Report nixes hyperloop joining Vancouver and Portland but makes a case for ultra-high-speed rail across Cascadia

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      An “ultra-high-speed” rail line joining Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland would bring significant economic and employment gains to the Cascadia region, helping it develop as an “emerging megaregion” focused on technology and innovation.

      That’s the conclusion presented in a 94-page report that was prepared for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

      It primarily examined the viability, costs, and benefits of a maglev rail line—short for magnetic levitation—that would stretch roughly 500 kilometres and travel at average speeds of more than 400 kilometres an hour.

      Today there is only one high-speed maglev trian in operation. It joins the Shanghai Pudong International Airport and central Pudong, Shanghai. But the report notes that train has operated since 2004 and the technology is reliable, having been deployed with slower trains in Britain and Germany beginning in the 1980s.

      The Amtrak Cascades rail line that currently links Vancouver to Portland has an average travel time of nine hours.

      “Given the economic strength of the region and the projected population growth, there is a tremendous opportunity for a new high‐speed system to provide a higher‐quality and more time‐efficient service,” the report reads.

      A maglev line joining Vancouver and Seattle would make the trip in under an hour, according to the analysis.

      The review also examined alternatives to ultra-high-speed rail, including a hyperloop-transportation system that would theoretically travel between Vancouver and Portland at speeds exceeding 1,100 kilometres an hour.

      Unfortunately, the report states hyperloop research—championed by Space X's Elon Musk and the Virgin Group, among others—remains premature for serious consideration.

      “While hyperloop technology promises to be a highly innovative transportation mode that could enable true high‐speed ground transportation, the development of the technology is still in early stages,” it reads. “The technology is moving quickly, but will require coordination and acceptance from regulatory agencies on design, operations, security, and safety. It is not anticipated that hyperloop technologies will be ready for commercial viability for at least the next decade, and viability is highly dependent on regulatory acceptance of the technology.”

      The Shanghai Maglev Train in China could serve as a model for a transportation network linking Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.
      Washington State Department of Transportation

      The report is a product of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference, which was held in September 2016.

      It estimates the project would cost $40 billion and could be completed by 2035.

      “This study is an important first step in examining the feasibility of an ultra high‐speed ground transportation system across Cascadia,” reads a statement in the report attributed to Washington State government Jay Inslee.

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