$590M slated for high-speed rail corridor

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced Wednesday that $590 million in federal funding will go to Washington state for high speed rail upgrades in the Pacific Northwest Cascades corridor.

The funding is part of a major high speed rail initiative that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The Pacific Northwest was named one of the 10 potential regions to receive funds for high speed rail in April 2009 because the groundwork has been under way through previous state and federal investments and improvements would help provide an alternative to congested roadways and spur economic activity.

“This is a big win for Washington on a number of levels,” said Sen. Murray, who is also Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. “It’s going to help us to create new jobs, make travel more efficient for commuters, make shipping faster for businesses, and will have clear environmental and energy benefits.”

Both Washington’s and Oregon’s Departments of Transportation have cooperated since the early 1990s to study, define, and build High Speed Rail along the Cascade Corridor. Both states have bought trains capable of traveling 125 miles per hour, improved track and signal systems, refurbished rail stations and increased operating funds. As a result ridership in the Cascade Corridor continues to increase. However, the Cascade trains are still limited to 79 mph due to needed safety and freight traffic improvements on the line.

Designated as a high-speed rail corridor in 1992, this 466-mile route houses Amtrak corridor and long-distance trains, Sounder commuter services in the Seattle region, and the freight trains of the owning railroad companies — Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Amtrak’s Cascades service links Eugene and Portland, Ore., with Tacoma and Seattle, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C.

Since its 1992 designation, the FHWA and FRA have jointly allocated $8.395 million for grade crossing improvements on this corridor, primarily between Portland and Seattle. Between 1994 and 2007, Washington, with participation from Oregon, invested a total of some $700 million from all sources to upgrade track and signal systems, renovate stations, and purchase trains to operate on the Pacific Northwest Corridor. Incremental improvements are planned to eventually support 110 miles per hour service with greater frequencies on the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver portion of the corridor.

The funding announced Wednesday will go to several proposed projects in segments of the Cascade Corridor that will serve to speed service throughout the entire corridor. Decisions on specific project locations will be made by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Anybody who travels the I-5 corridor in our state knows that we need to find new, efficient options to get commuters and commerce moving,” added Sen. Murray. “And anybody interested in boosting our state’s economy knows that now is a great time to take action. Thankfully, Washington state and Oregon have already been working since the early 1990’s to study and build faster rail service along the Cascade Corridor. This funding is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for to help make these improvements a reality.”