalent than supportive. The


recently completed Riverfront City Park, part of the Salem Riverfront‐Downtown Urban

Renewal Area, sits between the Willamette River and the existing Union Pacific right‐ofway.

There is concern that an HSR corridor in this right‐of‐way would negatively impact

the community by preventing safe pedestrian access to the riverfront. While it seems

logical to include Oregon’s capital and political hub among the designated HSR stops,

controversy over unwanted impacts may impede HSR development.


Portland, Oregon’s largest city and the Multnomah County seat, is located at the

confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. An estimated population of 583,835

in 2010 (Population Research Center, 2010) makes it the third largest city in the region

after Seattle, WA and Vancouver, B.C. However, there are an estimated 2,241,841 (U.S.

Census Bureau, 2009) people in the Portland metropolitan area, which consists of

Multnomah County, parts of Washington and Clackamas Counties and extends across

the river into Washington’s Clark County. The metropolitan area is serviced by an

extensive transit system that includes buses, light rail, commuter rail and a tram. Major

employers in the Portland Metropolitan area include Intel, Nike, and numerous

universities both public and private. It is also home to the Portland International Airport

and a deep fresh‐water harbor making it a regional shipping hub and directly connecting

Portland to the global economy.

Current planning in Portland consists of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan Goals and

Policies, Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Transportation System Plan (TSP)

and Metro’s 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The Comprehensive Plan (1980) is

currently being updated. Considerations for HSR in the revised plan are not yet known

and Portland’s current Comprehensive Plan makes no reference to HSR.

PBOT's TSP references HSR, but provides no actual planning or policy direction. Metro’s

2035 RTP is absent of HSR, but does note that the Federal Rail Administration is

developing an HSR network and that the next RTP will address this issue further.

Overview of Statewide Planning Goals and Local Plans

Analysis of plans for Oregon communities reveals that HSR vaguely aligns with broad

transportation, environment and economic Statewide Planning Goals. There are several

overarching themes among these goals, such as:

• Promoting Livability

• Creating a balanced, efficient, safe, and accessible transportation network

• Supporting environmental responsibility and protection of valuable natural

resources and open spaces

• Responding to community needs and impacts


• Supporting responsible and sustainable development

• Being economically viable and financially stable

Of those communities along the proposed HSR corridor, Eugene, Albany, Salem and

Portland are being considered as possible HSR station locations. Though this study found

HSR to be consistent with themes from local, regional and state plans, how HSR will be

realized in local plans is to be seen. As local and regional TSPs and comprehensive plans

are updated, a process for providing continuity of planning goals should be considered.


The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has appointed the Oregon Department of

Transportation Rail (ODOT Rail) as the decision‐making entity for the HSR planning

process. Historically, ODOT Rail has taken a traditional approach to planning rail projects

that is technical in nature. While NEPA mandates that HSR include a public process,

ODOT Rail has fallen short of Oregon’s public involvement planning standards.

ODOT Rail is primarily a regulatory agency, and is therefore not held to the same

standards as other planning bodies. High‐speed rail challenges ODOT Rail to travel into

uncharted territory. For example, unlike comprehensive plans, ODOT Rail has not had to

consider Statewide Planning Goal 1: Citizen Involvement in its planning process.

ODOT Rail’s track record does not assume a sufficient public process. Consequently, a

broad range of stakeholder groups has not participated in the visioning and planning of

most rail related projects in Oregon. This holds true for the HSR planning process to

date. As such, though HSR could bring transportation, environmental and economic

benefits to jurisdictions within Oregon, a lack of public participation has given

stakeholders mixed feelings about laying the tracks to HSR.

Rail and land use plans should not be mutually exclusive. As stated in the 2010 Oregon

Rail Study, involving stakeholders early in the planning process, recognizing that land

use decisions have impacts on freight rail, and including rail carriers in local jurisdiction

plans, are key to the success of HSR. Involving multiple stakeholders in the planning

process is one step toward forming some continuity among plans.

Though high‐speed rail may provide added value to Oregon, to assure its long‐term

support and to align its goals more explicitly with local, State, regional and freight plans,

an inclusive advocacy program must be created. To substantiate HSR via common

interests, several stakeholders need to be invited to the table. These include, but are

not limited to: freight, concerned citizens, the business community, city councils,

counties, and environmental groups.


The process should match the situation. For HSR to be truly aligned with Oregon plans

and stakeholder interests, a new type of governance model must be crafted. This model

would provide a framework for regional collaboration that would include:

• A two‐tiered governance model consisting of:

• Tier 1: A participatory approach including a broad range of stakeholder


• Tier 2: A regional decision‐making and regulatory body representing

regional interests

• Explicit roles, authority and communication flows among these two tiers

• Process evaluation

• A monitoring component

A collaborative two‐tiered approach can articulate a regional strategy that is supported

by common interests and objectives. As identified by Matthew J. McKinney and Shawn

Johnson in Working Across Boundaries (2009), collaborative planning can bring the

following benefits:

• By working together to identify a common vision, knowledge is shared and

stakeholders gain understanding of each other’s values and priorities;

• This process fosters community and a regional identity;

• By framing problems together, stakeholders discover solutions together;

• Actions are implemented that have broad community buy‐in;

• This approach supports mutual learning and adapting among its participants.

Though the State has a long‐standing rich heritage in public process, citizen involvement

has not been implemented in conjunction with rail projects. HSR in Cascadia may meet

broad Statewide Planning Goal themes, but, as mandated by NEPA, involving a range of

stakeholder interests to the table from the outset will be key to its regional success.


Expected population growth in Cascadia calls for creative growth management

practices. High‐speed rail lays the tracks for increased transportation, environmental

and economic benefits for the growing region. Opportunities provided by HSR include:

• Increasing connectivity among existing public transit systems

• Reducing congestion and VMT

• Reducing GHG emissions

• Increasing train travel reliability

• Enhancing connectivity among commercial and educational centers


These opportunities meet many state, local and regional planning goals. Conversely,

possible adverse effects of HSR include the expense of acquiring right‐of‐way; anti‐HSR

sentiment among some Oregon communities; the threat of sprawl; and implications of

HSR on those communities passed‐by.

Attached to Federal funding for HSR come federal mandates. HSR challenges ODOT Rail

to rethink its process. Though traditionally, protocol for rail projects in Oregon does not

necessitate citizen involvement, NEPA federally mandates a public process be

implemented for HSR.

To align with freight, local, State and regional stakeholder interests, ODOT Rail needs to

consider a more collaborative approach. The Oregon Rail Study highlights the

importance of freight and land use interests in relation to rail. A collaborative approach

to planning HSR will lay the tracks to increased buy‐in and support from regional, state

and local stakeholders. In Oregon, process matters.



1. Figure 1: Steps in the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Preparation

2. Map 1: Transportation Planning Areas addressed in the report


Prepare Environmental Assessment (optional)

Publish Notice of Intent (NOI)

Determine Lead Agency

Conduct scoping process

Prepare Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

Circulate Draft EIS for review

File Draft EIS with EPA

Hold public hearing if required or desired

Prepare Final EIS

Circulate Final EIS

File with EPA

Adopt Final EIS

Make agency decision

Prepare Record of Decision (ROD)

Figure 1: Steps in the EIS

Preparation Process

Source: Bass, R. (2001). The NEPA Book.


MAP 1. Transportation Planning Areas addressed in the report



Bass, R., Herson, A., and Bogdan, K. (2001). The NEPA Book: A step-by-step guide on

how to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Point Arena, CA: Solano

Press Books.

Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. (1980) Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:

City of Albany. (1980). Albany Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:

City of Albany. (2005). Albany Transportation System Plan. Retrieved from:


City of Salem. (2009) Salem Area Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved from:


City of Salem. (2007). Salem Transportation System Plan. Retrieved from:


Federal Railroad Administration. HSR Corridor Descriptions. Retrieved from:

Lane Council of Governments. (2007). 2031 Regional Transportation Systems Plan.

Retrieved from:‐4_Nov‐


Lane Council of Governments. (2004). Eugene‐Springfield Metropolitan Area General

Plan. Retrieved from:

Lane Council of Governments. (2007). Eugene/Springfield Regional Transportation Plan.

Retrieved from:


Lane Council of Governments. (2002). Eugene‐Springfield Transportation System Plan.

Retrieved from:

McKinney, Matthew J. and Johnson, Shawn. (2009). Working Across Boundaries: People,

Nature and Regions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


Metro. (2008). 2035 Regional Transportation Plan. Retrieved from: http://www.metroregion.


Multnomah County. (2009). Multnomah County Comprehensive Framework Plan.

Retrieved from:


Oregon Department of Transportation. (2010) 2010 Oregon Rail Study. Retrieved from:

Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. (1973). Oregon Statewide

Planning Goals. Retrieved from:

Oregon Department of Transportation. (2006). Oregon Transportation Plan. Retrieved


Population Research Center. (2010, December 15). Oregon Population Estimates 2010

Certified. Portland State University. Retrieved from:‐


Portland Bureau of Transportation. (2006). Portland Transportation System Plan.

Retrieved from:

U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Population estimates, Metropolitan and Micropolitan

Statistical Area Estimates. Retrieved from:‐



Scenario 1: Sensible Rail


Sensible Rail

Term Paper

PBAF 544

Winter Quarter 2011

Aaron Lykken

Briana Lovell

Elspeth Hilton

John Murphy

Laura Barker

Marc Weigum

Shannon Qian

Tom Kozaczynski

Tom Le

Yegor Malinovskiy



Washington State and Oregon, along with the rest of the nation, stand at a

crossroads. The new push for high-speed rail signals the most concentrated effort for a

national transportation policy since the Interstate Highway System. The allure of highspeed

rail, along with a feeling of being outpaced by our neighbors and competitors, has

created a frenzy of activity intended to push high-speed links from one US metropolis to

another. In this moment of passion, it is often difficult to recall the lessons learned years

before, when a similar effort was made to construct the Interstate system. Many of the

problems facing the US today, and, ironically ones the high-speed rail aims to fix, are a

direct result of the passionate, “single vision” mindset that seems to overpower our most

reasonable institutions in such crucial moments. Let us then examine the case for highspeed

rail in the Northwest Corridor (from Eugene, OR to Vancouver, BC) from a level,

dispassionate and, above all, sensible perspective.

Amtrak Cascades is a publicly funded service that operates on a privately owned

rail line. This intercity passenger rail service carries travelers between major population

centers, and connects with Amtrak’s long-distance trains and local/regional transit.

Amtrak Cascades has 18 stations in Washington and Oregon, and one in Canada’s British

Columbia Province. The typical rider travels 150 miles, which is roughly the distance

between Portland and Seattle.

Presently, the Amtrak Cascades service, which runs through the Northwest

Corridor, consists of six daily departures that serve primarily the cities of Seattle and

Portland. The line operates at a deficit and at 50% capacity, but provides important

connectivity between the two metro regions. Recent proposals have been made to

upgrade the current line, shared with and owned by freight rail companies, to a

standalone or near-standalone system one that would reduce the current travel time of

three and a half hours to around two. The alternative to these “high speed” and “regional

express” scenarios is to maintain and improve the current service and gradually grow to

meet demand using existing facilities – the “Sensible Rail” scenario. To understand

which alternative is best suited for the region, issues such as governance, funding,


economics, operations, and land use must be considered as a whole. This report attempts

to review these facets from a realistic perspective, highlighting the relatively modest

passenger travel needs of the region, immense costs of the high speed and regional

express alternatives and the sensitivity of the current passenger-freight relationship.


To improve the Cascades rail corridor, a vast array of public, private, and

international stakeholders are involved. This makes decision-making and consensus

significantly more complicated. The key stakeholders are:

• U.S. Department of Transportation

• Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

• Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)

• British Columbia

• BNSF Railways

• Union Pacific Railways

• Amtrak

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Railroad Administration1

Created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, the Federal Railroad

Administration (FRA) promotes and enforces rail safety regulations; administers railroad

assistance programs; conducts development in support of improved railroad safety and

national rail transportation policy; and consolidates government support of rail

transportation activities. FRA supports the development of the nation's intercity rail

passenger system and informs and implements Federal rail policy.

FRA administered the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 and the

Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, which relieved private rail carriers of their obligation

to provide passenger rail service. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of

2008, which created new railroad investment programs and reauthorized Amtrak for five

years, affirms Federal involvement in developing the nation’s intercity passenger rail

system. FRA’s greatest contribution to the Cascades Corridor was investing $8.4 million

1 Federal Railroad Administration.


to improve grade crossings primarily between Seattle and Portland. In addition, FRA is

helping to study the possibility of increasing frequency of trains in the Cascades Corridor.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

WSDOT’s role in the Amtrak Cascades service includes many functions2:

• Planning and project identification

• Budget development

• Construction project management and reporting

• Operations oversight and reporting

• Local, regional, state, national, and international program coordination

• Public education, public involvement, and marketing activities.

WSDOT also contributes significant financial resources to the Cascades line,

investing over $331 million in public funds for track and signal improvements, new train

equipment, station construction and renovations, and train operations.3

Oregon State Department of Transportation (ODOT)

ODOT pays for Cascades service between Eugene and Portland, with stops in

Eugene, Albany, Salem, Oregon City, and Portland. Although Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

service between Los Angeles and Seattle makes these same stops, ODOT does not pay

for this service. In addition to funding, ODOT provides several other functions for the

Cascades service4:

6. Administers safety issues including public highway-railroad crossings, railroad

employee safety, track inspections, and other safety monitoring;

7. Acts as an agent for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) by inspecting

track, railroad equipment and cars, hazardous materials and operating practices;


Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) is a for-profit corporation that

operates intercity passenger rail services throughout the United States. Amtrak was

2 Washington State Department of Transportation.

3 “WSDOT and Amtrak Cascades.” March 2010 Washington State Department of Transportation

4 Oregon State Department of Transportation.

5 Federal Railroad Administration.


created by Congress in the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, assuming the common

carrier obligations of the private railroads (which found passenger service to be generally

unprofitable) in exchange for the right to priority access of their tracks for incremental

cost. Amtrak operates the Cascades line and funds a portion of its cost and in charge of

scheduling passenger trains and setting fairs. While a key player in the governance issues

of the corridor, Amtrak is limited in bargaining because it only owns the trains, not the

rail on which they operate.

British Columbia

Via Rail Canada is an independent corporation offering intercity passenger rail

services in Canada, carrying approximately 4.3 million passengers annually.6 The US to

Vancouver, BC connection is provided by agreement with Amtrak. Due to the

international boundary, several other agencies are involved in the Cascades service to

Vancouver. The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the U.S. Customs and

Border Protection Agency manage the Cascades border crossing. Border agencies are

important to governance issues because they are a mandatory part of services to Canada.

Border crossings are the single greatest reason for train delays into Canada, making the

trip lengthy and generally unpredictable.

Freight and Private Rail7,8

In addition to the challenges in coordinating the governmental agencies described

in the previous sections, the role of private freight corporations in the corridor is arguably

the most significant barrier to coordinating Sensible Rail improvements. The Burlington

Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) owns the majority of Washington’s portion

of the Cascades line, and Union Pacific Railroad owns Oregon’s. The Staggers Rail of

1980 gave freight lines significantly more flexibility in operations, allowing them to enter

into private agreements with no need of preapproval from the government. Private

6 Via Rail Canada.

7 Rose, Mathew K. "Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads." BNSF Railways. 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 6 Mar.

2011. <>.

8 "American Railways: High-speed Railroading | The Economist." The Economist - World News, Politics,

Economics, Business & Finance. 22 June 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2011.



companies were able to remove passenger rail service as long as freight companies

preserved access for Amtrak. For freight lines, the passing of the Staggers Act was an

overwhelmingly positive and profitable outcome.

The question for the Cascades Corridor is, how and who should develop

incentives for private rail lines to make concessions for passenger rail? While BNSF

includes passenger rail in their planning, they are opposed to high-speed rail. Running a

train at 110 mph on existing freight lines would require removing freight service on those

lines, which is against their financial interest. BNSF already believes that Amtrak does

not pay the true value for access rights onto its rail lines, further complicating

negotiations. A more minor point regarding the private firms’ aversion to passenger rail is

the cost of the passenger safety liability associated with running passenger trains on their

lines. The issues facing Union Pacific in Oregon can be assumed to align closely with

those of BNSF in Washington, as both operators have similar goals and characteristics,

although BNSF owns the majority of the Northwest Corridor.

What Can Increase Amtrak’s Bargaining Position?9

Because Amtrak owns only the trains, it has almost no bargaining power. Some

actions, however, could improve its relations with freight and allow for further passenger

rail use. Small steps with private freight are more likely to have positive effects than large

demands. The following are steps that can be taken to bargain with private freight lines

more actively and positively:

• Secure funding

• Increased political support

• Find experienced negotiators

• Find common goals and objectives

• Establish a trusting relationship with private companies

• Make the situation a win-win for everybody, with each party coming away with a

new positive aspect

• Develop partnerships with local DOTs that have political positions of power

9 Prozzi, Jolanda. "Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements." Center

for Transportation Research and the University of Texas Austin. 1 Mar. 2006. Web. 6 Mar. 2011.



These steps could aid preparations for Sensible Rail and future investments in the

Cascades Corridor. In addition, Congress, after 30 years since the Staggers Rail Act’s

passage, has recently expressed interest in some re-regulation of freight rail. The time

may be opportune for Amtrak to push for negotiations with private rail. In the current

economic climate, rail freight has seen a significant decrease in revenues. With current

need for capital investments for freight rail systems, a window of opportunity may have

opened to make concessions for passenger rail in exchange for funds for capital



As there are few profitable rail lines in the country, investment and funding

opportunities for the Seattle to Portland corridor are largely contingent upon public

funding. For Cascades, this is mainly realized through the Washington Multimodal

Transportation Fund.

Because this fund is

sustained by automobiledependent

sources (e.g.,

licensing fees and taxes),

it could decrease in the

future if the U.S.’s

primary means of

transportation shifts away

from the car.

Funding for the Cascadia comes from a various sources (Figure 1). Washington

State is the largest continuing contributor to capital and operating costs on the Cascades

Corridor. From 1994 to 2007, Washington invested $300.4 million out of the total $984.6

million allocated for capital/operating funds for the Cascades Corridor.10 BNSF made the

10 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,


Figure 1: Cascades capital investments, 1994-2007


only private investment, which totaled less than $10 million for Seattle to Vancouver

signalization upgrades. Although some of these investments to commuter rail benefit

Cascades, they are not explicitly directed toward Cascades service.11Sound Transit

appears to be a large contributor due to two $200 million dollar commuter rail packages

for the Sounder commuter rail line.

Planned Funding—ARRA Money

In 2010, Washington State was selected to receive $782 million from the

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, specifically for the High

Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program. The passage of ARRA signified a substantial

commitment from the federal government to fund rail projects. ARRA funds were

distributed through a proposal process via the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail

(HSIPR) Program.12 Projects funded by these grants will help grow the Amtrak Cascades

service and improve on-time performance and reliability between Seattle and Portland.

For fiscal year (FY) 200913 and 201014, Washington and Oregon were awarded projects

as follows:

• Washington FY 2009: 1 project – Seattle to Portland Corridor Projects ($590


• Oregon FY 2009: 3 projects – Union Station improvements ($8 million)

• Washington FY 2010: 4 projects – King Street and Tukwila station

improvements; Mount Vernon siding extension; Washington State Rail Plan ($31


• Oregon FY 2010: 3 projects – Union Station improvements; track improvements;

rail plans ($9 million).

While ARRA funds for rail projects are supposed to be the impetus for a true

high-speed rail network throughout the U.S., they actually support incremental

improvements that will provide Sensible Rail from Seattle to Portland. For example,

roughly $100 million will be funneled to the Point Defiance Bypass project near Tacoma.

11 Ibid.

12 This was set up in 2009 by President Obama. Federal Railroad Administration. “High-Speed Intercity

Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program” <>

13 Federal Railroad Administration. “Summary of Applications.”


14 Federal Railroad Administration. “FY10 and Remaining FY09 Funding Selection Summary.”



This new track will cut six minutes of travel along the Cascades Corridor using existing

train technology and speeds.15 IN addition, more funding might be allocated to

Washington State. A portion of funding rejected by Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida will

most likely be allocated to Washington.

Sensible Rail is considerably less expensive than “true” high-speed rail in both

total cost and cost per minute of trip time savings, as seen in Table 1 below.16 Given the

immense cost of other options, Sensible Rail appears to be just that – sensible.

Table 1: Cost/minute travel saved for rail speed options

Options Travel Time


Time Savings




Cost/Minute Travel

Saved ($/min)

1994 Baseline 240 0 0 0

Sensible Rail 210 30 1 5,000,000

Regional “Express” 180 60 3 7,500,000

High Speed Rail 150 90 10 16,666,667

Potential Funding Sources

Despite the significant investment of ARRA funds, which will cover much of the

capital cost necessary to implement incremental improvements for sensible rail,

continued funding will be necessary to support operating costs, ongoing maintenance,

and future service improvements. Currently, ticket revenue, Amtrak, and the states of

Washington and Oregon pay operating costs.17 These funds, however, still do not cover

total operating costs given ticket revenue for FY2010 is $27.6 million; this equated to a

15 Washington State Department of Transportation. “Rail – Tacoma – Bypass of Point Defiance.”


16 Data from Washington’s Long Range Plan, based on lowest cost estimates of price per mile of rail and a

distance of 150 miles. Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak

Cascades,” December 2006, <


17 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,




loss of 10.8 cents per passenger mile and 5.7 cents per seat mile.18 This suggests the

trains are running at 53% capacity. Truer “high-speed rail” proposals, such as those found

in the Cascades Long Range Plan, include operation of 13 trains daily.19 This volume

seems unreasonable given current capacity levels. Nonetheless, continued funding is

necessary to operate Cascades service in a Sensible Rail scenario. Some of these potential

funding sources are described below.

Because Amtrak receives reduced fees for operating on freight-owned tracks, it

already enjoys cost savings over state-run or private operators.20 Still, there is likely room

for further savings. Labor is Amtrak’s largest operating cost.21 Nine out of ten Amtrak

employees are unionized, and their collective bargaining agreements limit the number of

hours per day they may spend on certain tasks.22 Renegotiation of these contracts could

potentially reduce labor costs.

Although transportation infrastructure in the United States has typically been

financed by a combination of Federal and state tax dollars and user fees, partnerships

with private entities have been seen as a way to increase efficiency, fill capital costs or

operating funding gaps, or decrease government involvement. For example, a recent

high-speed rail project in Florida attracted interest from corporations willing to pay for

the state’s portion of capital costs and cover the risk, in return for profits from the line.23

The United Kingdom transitioned their rail system to completely private operation in

18Amtrak. “October 2010 Monthly Performance Report,” December 21, 2010.




19 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades,” December

2006, <


20 Texas Transportation Institute. “FUNDING STRATEGIES AND PROJECT COSTS FOR


DATA,” June 2005. <>

21 Congressional Research Service - High Speed Rail:

22 Congressional Research Service

23 Zink, Janet. “Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejects funding for high-speed rail,” February 16, 2011.



1997, with some signs of success in terms of long-term cost savings.24

Federal funding could be enhanced and stabilized through the creation of a

dedicated funding source.25 Suggestions to utilize a portion of the Highway Trust Fund

have not been well received. An increase in the federal gas tax dedicated to a rail trust

fund could be more politically feasible. Still, rising gas prices and increasingly efficient

cars could contribute to declining revenue from this source. Other suggestions have

included funding from Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reductions programs. At the

state level, a dedicated rail fund could also help fund maintenance and future

improvements. Funding could not come from gas tax due to constitutional limitations;

however creative alternatives could be explored. WSDOT recently partnered with

Washington’s lottery to sell a new ticket that will contribute to funding for a second

Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C. The program could raise as much as $144,000 over

several months.26

A stable source of funding at the State or Federal level would offer several

benefits of greater funding reliability, and therefore efficiency; and the ability to increase

Amtrak’s rolling stock, which is at times limiting factor to service increases27


Although rail tends to be more expensive than other modes in capital costs,

Sensible Rail is a cost-effective solution in the long run. Tables 2 and 3 show the

comparison of costs between the modes.28 At first glance, the current capital costs for rail

are much higher than air or auto travel. It is important to consider that the capital cost for





25 Congressional Research Service

26 Publicola. “Amtrak Teams Up With Lottery to Fund Cascades Route,” March 8, 2011.


27 Texas Transportation Institute. “FUNDING STRATEGIES AND PROJECT COSTS FOR


DATA,” June 2005. <>

28 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades,” December

2006, <



the other two modes’ infrastructure has already been paid for. On the other hand, the rail

system relies on privately owned freight tracks, with a lack of infrastructure devoted

solely to passenger rail. Rail is simply in a different phase of implementation compared

to the other modes; one that is lagging quite a bit behind. As for operating costs, rail costs

significantly less per passenger mile than air travel and close to half the cost of

automobile travel. Looking at the overall costs (capital and operating combined), over the

long run, rail is the least expensive option in terms of cost per passenger mile. As the

capital costs slow down over the long run and operating costs become the main cost,

passenger rail levels out in terms of overall cost per passenger mile. Because most of the

costs of automobile are operating, they will continue to rise to become more expensive

than rail.

Table 2: Capital cost comparison

Table 3: Operating cost comparison

Rail is also less expensive in terms of the environmental costs – at just $0.05 per

mile versus $0.11 per mile for highway travel. Amtrak releases just under 0.6 lbs of CO2

per passenger mile while single occupancy vehicles release anywhere from 1.2 lbs per


passenger mile for compact cars to 1.7 for SUVs.29

Another component of cost is safety. Highways are dangerous – accidents are

costly both in terms of equipment costs and human costs – while rail is safer. Safety costs

for highways are 12 times as high as rail, at $0.06 to rail’s $0.005 per passenger mile.

Safety costs for rail make up just 1% whereas it is 8% for highway use. These are costs

that users do not pay, and are therefore externalities.

Nevertheless, the user’s cost-per-passenger mile is much lower for passenger rail

than for highway, with $0.20 to $0.55 respectively. For rail, the typical cost is just the

ticket, whereas auto users must consider gas, maintenance, vehicle depreciation, and

insurance. The one area rail is more expensive is the system utilization cost. For

highways, it is just six cents; for rail, it is 25 cents, which is a subsidy. In this respect,

highways are cheaper because it is by user fees and taxes.30

Another key consideration is the additional cost savings from a reduction in

highway maintenance costs due to shifting auto trips to passenger rail. This analysis

applies the methodology used in a study done for the Montana DOT. Highway

maintenance costs are approximately $0.32 per mile driven. Considering that the average

vehicle occupancy is 1.59 people, the result is a cost of about $0.20 per person. Though

the full route from Vancouver to Eugene is 466 miles, the majority of riders travel the

Seattle to Portland route, which is about 150 miles. In an effort to be conservative, the

average amount of miles traveled that will be taken into account for a passenger on

Amtrak Cascades is 200 miles. In 2010, there were 838,251 passengers, meaning that at

$.20 per person, the cost savings in terms of avoided highway maintenance needs is 33.7


29 "Transportation Emissions: The short version." How Low-Carbon Can You Go: The Green Travel

Ranking. Web. 9 Mar 2011. <>.

30 This does not include the external costs imposed by automobile systems. WSDOT State Rail and Marine


Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008,



31 Calculation for highway cost savings: $0.32 per mile/1.59 people per vehicle x 200 miles x 838,251

passengers = $33.7 million.


Direct benefits from Sensible Rail

Rail systems buy fuel locally, pay wages to employees on the train and at stations,

and pay for car maintenance. Amtrak employs over 500 people in Washington State, and

in 2005, paid $23 million in wages (an average of $42,000 per employee). Additionally,

Amtrak spends about $18 million on fuel and train and station maintenance in

Washington State each year. When you consider the $33.7 million saved in highway

maintenance in addition to the tax revenue from $23 million in wages and $18 million in

spending, the impact is significant.

Washington and Oregon also benefit from Amtrak-related tourist spending.

Amtrak provides a link to other cities for passengers who arrive and depart from only one

city. For example cruise ship passenger who arrives in Seattle can easily visit another

destination. In 2009, Washington State saw $14.2 billion in direct travel spending and

$4.17 billion in travel industry earnings, though the number of tourists who arrived via

train is unknown.32 A study of the direct economic impacts from spending by nonresidents

who traveled to Maine and New Hampshire on the DownEaster train and would

not have visited otherwise showed $3 million in additional spending.33 Montana similarly

saw $7.6 million in spending thanks to the Empire Builder train that travels through

Montana as it travels between Seattle and Chicago.34

Benefit/Cost Analysis35

The benefit/cost analysis for Sensible Rail was essentially conducted by WSDOT

for the mid-range plan. Benefit/cost ratios and net benefit are measures to evaluate

economic efficiency and the size of benefits, respectively. Of four options WSDOT

Montana. Analysis of the Economic Benefits of The Amtrak Empire Builder to Montana. , 2003. Web. 9

Mar 2011.

32 Dean Runyan Associates (

33 Economic Benefits of Amtrak Downeaster Services (Feb 2005). Prepared for: Maine DOT. Prepared by:

Economic Development Research Group, Inc

34 Montana. Analysis of the Economic Benefits of The Amtrak Empire Builder to Montana. , 2003.

35 Washington State Department of Transportation, “Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan,” December 2008


analyzed, “Option 2” most closely matches Sensible Rail. Option 2 is an incremental

strategy with minimal amount of capital costs. It also accounts for four projects that are

currently in progress:

• Tacoma – Bypass of Pt. Defiance

• Vancouver – Yard Bypass and 39th St. Bridge

• King Street Station – Track Improvements

• Cascades Train Sets – Overhaul

The WSDOT analysis considered revenue in the cost section (instead of benefits) because

revenue projections did not offset estimated costs. Costs and benefits included were:


• Capital investments

• Any costs to subsidize the operations and maintenance

• Administrative and Marketing costs


• Economic benefits (income from jobs, profits for businesses, taxes paid to


• Societal benefits

o Congestion relief (savings to relieving congestion on the roads)

o Safety improvements (savings in reduction of motor vehicle collisions)

o Environmental benefits (greenhouse gas emissions reductions)

The results shown in Table 4 below demonstrate that Sensible Rail has the highest

benefit/cost ratio, of the options analyzed by WSDOT. In comparison to options 2-4,

Option 2 provides the greatest economic efficiency, producing more than two and a half

times the benefit, relative to the cost. It also has the lowest total cost, mainly due to the

lower capital cost investment, but has a lower net benefit than Option 4.

Table 4: Benefit/cost analysis of investment options



In looking at the current state of passenger rail in the Cascades Corridor, some

questions regarding operations arise. In particular, it is of interest how the current state of

operations can be improved under the “shared rail” constraints that exist between freight

and passenger entities. Prior to suggesting that passenger rail be given more priority, it is

important to examine the relationship between freight and passenger rail more closely.

Regulating Freight to Benefit Passenger Rail

Freight train interference is responsible for almost half of the delay on the

Northwest Corridor lines36. Many of the freight trains do not run on schedule, and are

often used as needed to haul goods to or from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, putting

pressure on rail owners to retain as much rail-time as possible. Thus, shifting priorities

from freight to passenger service is not an attractive option from a freight rail

perspective. BNSF argues that it is more environmentally responsible to focus on freight

rail operations at the cost of passenger rail: “… you could make the case that the nation

would realize significantly more environmental benefits by shifting more freight to rail

than it would by shifting more passengers to rail.” 37 To some extent, this is corroborated

36 “Amtrak performance information” Accessed, Feb 28, 2011. <>

37 “RAILWAY” BNSF Team Magazine. March 2010. Accessed Mar 2nd, 2011.



by a 2007 Environmental Science Technology paper that cites rail for producing just 40

g/ton-mile of CO2 compared to the 235 g/ton-mile and 1469 g/ton-mile of CO2 produced

by auto and air modes.38 According to the Texas Transportation Institute, “travel time has

a value of $16.01 per person-hour and $105.67 per truck-hour in 2009.”39 This has

serious implications – freight time is 6.5 times more valuable than passenger-time,

making it even more difficult to have a sound argument for improving passenger service

at the cost of freight.

Washington State’s freight system transports primarily farm products and lumber,

which also shipped by truck. Most of the rail freight in Washington State is inbound, with

over 55% of all rail freight ending up in Washington – a significant increase to the 36%

back in 1996 and a stark contrast to a US average inbound flow value of just 12%. This is

in part attributable to the large ports located in Washington State. In Washington State,

over 39% of employment is related to the freight system, thus any additional constraints

imposed must be done very carefully. Increased competition from a new northern port,

Price Rupert as well as the expansion of the Panama Canal has created additional

concerns for the region’s freight system. 40 Passenger rail improvements on freight lines

must be done in a symbiotic manner. For example, infrastructure investments that

improve both services, such as grade separations create a win-win scenario.

Skip-stop Operation

Travel time is one of the most important characteristics of service and many of the

proposed improvements along the corridor ultimately address the travel time between

cities. With evidence that performance improvements should not be made at the cost of

freight operations, an alternative strategy is needed. Another potential means of obtaining

shorter travel times is to skip stations. It is conceivable, even at the current level of

38 Facanha, C., and Horvath, A. (2007), Evaluation of Life-cycle Air Emission Factors of Freight

Transportation. Environmental Science & Technology, 41(20), pp. 7138-7144.

39 Texas Transportation Institute Annual Congestion Report, 2010

40 Washington State Freight Rail Plan 2010-2030



investment, to run two types of service on the corridor – an express service that connects

the primary cities (Seattle to Portland most likely) without any stops in between and a

regional service, that makes stops at all locations. A rough estimate of 5-minutes per stop

(accounting for deceleration, stopping and acceleration) would yield a 30-minute traveltime

savings on the Seattle-Portland corridor, while serving nearly 80% of the current

rider base. Meanwhile, the remaining 20% can be served by the less frequent and slower

regional service. Furthermore, it may be possible to combine some of the current Sounder

operations with the slower regional train, thereby providing access to even more towns

along the corridor and reducing the total amount of track time being leased from BNSF –

thus potentially improving freight operations in the state.


Smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD) are important planning

strategies to address a myriad of social, fiscal, and environmental issues. These include

climate change, local air

quality, automobile

dependence, housing

affordability, public health,

and mounting infrastructure

costs. While smart growth

and TOD can only yield

incremental change in

development density and

other indicators of compact

development, there is great

potential for compact development to become the predominant development type by the

middle of this century. These techniques can be applied in conjunction with the Sensible

Figure 2: Transit-oriented development land use plan.


Rail service improvements to better anchor ridership and improve the case for further rail

improvements. A typical TOD land use plan is presented in Figure 241.

Growth Management Acts

Wider recognition of the costs and negative impact of sprawl has generated

greater interest in methods to control it. In Washington and Oregon, growth management

attempts to address a wide range of issues and incorporate them into a consensus on the

shape of the community’s future. Such factors as the timing of infrastructure

development and financing, the proper balance of development with environmental

protection, and the provision of incentives for certain types of development are blended

together to ensure that individual land-use decisions foster, rather than harm, a

community’s goals. Both states have legislation that requires counties and cities to plan

for future growth, including goals for transportation infrastructure. An improved intercity

passenger rail corridor, with investments toward transit-oriented development appropriate

to each station area, would reinforce the goals of growth management legislation in

Washington and Oregon.

The transportation goals in Oregon and Washington’s growth management

legislation call for local governments to link land use planning and transportation

planning. In addition, they promote smart growth principles with the objective of meeting

transportation needs within communities and improving mobility regionally. Providing

site-appropriate TOD around existing stations would create dense centralized

development, allowing residents easy access to an alternate mode of transportation.

Improving the existing rail infrastructure would provide a viable alternative to

automobile use and would allow for efficient intercity travel within the region, which is

directly in-line with growth management principles.

41 Peter Calthorpe “The Great American Metropolis: Ecology, community and the American Dream”.

Princeton Architectural Press. 1993.


Transportation Concurrency

Transportation concurrency planning plays a major part in Oregon and

Washington’s growth management strategies. In terms of transportation, concurrency

requires that adequate transportation capacity is available to support new development.

Basically, concurrency forces us to ensure that, as a community grows, the system of

roads is able to handle daily trips. When new development is proposed, it is studied to

determine if it would exceed the city’s established Level of Service (LOS) standards.

Most LOS standards deal with how long it takes to get through an intersection or turn at

an intersection. They are the lowest acceptable operating level for a given road or

intersection. Before the city can approve a development, it must find that the

development will not create enough traffic to overrun the LOS standards, or that the City

or developer will make traffic improvements to ensure compliance with LOS standards.

Making concurrency work requires difficult decisions about how to fulfill

community goals. The basic question is this: Is the community willing to face higher

levels of traffic and delay, or would it rather invest tax dollars and make the sacrifices

associated with improving existing roads? This question is even more difficult to make

given that LOS standards might only be exceeded during several hours of the day.

In looking at what Sensible Rail supports and can accomplish, it appears to be the

most viable and logical of the different high-speed rail alternatives. By decreasing

headways caused by sharing the track with freight as well as adding some “express”

trains, the level and reliability of service could be increased as well as a sizeable decrease

in travel time. Also, the redevelopment of the areas in and around the stations can elevate

the “image” of railway and help produce and environment of increased ridership.

Impacts of TOD

When transit investments are made, the real estate markets are a good way to get a

feel of what kinds of benefits they are creating. As long as there is a finite supply of

parcels around stations, those wanting to live, work, or do business near transit will bid

up land prices. The benefits of being well connected to the rest of the region (i.e., being

accessible) get capitalized into the market value of land. As the cliché goes, rail-served


properties enjoy good “location, location, location”: residents can more easily reach jobs

and shops; more potential shoppers pass by retail outlets; and for employers, the labor

shed of workers is enlarged.

Because the benefit conferred by being near transit is improved accessibility,

looking at the land-value premiums is a good way to gauge the benefits of TOD. While

research findings are varied, much of the evidence suggests that being near transit

enhances property values and rents. In some cases, prices can be anywhere from 20% to

40% above market rates. In the Washington DC area, some space near the Metrorail

stations exhibits even higher premiums.42 With the benefits, however, there are other

studies that show conflicting results. A Portland MAX light-rail study only found a

residential benefit within 500 meters of the station. It would make sense that being very

close to a rail system could create an environment where ambient noises and activity are

so much that it become more of a burden to live there. One other factor to keep in mind is

the alignment of the system. Elevated systems would have a much more negative effect

than those that are belowground.

Some land-value premiums can also be explained by the public policies aimed at

TOD development. In Denver, at The Commons, planned use development (PUD) was

instrumental in allowing property to be sold in pieces at a premium. A TOD study in

Atlanta showcased policies that encourage more intensive development (e.g., parking

waivers and minimum Floor Area Ratio) led to rent premiums.43 What is probably the

most important is the potential source of revenue these land premiums can provide. Being

able to recapture some of the benefits would be equitable from a social perspective.

Recapturing value is particularly important to initiating TODs. This is especially

true in distressed inner-city settings where a lot of upfront improvements and amenities

are often needed to entice private investment. Already short on cash, municipalities are

42 R. Cervero, “Rail Transit and Joint Development: Land Market Impacts in Washington, D.C. and

Atlanta,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 60, No. 1 (1994): 83–94.

43 J. Landis, S. Guathakurta, W. Huang, and M. Zhang, Rail Transit Investments, Real Estate Values, and

Land Use Change: A Comparative Analysis of Five California Rail Systems, Monograph 48 (Berkeley,

Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California, 1995).


responsible for taking the lead in finding the appropriate capital for rail station areas, and

enhancing the neighborhood through landscaping and sidewalk improvements.

These include maintaining the character of the existing neighborhood, providing a safe

pedestrian environment, creating a flexible connect to other transportation nodes, and

most importantly create a housing balance. One issue that can occur is gentrifying lowincome

areas. The rise in housing costs can push low- and moderate-income residents

farther away from jobs and transit. This basically eliminates TOD’s core benefit for these

residents. If TOD is thought from an equity perspective by providing a solid balance of

housing options, it can tie workers to employment nodes, create jobs, and provide an

added economic boost to an area that had previously been most likely neglected. TOD

also has the benefit of reducing transportation costs. This is very important to low- and

moderate-income families because they pay a much higher portion of their income than

their higher-income peers.

Pedestrian safety is also another important aspect to consider in TOD design.

Because of the close proximity to the rail system, equitable pedestrian access is critical in

the sustainability of transit development. Clarendon Hills, Illinois,44 and Glenside,

Pennsylvania, are two examples where pedestrian access has been accentuated in order

for transit to server its immediate population.

Both of these examples have the benefit of the rail system crossing via a bridge

helping mitigate pedestrian issues. Clarendon Hills, 20 miles outside of Chicago, also

added a layer of landscaping that would also help keep the two separate. In Glenside, 11

miles outside of Philadelphia, the planning process followed a rigorous and methodical

path where many different alternatives were explored. Some created a bridge over the

tracks and others when under. Ultimately, two ADA compliant access ramps and

pedestrian walkway under the bridge immediately adjacent to the station were used. On

either side, plazas were developed to help create a continual urban area.

44 S.B. Friedman & Company, The Lakota Group, Metro Transportation Group, Village of Clarendon Hills

Downtown Master Plan, March 2006


Locally, the city of Centralia provides an opportunity to take a step back and look

at how the benefits listed above could provide value to the community. Centralia is

equidistant between Seattle and Portland, has a majority of its population at low- or

moderate-income, and has desperate commercial nodes created by both an interstate and

rail going through the town. In looking at the Comprehensive Plan for Centralia, there

are many areas where transportation infrastructure needs to be enhanced due to numerous

potential pedestrian, bike, and traffic accident areas.45 The city itself has a great

foundation and has a topography that is very similar to the standard TOD design as seen

in the Great American Metropolis. The downside is the separate of the commercial nodes

by Interstate 5. One of the major initiatives in developing further connectivity would be

to join these areas effectively with either a trolley type of system (i.e., piggyback off

existing rails) or its bus service. Whatever the end result, zoning changes will need to

occur so more comprehensive land use and planning can occur.


As the Northwest Region continues to grow, it becomes necessary to anticipate

the resulting increase in transportation demand with sound investments in infrastructure.

These investments provide the necessary capacity for future growth, but must be

evaluated carefully and in proper context. Prior to investing into a high-speed Northwest

Corridor link, the overarching goal must be clear. The current rail system is not operating

at anywhere near capacity and new needs can be met with increases in service. Running

an express service can attain shorter travel times. The rail “image” can be drastically

improved by renovating stations and trains. The overall uncertainty of high speed rail is

evident not only in the lack of a clear goal, but also in the definition of the term itself –

the current “high speeds” considered for the Northwest Corridor are half of those in

Japan, China, and France. Inversely to these nations, the US has optimized the use of its

rail for freight movement and highways for passengers. The movement for high-speed

rail involves flipping these established priorities physically, as well as in the mindset of

the general population, which is not an easy, quick, nor inexpensive task. It is on these

45 CH2MHill, City of Centralia Comprehensive Plan Transportation Element, June 2007


grounds that this report makes a case for a more gradual investment into Sensible Rail.

The information and arguments presented in this report are not meant to discourage

investment in rail or passenger transit – it is simply meant to provide context for the

significant decisions that await the region.


Scenario 2: Cascadia Regional


A Feasibility and Impacts Analysis

for Improved Passenger Rail

Service in the Cascadia Region

Regional Express

A Feasibility and Impacts Analysis for Improved Passenger

Rail Service in the Cascadia Region

Prepared by:

Landon Bosisio, Colin Morgan-Cross, Zach Eskenazi, Stephanie Garbacik,

Michael Houston, Katlin Jackson, Andy Krause, Jonathan Olds, Andreas Piller, Chris Rule

University of Washington

Regional Express


Table of Contents

Executive Summary....................................................................................................................................... 2

Introduction................................................................................................................................................... 4

Outline....................................................................................................................................................... 4

Proposed Service........................................................................................................................................... 7

Assumptions.............................................................................................................................................. 7

Service Assumptions.............................................................................................................................. 7

Ridership Assumptions.......................................................................................................................... 8

Cascade Stakeholders............................................................................................................................ 9

Structure of this Report......................................................................................................................... 9

Governance................................................................................................................................................. 10

Challenges............................................................................................................................................... 10

Freight................................................................................................................................................. 10

Canadian Border.................................................................................................................................. 12

Frameworks............................................................................................................................................. 13

Funding.................................................................................................................................................... 15

Costs and Current Funding.................................................................................................................. 15

Future funding mechanisms................................................................................................................ 16

Political viability of funding and funding options.................................................................................... 17

Summary............................................................................................................................................. 19

Economic Analysis....................................................................................................................................... 20

Overview................................................................................................................................................. 20

Regional Express Railway Benefit-Cost Analysis...................................................................................... 21

Direct Regional Express Benefits......................................................................................................... 21

Direct Regional Express Costs.............................................................................................................. 25

Benefit-Cost Analysis Scenarios........................................................................................................... 26

Benefit-Cost Timeline.......................................................................................................................... 27

Indirect Economic Benefits.................................................................................................................. 28

Summary............................................................................................................................................. 29

Land Use...................................................................................................................................................... 30

Land-Use Impact from New Line Construction........................................................................................ 30

Station Area Land Use Analysis............................................................................................................... 30

Downtown........................................................................................................................................... 31

Industrial............................................................................................................................................. 32

Suburban Fringe.................................................................................................................................. 32

Summary............................................................................................................................................. 33

Regional Express


Redevelopment of Station Areas............................................................................................................. 33

Summary............................................................................................................................................. 34

Growth Management.............................................................................................................................. 34

Washington......................................................................................................................................... 35

Oregon................................................................................................................................................. 36

Summary............................................................................................................................................. 37

Conclusion................................................................................................................................................... 38

Summary of Criteria............................................................................................................................ 38

Appendices.................................................................................................................................................. 41

Appendix A - Cascades Stakeholders....................................................................................................... 41

Agencies.............................................................................................................................................. 41

Rail Operators...................................................................................................................................... 42

Municipal Government....................................................................................................................... 42

Appendix B – Monte Carlo Uncertainty Analysis..................................................................................... 43

Appendix C – Portland, OR Zoning Map.................................................................................................. 44

Appendix D – Vancouver, B.C. Zoning Map.............................................................................................. 45

Appendix E – Bellingham, WA Zoning Map............................................................................................. 46

References................................................................................................................................................... 47

Regional Express


Executive Summary

Amtrak Cascades extends through an exciting, scenic corridor that links several destinations in the Pacific

Northwest, including the three major cities of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. To enhance the cultural,

economic, and social ties in Cascadia, additional investment in the corridor is necessary to improve

the existing level of service and reliability of the Amtrak train service. This report examines the potential

benefits and impacts of introducing regional express service to the corridor from Eugene, Oregon to

Vancouver, B.C.

Regional express service strikes a balance between existing train service and expensive high speed rail

that envisions train travel in excess of 150 mph. By eliminating several low ridership stations and making

track improvements that will allow the current rolling stock to travel up to a maximum speed of 110

mph, this service will provide a significant upgrade in travel for the region with a reasonable amount of


The improved rail service requires a governance framework that supports the investment and specifically

focuses on the mega-region. The Governance section of this report analyzes the political feasibility,

a framework for accountability, and funding for capital improvements and systems operations of regional

express service. Successful Regional Express service hinges on agreement and sustained commitment

from two states, two nations, two nations and two private railroads. We find that one likely governance

challenge will be for governments to negotiate with the railroads for access to the right of way without

an unreasonable request for compensation, and that current agreements between affected states, the

FRA and BNSF to spend ARRA funds can serve as a template for future agreements and secure a commitment

to improved passenger rail service.

The Obama administration’s interest in investment in high speed rail presents the greatest opportunity

for acquiring the approximately $6 billion in capital costs to develop an Express Rail service. However,

without federal funding the infrastructure improvements for Express Rail service would likely continue,

just at a slower pace. This is due to the commitment demonstrated by the State of Washington to improve

reliability, frequency and speed of service in corridor.

An economical cost-benefit analysis shows the investment in Regional Express Rail service is feasible

under the assumptions outlined above. Direct economic benefits include revenues recouped from ticket

fares, tax revenue increases from direct and indirect employment, and savings for businesses due to

improved freight train travel times on the corridor. In addition, there numerous social benefits, including

reductions in greenhouse gases, travel time savings for leisure and business travelers, and increased accessibility

for communities linked by regional express service.

Land uses throughout the corridor will change with the investment in regional express rail service. This

report examines potential land use changes in three categories based on the character of station locations:

downtown, industrial, and suburban fringe. Regional express service is not expected to drive land

use changes in the region; instead it is expected to strengthen existing industries and tourism-based

Regional Express


businesses by enhancing travel in Cascadia.

Stations areas are anticipated to gradually transform as service reliability and frequency improves. A case

study of real estate prices around rail stations in Seattle and Tacoma determined there are several thousand

square feet of land available for redevelopment. The real estate case study contained in this report

uses existing land values to determine the feasibility of new mixed-use developments for residents and


Our analysis and findings show that regional express service has the potential to improve travel times

and the reliability of train service in Cascadia. As a result, Amtrak Cascades will positively influence land

use changes in the station areas by providing an option for alternative travel between major cities in the

Pacific Northwest.

The states of Washington and Oregon use statewide growth management policies to minimize the inefficient

expansion of development by guiding land use development, and by ensuring public infrastructure

is compatible and sufficient to meet agreed on development form and capacity. The analysis shows that

Express Rail service is generally consistent with and supportive of these growth management laws. However,

the service is not likely to address transportation concurrency requirements in Washington State.

Regional Express



Amtrak Cascades links major destinations in the

Pacific Northwest region of the United States and

Vancouver, British Columbia. The 18 stations served

over 1.6 million people in 2010, a significant increase

in ridership over the past year. As ridership continues

to grow on the corridor, further investment in rail

infrastructure has the potential to strengthen connections

between urban centers up and down the

northern Pacific Coast.

This report examines the potential for, and potential

impacts of expanding Amtrak Cascades with a higher

level of service than is possible on the existing infrastructure.

This improved service will continue to focus

on the corridor between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver,

B.C., with stops in Seattle and Portland, among

other regionally-significant cities.

Criteria Outline

The analysis, findings, and recommendations herein

provide a framework for governance and funding

requirements to establish regional express train service

in Cascadia. The introduction of high-quality rail

service to Cascadia will require increased cooperation

and communication between Washington, Oregon,

and B.C. As land uses evolve throughout the Cascadia

corridor and station areas develop new businesses

and residential areas that serve regional express service,

state and regional roles will ultimately shape the connection between transportation and development.

This report organizes the discussion of these elements through the following criteria:

• Political Feasibility –The potential for a chosen policy to be accepted and adopted by those

responsible for implementation. For the Regional Express, we will examine the potential for the

Express Rail and associated governance framework to be accepted, supported, and funded by

the mega-region’s principal stakeholders.

Figure 01 - Amtrak Cascades corridor

Regional Express


• Accountability for Level of Service – Any policy should outline the stakeholders responsible for

implementing and maintaining a policy requiring a sizeable investment of public resources. We

will examine the Regional Express Rail project in terms of how effectively those responsible for

providing service are held accountable for these expectations.

• Ongoing and Adequate Funding - It is important to take into consideration funding options

when pursuing a policy that will require a sizeable investment of public resources. Policy-makers

should take into consideration the current and ongoing funding needs of a chosen policy. In the

case of Regional Express Rail service, we will discuss the current levels of funding as well as the

needed funding to maintain operations.

• Effectiveness – A policy is considered effective if it can adequately meet the goals that have been

outlined. In the case of investing public resources in Regional Express, we will examine its potential

effectiveness based on how likely it is to meet the intended goals of creating an efficient and

timely level of service.

• Efficiency – Generally, efficiency is measured by examining the predicted economic benefits and

costs of a public infrastructure project. A benefit-cost analysis is the preferred tool used to measure

the level of efficiency of undertaking a certain policy. In this case, we will use a benefit-cost

analysis to determine whether implementing a Regional Express Rail project is an efficient use of

public resources.

• Equity – According to the definitions of horizontal and vertical equity, transportation policies

should not favor one individual group over others, consumers should get what they pay for, and

access to opportunity should be considered for disadvantaged groups (Litman). Regional Express

Rail requires a sizeable investment from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. How these

benefits and costs are distributed will have important equity consequences.

• Land conversion due to track construction – Large infrastructure policies, such as Regional Express,

tend to have myriad impacts on the surrounding environment. For the Regional Express

policy option, we will examine the potential land-use impacts it might have on the rail corridor

and evaluate the Regional Express Rail across these different impacts.

• Station area land development – To evaluate the impact on development that Regional Express

will have on the area surrounding stations, we will use an analysis of current land uses and application

of common real estate metrics.

• Growth Management – Both Washington and Oregon have comprehensive growth management

plans that have components for helping cities and regions plan for transportation infrastructure.

Regional Express Rail is a policy that outlines a very specific investment in transportation infrastructure.

We will examine the potential for Regional Express Rail to comply with goals of current

Growth Management Plans and the consistency of Regional Express with state land-use policies.

Regional Express


Structure of this Report

In this report we first clearly delineate what is meant by regional express service and what ridership

assumption we are operating under. The remainder of the report is divided into the following sections:

1) Governance and Funding; 2) Economic Benefits; 3) Land Use and Station Planning; with a brief Real

Estate Case Study and discussion of Growth Management.

Regional Express


Proposed Service

The proposed Amtrak Cascades Regional Express service can be conceptually defined as lying between

the existing standard rail service, which provides a top speed of 79 mph, and proposals for more ambitious—

and considerably more expensive—true high speed rail service, which may travel speeds as high

as 200-300 mph. The regional express service envisioned herein anticipates speeds up to 110 mph where

conditions allow, namely on the segments between Bellingham and Everett, and between Olympia and

Portland. Other portions of the route are heavily-urbanized therefore it is impractical to provide similar

speeds in those locations.

The alignment for this service remains within the same right-of-way as the current service, but additional

dedicated passenger lines and/or track sidings will be constructed in accordance with the Washington

State “Long-Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades”, allowing for significantly reduced congestion and competition

for track space between freight and passenger trains.


The intent of a “regional express” service is not necessarily intuitive and could potentially take on a

variety of meanings , hence before analyzing the details of the express service envisioned here, we

must begin by defining the characteristics of and assumptions underlying our vision of Amtrak Cascades

Regional Express Service.

Service Assumptions

We began by building off of the express level of service recommendation provided by our Portland State

University colleagues. In this vision, the regional express service consists of eight stops: Vancouver, BC,

Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem and Eugene. We believe these eight stops represent

reasonable candidates for regional express service. However, in order to discontinue service to the

remaining 10 cities, we felt these omissions should be justified.

One of the primary rationales behind regional express service is to provide the largest time/cost savings

to the largest number of riders at the most reasonable cost. As Table 1 shows, although our regional

express service limited to eight stops eliminates 55 percent of the existing stops, it loses only 17 percent

of the total population of the cities currently with stops and 15 percent of the ridership in the entire

system. Providing significant improvement to 85 percent of the ridership at the expense of the other

15 percent makes sense from an efficiency standpoint, however this reduction in service is not without

equity concerns.

Regional Express


Under our regional express proposal, residents of the large urban areas benefit at the expense of residents

of the smaller cities along the route, thus creating horizontal equity issues. On the other hand,

regional express service will be cheaper than air travel and allows those who cannot drive a much more

reliable option for travel between these eight destinations. In this fashion, regional express service will

furthers vertical equity (Litman 2011). In addition, regional express service could be operated primarily

during peak travel hours, with complementary standard service serving smaller markets at other times of

the day, thereby reducing the impact to equity.

A focus on peak travel periods is ultimately expected to capture the largest ridership. In the areas

between Olympia and Portland and between Bellingham and Everett we are planning to add an extra

track in order to facilitate full 110 mph service (See Figure 1). In the remaining areas we see incremental

improvements being made to the ‘sensible rail’ plans with the goal of achieving speeds in these regions

as high as cost-effectively possible.

Table 01 - Profile of Corridor Ridership

Regional Express


Ridership Assumptions

The primary goal of regional express service is to target the locations and the specific potential ridership

groups most likely to realize the largest gains from the time savings involved. To do this we must identify

this set of potential riders. Given the likely cost of regional express ticketing, competition from the

Sounder and the elimination of traditional commuter friendly stations such as Everett and Vancouver,

WA we see our target ridership as being infrequent users, not commuters. These infrequent users range

from business travelers and conference attendees to families on vacation, students, professional sports

fans, and concert goers.

Another assumption includes the likely changes to ridership volumes due to the regional express service.

A 1996 study shows that train travel in the United States has an elasticity of time savings of around 1.60

- 1.67 percent for business travelers and 1.58 percent for leisure travels (Morrison and Winston 1985).

This means that for every 1 percent decrease in trip time duration one would expect to see 1.60 percent

increase in ridership. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) uses this figure to

estimate an 18 percent ridership increase throughout the entire system when incorporating the time

savings due to the currently planned changes resulting from the ARRA funding (WSDOT 2008). Applying

this elasticity solely to the Seattle to Portland segment of this regional express service, we expect to see

an increase in ridership of approximately 33 percent (due to the 45 minute reduction in trip time).

Looking at these values more closely we see that the Seattle and Portland stations along with the two

stops between Tacoma and Olympia had 1,090,000 boardings in 2010. The 33 percent increase in ridership

equates to an additional 360,000 riders on the express service. However, from this we must subtract

the 140,000 riders who would have boarded at the eliminated stops in Tukwila, Centralia, Kelso and

Vancouver, WA. It should be noted that we are making the conservative assumption that no riders from

Tukwila or Vancouver will travel to Seattle or Portland to board the express service. Thus, in all likelihood

the loss of passengers would be less than the 140,000 quoted here. In sum, after accounting for the loss

of passengers we expect a net increase of around 220,000 riders, or about 20 percent.

Cascade Stakeholders

Creating a passenger rail line capable of reaching speeds up to 110 mph requires a great deal of involvement

and coordination of a diverse range of stakeholders. These stakeholders include federal, state and

local government agencies, private entities such as rail companies, and various organizations. We outline

many of the stakeholders required to upgrade the existing rail service in Appendix A.

Regional Express



In order for the Regional Express option to be successful, a diverse group of stakeholders must agree

on how to fund necessary rail projects and provide accountability for meeting goals, raising capital and

sustaining service. Upgrading rail service to 110 mph will require billions of dollars in investment from

a combination of federal and state governments and cooperation from the private entities that own

much of the rail right of way. In this section we will outline and discuss the political feasibility of Regional

Express service. We will also examine the challenges of holding various parties accountable for meeting

standards for quality passenger rail service in a timely, cost-effective manner. And since the availability of

funds is uncertain, we will examine how developments at the state and federal levels affect the prospects

for Regional Express to be built using various funding sources.



Balancing and managing a variety of stakeholders and the values and interests that accompany them

within a coherent and effective governance framework is one of the largest challenges facing the creation

of a regional express service. Improving the current rail service to become more reliable is a challenge

in itself; boosting speeds up to 110 mph will entail additional effort from a governance framework

to ensure safety in the case of rail congestion, accelerate border crossing processes, effectively plan as a

whole mega-region, and allocate funds in a fair yet timely manner.

One crucial relationship that needs to be handled delicately is the balance between passenger rail and

freight rail. One of the reasons BNSF and Union Pacific oppose passenger rail expansion is the regulation

expected to follow. Higher speeds will invariably necessitate increased regulation from the FRA for

both passenger and freight rail companies to avoid costly accidents. In the 1980s, freight rail enjoyed the

results of extensive deregulation; attempts by Congress in recent years to re-implement regulation to

curb rising freight rates has several freight companies fearful of the consequences of sharing track with

more passenger trains (The Economist 2010). Already, freight companies have expressed their concern to

the USDOT and the FRA over the latter’s initial guidelines concerning stakeholder agreements between

public agencies, passenger rail service, and freight. One guideline, for instance, asks that all rail capacity

not being utilized by freight be reserved for future passenger rail use. Freight companies believe that

their utilization of track will increase as the economy improves, and fear that the FRA will fail to provide

flexibility when implementing the guidelines (Frailey 2010).1

Both BNSF and Union Pacific strongly oppose the expansion of passenger rail if it reduces their overall

1 Another part of the new safety regulations the FRA is planning to implement by 2015 is Positive Train

Control, a system designed to automatically slow trains that fail to yield at a stop signal or are traveling too fast. The

freight companies estimate that the PTC would cost up to $15 billion nationwide, and question if the cost justify the

benefit . They also argue that within the last decade, freight has enjoyed only an 8 percent return on investment;

hardly enough to cover their capital costs (The Economist 2010).

Regional Express


freight capacity and if the companies are not fully compensated for the use of their rail lines. In the

case of a regional express service, BNSF is a more important stakeholder for two distinct reasons. First,

BNSF owns the rail line in Washington, by far the greatest distance in the Cascadia corridor. The rail line

includes the highly urban section between Everett and Olympia, where the majority of congestion is

expected. Second, the regional express service proposed segments of increased speed primarily occur on

BNSF right of way. Public agencies will struggle to accommodate BNSF due to their history of effectively

utilizing their bargaining position during negotiations to their advantage. In 2003, when in discussions

with Sound Transit over the new Sounder commuter train service, BNSF drove up easement payments to

$258 million (Sound Transit 2003).

Ultimately, a long-term shared-use agreement will be needed to ensure the success of the regional

express service and working relationship with freight for rail improvements in the future. The longer the

term of the agreement, the less likely it will be adjusted or canceled, therefore strengthening the relationship.

Public agencies who sign on to short-term agreements often risk losing bargaining power when

the agreement requires renegotiation (Prozzi 2006). Any governance framework should also look at

airports as a model for effective, shared-use agreements (Nash 2003).

Additionally, there are several ways through which public agencies can regain power in negotiations with

the powerful freight companies such as BNSF and Union Pacific. One is to secure funding sources, something

that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is expected to cover. A second is to gain

high-level political support. The Obama Administration’s recent advocacy for high speed and intercity

rail clearly shows the high-level support that public agencies could use to better position themselves to

create a favorable agreement. Another key is to utilize experienced negotiators with an extensive understanding

of freight rail and the timeline needed for both sides (Prozzi 2006). Lastly, building trusting

relationships between freight companies and public agencies cannot be overlooked. While fairly obvious,

this can be accomplished by setting achievable expectations and finding common objectives for both

sides, such as increased capacity and performance measures for reliability. Increasing reliability predictably

serves to also increase political support, thereby further solidifying political agencies’ negotiation

power (Prozzi 2006).

In February 2011, WSDOT and ODOT reached early agreements with FRA and BNSF in order to define

a level of service for the corridor. The parties agreed to add two more trains per day by 2017 through

the Portland to Seattle portion of the Cascade corridor and reach 88 percent on-time performance. Top

speed of each train is not the relevant metric within the agreement; instead overall reliability and travel

time are used as they provide the most benefit to passengers and garners additional political support

Public agencies will need to continue refining the shared-use agreement to accommodate BNSF while

using the negotiation tactics discussed previously.

Regional Express


Canadian Border

Another problem that thus far has gone largely ignored is the rail line’s portion that extends into Canada.

As the only mega-region to cross an international border, effectively governing an increased level of

service rail line requires involving and accommodating an additional number of stakeholders and complexities.

As it currently stands, the trip from Seattle to Vancouver takes, on average, four hours with

most of that time spent in British Columbia (Ferry 2008). This time delay is in large part explained by the

freight congestion from the Port of Vancouver, one of the biggest ports in North America. The creation

of a regional express service would certainly worsen congestion and possibly threaten to reduce political

support of fully funding an improved passenger rail line from Seattle to Vancouver. Future plans to add a

third track to this section may alleviate this congestion. Currently the funding situation for British Columbia

is unclear. Regardless, an effective governance framework would require identifying key stakeholders

within the province and gaining the necessary support for the express service’s overall objectives.

A substantial roadblock to moving forward is procuring an international agreement with both countries’

border security personnel. The Canada Border Services Agency has repeatedly frustrated B.C. officials

with their lack of cooperation in expediting border crossing processes, most notably before the 2010

Winter Olympics (Ferry 2008). Both Canadian and U.S. border agencies will need to come to an official

treaty that accommodates both countries’ security requirements for passenger and freight rail, yet expedites

the process to allow for significant time savings. The European Union offers an outstanding model

for international border agreements. Other options can be found elsewhere across the U.S. – Canada

border where the pre-approved NEXUS card gives frequent travelers the chance to swiftly cross into

either country; expanding this program to the regional express service would likely save time and money

for passengers and border agencies alike.


The keys to a successful governance framework for a regional, intercity express service are the combination

of leadership, means, and authority (De Cerreño 2005). Leadership, primarily from prominent politicians

and public officials, garners public awareness of the benefits of the rail project, from decreased airport

and highway congestion to expanded tourism across the region. Public funding provides the capital

necessary to construct, operate, and maintain public infrastructure and is an effective bargaining chip in

negotiations with private firms. Authority gives the framework room to make big-impact decisions and

the enforcement to see those decisions through to implementation. In the case of the Cascadia regional

express service, two main governance options apply: the current multi jurisdictional leadership framework

, and an inter-jurisdictional framework capable of managing and guiding the entire mega-region rail

corridor’s stakeholders and strategic objectives.

The current multi jurisdictional leadership framework is developing as the needs of the rail project arise.

Thus far, WSDOT has acted as the lead agency, evidenced by their intent to improve the Amtrak Cascades

rail service in the 2006 Long-Range Plan and the 2008 Mid-Range Plan. WSDOT is seen as an example of

Regional Express


top-down governance, organizing stakeholder involvement and developing different options for upgrading

the Cascades rail line. ODOT’s involvement has been less concrete, with much of their interest

in improving passenger rail service driven by other stakeholders. Now, with the recent ARRA funding

agreements to Washington and Oregon, USDOT may establish guidelines for all future stakeholder agreements,

between public agencies and other vested parties such as freight companies.

The current governance framework has demonstrated the ability to improve passenger rail infrastructure

and service, and therefore proven its political feasibility. With increased federal funding The state will

likely accept a growing role for USDOT in rail corridor development.. Furthermore, with the security of

federal funding, agencies and stakeholders like Amtrak will be more willing to invest their own resources.

Institutions must be risk-averse, but the ARRA serves as a signal of intent that passenger rail service

is a priority for the country and specifically for Cascadia. The framework does not, however, offer any

certainty that funding will continue into the future. The Obama Administration’s push for high speed rail

has been met with criticism from some. With the 2012 election within sight, the corridor may not be

able to expect federal funding if changes occur in the White House.

An alternative governance structure is an inter-jurisdictional framework that would supersede all federal,

state, and local agencies and MPOs. This regional body could centralize all planning for the express

service rail, thereby consolidating the corridor’s objectives, problem-solve with the mega-region’s

economic and social prosperity in mind, and organizing stakeholders to efficiently accomplish the rail

line’s improvement (Ross 2008). Developing a regional governance framework would require a complete

paradigm shift, with other MPOs relinquishing some of their power in order to make way for coherent

policymaking for the entire mega-region. Doing so would unify the numerous fragmented policies and

agendas of the region’s various governance structures (Ross 2008). The framework would be better

placed to receive and distribute future federal funds than state or local governments would, who continually

compete with each other for those funds (Ross 2008). On the other hand, the problem of rivalry

would not cease to exist as competition for funds among public organizations would presumably shift

from lobbying federal agencies to within the political arena of the regional body.

Successful models of inter-jurisdictional governance and regional planning combine environmental protection,

transportation, and land use policymaking to achieve region-wide objectives that are then conveyed

for MPOs and local governments to carry out (Barbour 2001). In the case of Washington’s Growth

Management Act, the state government gives policy guidelines rather than prescribing specific strategies

and allows county governments to implement the Act’s objectives. Compliance is enforced through separate

hearing boards that can apply sanctions from the state level (Barbour 2001). A Cascadia governance

institution would need to follow models such as these to ensure accountability from the region’s MPOs.

An inter-jurisdictional framework would certainly increase the level of service as all relevant stakeholders

would be held accountable by the regional body. The regional institution would theoretically be attractive

to potential federal funding and its big-picture planning capability would centralize the corridor’s

objectives and coordinate all levels of stakeholders and their interests. Politically, however, an interRegional



jurisdictional framework is nearly impossible. MPOs are generally unwilling to relinquish power. Creating

another level of governance is generally seen as inefficient as it places another layer of bureaucracy

between the planning and implementation processes (De Cerreño 2005).


“…there is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at airports

to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades.” (USDOT, 2011)

– Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood

Both capital costs and ongoing operating costs must be addressed in addressing the means for building

and running a Regional Express service in the Cascades corridor. The sources of funding for both operations

must be politically and fiscally stable. This section identifies some of the conflicts and policy changes

that would enable or cripple Regional Express. When evaluating the costs and benefits of Regional

Express, one should also consider the opportunity costs of planned investment in highway and airport


Costs and Current Funding

In its Connecting Cascadia report, America 2050 estimates the cost of a rail service that completes

Washington’s long-range plan and includes the capability of 110 mph service at $6.5 billion (America

2050, 2011). In the time since their report was published, Washington State was selected to receive $782

million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds from the High Speed Intercity Passenger

Rail program (WSDOT, 2011a). Oregon also received ARRA funds and used them to purchase

two Talgo train sets (ODOT, 2011). WSDOT has reached multiple agreements with BNSF, FRA and other

stakeholders on spending these funds. With the most recent agreement in February, 2011, WSDOT plans

to complete 11 construction projects along the rail corridor using $590 million in ARRA funds (WSDOT,

2011b). In addition to providing the governance framework, further contracts with all parties may help

secure these funds and protect them from rescissions. While the Obama administration’s transportation

plan dedicates an additional $3 billion to high-speed rail, the House Republican plan would eliminate this

program and rescind $2 billion in ARRA funding for rail. Thus, the largest existing source of funding for

accelerating the implementation of Regional Express service remains in jeopardy. Due to the uncertainty

of funding from the federal government, state governments may need to identify and acquire additional


Future funding mechanisms

In the last decade, the largest investments in passenger rail in the Cascade corridor federal ARRA funds

and Washington’s “Nickel Package,” which consisted of a five-cent gas tax increase, as well as an increased

sales tax on cars and weight fees. This package dedicated $221 million to multimodal improveRegional



ments that include freight rail infrastructure and Amtrak Cascades (WSDOT, 2011c). As of today, WSDOT

says it has spent $331 million since 1994 on improving on-time performance and reducing travel times in

this corridor (WSDOT, 2011a). However, declining gas tax revenues threaten these projects. Another major

source of revenue could be a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax or system-wide tolling, at least in the Puget

Sound Region.

Currently the states look to the federal government for capital funding for transit while generating operating

revenue within the state. This may change if the Obama administration is able to pass its recommendations,

which would tear down the firewall between capital and operating revenues (DC Streetsblog,

2011). The America 2050 report also suggests the possibility of value capture at stations, federal

grants, public transit taxes, public rail districts, and national security funding as ways to augment funding

for the corridor (America 2050, 2011). Rather than large investments from certain revenue sources, operating

revenues could be cobbled together from small sources. WSDOT recently announced that some

proceeds of lottery tickets sold on Amtrak Cascades will be used to fund operations (WSDOT, 2011d).

However, these will likely not amount to the approximately $6 billion that likely remains to be identified.

Both ODOT and WSDOT face statutory challenges in raising the large capital costs that would fund major

rail improvements. Both states have limits on the gas tax that make it inflexible for modes other than the

automobile, regardless of their stated policy positions. For instance in Washington, WSDOT must contend

with a requirement in the 18th amendment to the state constitution to spend gas tax revenue only

for “highway purposes.” The state has creatively named ferry routes as state highways to work within

this law. Some transit funding comes from this since it can be justified for congestion reduction. But in

the case of rail we might only expect to fund grade separations that benefit roadway users by reducing

conflicts with rail traffic and allowing for free movement across the corridor.

Both states also face challenges by citizens’ initiative to transportation funding, and leaders who conservatively

place funding options before the voters. While the “Nickel package” was voter-approved,

Washingtonians have passed initiatives limiting license fees (the other main state source of transportation

revenue) and requiring that all tax increases be passed with a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

Thus any tax increase may require both a legislative supermajority and a voting majority for referenda.

Political viability of funding and funding options

Voters in the United States and the Pacific Northwest recognize the need for additional transportation

investments and desire alternatives to driving, but their willingness to pay is unclear. In its 2010 Future

of Transportation Survey, Transportation for America found that 58 percent of Americans believe that

more federal funding should be allocated to transportation (Transportation for America, 2010). As traffic

congestion was a major concern, the survey also asked respondents about how they felt the government

should invest funds to alleviate congestion. 59 percent of respondents preferred investing in transportation

choices rather than in widening roads (Transportation for America, 2010).

Regional Express


In the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound Regional Council commissioned a poll in conjunction with its

Transportation 2040 plan. This poll concluded that providing alternatives to driving was PSRC residents’

preferred way to reduce congestion, with expansion of transit ranking as their top priority (PSRC, 2009).

However, the polling confirm qualified this finding by stating that this preference was not necessarily

supported with the willingness to pay for those improvements. A VMT charge and gas tax increases were

highly unpopular, while a vehicle emissions fee was found to be the most palatable option. No potential

funding source measured in the poll received majority support (PSRC, 2009). Some existing revenue

sources that could be used include a sales tax on gasoline or the gas tax tied to inflation, which would

recognize the need to account for rising costs of projects.

Since either the voters or elected officials may inhibit passenger rail funding in the US, the real promise

for funding Regional Express service lies in a paradigm shift among the region’s residents and state and

federal elected officials. The Obama administration’s $556 billion transportation plan would shift federal

money towards highway system preservation and maintenance, consolidate 55 programs and gear them

toward a multimodal transportation system. It would even change the name of the Highway Trust Fund

to the Transportation Trust Fund (DC Streetsblog, 2011). In the current environment, tax increases to

pay for this plan are unpopular even if citizens recognize the need for high-speed rail and other improvements.

If citizens become aware that US infrastructure must be upgraded, they may take into account the opportunity

cost of various options. Secretary La Hood’s quote above is instructive in that expanding the

highway system and airports will at some point become impracticable. The current cost of flying Seattle

to Portland is approximately $140. Driving is becoming more expensive as gas prices rise. A major

campaign to increase funding may succeed in the short term if it focuses on adapting familiar funding

sources in ways that people understand – i.e., adjusting rates for inflation because rising costs are a

familiar problem. But Regional Express and similar projects are only likely to be successful with a broader

paradigm shift, which will come if citizens recognize the benefits of high-speed rail and other multimodal



A successful Regional Express service hinges on agreement and sustained commitment from two states,

two nations, two nations and two private railroads. We find that one likely governance challenge will be

for governments to negotiate with the railroads for access to the right of way without an unreasonable

request for compensation. In addition, the requirement of governments with different interests to work

together raises the possibility that an inter-jurisdictional governing body could manage the rail corridor.

Beyond the inconvenience of creating a new level of bureaucracy, elected officials would be unlikely to

cede authority to such a body. Current agreements between affected states, the FRA and BNSF to spend

ARRA funds can serve as a template for future agreements and secure a commitment to improved passenger

rail service.

Regional Express


A Regional Express plan will depend on developments in federal transportation policy. The Obama

administration intends to spend $53 billion over six years on high speed rail, as well as make funding

more flexible so that it can be used to cover operating as well as capital costs. This presents the greatest

opportunity for acquiring the approximately $6 billion needed for construction and operations. However,

the majority Republicans in the House of Representatives would not only eliminate high-speed rail funding

but rescind stimulus money promised for rail. If this were the case, more funding would be required

than expected and Regional Express would likely be untenable.

At the state level, Washington has shown the greatest commitment to improving passenger rail service,

but most sources for further revenue are unpopular or limited by law. The most promising revenue

sources are increased license fees and smaller incremental funding sources that do not place a large

burden on citizens who are not users of rail. However, all tax increases in Washington must pass by two

thirds in the state legislature and in both states, large tax increases are likely to be challenged later by

citizen initiative or placed up for referendum. Thus, popular support among Washington and Oregon

voters is crucial for Regional Express service in the long-run. While increasing rail service is popular, rail

advocates must address opposition to tax increases by presenting the benefits that a Regional Express

can offer.

Regional Express


Economic Analysis


Looking at the overall economic benefits and costs when trying to make a decision about an infrastructure

project of this magnitude is also important. In the previous section we discussed aspects of funding

a project this size, in this section we discuss the economic benefits and costs of Regional Express Rail.

Benefit-cost analysis is particularly important for public sector projects because it provides a specific

indicator upon which to evaluate efficiency. Using a net present benefit calculation and benefit-cost ratio

provides a clear indicator of the benefits received with the costs incurred. In this section we will describe

the benefits and costs of a project this size and determine if this is an efficient use of public resources.

The WSDOT Long-range Plan provides a basis for the regional economic impacts which are incurred from

investing in Regional Express Rail. The Long-range Plan includes all of the track and station improvements

from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR. It also provides information on benefits in terms of improvements,

ridership, and travel times. The WSDOT Mid-range Plan provides some information on social benefits.

We calculated the benefits to local economies, safety and environment, and congestion. As for the indirect

economic benefits, a variety of sources were used to determine those benefits.

In terms of the assumptions we are using, many of them are from the Long-range Plan. In addition, we

provide some of our own assumptions to adapt this plan to our vision of what economic impacts a regional

express system would have. As previously noted, the regional express service analyzed here is not

focused on providing a commuter-oriented service, but rather to make trips through the corridor more

frequently and efficiently in order to attract infrequent business, tourist, and recreational travelers. For

the economic analysis that we are conducting in this section, we are making the following assumptions:

Project Timeline: The benefit and cost estimates for Regional Express Rail range from Fiscal Year

2010 to Fiscal Year 2030.

Discount Rate: The plan includes inflation but does not include time preference of money – so

we further discount future benefits and costs.

Conservative Estimates: Our plan does not include several of the stops included in the Longrange

Plan (thus, the Long-range Plan’s costs may be slightly higher because it includes station

improvements for these communities). Furthermore, because monetizing the social benefits of

Regional Express Rail involves making various assumptions, when deciding about which values to

include, we chose to use more conservative estimates when possible.

Benefit Cost Analysis: Monetizes and evaluates direct economic and social benefits and costs,

and evaluates but does not monetize indirect economic and social benefits.

Regional Express


Regional Express Railway Benefit-Cost Analysis

Using the assumptions outlined above, we conducted a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of the

Regional Express Rail plan. Benefit-Cost analysis techniques are used to determine the efficiency of a

particular project, in terms of benefits to society per unit of cost. Because many of the benefits from a

transportation project are social impacts, such as improvements to the environment, congestion relief,

and increased accessibility, they are difficult to compare directly to dollar amount costs. Thus, traditional

Benefit-Cost analysis uses various methods to monetize these social benefits so that they can be directly

compared to the monetary costs of the project.

To effectively assign values to non-monetized benefits (such as a unit reduction in CO2 emissions), many

assumptions are required. Each time an assumption is made, risk is introduced into the analysis in the

form of uncertainty. To address this uncertainty, after examining the benefits and costs of the Regional

Express Rail project, we will present three scenarios: Conservative, Baseline, and Best-Case. In each, we

will adjust the assumptions made in calculating both benefits and costs. Additionally, we will produce

an uncertainty analysis, which will provide a probability distribution for different levels of net benefits,

adjusting for levels of uncertainty in the assumptions.

Direct Regional Express Benefits

There are many social and economic benefits from a large-scale transportation project like Regional

Express Rail. Direct economic benefits include farebox revenue, increases in tax revenue due to employment

and business activity from project construction and operation, and savings to businesses attributed

to a decrease in travel time for freight. However, there is also a myriad of social benefits, such as reduced

congestion on Interstate-5 and arterial roadways, a reduction in greenhouse gases, travel time savings

for leisure and business travelers, and an increase in accessibility for communities benefiting from

regional express service. Various methods are widely used to monetize these social benefits so that they

may be added to the economic benefits, and ultimately compared to the project costs.

The various benefits of Regional Express Rail included in this Benefit-Cost Analysis are as follows and will

be discussed individually below:

• Revenues • Environmental Benefits

• Employment & Business • Congestion Relief

• Travel Time Savings • Local Community Benefits

• Safety Improvements • Freight Time Savings

Revenues: In its Long-range Plan, WSDOT forecasts an increase in farebox recovery from 45 percent in

2010 to 99 percent recovery in 2030. Based on forecasted annual ridership levels in 2030 of nearly 3 million

riders, WSDOT predicts total revenues to equal approximately $948 million (total annualized revenues

in 2030 are forecasted at $82.3 million).

Regional Express


Employment & Business: Undoubtedly, constructing and operating a Regional Express Rail system will

bring significant numbers of new employment to the region, as well as increased business activity for

firms directly involved in construction and operation. However, not all of this job creation and business

activity can be counted as a net gain in benefits. For one, Amtrak already produces employment benefits,

in the form of payroll taxes of its current employees. A new Regional Express Rail system should use

these benefits as a baseline for determining net increase in employment revenues. Secondly, not all of

the jobs created by the project will go to people who are currently unemployed. Thus, rather than new

benefits, these signify a transfer of welfare – some people will switch from other, lower paying jobs to

construction jobs, and thus we count only the net increase in tax revenue from this increase in wages.

With these considerations in mind and using WSDOT’s forecasted employment benefits for the project,

we predict total employment and business benefits to be approximately $2.2 billion.

Travel Time Savings (Amtrak): By year 2030 and completion of the Regional Express project, WSDOT

predicts an average travel time from Vancouver, BC to Portland of five hours and seven minutes (down

from an average of 7 hours and 35 minutes in 2010). This will result in an average travel time savings

of approximately 2.5 hours. Because WSDOT does not forecast the ridership rates to and from specific

stations, we calculated an average savings in travel time from ridership at one hour.2 Next, we calculated

the monetized value of time. Traditional Benefit-Cost analysis uses the average regional wage rate as the

opportunity cost of time saved (Forkenbrock and Weisbrod, 2001). Because business travelers will likely

be otherwise working at this rate, we used the wage rate for the percentage of forecasted travelers who

will be on business.3 However, for leisure travelers, most would not be receiving income for the time

saved and thus using the wage rate would over-estimate the benefits. Instead, we used estimates of the

opportunity cost of leisure time from Benefit-Cost research (60 percent) and calculated the total value of

time saved as $670 million.

Safety Improvements: It is well documented that rail travel is much safer, in terms of accident and injury

rates, than automobile travel (WSDOT Long-Range Plan, 2006). WSDOT uses a sum of fatalities per million

passenger miles and injury per million passenger miles to measure safety. While rail’s sum measure

of safety is 0.06 fatalities and injuries per million passenger miles, highway travel’s sum is 0.78, for a rail

to highway ratio of 8 percent. Because of the diversion from I-5 and arterial roads, Regional Express Rail

will contribute to a reduction in the costs of accidents to both equipment repair and injuries from accidents.

These figures are presented in WSDOT’s Mid-range Plan. Because significantly higher ridership is

forecasted in the Long-range Plan, and thus higher diversion, we calculated the expected further reduction

in accident costs under the Regional Express model. The total monetized safety improvements

under these assumptions is $165 million.

2 Because not all riders will save the total 2.5 hours from Vancouver BC to Portland, we used an

average time savings of 1.0 hours (two thirds of the total time saved from Seattle to Portland) as a benchmark.

3 WSDOT forecasts the current rate of business travelers at 19 percent. This may increase as Regional

Express Rail will likely increase this ratio because of higher frequency or trips and greater reliability.

Regional Express


Environmental Benefits: This benefit is derived from a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

caused by a mode shift from automobiles and air travel due to the implementation of Regional Express

Rail. We used environmental benefit estimates from the WSDOT Mid-range Plan, and adjusted for the

higher mode shift expected from the regional express service, to calculate these benefits. Therefore,

WSDOT estimates that this reduction will lead to indirect social environmental benefits of $406 million.

Congestion Relief: Because Regional Express Rail is forecasted to cause significant mode shifts from

I-5, arterials, and airline travel, the project will have an effect on travel times on these other modes,

particularly in reducing congestion and delay. WSDOT has calculated a multiplier to use as the travel

time savings due to modal shift; we use the wage rates calculated above to determine the approximate

monetized travel time savings as $1.9 billion. It is important to note, however, that due to decreased

congestion and delays on these modes, overall demand may rise, particularly with population and regional

growth. Many of the initial gains in travel speeds may be offset by the “triple convergence” from

this demand (Downs, 2004). For instance, many people who currently avoid I-5 because of the congestion

would opt to use it after Regional Express Rail is implemented. To keep our analysis conservative, we

thus calculated only the congestion relief benefits for a percentage of the time saved.

Community Benefits: Regional Express Rail will undoubtedly have other impacts on local communities

where stations are located. These impacts include benefits, such as local economic development,

increased connectivity of goods and businesses, and enhanced accessibility to other core cities in the region.

However, these impacts also include disbenefits, for example the negative impacts of construction

and increased noise and safety impacts during operation. These impacts are extremely difficult to accurately

monetize. Traditional Benefit-Cost analysis uses two methods to place a monetary value on these

impacts: Contingency Valuation and Hedonic Property Pricing. Contingency Valuation involves surveying

residents of the “impact area” to determine their willingness to pay for a benefit, and their willingness to

accept an amount for experiencing a disbenefit. Because this would involve surveying and interviewing

residents, we will not utilize this method for this analysis.

Alternatively, Hedonic Property Pricing determines the effect on property values that an amenity will

have on a community, while controlling for other factors (Dively and Zerbe). A utility weight is thus calculated

using a statistical regression and aggregated across the property values of all communities affected.

Studies have shown that this utility weight for Intercity Rail is approximately 0.1. Thus, we determined

the current property values of the communities receiving Regional Express service, and calculated the

overall increase in utility (social benefit) to communities to be $548 million. Because it is not clear from

existing research when these benefits are likely to occur, we assumed that property values would not

adjust and stabilize until later in the project, when most of the Regional Express Rail is operational. Thus,

in our calculations these benefits are actualized in the final six years of the project.

Freight Savings: In reducing congestion on I-5, arterials, and in the air, Regional Express Rail will also

have a beneficial impact on freight activity in the region. Because of this mode shift, freight will be able

to operate more frequently and reliably, thus reducing the costs to businesses. This will spur additional

Regional Express


business activity and raise tax revenues. This is a direct economic impact from the project, and Benefit-

Cost methodology notes that it should be included in any analysis. However, we were unable to find

reliable and accurate information into the benefits to business from a specific reduction in freight delay,

nor the travel time savings to freight from a Regional Express Rail system. Thus, to err on the side of

conservatism, we excluded this from our analysis. However, these benefits should be considered by any

policy-maker evaluating a regional rail system.

Benefit Mid-point (Annual) End Point (Annual) Total

Revenues $36.5 $82.3 $948

Employment & Business $97 $97 $2,237

Travel Time Savings $28 $60 $670

Safety Improvements $5 $10 $165

Environmental Benefits $12 $25 $406

Congestion Relief $58 $116 $1,914

Community Benefits $0 $137 $598







Table 02 - Mid-point, End-point, and Total Benefits (in millions)

Direct Regional Express Costs

The direct costs for Regional Express Rail can be divided into two broad categories, capital costs and

operating costs. The WSDOT Long-range Plan represents capital costs as an investment in improvements

to railroad infrastructure, facilities, and equipment (WSDOT Long-range Plan, 2006). The Long-range Plan

is an incremental investment approach to creating a regional rail system. The plan reports on the capital

costs for the collection of independent projects including station improvements, right of way appropriations,

track construction, grade separation in rural areas, signalization improvements, and projected train

car improvements and purchasing. British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon will undertake these projects

with the largest portion occurring in Washington. It is also important to note that our analysis only

evaluates certain segments of the regional express corridor which are primarily located in Washington,

so the capital costs for Oregon are significantly less.

Operating costs are defined by the WSDOT Long-range Plan as a direct function of operating the regional

express train annually. These costs include the labor, maintenance, insurance, marketing and sales, and

general administrative costs (WSDOT Long-range Plan, 2006). It is important to note that some of these

costs are offset by the revenue collected from operating the trains. The operating costs, like the capital

Regional Express


costs, are also broken down by state and province. Table 03 provides a direct project cost overview for

British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

Costs Mid-point (Annual) End Point (Annual) Total

WA Capital Costs $153 $222 $4,332

OR Capital Costs $6 $33 $460

BC Capital Costs $10 $37 $549

Misc Capital Costs $84 $65 $1,694

Operating Costs $48 $83 $1,185







Table 03 - Mid-point, End-point, and Total Costs (in millions)

Benefit-Cost Analysis Scenarios

Because of the multitude of assumptions required to monetize the myriad of social benefits of Regional

Express Rail, we next examined and compared three scenarios: the Baseline scenario forecasted by

WSDOT; a conservative scenario, and a best-case scenario. Following this comparison, we conducted an

uncertainty analysis to allow variability in several of the assumptions.

Baseline: As presented above, the baseline scenario assumes that the parameters forecasted by

WSDOT will occur as predicted and follows the assumptions outlined above regarding the social

benefits of the project.

Worst-case: In this scenario, we adjusted the inputs to reflect the benefits and costs of a case

where ridership would be lower than forecasted (thus reduced farebox revenues), reduced mode

shift from I-5 and airlines resulting in decreased safety, environmental, and congestion benefits,

and cost overruns.

Best-case: In the best-case scenario, we assumed that all costs remained constant (no overruns),

but that ridership would be slightly higher than forecasted, resulting in increased farebox revenues

and a higher rate of modal shift. This would lead to higher than forecasted benefits from

congestion relief, safety improvements, and environmental benefits. Under this scenario, we

also assume that many of the benefits would be realized earlier on in the project’s lifetime. For

instance, if gas prices rise significantly, modal shift is likely to occur at a higher rate, leading to

more immediate benefits.

Regional Express


Scenario Benefits Costs Net Benefits BC Ratio

Baseline $3,602 $4,579 ($977) .79

Worst-Case $3,069 $4,989 ($1,919) .62

Best-case $4,767 $4,579 $187 1.04

Table 04. Benefit-Cost Ratio

These scenarios show that on a project of this magnitude and long-term range, there is high variability

in outcomes. Appendix B further examines the impact of uncertainty, through a Monte Carlo uncertainty


Benefit-Cost Timeline

Another important aspect to consider is the timeline of benefits and costs. Our analysis shows that

Regional Express Rail will become more beneficial in the later years of the project, particularly as capital

costs begin to subside and the social benefits of mode shift and community accessibility are realized.

Because of this misalignment of benefits and costs, it is possible that if the lifespan of the project were

continued, total benefits would outweigh total costs (See Figure 02).

Figure 02. Timeline of Benefits, Costs, and Net Present Benefits

Indirect Economic Benefits

Regional Express Rail also provides a range of indirect economic benefits to the region. These benefits

are not monetized because it is not possible to discern how much of the benefit is from the actual investment

in this project. Instead these benefits are discussed as the likely impacts from an investment in an

infrastructure investment of this scope. The following are the types of indirect benefits we would expect

to see:

Regional Express


Tourism: Leaders of Washington and British Columbia have promoted the “Two-Nation Vacation” concept

in order to draw more people to the region (America2050, 2010). The Cascadia mega-region boasts

amenities for a variety of travelers. From vibrant urban centers to ample opportunities for outdoor

exploration, Cascadia arguably has something for everyone. A Regional Express Rail system will provide

a more efficient link between the three largest urban hubs allowing visitors to more easily enjoy all the

region has to offer. Imagine arriving in Seattle from Portland for dinner and being able to easily go to

Bellingham in the morning for some whale watching and then Vancouver for a late lunch and having the

option of staying or returning to Seattle quickly and efficiently. The possibilities are endless and a faster,

more efficient rail system will open up Cascadia in ways no one has imagined –the benefits from this

tourism are difficult to accurately monetize for a Benefit-Cost analysis.

Regional Commerce: Three potential emerging clusters of economic growth predicted for the region

are: “green building” design industry, creative industries, and high-tech. As it stands now the cities of

Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are not served very well with a regional transportation system. These

emerging industries could benefit greatly from the disparate knowledge and expertise that exist in each

city. However, as many of these emerging companies are start-ups travel in-between these cities on a

regular basis by automobile or plane is prohibitively expensive. Regional Express Rail would provide an

opportunity for business travelers to move through the corridor frequently and conveniently with less

cost than via another mode. Regional Express Rail can link these urban centers making Cascadia a true

mega-region capable of competing with other mega-regions both nationally and internationally.

Freight Savings: The Cascadia Regional economy also depends heavily on freight movement. Seattle and

Vancouver both have large ports that receive goods from around the world. Much of these goods are

placed on trains and taken to various locations throughout the US and Canada. Many of the proposed

improvements in the WSDOT Long-Range Plan are track siding additions and improvements to Amtrak’s

right of ways. These improvements will allow freight trains and passenger rail to more easily and efficiently

operate on the shared tracks. Freight trains, it is argued, will not suffer under this plan but rather

receive a boost in the speed and efficiency of delivering goods.

Modal Shift: Currently the predominate modes of travel between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver

are by automobile and airplane. According to Amtrak it takes about 3.5 hours by train from Seattle to

Portland. In a car it takes between 2.5 to 3 hours and about 1 hour by plane. Even though traveling by

automobile or airplane is on average faster, this is not always the case. Try traveling from Seattle to Portland

during rush hour traffic and the trip could take upwards of five to six hours (personal experience).

The SeaTac airport is the only large-scale international airport in Washington State and as population

grows so will the need to use the airport. Regional transport will suffer as SeaTac struggles to provide for

increasing demand and it is likely that delays will be more common as the airport becomes more congested.

Regional Express Rail would provide the region with a travel option that is reliable, convenient,

and fast. As the benefits of the Express Rail service become known, we expect more and more people

will move away from current transportation modes.

Regional Express



As can been seen above, our analysis shows that using WSDOT projections, Regional Express Rail is not

an efficient investment. However, because of the intangible economic impacts, the fact that we used

conservative estimates for our analysis, and the rising trend of annual benefits, the actual net present

benefits may be higher than those forecasted. Additionally, because a Regional Express Rail system

enhances public value, it can be argued that indicators that do not take public value issues into consideration,

such as efficiency, and should not be overly relied upon for public sector projects.

Regional Express


Land Use

While much of the report has thus far focused on the conceptual framework, policy, and financial aspects

associated with regional express service, the focus is now directed to the tangible, physical impacts

such a service could have. Land use is a particularly important related subject matter, as land use and

transportation are intricately interwoven concepts. Evolutions in transportation technology, new infrastructure

construction, and improved service delivery all have well-documented impacts on the land use

surrounding these improvements (Hanson and Giuliano, 2004). Improved Amtrak Cascades service can

also reasonably be expected to incur some degree of land use change, and this interaction in the context

of proposed Regional Express service will be addressed here.

Land-Use Impact from New Line Construction

Because the proposed Regional Express service will operate within the same right-of-way as existing

Cascades services, land use impacts directly related to new line construction will be relatively minimal.

Miles of new line in the form of second tracks and sidings will be required to accommodate Regional

Express service; the WSDOT Long-range Plan identifies each of the segments to be improved (WSDOT,

2006). As that plan’s service is very similar to that being proposed here, its figures are used as analogous

for the purpose of land use considerations. Staging and construction of these lines is expected to

require the conversion of between 10 and 15 acres of adjacent, predominantly agricultural land in Clark,

Cowlitz, Whatcom, and Snohomish counties (WSDOT, 2010). Both the Long-range Plan and 2010 Finding

of No Significant Impact consider the resulting impacts to be “less than significant”, but it remains a

worthwhile point to note, particularly because of county and state regulations regarding the conversion

of agricultural lands and wetlands.

Station Area Land Use Analysis

Given that increased development in station areas is often touted as one of the primary rationales for

building rail services, we find that land use conditions and expectations are an important component

of the Express Rail service. In this analysis we evaluated the likelihood that a Regional Express service

would impact land uses and/or density in the areas immediately adjacent to the stations.

Much of the impact of new rail stations or increases in ridership at existing stations is realized in the

increase in land values in the surrounding area. Research has shown that, on average, a commuter rail

station will increase land values from 5 percent to 15 percent in a one quarter mile radius around the


Another key finding was that the results are highly context- (type of service) and location-dependent.

Those stations that created the largest time savings gains for riders also saw the largest increases in land

4 A recent meta-analysis by Debrezon et al. examines the published results of land use changes

from train stations from 102 different studies around the world (Debrezon 2009).

Regional Express


value, following the bid-rent theory expounded by Alonso (1964). Their analysis of over 100 previous

studies showed that very few studies have been conducted with regard to intercity and express train

stations like those in many of the cities along our route (Seattle, Portland and Vancouver BC excluded).

Most of this lack in research can be attributed to the fact that throughout the world most stations are

dual purpose – they handle both commuter and regional express train traffic. What this means for our

regional express is that it is difficult to disentangle the effects from commuter and regional express services

in places like Seattle. As an example, in Seattle on a typical weekday five times more people arrive

via the Sounder commuter train at the neighboring Union Station than do Amtrak passengers at King

Street Station. What this means is that our express service will likely have lower impact on the land use

than a new commuter station would.

The Debrezon study also highlighted the fact that impacts to land use and land values are location dependent.

Looking at our eight express stations we can divide these into three clear locational categories:

1) Downtown; 2) Fringe; and 3) Suburban. The downtown stations include Seattle, Vancouver, BC, Portland

and Eugene. Tacoma, Bellingham and Salem comprise the fringe located stations. Olympia’s station,

on the other hand is located in the distant suburbs. We will now take an in-depth look at an example of

one station from each of the three location types mentioned.


Seattle’s King Street Station is a prime example of a downtown train station. As show in Figure 1, the

land uses surrounding the station are composed of a good mix of uses focused on office and mixed use

development (see Table 05). Connections to transit are abundant as the immediate area is serviced by

Sounder Commuter Rail, Link Light Rail, and numerous local and express bus routes. The King Street

Station also benefits from the immediate vicinity of Qwest and Safeco Fields, large stadium complexes

which are used more than 100 days each year.

Figure 03 - Seattle Land Use Map

Regional Express


The area around King Street station also has over 26 acres of underdeveloped or unimproved land that is

suitable for redevelopment. Current land values in the area average around $130 to $160/sq ft. Though

not necessarily driven by our regional express service, redevelopment in this area could reasonably be

anticipated. An example of this is the large proposed mixed use development slated for construction at

the north end of the Qwest Stadium lot.


The current Amtrak station in Tacoma is located in an industrial location at the southeast fringe of the

downtown/port area. The station is sandwiched between a large rail yard to the north and Interstate-5

to the south (Figure 2). It is located a half mile east of Freighthouse Square – the current location of the

commuter train and light rail stops. Though there is a rumor that the Amtrak Station will be moving to

Freighthouse Square there has been no official announcement of this change. The Tacoma station is

located one mile from the much-used Tacoma Dome, however the walk between the two is not an ideal

pedestrian environment.

Land uses in the vicinity of the Tacoma station are mostly industrial with a scattering of retail and transportation

uses mixed in (See Table 3). Land values average around $11 to $12/sq ft.

Table 05 - Seattle Land Uses

Regional Express


Figure 04 - Tacoma Land Use Map

Table 06 - Tacoma Land Uses

Regional Express


Suburban Fringe

The Olympia Station is a somewhat an anomaly. Built by volunteers, it is located at the far edge of the

Olympia-Lacey metropolitan region (see Figure 3). In fact, it is so far outside of the city that it is actually

located outside of the Urban Growth Area – though only just across the street from it. The station is serviced

by an hourly bus service that is a 45 minute ride to downtown Olympia. The land use is primarily

single family residential with land value in the range of $.90 to $1.10 per acre.

Figure 05 - Olympia-Lacey Land Use Map

Table 07 - Olympia-Lacey Land Uses

Regional Express


See Appendices C through E for land use maps of the Portland, Vancouver, and Bellingham station areas.

Land use data could not be obtained for Eugene and Salem station areas within the timeframe of this



The expected land use impacts of a Regional Express Service are likely to be much less significant than

the impacts of a busier commuter rail station. At stations where noticeable increases in foot traffic will

occur, such as Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver BC, the Regional Express Service will augment the viability

of commercial uses catering to occasional travelers; uses such as specialty retail and hotels. Near stations

with lower expected ridership such as Tacoma, Olympia, and Salem, land use changes are expected

to be minimal.

Redevelopment of Station Areas

It is often assumed that redevelopment will occur around infrastructure investments, such as transit

stations. Often times infrastructure investments do spur new development or redevelopment, however

this is not always the case. There are a number of elements that make making redevelopment around

infrastructure investments feasible, one of the most important being market demand. However, one of

the first measures of feasibility that can be determined is the financial feasibility.

Redevelopment only occurs if a developer is willing to pay a price for a property that a seller is willing to

accept. The price a seller is willing to accept is assumed to be anything more than the current value they

are getting from the property. The price a developer is willing to pay is assumed to be whatever they can

afford after accounting for project costs and profit. The price a developer is willing to pay is also called

residual land value.

A simple test of redevelopment feasibility is to compare current land value, or what a seller would be

willing to sell their property for, and residual land value, or what a developer would be willing to pay for

a property. If the current land value is greater than the residual land value, redevelopment will most

likely not occur. If current land value is less than residual land value, redevelopment most likely will occur.

Seattle and Tacoma will serve as the case studies for a redevelopment analysis around rail stations

given the improvement of an express rail line using the above described methodology.

There are 215 parcels within a quarter mile radius of the current Seattle rail station. Most of these

parcels are located in the International-District-Mixed (IDM) zoning. IDM zoning restricts all parcels to

a 3.0 FAR, except for hotels which are allowed a 6.0 FAR. FAR is the Floor Area Ratio, or the square feet

of building allowed as a ratio to the square feet of land. After valuing the development potential of the

subject parcels at a 3.0 and 6.0 FAR, it is determined that 90 parcels would qualify for redevelopment

based on the land value equation outlined above. Of these 90 parcels, the majority would likely be redeveloped

as a hotel use, given the less restrictive zoning for hotel uses. About half of the parcels would

Regional Express


also qualify for retail redevelopment. These uses are complimentary to the expected users of the station.

As the express rail is more geared towards infrequent visitors instead of resident commuters, hotel

and retail uses would be best served around the station.

There are 95 parcels within a quarter-mile radius of the current Tacoma rail station. Tacoma recently

up-zoned a large portion of this area, so the zoning is flexible around the station. Around the station,

parcels are either zoned at a 6.0 FAR, which would be a mid-rise building, or 12.0 FAR, which would be a

high-rise building. About half of the land area around the station is still zoned industrial, which provides

no redevelopment potential. 61 parcels around the site qualify for redevelopment. Given the high zoning

capacity, apartment, office, and hotel uses are equally viable around the station.


In total, there is redevelopment potential for 29.2 acres of land around the Seattle station and 14 acres

around the Tacoma station. The likelihood of this redevelopment will depend on market dynamics, availability

of financing, and the ultimate value lift of the station and rail improvements, which at this point in

time can only be speculated.

Growth Management

The states of Washington and Oregon use statewide growth management laws seek to minimize the inefficient

expansion of development by guiding land use development, and by ensuring public infrastructure

is compatible and sufficient to meet agreed on development form and capacity. Because improved

rail service would provide public infrastructure, and has the potential to effect land development around

station areas, we evaluate whether or not the Express Rail service would support or conflict with the

legislative growth management goals.


In Washington, the Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.010 was passed in 1990 followed by a second

phase in 1991 which occurred in response to significant population growth in the state. The primary goal

of this legislation was to provide the local governments land use planning tools to enable comprehensive,

statewide coordination (League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund 2006).

Within the GMA of Washington State there are 14 goals listed, these guide the plans and regulations for

those required to or voluntarily plan using the GMA tools. The specific goals that pertain to a high speed

rail project include:

• Goal (1) Urban growth;

• Goal (2) Reduce sprawl;

• Goal (3) Provide efficient transportation;

Regional Express


• Goal (10) Protect the environment; and,

• Goal (12) Ensure adequate public facilities and services.

Goal (1) may be supported by high speed rail through encouraging development in urban areas where

adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner. The urban growth

boundaries that have been drawn for the areas around the Regional Express Rail stations may be supported

through the ability to travel within this corridor, thereby attracting those who enjoy traveling and

providing an incentive to live within those boundaries. Goal (2) is a highly contested point for various

transportation goals due to the difficulty experienced in measuring the effects of transportation on

urban sprawl. But, similar to Goal (1), the Express Rail stations can encourage more concentrated living

for those who enjoy traveling north and south along the Cascadia Corridor. Goal (3) is supported by high

speed rail through the development of an efficient multimodal transportation system. It is important that

this system is based on regional priorities and coordinated with county and city comprehensive plans.

Goal (10) is supported by high speed rail if the efficiency and use of rail allows for the enhancement of

the environment and quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water. With

proper installation, rail can be environmentally beneficial through a modal shift from autos and air to rail,

in addition to potentially avoiding the need to expand the highway and airport infrastructure (Washington

Department of Commerce 2011). Express Rail service would provide important public infrastructure

as identified in Goal (12). However, current methods for assessing adequate transportation infrastructure

are limited to local service areas, and often are auto focused. Therefore The Express Rail Service would

likely not address local transportation concurrency requirements.


In Oregon, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) has developed 19 statewide

planning goals to address land use planning. Most of these goals are accompanied by guidelines, but

these are not mandatory steps to follow. Each city and county is required to adopt comprehensive plans

which are consistent with the state’s LCDC goals. The goals most pertinent to high speed rail include:

• Goal (2) Land use planning;

• Goal (6) Air, water, and land resources quality;

• Goal (12) Transportation; and,

• Goal (14) Urbanization.

Similar to the goals listed in the Washington GMA, linking transportation and land use planning is an

important aspect to this high speed rail project. Goal (2) may be supported by high speed rail through

the comprehensive planning the various land uses around station areas. As suggested in the section on

Land Use, Stations may encourage retail and residential development under the right conditions. Goal

Regional Express


(6) may be supported through the reduction in pollution in the event that rail creates a modal shift away

from autos and air travel, thereby reducing much of the air pollution currently produced as population

increases. It was noted in the Cost-Benefit analysis, that a modal shift from automobiles and air travel

will produce economic benefits through a reduction in environmental impacts.

Goal (12) is supported through instituting high speed rail by creating a multimodal transportation

system. It also provides more transportation options and can create redundancy in the transportation

system which allows the population to choose a preferred mode. Therefore, they are not being limited to

relying on automobiles or planes to travel this corridor. Goal (14), which institutes urban growth boundaries,

may or may not be supported by a Regional Express Rail service. High speed rail may allow for

concentrated growth around station areas and reduce sprawl directly around urban centers, but this may

encourage movement from one city station to another. So it could be considered “concentrated” sprawl

along a line of transport ( 2010).


Express rail service is generally consistent with and supportive of growth management goals in the states

of Washington and Oregon. The rail service provides mobility infrastructure and multi modal capacity,

supports higher density development in urban environments, and reduces pollution generated per

capita. However, the Express Rail service is not likely to assist Washington State communities in meeting

transportations concurrency requirements, because concurrency requirements are focused on local service

areas and the metrics are often auto focused. In addition, the increased time efficiency and service

may support relocation of residents to station areas.

Regional Express



While the Amtrak Cascades service is attractive to existing riders, it has the potential to draw new groups

of tourists, business travelers, and special event attendees throughout the length of the corridor. In

addition, the train service could further brand the identity of the Cascadia region as a vacation destination.

Travelers would be able to visit Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by train and enhance the

economic ties between cities in the region. While this service also has the potential to improve business

connections in the region, it is expected that investments would be targeted towards visitors and infrequent


A Regional Express service on the Cascades corridor would reduce travel times and increase reliability of

the service through a series of measures, including limiting the number of stops and increasing speeds

on certain segments of the line. Based on 2010 station boardings, the six major stops on the corridor

serve approximately 85 percent of existing riders. By eliminating the remaining ten stations, a Regional

Express service could reduce the total travel time on the corridor by 50 to 70 minutes. In addition, while

current service has a top speed of 79 mph, a Regional Express service has the potential to reach speeds

close to 110 mph on significant portions of the corridor.

Summary of Criteria

• Political Feasibility – Because the Regional Express Rail would involve significant inter-jurisdictional

planning, operations, and maintenance, it may be less politically feasible than “sensible

rail” options. However, the governance framework currently under development would likely

be feasible to implement. We also explored the possibility of developing an inter-jurisdictional

framework. While this inter-jurisdictional framework would help Regional Express operate more

efficiently, this framework is not politically feasible, as too many powerful stakeholders would be

required to relinquish power.

• Ongoing and Adequate Funding - The Regional Express option will require nearly $6 billion in investment

of capital and operating costs beyond the improvements currently underway. Regional

Express Rail project funding is tenuous and uncertain – federal funding delays might delay the

project. Thus, the potential for sustained funding at adequate levels is relatively low. However,

because Washington State has demonstrated a commitment to regional rail service, the potential

to explore alternative funding streams in the future may increase the potential for adequate


• Effectiveness – If implemented, the Regional Express Rail plan proposed by WSDOT would

undoubtedly improve service in the Cascadia corridor. However, because it is ambitious in its

forecasts of funding availability, construction schedules, and governance structure, it is likely that

it would be delayed in reaching service targets. Thus, the Regional Express Rail is likely less effective

than forecasted, but more effective at reaching system improvements than current sensible

Regional Express


rail options.

• Efficiency – The benefit-cost analysis revealed Regional Express to be a fairly inefficient investment. However,

because of the conservative assumptions built into the analysis, and the other important economic

considerations, as a public project investment, Regional Express Rail would likely be more efficient in

comparison to other projects. Additionally, because Regional Express can be considered a public good,

it can be argued that efficiency does not take these public value issues into consideration and should not

be overly relied upon for public sector projects.

• Equity – Regional Express Rail does consider some important equity considerations. It would likely

increase accessibility to communities receiving stations, produce positive economic impacts, and reduce

dependence on car ownership. However, it is not clear how Regional Express Rail would positively

affect accessibility-disadvantaged populations. Additionally, the plan might not address important equity

considerations: because it is largely funded by the federal government, those who pay the funds through

federal taxes may not reap the benefits. Additionally, those in the Eastern portion of the State who

would benefit from funding to highways and cross-State accessibility would not benefit as much from

Regional Express.

• Land conversion due to track construction – Our analysis found this likely to be minimal because most

of the track fits into existing right of way. The construction of new track, despite operating within the

same right-of-way, will require some land conversion for staging and construction purposes. Transportation

infrastructure policies that incentive transit oriented development around station areas should be


• Station area land development - though it is uncertain precisely how intercity passenger rail impacts

station-area development patterns, there is reason to believe that some development can be anticipated

as a result of improved service. However, our analysis shows that the potential for transit-oriented development

and high economic development growth rates in station areas may be minimal due to lack of

private development demand and current zoning.

• Complies with GMA and LCDC – Our analysis shows that Regional Express would likely be consistent with

broad GMA goals, but may not address specific concurrency requirements, particularly at the local level.

Regional Express



Appendix A - Cascades Stakeholders

The following list is in no way exhaustive but offers a brief overview of some of the major players and vested parties

required to upgrade the existing rail service:


United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) – the federal agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s

transportation systems and enhancing national interests and the life of American citizens through those

systems (USDOT 2011a). In the case of the Cascadia Railway Corridor, USDOT has been charged with allocating

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for rail improvements.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – an agency within USDOT, the FRA is primarily concerned with the safety

of the nation’s railways and enforcing existing rail safety regulations. Currently, the Amtrak Cascades passenger

service reaches speeds of up to 79 mph, the highest speed allowed for the railway under existing regulations and

conditions. Increasing the speed of passenger rail service would require increased regulation and coordination

with freight operators.

Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) – state agency whose mission statement is to “keep people

and business moving” through the state’s transportation systems (USDOT 2011b). WSDOT has taken the initiative

in incrementally developing the mega-region’s passenger rail service, in part due to the fact that the Cascadia rail

corridor travels through the entirety of Washington State. As evidenced by both the Long-Range and Mid-Range

plans, WSDOT has been planning for over a decade. Washington is slated to receive $590 million in ARRA funds.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) – state agency responsible for the creation and operation of a safe

and efficient transportation system. Currently, ODOT is in the midst of signing an agreement with WSDOT over

the construction of a new Columbia River bridge. It remains to be seen whether the crossing will be utilized by

rail. Oregon is expected to receive $8 million in ARRA funds.

British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – the agency responsible for managing the province’s

transportation policies and projects. In 2009, British Columbia and Washington signed a framework agreement

to improve cooperation on transportation initiatives including high speed rail (British Columbia 2009). But

with the 2010 Winter Olympics in the rearview mirror, it is unclear how much effort and funding the province

will contribute to improve the railway.

United States Customs and Border Protection – part of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs is

charged with enforcing immigration and trade laws at international borders. An agreement will be needed with

Canadian border officials if customs checks are to be expedited in the future.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) – Canada’s border guards carry out customs checks on all entries into the

Regional Express


country on the Vancouver – Seattle rail stretch. The CBSA have and will impose significant costs on any additional

rail service and remain a substantial roadblock in the way of streamlining passenger rail between the U.S. and

Canada (Ferry 2008).

Rail Operators

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) – the owners of the existing track (and right of way) in

Washington. BNSF is against any policy that will reduce capacity for freight, but with federal funding on its way,

the company is willing to work with passenger rail to achieve both sides’ aims. Regardless, BNSF will want to

impress their strong bargaining position whenever possible.

Union Pacific – owners of the existing track in Oregon. Similarly to BNSF, Union Pacific opposes expansion of

passenger rail service on their railway as it will lead to increased congestion and regulation from the FRA, cutting

into their profit margin. According to the Association of American Railroads, BNSF and Union Pacific represent

the nation’s two largest freight rail companies, both in terms of miles of track operated and total revenue (The

Economist 2010).

Amtrak – the national provider of passenger rail service in the United States. Amtrak stands to significantly gain

from a faster and more reliable passenger rail service. The company is, however, already signed up to contribute

funding for rail improvements (Long-Range plan)

Municipal Government

Cities (Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Salem, Eugene) – each municipality has similar

interests in maximizing the rail line for economic benefit and connection to each other. Differences exist in

the manner that each city will make land use, transportation, and other policy decisions based on the improved

rail service.

Regional Express


Appendix B – Monte Carlo Uncertainty Analysis

Rather than focusing on a single indicator of efficiency, such as Benefit-cost Ratio it is thus useful to

examine several indicators and scenarios. To further examine the impact of uncertainty, we conducted a

Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis. A Monte Carlo analysis samples from random assumption levels based

on a set of defined probabilities and runs the project across 1,000 trials. In this analysis, we allowed

the following variables to fluctuate based on a normal probability distribution: Discount Rate, Ridership

Levels, Farebox Recovery Rate, Social Benefit Multipliers for Safety Improvements, Congestion Relief, and

Environmental Benefits, and Hedonic Property Utility Weight.

The Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis produced a distribution of net benefits. This distribution was

calculated to be negative in all scenarios, denoting that even allowing for wide variability in assumptions,

we can say with 99 percent confidence that net benefits will be negative (Please see graph below).

Additionally, during 95 percent of the trial projects, the range of net benefits fell between ($1.2) billion

and ($678) million. Thus, WSDOT should not expect positive net present benefits from implementation

of Regional Express Rail, under these assumptions. However, as we will see below, there are many other

economic and project considerations that should be understood to avoid making a decision about this

project solely based on the economic bottom line.

Regional Express


Appendix C – Portland, OR Zoning Map

Appendix D – Vancouver, B.C. Zoning Map

Regional Express


Appendix E – Bellingham, WA Zoning Map

Regional Express



“B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-border Opportunities.” British Columbia, The Premier Online, October 9, 2009. Accessed

March 5, 2011.


“B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-border Opportunities.” The Premier Online. Accessed March 5, 2011.

premier/media_gallery/ events/2009/oct/bc_washington_state_partner_on_crossborder_opportunities_2009_10_09_97700_


“High Speed Railroading.” The Economist, June 22, 2010.

“Growth Management Services - Overview of the Growth Management Act.” Washington State Department of Community, Trade,

and Economic Development. Washington Department of Commerce. Accessed March 5, 2011. <http://www.commerce. documents/id_892_publications.pdf>.

“Mission Statement and Management Principles.” About WSDOT. Accessed March 5, 2011.


“Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development Goals.” Home Page. Nov. 2010. Web. 09 March 2011.


“Sound Transit finalizes Sounder commuter rail agreement with BNSF - Seattle-to-Everett service starts December 21.” Sound Transit,, December 17, 2003. Accessed March 5, 2011.

News-Archive/Sound-Transit-finalizes-Sounder-commuter-rail-agreement-with-BNSF---Seattle-to-Everett-service-starts- December-


“The Growth Management Act of Washington State: Successes and Challenges.” League of Women Voters of Washington. League of

Women Voters of Washington Education Fund, Aug. 2006. Web. Accessed Feb. 28, 2011. <

GMA_ study.pdf>.

“Washington State Segment of the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor – from the Columbia River to the Canadian Border: Finding of No

Significant Impact.” Washington State Department of Transportation, November 2010.

“What We Do: Mission.” USDOT. Accessed March 5, 2011. About DOT,

“What We Do: Mission.” About DOT. Accessed March 5, 2011.

Allison De Cerreño and Shishir Mathur, “High Speed Rail Projects in the United States: Identifying the Elements of Success, Part 2.”

Mineta Transportation Institute, 06-03 (2005): 87. Accessed March 5, 2011.


Alonso, W. 1964. Location and Land Use: Toward a General Theory of Land Rent. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

America 2050, “Connecting Cascadia.” Accessed March 11, 2011.


Andrew Nash, “Best Practices in Shared-Use High-Speed Rail Systems.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 02-02 (2003): 26. Accessed

March 5, 2011.

Barbour, Elisa and Michael Teitz. “A Framework for Collaborative Regional Decision-Making.” Public Policy Institute of California, May

2001. Accessed March 5, 2011.

California DOT. CalTrans Division of Transportation Planning - Benefit Cost Analysis. March 2011 <


Catherine L. Ross, “Megaregions: Literature Review of the Implications for U.S. Infrastructure Investment and Transportation Planning.”

Center For Quality Growth and Regional Development, Sept. 2008: 19. Accessed March 5, 2011.

doc/14590876/Mega- Regions.

Regional Express


De Cerreño, Allison L. and Shishir Mathur. “High Speed Rail Projects in the United States: Identifying the Elements

of Success, Part 2.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 06-03 (2005). Accessed March 5, 2011. http://transweb.

Debrezion, G., E. Pels, and P. Reitveld. The Impact of Railway Stations on Residential and Commercial Property

Value: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, 35(2): 161-180.

Dively, Dwight and Jr R Zerbe. Benefit-Cost Analysis: In Theory and Practice. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers

, 1994.

Elisa Barbour and Michael Teitz. “A Framework for Collaborative Regional Decision-Making.” Public Policy Institute

of California, May 2001: 19. Accessed March 5, 2011.

Ferry, John. “Why not a bullet train for Vancouver - Seattle?” The Vancouver Province, November 17, 2008. Accessed

March 5, 2011. http://www2.canada. com/theprovince/columnists/story.html?id=311cba61-62a0-


Forkenbrock, David J. and Glen E. Weisbrod. A Guidebook for Assessing the Social and Economic Effects of Transportation

Projects. Washington D.C.: National Cooperative Highway Research Program - National Academy Press,


Fred W. Frailey, “Railroads may reject high speed projects.” Trains May 28, 2010. Accessed March 5, 2011. http:// sitecore/content/Home/Railroad%20News/News%20Wire/2010/05/Railroads%20may%20


Fred W. Frailey. “Railroads may reject high speed projects.” Trains, May 28, 2010. Accessed March 5, 2011. http:// Railroad%20News/News%20Wire/2010/05/Railroads%20may%20


Hanson, Susan, and Genevieve Giuliano. The Geography of Urban Transportation. Third ed. New York: Guilford,


Jon Ferry, “Why not a bullet train for Vancouver - Seattle?” The Vancouver Province, Nov. 17, 2008. Accessed March

5, 2011. http://


Jordan Prozzi, “Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements.” Center for Transportation

Research, Project Summary Report 0-5022-S, March 2006, p. 3.


Litman, T. 2001. Evaluating Transportation Equity. Available at

Morrison, S., and C. Winston. 1985. An Econometric Analysis of the Demand for Intercity Transportation. Research

in Transportation Economics, 2:213-237.

Nash, Andrew. “Best Practices in Shared-Use High-Speed Rail Systems.” Mineta Transportation Institute, 02-02

(2003): 26-43. http://

Oregon Dept. of Transportation, “ODOT purchases passenger trains.“ Accessed March 11, 2011. http://www.oregon.

gov/ODOT/ COMM/nr10022601.shtml.

Prozzi, Jordan. “Passenger Rail Sharing Freight Infrastructure: Creating Win-Win Agreements.” Center for Transportation

Research, Project Summary Report 0-5022-S. Accessed March 5, 2011.


Puget Sound Regional Council, Transportation 2040 Public Opinion Research. October 22, 200