Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation study - December 2017 advisory group meeting

December 7, 2017 meeting overview

About 25 people attended the fourth meeting. The agenda included:

  • Follow-up from previous meetings
  • Review of technology
  • Review of conceptual corridors
  • Feasibility study results
  • Feasibility study recommendations

Charles Knutson from the Washington State Governor's Office provided a brief background on the study. Ron Pate, WSDOT Director of Rail, Freight and Ports Division noted that a presentation is scheduled before the Washington State Legislature Joint Transportation Committee on December 14.

Follow up from previous meetings
Jason Beloso, Strategic Planning Manager for WSDOT Rail, Freight and Ports Division shared updates from the last meeting, including:

  • The final CONNECT analysis work is still underway.
  • During the Vancouver meeting, results were shared from CONNECT runs at 8 daily round trips, today's meeting shares the results from CONNECT analysis of 12 daily round trips, plus the potential network effects of connecting passenger rail service east to Spokane.
  • Additional economic analyses are being funded by Microsoft and others. This work will not be completed in time for the study released on December 15, but will follow in early 2018.
  • The purpose of today's meeting is to review recommendations from the draft report and solicit feedback from group members.

Technology options
Three transportation technology options are being considered, all of which can operate at speeds of 250mph (400kph) or greater. These include:

  • High-speed rail: Highest performance speeds up to 350mph are being considered, but generally trains operate at 200mph on the fastest systems.
  • MagLev: Shanghai is currently running this technology at 300mph, though there has been less commercial testing.
  • Hyperloop: Not a commercially viable technology and it is still being tested. The Hyperloop developers state that it will be able to operate at 700mph.

The CONNECT analysis tool can only simulate viable results using MagLev and high-speed rail (HSR) technologies, because there is not enough Hyperloop data to provide credible cost inputs. However, the lines and curvatures of the Cascadia mega-region could be long and straight enough to support very high speeds between stations, so Hyperloop technology is not being dismissed.

Primary and connecting corridors

  • Five corridors were initially considered. Narrowed to three that were analyzed in more detail. The corridors vary in the number and location of stations. These are not definitive of what the corridor may look like going forward.
  • CONNECT results for the corridor assumed 12 daily round trips.
  • The potential right of way acquisition needed for each of the three conceptual corridors was presented, with caution that it was a high-level analysis and assumes a greater amount of tunneling than may be necessary.
  • Initial capital cost estimates range from $24 to $42 billion, however these costs could be reduced by 25 percent or more once more detailed analysis of alignments and technologies are undertaken.
  • The east-west connecting corridor considers the "network effect" of following the Stampede Pass route between Seattle and Spokane. The emerging service would share right of way and track with freight rail with an assumption of 6 daily round trips.
  • The southern corridor extension connects to California's new high-speed rail system. Connecting to this route is challenged by mountainous terrain and sparsely populated areas over long distances. There are currently no considerations for this connection in the updated California State Rail Plan.

Feasibility study results

  • Estimated ridership based on 2015 data with ridership projections from 1.7 to 2.1 million in 2035 and 2.8 to 3.2 million in 2055.
  • Maglev has higher capital cost estimated, because it requires a straighter route and more costly technology. But, it has the potential to cover operating costs by 2035.
  • High-speed rail has a wider range of capital costs (depending on alignment, tunnels, bridges and right of way costs). But, it is not projected to cover operating costs until 2055.
  • Seattle to Portland connection is critical to future viability of any high-speed rail program.
  • Connecting to California should not be considered until beyond the 2055 horizon.
  • Microsoft and labor partners have provided funding for a broader economic impact study. This additional analysis will not be completed until early 2018.

Recommendations

  • Perform a next phase corridor planning/business case study
  • Enhance ridership evaluation to inform and support the corridor planning study
  • Evaluate governance and economic framework
  • Further evaluate funding and financing mechanisms
  • Strengthen focused involvement of key stakeholders in BC, WA and OR
  • Conduct further rail planning consistent with needs of a UHSGT program