British Columbia's Transportation Minister says the province supports Washington State's decision to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail line from Portland to Vancouver.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has allotted $1-million (U.S.) from his 2017-19 state budget to examine the costs and benefits of building a system to carry travellers 400 kilometres an hour with stops in Seattle and Bellingham. A report is due in December.
Transportation Minister Todd Stone said it's "far too premature" to talk about a potential financial commitment to a high-speed rail line, but he said the province is interested in the idea.
"The Premier sent a letter to Governor Inslee recently, extending provincial support for the state of Washington's decision to actually do some due diligence, some analysis on this proposed high-speed rail link, and we certainly support them doing that," Mr. Stone said.
He noted that that an agreement signed last year between British Columbia and Washington State, known as the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, highlights transportation as a key priority.
The study will examine the design and cost of a high-speed rail system, the potential demand and whether it would be economically viable. A budget document outlining the study says the high-speed rail system, if built, could connect with east-west routes in the state, as well as a similar system, in California.
Mr. Inslee was unavailable for an interview, but in a statement said the rail project would create construction jobs, increase workers' mobility and access to affordable housing and reduce traffic.
"Ultra-high speed rail will bring accelerated economic growth and integration in the Pacific Northwest," Mr. Inslee said in the statement. "The funds that I've included in my transportation budget will help us take the next step toward making it a reality."
Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Centre, said a high-speed train would greatly add to the mobility of the region.
"The reason you would do it now is because, particularly the western portion of the state of Washington, as well as the metropolitan region, as well as the western portion of British Columbia, are all doing exceptionally well economically."
Mr. Hallenbeck said that other options, such as widening the Interstate 5 in Seattle to alleviate congestion, could be just as expensive as building a train system and that air space is already too crowded.
"If you've got that kind of infrastructure that moves people, where you've got visitors that want to come up here and experience everything we have to offer, I would say, putting my tourism lens on it, it sounds like a great idea," B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin said.
But the project wouldn't be cheap, or easy. Mr. Hallenbeck estimates that the project could cost billions of dollars, and there would be significant – and expensive – challenges for the route.
"The kicker in all of this is not the 150 miles in the middle; it's the 30 miles on either end," he said. "It's how do you get into downtown Seattle and how do you get into downtown Vancouver?"
Solving that problem could be costly, and the study will consider that. "Is it a bad idea? No, it's not a bad idea," he said. "Might you come up with something else to do with a million dollars? Sure, but given the cost of what this project would be, a million dollars is nothing."