SEATTLE - The thought of high speed rail zooming from B.C. to Seattle, Tacoma and Portland at 125 mph sounds very enticing, but that is not the reality of the plan.
President Obama is rolling out a proposal that would give $590 million to Washington to develop a high-speed rail service from the Canadian border to Portland. The stimulus package allows Washington to buy two more trains, adding two round trips a day between Seattle and Portland for a total of six, increasing capacity and cutting travel time.
In addition to putting more trains on the tracks, the package would improve the tracks themselves, building bypasses to avoid areas clogged by freight trains and upgrading lines so that trains could run on them at higher speeds. The current trains running through the Cascade Corridor are capable of hitting 125 mph, but right now, their layout limits them to a top speed of 79 mph.
The goal is for more trains and straighter tracks to shave an hour off the current 3.5 hour trip between Seattle and Portland, making rail a much more reliable option.
"We’re at 62 percent on-time reliability, says WSDOT Raid Director Scott Witt. "This gets us over 90 percent. That’s a huge thing to make a meeting. You have to know you’ll get down there in time."
But that goal is still about 17 years away.
In the short term, transportation officials say the $590 million will only cut about 16 minutes off the Portland to Seattle trip, and not until 2017, at an average speed of only 90 mph. That's $36,875,000 a minute.
"We're trying to manage expectations," says Witt. "The project is long term. It's about creating 6,500 jobs, green transportation and getting cars off the road."