Cash for high-speed rail hightails it to Washington

Washington inks an agreement to take money rejected in Ohio and Wisconsin. Part of the money is headed toward tracks north of Everett, an area that had been left out of earlier high-speed improvements.

The Washington State Department of Transportation signed documents today (April 8) with the Federal Railroad Administration that will guarantee the state an additional $145 million in funding for development of the high-speed rail (HSR) corridor between Portland, Ore., and Blaine, at the Canadian border.

The funding will go towards new trackage in Vancouver (Wash.), new locomotives, a new siding for customs inspections in Blaine, and general improvements in the corridor north of Everett.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the investment,” said Loren Herrigstad, president of All Aboard Washington, a rail-passenger group that has worked on behalf of the corridor improvements.

With Washington’s northwestern corner thus promised its first federal HSR funds — an earlier grant of $590 million had focused on points from Everett south— a pleased Congressman Rick Larsen, a Democrat whose district runs from Everett north, told Crosscut by e-mail that “these ready-to-go high speed rail projects in Everett, Blaine and Mount Vernon will immediately create good jobs. . . and provide a much-needed boost to out local economy.”

Larsen had sent a letter to WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond on March 8, urging the department to prioritize HSR projects from Everett north.

The $145 million will come out of HSR funding sent back to the federal government by Ohio and Wisconsin, whose recently elected governors had campaigned against the HSR initiative as a waste of money and an imposition on state coffers that would have had to defray the trains’ operating subsidies.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has more recently rejected an HSR award of $2.4 billion, which, like the Wisconsin and Ohio shares, will now be redirected to other states. From that pot, Washington has applied for $120 million, which would among other things go to finance environmental and engineering work for stabilization of mudslide-prone hillsides that have wreaked havoc with train operations in the corridor recently.

The state has spent nearly a billion dollars on passenger rail service in the corridor over the past 17 years, WSDOT reports. Although the state must still subsidize operations, patronage has increased steadily. Ridership totaled 838,000 in 2010 on the entire Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C., route.

C.B. Hall is a freelance writer and has been following Pacific Northwest transportation issues since the 1990s. He can be reached through editor@crosscut.com.


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