COLUMN: High-speed rail tragedy leaves plans in shambles

Fatal inaugural run of Washington line brings up many questions

High-speed rail between Vancouver and Portland got a boost last week – and then suffered a serious blow this week, when an Amtrak train derailed south of Tacoma.

A study commissioned by the State of Washington was released Thursday. It estimates that building high-speed rail that would link Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma and Portland would cost $24-42 billion, and could cut travel times to as little as an hour between Vancouver and Seattle. It suggests the lower-cost route could start at the King George Station in Surrey and travel through Seattle to a final stop in the north end of Portland. By avoiding downtown stops, the cost would be significantly less – but there are also concerns that ridership would be significantly smaller.

The study assumes trains would travel at least 250 m.p.h. (402 km/h).

High-speed rail has been talked about for years, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was recently in Victoria to address the B.C. Legislature about it. Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have both shown enthusiasm.

If high-speed rail ever gets the go-ahead – and it would require a massive commitment of government funding from both American and Canadian sources – it would mean certain relocation of the passenger rail tracks through Surrey. Whether that would involve relocation of the tracks used by BNSF freight trains that travel along the waterfront through White Rock, Ocean Park and Crescent Beach is not dealt with in the report.

There has been considerable pressure in recent years to relocate the tracks from the waterfront, and it was an issue in the recent federal byelection.

However, Monday’s derailment may put any plans for high-speed rail on hold.

An Amtrak train travelling from Seattle to Portland was the first scheduled train to use a new, high-speed rail corridor between Tacoma and Olympia when it derailed about 8 a.m. The train may have been travelling at 79 miles per hour, the maximum possible speed on the line at that location.

It occurred on the first day a new $181-million line was in service. The money was spent to upgrade existing track on a former branch line, and bypass a slower route along the coastline south of Tacoma. It was completely rebuilt with concrete ties, welded rail and new signal systems and was meant to give a significant boost to passenger rail traffic in the busy Cascades corridor. The traffic would include Amtrak and commuter trains.

Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Olympia is often congested and the improved rail corridor was supposed to offer drivers an alternative. The new passenger route travels right through Joint Base Lewis McChord, a large military base and a major destination.

As of late Monday morning, at least six people had died in the derailment, 77 others were injured and southbound Interstate 5 was closed. The train derailed on one of two bridges, with several cars toppling onto the freeway. Numerous vehicles were hit by debris.

Any notion of high-speed rail being a wave of the future was in shambles, as emergency crews searched the derailed cars for passengers.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

Just Posted

PHOTOS: White Rock marks Remembrance Day

Hundreds of people gathered Monday morning to give thanks to veterans

Homicide investigators called in after man dies following ‘disturbance’ in Surrey

Surrey RCMP don’t believe the incident was random or connected to gang conflict

VIDEO: One injured in north Surrey shooting Sunday

Male victim taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries

Christmas Card Collective promises ‘special delivery’

Third annual event aims to see 10,000 holiday greetings delivered to homeless shelters

Surrey veteran talks about the emotional side of war

Reginald Wise served in the Royal Marines in WWII

VIDEO: Hong Kong police shoot protester, man set on fire

It was the second protester shot since the demonstrations began in early June

Sportsnet fires Don Cherry after negative comments about immigrants

Don Cherry had said immigrants don’t wear poppies like other Canadians do

Trudeau’s new cabinet: Gender parity because it’s 2019? Or due to competence?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will soon appoint his new cabinet

Coquihalla drivers urged to be careful amid freezing rain alert

Special weather statement in effect for highways between Hope, Merritt, Kamloops and Kelowna

Canada among three G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

It says Canada, South Korea and Australia are the farthest off

Conservatives’ Scheer wants Trudeau to open Parliament Nov. 25

That’s five days after Justin Trudeau is scheduled to swear in a new cabinet

14 SeaBus cancellations, free rides for veterans from TransLink on Remembrance Day

Free rides also available for current Armed Forces members, first responders

Last remaining Centurion tank from the Korean War makes its journey ‘home’ to B.C.

Tank arrives in B.C. the day before Remembrance Day after a more than 4,500-kilometre transfer

‘Your vehicle burns a lot of fuel:’ Victoria drivers wake up to angry notes

‘This handbill was left on your vehicle because your vehicle burns a lot of fuel,’ notes read

Most Read

l -->