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Thursday, June 10, 2010

NW Mayors: We Want High-Speed Rail

Posted by Stefan Kamph on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 at 2:15 PM

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The American Public Transit Association's annual convention wrapped up yesterday in Vancouver, BC... leaving those of us who would have loved a badge and week in Canada to see if any of the discussions there gestate into actual newsworthy policy decisions.

In a symbolic moment for the future of high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest, Portland Mayor Sam Adams met with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to sign an agreement to push for high-speed rail development between these cities and "points further south" (we're looking at you, Eugene).

From the City of Vancouver's press release:

Mayor Robertson made the announcement at a special meeting of key state, business, railway and government leaders in Vancouver to discuss advancing high-speed rail between British Columbia, Washington, Oregon.

“Having a high-speed link to Seattle, Portland and points further south will help get more vehicles off the road, provide an attractive tourist option and create significant economic opportunities,” Mayor Robertson said. “We are seeing the benefits of Amtrak passenger rail expansion in Vancouver. We need an organized, strategic approach to ensure we have a strong, united voice for the expansion of rail service along the key Pacific Northwest corridor.”

Robertson also met with officials to learn about California's plan for a $2.25 billion high-speed rail system in that state. Meanwhile, ODOT officials are left struggling to find federal money to make Talgo trains chug a little faster between Portland and Eugene.

There's a Facebook group that agrees with the mayors that high-speed rail should be a priority for the Northwest. Remember, all this planning proceeds in American High-Speed Rail Years (AHSRY)... which are much, much slower than regular years. "Will I live to see a faster train" is the question we should be asking our esteemed mayors.

We've got calls out to Sam Adams's office and ODOT to see what this agreement might mean—if anything.

Update 3:15 pm: Roy Kaufmann, Mayor Adams's communications director, says that Adams and Robertson had signed a previous memo of understanding, and yesterday Seattle's McGinn joined the alliance.

Kaufmann says that the agreement is largely a gesture to show the federal government that the Pacific Northwest's leadership is willing to work together to develop a rail corridor. "We're sending overtures to the Obama administration over a number of transportation-related issues," he says.

This is all pretty pie-in-the-sky, though. The mayors are thinking about true high-speed rail with dedicated tracks and an eventual connection to San Francisco. But, Kaufmann notes, rail freight is hugely important to easing highway congestion and supporting commerce. Somebody will have to make a choice: support rail infrastructure that can handle freight or mixed traffic, or build a whole new line just for fast passenger trains? "It gets a little more complicated than what was covered in yesterday's announcement," says Kaufmann.

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