PNW’s high-speed rail dream may finally be on the horizon

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Gregory’s version of high-speed ground transportation combines speed with infrequent stops. But it also connects to local transit networks, and potentially a rail extension through Stampede Pass, to move people seamlessly.

“This is a big infrastructure plan,” Gregoire said.

Achieving climate goals will take more than those two plans, Gregoire added, predicting there was enough federal money for several projects.

Not all rail aficionados see it that way. Some think Cascadia better upgrade what it has.

“That ultra-high speed has taken the oxygen out of the room. Diesel emissions are harming people right now,” said Bill Moyer, an activist for Solution Rail.

He foresees wasted years arguing over the details of a high-speed route and more years tinkering with rights-of-way and laying tracks.

“The idea of ​​decades of fighting to get a high-speed corridor so we can go a little faster in a few places, rather than improving what’s there, doesn’t make sense,” Moyer said.

Moyer supports electrification and adding more lanes to Amtrak’s existing Cascades line along the Oregon coast to the Canadian border, which he says provides a faster, more cost-effective route. to reduce carbon emissions. Moyer estimates the cost of upgrading and electrifying the Cascades line at around $9.2 billion, compared to $24 billion to $42 billion to build an all-new high-speed power line.

Other technologies are also on the horizon. Engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells could be a quick and cost-effective route to carbon-free transportation without having to hang up cables. The technology, which generates electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, is being used on a small scale for passenger rail service in Germany and China. And ballard Power Systems, a Vancouver-based fuel cell manufacturer, recently struck a deal to develop hydrogen locomotives for Canadian Pacificwhich transports goods across Canada and 13 US states.

“Building an independent, electrified regional rail network is basically laying down a set of tracks,” said Gord Lovegrove, a colleague of Tran’s at the University of British Columbia and principal investigator at the Sustainable Transportation Safety Research Laboratory. of the University.

“There are tons of abandoned freight corridors in Canada and the United States that could be reactivated for regional rail, or even to serve low-density communities,” he added.

Part engineer, part rail advocate, Lovegrove said government intervention will be needed to make new passenger rail lines a reality.

“If we really want to do the right thing – climate change, safety, transit fairness – it will take government control to push passenger rail. Plus a carbon tax and other measures,” Lovegrove said. “We have had discussions with our province about this. They get it, but someone has to come first.

Experts like Lovegrove say the constrained geography and a series of nearby towns, combined with the environmental ethos of the Cascadians, make the area a good choice for rail.

“What I love about the Cascadia area is that Portland, Seattle and Vancouver compete to be the greenest city in the world, or at least the greenest in North America,” said Chris Kennedy, professor at the University of Victoria and director. from the university’s industrial ecology program.

But the main reasons for building new regional railroads are usually rooted in transportation rather than environmental needs, according to Kennedy: “You build it because you want to get rid of congestion or improve the quality of life. Or you want to change the culture. The environmental reason could follow as a side benefit.

To achieve the region’s climate goals, electrifying cars is high on Kennedy’s list. He said this will have the greatest impact on the environment.

“If we don’t electrify the vehicles, we’re completely fried,” Kennedy said.

The ability to calculate on paper a plan to achieve a net zero world keeps the self-proclaimed carbon number destroyer optimistic about meeting climate goals.

“The only thing that makes me pessimistic is throwing people into it. Then I think about the political realities to get there and that’s where you can get really pessimistic,” Kennedy said.

Jose P. Rogers