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How High-Speed Rail Can Impact the Pacific Northwest Region

Luke Bridle and Keith Hui
Imagine traveling along the water’s edge of the Puget Sound, spotting bald eagles against a backdrop of island views and the snow-covered Olympic mountains in the distance. You’re whisked away from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the comfort of a whisper-quiet train. It’s a Zen-like experience that condenses a three-hour car ride into an hour-long high-speed rail journey.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration recently announced projects selected for funding under its Corridor Identification and Development programs, including in the Pacific Northwest. This announcement, along with additional grant funding by the administration, marks an important step toward a more robust high-speed rail (HSR) network in the United States. Europe and Asia have long recognized the efficiency, convenience, environmental, economic and lifestyle benefits of HSR travel. Last May, France banned domestic short-haul flights between cities less than 2.5 hours away via established HSR train routes. The U.S. has a long way to go to catch up, but this commitment to rail transportation is encouraging.

A robust HSR network across the U.S. will address various transportation and environmental challenges while benefitting the economy. Its impacts include:

  • More Efficient Transportation: HSR can provide a fast, efficient and reliable mode of transportation to connect regions. It can significantly reduce travel times between cities, making it a competitive alternative to air travel and private car use.
  • Reduced Traffic Congestion: More HSR travel helps reduce highways and airport congestion. This can lead to smoother traffic flow, lower road maintenance costs and decreased pressure on existing transportation infrastructure.
  • Environmental Benefits: HSR is often more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly than other transportation modes. Clean energy sources can power electrified rail systems, lowering greenhouse gas emissions while promoting sustainability.
  • Economic Growth: The development of HSR infrastructure stimulates economic growth by creating jobs, promoting tourism and attracting businesses. This investment in transportation infrastructure can lead to more efficient movement of goods and services and offers regions a competitive advantage in the global market.
  • Enhanced Connectivity: HSR greatly improves connections between urban and regional areas, fostering regional development and reducing economic disparities. This enhanced connectivity supports economic growth while strengthening a nation’s overall competitiveness by making it an attractive location for businesses and tourism.
  • Improved Safety: HSR systems are designed with safety in mind, incorporating advanced technologies and safety features that help reduce accidents and fatalities compared to other modes of transportation.

The Cascadia region in the Pacific Northwest is poised to benefit greatly from HSR. The Cascadia High-Speed Rail project, recently selected by the Federal Rail Administration’s Corridor ID Program, aims to connect Portland, Seattle and Vancouver along a 350-mile route. The increased connectivity between these urban centers could result in $355 billion in economic development.

In addition to relieving auto congestion along I-5 and minimizing environmental impacts, HSR connectivity would help expand job opportunities within the “Cascadia Innovation Corridor,” home to 13 Fortune 500 companies. While funding limitations and geographic obstacles exist for HSR, the long list of economic and environmental benefits, coupled with the unique passenger experience, outweigh the challenges. At HOK, we’re excited about the potential for a HSR system to transform mobility and the travel experience in the Pacific Northwest region.

HOK’s Seattle office helps lead Aviation + Transportation projects in the Pacific Northwest region and across the globe. From the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center and master plan for Washington D.C.’s Union Station to several large-scale developments at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, HOK designs distinctive transportation buildings. If you have more information or would like to share your ideas about rail transportation, let’s connect on LinkedIn or by email:

Luke Bridle, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, ENV SP, HOK’s Director of Transportation at

Keith Hui, AIA, HOK’s Regional Leader of Aviation + Transportation at

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