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Biden administration announces funding for Cascadia High-Speed Rail through to Vancouver

Service running between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver is part of plan to build a high-speed rail system through U.S.
B.C. last year agreed to support the next phase of a study examining the potential for a high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver to Seattle and Portland | Getty Images / Moment / Zhang Kun

British Columbians are getting closer to hopping aboard a high-speed train to visit the U.S. in the coming years. 

The Biden administration announced Friday it’s earmarking US$6.1 billion to help build a high-speed rail system in the U.S. 

Part of the funding will be put towards building a high-speed rail line running between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

The administration said the investment in projects like the Cascadia High-Speed Rail initiative is expected to help make faster transportation a reality in the U.S. before the end of the decade.

“It's a very exciting development … and that means that [U.S.] federal dollars are going to be put towards planning development, which is the next stage,” said Laura Jones, CEO and president of the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC).

“That obviously changes the math for British Columbia, as it will make sense for this to be a priority for the province as well. It's getting money in the U.S., it makes sense for us to look at that next planning and development stage and work out the details alongside the Americans.”

Previous phases of the high-speed rail study estimated the project would facilitate between 1.7 million and 3.1 million one-way trips annually by 2040, with the Vancouver to Seattle route accounting for between 425,000 and 775,000 of those trips (about 25 per cent).

The rail line also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as six million tonnes during the first 40 years of operations, according to estimates. 

The project was last year estimated to ring in at $42 billion, although previous phases of the study concluded that revenue would cover those costs by 2055.

The West Coast business community has been pushing for a more efficient railway line down the Cascadia corridor linking B.C., Washington state and Oregon for nearly a decade.

Jones said a high-speed rail line will help create a more connected region, benefitting travellers and B.C. businesses who are working across borders, and making future cross-border collaborations more convenient for businesses and organizations such as educational institutions.

It also opens up different possibilities for where people live when the commute times are cut through high-speed rail, and provides more options for cross-border workers, she added.

“There are some big important questions that need to be considered before it gets a green light, but I think there are lots of great reasons to be excited about a more connected Cascadia region,” said Jones.

“The more excitement there is and the more people who come in behind the project, the faster things tend to go. … It could very much be a reality in the next decade if all the heads are nodding and things keep moving forward.”

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